By Louis DeLauro
I watched Sister berate and beat my classmates. She was violent and nasty. She threw desks.
She pulled hair. She slapped faces. She dragged children across the floor. She hit children on the back with an open hand and sometimes a closed fist. I was only eight years old and my 2nd grade classroom was a daily trip to hell. I am 50 years old now and don’t remember much about being eight. I do remember being afraid every day. I also remember the sad and terrified faces of my classmates when they received their daily beatings.
Sister never hit me because I was her star student. I was the most academic boy in the room. Sister was quick to compliment me and to give me lollipops. Then one day everything changed.
I came to school with a small rip in the knee of my pants. Sister saw my pants and she was furious. She made me stand on a chair from 8:30 until noon. I got off the chair for lunch and did my best to muffle my cries while eating my sandwich. Then I asked to go to the bathroom and instead Sister made me get back up on the chair. And one painful hour later with tears running down my face, I humiliated myself and peed my pants in front of my classmates. My memory of peeing myself 42 years ago is vivid and still brings me great pain.
When the school day ended Sister sent the students out of the room and then she grabbed me from the chair by my hair and pulled me onto the floor and she beat me. She told me never to come to school again with a rip in my pants.
I went home and immediately told my parents about Sister. Within a few days, Sister was no longer my teacher. A young woman with a kind smile and sweet way with children was brought in to finish out the year. When my classmates and I found out Sister was not returning, we all clapped and cheered.
I hope Sister never worked with children again. Sometimes I wonder how many children she abused during her 50 years as a teacher? Was she always an abuser? Did she lose her mind when she got older? I wonder how she felt when she was asked to step down. I wonder why someone at the church didn’t stop her before my parents did.
I watched Sister beat children for months and I thought the children deserved their beatings because they didn’t do their work or didn’t know the answers. It wasn’t until I got abused that I finally realized her actions were wrong. I feel shame today for not knowing any better and not reporting Sister when she beat my classmates.
What did I learn from being abused in 2nd grade? Children don’t report abuse because they are afraid or don’t understand that abuse is wrong.
I also learned to stutter that year. I entered 2nd grade a talkative little boy. Six months later I could not say my own name without stuttering. “LuLuLouis DeDeDeDeDeLauro,” I stammered from 2nd grade until 5th grade. Three years of speech therapy and I did get my voice back. And today, I am a competent and fluent speaker.
I also learned to hate Sisters. A younger version of me despised nuns. I felt nuns were cruel and hated children. I felt the Catholic Church looked the other way when children were abused and that also made me very angry. I felt the teachings of the Catholic Church were misguided, so I became a Buddhist.
Yes, in my 20’s I found my religion—Buddhism. I love the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Mindfulness, Right Effort and Right Concentration. Buddhism was perfect for me. Buddhism didn’t ask me to accept beliefs that I didn’t understand. It didn’t ask me to worship or pray. Buddhism demanded nothing from me. Buddhism simply suggested that I try my best to live a life-based in making good decisions, being kind, and accepting suffering as part of my life path. Buddhism simply asked me to be the best version of me.
Buddhism also taught me that my 2nd grade year helped me grow up to become a great teacher; a teacher with a big heart and kind words on most days. A teacher interested in lifting spirits rather than punishing children.
Buddhism helped me realize that it was my 2nd grade year that taught me to be brave and to speak up for others who are being mistreated. Today I run Child Assault Prevention workshops for community organizations and I direct charity programs for ill and at-risk kids. I feel an obligation to be a person who leads the way in keeping children safe. I feel an obligation to run quality programs for children.
Last year, I retired from my public school teaching career after 25 wonderful years. Public School teaching was a gift that I gave myself more than it was a career. And to my surprise after retiring I took my public school pension and a low-paid teaching position at a Catholic school. It was only a one year stint at the Catholic School. I just accepted a position for next fall at a Prep School that offers some exciting new challenges and better pay, so my return to Catholic School was short lived.
I am happy to report I have a heavy heart because I am leaving. I love the Catholic School where I have worked! Yes, you read that right. And I loved the Sisters! They were so kind to me and to the children. Sister Julia gave me a daily pep talk. She was truly one of the nicest people I have met in my teaching career. And she made me laugh too. The other nuns and Catholic school teachers I met are beautiful people, student-centered, dedicated, kind, good to the core. I feel honored to have worked side by side with them.
I am also happy to report I have embraced some of the best teachings of the Catholic school and church. The school culture taught students and teachers to be respectful, helpful and focused on learning. The culture of the school asked students to be the best versions of themselves.
While I don’t embrace all of the Biblical teachings, for the first time in my life, I understand their inherent value. I understand how the teachings helped my students and colleagues feel safe in this unsafe world. I see how the teachings helped these fine people make good decisions, be kind, and accept suffering as part of their life path.
The same benefits I get from Buddhism, other people found in the Catholic Church and this helps me understand that people may find these same benefits, or others, in an Evangelical church, a Jewish synagogue, an Islamic mosque or Hindu temple. I also know some people don’t actually need a place of worship and can find all the goodness they need within themselves.
No, I am not Catholic again. I am a Buddhist man with a great appreciation for my Catholic roots. My mom and dad and many in my extended family are good Catholics and I love them all so much. I have pushed aside my feelings of anger and shame and I more easily understand that the abuse I suffered as a child was wrong, but 42 years later I am okay. And I am trying my best daily to be the best version of me I can be.
My year teaching at a Catholic school has amazingly been another gift that I have given to myself. 42 years later I have found peace with the suffering I endured and I feel better about life.
Editor: Peter Schaller
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