A while back, I donated a somewhat time-worn orange and black pennant, depicting an angry looking bear, to my high school alma mater, Catholic High in Baton Rouge.
The school collects memorabilia from the old days and the nice lady in charge of that informed me on the telephone that their collection had no such pennant as far as she knew.
So, better for the item to end up within the confines of good old CHS rather than for it to be discarded when that (hopefully) distant day comes when I’ll no longer be around to look after it.
This preamble is simply a lead in for me to tell you that for some reason my thoughts in the last couple of days have been wandering back to the days when I was a student at CHS. And how the good Brothers of the Sacred Heart ruled the roost and made us like it.
Corporal punishment at Catholic High in those days was definitely not forbidden. I’m sure it was the same for many other private schools, and maybe even in public schools in those long ago days. I know that none of us at CHS were the worse off for getting knocked around a bit by the brothers.
In my freshman year, the fall of 1956, the school was still in downtown Baton Rouge, on North Street. It was CHS’ last year at that location and the institution would move for the 1957-58 year to a fine new campus out in the suburbs.
Anyway, in my first year, I gave some of the brothers the mistaken impression that I was a smart alec. You see, when I underwent the voice change that all teenaged boys are forced to endure, it was an extreme change. If I tried to talk much over a whisper, my voice popped and crackled like an old radio seeking for a distant station.
So when my home room teacher, Brother Canisius, called upon me, he thought I was being a wise acre when I told him I couldn’t talk loud. He didn’t attack me, but for the whole semester, the brother thought I was a goof-off, trying to get attention. Believe me, that kind of attention I didn’t want.
As an upper classman, we were seated in the classroom in alphabetical order. That meant that my very good buddy, Tim Clement, sat right in front of me. Our homeroom was the physics lab, so just about every time Brother Donnan would go back in the lab to prepare experiments, Tim and I would begin to chatter. Inevitably, the teacher would hear us and silently approach from the rear.
He would ball up his fist and bang me in the right side of my head from behind, then get Tim on his noggin on the back swing, assaulting the left side of Tim’s skull. My buddy and I might see stars for a moment, but we’d figure we were breaking the rules and were receiving only our just desserts.
I also remember one time when Brother Doinnan picked me up bodily and tossed me against a locker in the hall. I can’t remember what my transgression was, but surely I was breaking some rule.
Then there was the time that Brother Remegius, a large red-headed man who was principal, came into my room to hand out honor certificates. I had earned such a certificate that term, but when I proudly approached the front of the room to receive my paper of honor, I made a bad mistake. I forgot to take my pack of Winston cigarettes out of my shirt pocket and the eagle-eyed principal quickly spotted the cigs, which were contraband on campus.
My sentence was to report to Brother Remegius’ office to get 10 whacks upon my posterior with his hickory stick.
The blows were sharp indeed and prevented one from comfortably sitting for a while. But rather than give me all 10 strikes at once, which would have been painful but over with, he meted them out one or two at a time. That meant for more than a week, I had to report to his office, completely disrupting our car pool at the end of school each day.
There’s a great deal more to my memories of CHS than corporal punishment and I may write a follow up column on high school before too much longer. But for all the temporary pain and inconveniences of being the recipient of the brothers’ various blows, I want to reiterate that it did us no harm. Maybe that’s what’s needed in today’s schools, huh?