God Bless Sr. Myra
or, How a Religious Sister made one boy feel like a King for a Day
The Gospels tell us that we should feed the hungry. Back in 1977, one religious sister did just that, not realizing at the time that she was creating a man’s fondest memory of his childhood.
In 1977, I was in the 7th grade at St. John the Evangelist grade school in the suburbs of Washington D.C. One of my greatest accomplishments during the 6th – 8th grades there was being named “the funniest” in our class. This was carrying on a tradition – my sense of humor was learned from my father, who was named “Class Clown” in 1958 at Mackin High School in D.C.
I lived (endured?) a sentence of 10 years with the proverbial “wicked stepmother” from the ages of 3 until I was 13, when she and my father divorced. The backstory there is that my mother passed away a month after I was born due to mistakes made during my birth.
My upbringing was certainly nothing to warrant going on Dr. Phil, but I believe my stepmother hated my father and projected that down to me. As with many kids, I think we just believe “that’s the way it is”, not realizing that maybe we should tell someone. My father was unaware of the abuse, except for one time when he walked in and stopped her from whipping me in the face and head with a belt because I’d eaten a box of raisins. Even then, while I never had a doubt that my father loved me, I couldn’t tell him that this kind of stuff happened with regularity while he was gone.
My father took us to mass every Sunday, but the Faith wasn’t something overt in our house. We went to CCD, had first communion, and all that good stuff. Going to St. John’s from 6th to 8th grades also gave me the opportunity to be an altar boy. It was during that time period that I found peace in an empty church; most of the lights are out, the candles are flickering, and you’re alone with Christ and His Mother. Primarily for me, the comfort was being in front of Mary. Here, in this church, was the woman in my life who wouldn’t hit me, swing me around by my hair, or choke me on the kitchen floor for drawing cartoons on my school paper. Here was a woman who loved me and cared for me. Not having that in my daily life probably drew me closer to her than I might have otherwise been.
The religious sisters at St. John’s were all good, no-nonsense sisters who I’m sure were driven to their wits end dealing with my stand-up routines. For 7th grade, I had Sr. Myra. She was a good and faithful woman who did her best with her rag-tag group of clowns, morons, and goofballs that the Good Lord assigned to her that year. She didn’t tolerate too much fooling around, and God bless her, when she had her fill of foolishness, she’d give you a look that would make a train derail.
One cold winter day, I’d forgotten my lunch money and was sitting in the lunchroom with the class, probably working on one of my routines, when she spotted me. She asked why I had no lunch, and I let her know that I’d forgotten my money. She motioned with her finger and said “Come with me”.
I followed her over to the convent (it was the late 70’s but there were plenty of sisters there). She sat me in the kitchen and fixed me a hot dog with corn relish, and afterwards cut me a sinfully large piece of chocolate cake. I ate that lunch, surrounded by 5 or 6 sisters and truly felt like the King of the World.
In that moment, which I’m sure was nothing for her, I felt absolutely surrounded by the love of those women. They modeled for me how a mother makes her child feel special. To me, it was how the Blessed Mother would make me feel if she took care of me. Sr. Myra did the work of Christ there; she fed the hungry. But she did more than that – she changed the way I see Sisters for all time. I smile whenever I see them, and always think back to that time.
The postscript to this is that in 2001, I tracked her down with the help of the internet. She was still teaching, but at another school in the D.C. area. I wrote her a letter telling her what that small gesture meant to me. She wrote back to me, and said that while she didn’t remember it, it brought tears to her eyes to consider how if affected me, even after all these years.
One never knows how sometimes even the smallest gesture of kindness and decency can have an impact far out of proportion to the effort put into the gesture itself. God bless all of those Sisters that dedicated their lives to educate and guide us, and sometimes along the way, model God’s love for us without even trying.