This story might offend some, containing as it does the physical punishment of a child by an adult, so be aware. It isn’t meant to condone the cp of children, far from it. I wrote it as a period piece. Being a schoolchild in the 1960’s was a hazardous business, especially if you went to a Catholic school in a poor working class community. Nuns and Priests wielded considerable power and influence. Some used it kindly, some didn’t.

A Nun And Priest Tale.

by Gumbie

Father John looked out of the presbytery window as sounds of a disturbance reached his ears. He dashed out into the street, hurriedly pulling the two scrapping boys apart, holding each of them firmly by the arm.

“Ah Father, they were just getting started,” the disappointed onlookers, a fair mix of Catholic, Protestant, and non-churchgoers, gazed reproachfully at the priest.

He ignored them, turning to one of the boys. “I thought it would be you Kevin McNally. What’s going on, what are you fighting about now, there’s no need to be fighting all the time just because you go to different schools.”

“He started it Father, he was calling me names.”

“That doesn’t give you the right to start throwing punches now does it? Weren’t you listening to Sister Austin this morning when she read the scripture in Assembly? Turn the other cheek.”

“Don’t be daft Father,” the dark haired little boy turned incredulous blue eyes on the priest, “you didn’t believe that load of old rubbish did you? This is Sister Austin we’re talking about here. If you turned the other cheek to her, she’d belt that an’ all.”

Father John was silent for a moment. “You’re not wrong there Kevin,” he conceded, “you’re not wrong there, she’s a formidable woman is our Sister Austin. What name did me laddo here call you?”

“Papist scumbag and he said the virgin Mary wasn’t, cos anyone with half a mind knows there’s no such thing as an immaculate contraceptive.”

Father John glared at the other boy. “Did he indeed... would you like me to thump him for you Kevin?”

“If you don’t mind I’d rather thump him meself Father, don’t want me mates thinking I’m gone soft an’ all!”

“Right you are.” Father John let go off the other boy’s arm a split second before he let go of Kevin’s arm. The boy took his chance and ran, his mates following hard on his heels, fearful lest the priest’s violence be turned on them.

“Ah bad luck Kevin, he got away from you.”

“Don’t worry Father, I know where he lives. I’ll wait til it’s dark, then I’ll go round his house and pee through the letter box.”

“You’re a good man an’ all Kevin, defending the faith, but if I were you, I’d call it quits. Urinating through Protestants letter boxes will only confirm their opinion that us Catholics are anti Royalist; the royal mail and all that, they take it very seriously.”

“Uri what Father?”

“Pissing Kevin.”

“Gotcha Father.”

“Get off home son, it’s late, won’t your mammy and daddy be wondering where you are?”

“Nah, me da’s at the Catholic Club and me mam’s paying the rent man, she told me to bugger off for a couple of hours.”

Father John raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. His Saturday stint in the confessional might just be a bit more interesting this week. “Have you learned a poem for tomorrow Kevin? I believe it’s that time of the month again. I’m visiting your class tomorrow, so I’ll be listening to you.”

“Ah God Father, where am I going to get a pome from?”

Father John sympathised. For the children of this small, poor working class community, access to reading material in general was limited, most of it hanging on a nail in the outside loo. Coupled with this was the attitude of the parents who viewed poetry as fancy nonsense that served no purpose for kids who were essentially Pit and Factory fodder. Sister Austin, formidable head of the tiny Catholic school, did not take this into consideration and demanded that each of her small charges learned a short poem, or a verse from a longer one, in order to purify and culturally extend their common little minds. This torture was visited upon them once a month and was dreaded by all. Father John sighed; it would take a braver man than him to dissuade the good nun from pursuing her poetical crusade. She belonged to a teaching order that gloried in the name of The Little Sisters of Divine Mercy, locally referred to by all as: The Little Bitches Of Refined Cruelty; double O sevens, licensed by the pope to terrorise. They struck fear into hearts, guilt into souls and the cane into hands and backsides.

“Tell you what Kevin, let’s pop in to the presbytery, see if we can find some poetry among all that boring religious stuff.”

“Thanks Father.” Kevin smiled happily at his would be benefactor. Alas, the shelves in the presbytery yielded nothing but dusty religious tomes and a dubious collection of health magazines, which Father John hastily whisked out of sight.

“I’m sorry son, the priests round these parts have obviously been philistines to a man.”

Kevin nodded sagely, “aye them stamp collectors are ignorant buggers. Thanks for the hot chocolate and biscuits Father and don’t you worry, I’ll think of something, I usually do.”

Father John looked at him doubtfully; “don’t go repeating that one about the man with the little gun and his ill chosen journey up that giant’s bum. Sister Austin will have the hide off you.”

Kevin grinned, “I’m not that daft Father.” He waved and set off for home.

Father John watched him go, running and jumping as he played out some little game in his mind. He never ceased to marvel at the happy resilience of children who had so little, materially speaking.

Next morning, taking a deep breath, Father John knocked and entered the lion’s den. Never mind the kids, he was terrified of Sister Austin himself. One look from those hard, grey eyes and his knees turned to water. “Good morning Sister and how are you?” He smiled bravely. Lord, he hoped all the children had a poem ready; she had a face on her like an Egyptian plague.

“You’re late father,” she snapped. “We’ve already heard half the poetry readings, and a poor, stammering, stumbling lot they were too.”

Father John mumbled an apology for his tardiness, casting a sympathetic eye around the silent classroom. Those who had failed to please were easy to identify. The stumblers and mumblers had hands to boxed ears. Those who hadn’t bothered to learn a verse at all had pained expressions on their faces and both hands tucked under armpits. His gaze fell on Kevin who gave him a quick thumbs up. The child obviously had something prepared. The priest smiled with relief, he had a soft spot for the troublesome, but good-hearted McNally clan, of whom Kevin was the youngest.

“Would you like to share the joke with the rest of us Father, or shall we just get on?”

Father John hastily removed the smile from his face. “Carry on Sister.”

Kevin stood up with an air of confidence that had been lacking in his predecessors.

Father John found himself tensing, wondering what the lad was going to deliver, the McNally’s weren’t renowned for their common sense.

“This is a poem by a new poet called Brian Wilson, it’s a love poem.” Kevin cleared his throat and intoned solemnly, “I may not always love you, but as long as there are stars above you, you never need doubt it, I’ll make you so sure about it. God only knows what I’d be without you...

The words seemed familiar to Father John, but he couldn’t recall having read any poetry lately, he listened more closely.

...If you should ever leave me, though life would still go on believe me...

Light dawned on Father John, who fancied himself to be up with the times, it also dawned on several of the children in the class who began to snigger. Kevin was reciting the words of the latest Beach Boys hit record, ‘God only Knows.’ Father John smothered a grin. Canny lad, spoken slowly it sounded exactly like a romantic verse, and everyone knew that Sister Austin had a weakness for romantic literature. He stole a glance at her face, yes; there was a definite mistiness about her eyes. Kevin was fortunate that Sister Austin was not au fait with pop music.

She silenced the gigglers with a cold glance. “That was quite passable McNally, I’ve never heard of this Brian Wilson, who is he?”

“He’s an American, my big sister told me about him and she taught me the poem.”

“I don’t usually approve of Americans, but that wasn’t too bad at all. I’d like to hear more. You may learn another one for next time. Sit down.”

Poor Kevin, his moment of triumph was short lived, as Father John found out during his Saturday shift in the confessional. He recognised Kevin’s voice at once.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned...It’s been ages since my last confession, cos I’ve been really good lately. Anyway me mam said I had to come, even though I didn’t want to, cos I don’t think I have sinned, the little creep asked for it.”

“Get on with it Kevin.” Father John looked at his watch in the dim light; the pub and betting shop would be open soon.

“How do you know it’s me Father, I thought you became invisible when you went to confession?”

“God told me.”

“Well if God told you who I was, has he told you why I’m here?”

“No, he wants you to tell me yourself.”

“I punched Mark Simpson on the nose and then I shoved his head down the girl’s lavvy and flushed it.”

“What did you do that for Kevin, that’s not the way to behave towards your fellow man?”

“He told Sister Austin about me poem being a pop song. She killed me Father; with the gym slipper, she really killed me. I had to eat me tea standing up cos me arse was that sore.”

“In that case I completely absolve you, go away and sin no more.” Some hope, he thought privately, the McNally’s could sin for Britain.

“Thanks Father.”

Mark Simpson reeled from the confessional, a look of shock on his face. Sixteen Hail Mary’s, ten Our Father’s and five complete recitations of the Rosary, just for calling his younger sister a name, and it hadn’t even been a very rude name.

In an attempt to help reinstate Kevin into Sister Austin’s good books, Father John inadvertently caused him even more bother the following week. He gave him the all-important task of reading aloud a passage from the bible. It was considered an honour to be trusted with this task. The passage that week concerned the journey Jesus made as a boy to Jerusalem with his parents. On the way back they realise he’s missing. Father John secretly thought Mary and Joseph had been rather remiss in this instance, carelessly mislaying the Messiah. They eventually find him nattering with the Rabbis in the temple. In the little children’s version of the bible used by the school and creatively named, “My Very Own Bible,” Mary turns to her son and says, no doubt in a demure, caring, possibly slightly sorrowful way: “Jesus you worried us!” There was an exclamation mark at the end of the sentence, probably intended to imply a gentle tone of rebuke in Mary’s voice. Kevin, hoping to impress his terrifying teacher and get her off his case, put his heart and soul into the reading of the passage. He took the exclamation mark at face value and put a connotation on the name of Jesus that it wasn’t supposed to have. Father John felt the colour drain from his face as Kevin boomed in stentorian tones:


It was, Father John realised, probably an imitation of his parents reaction should he have been rash enough to go missing on a church outing. Every ounce of the boy’s energy went into pronouncing and elongating that vowel sound of E. Sister Austin flushed a deep, unattractive shade of purple, flying across the room like a disgruntled plum. Father John groaned inwardly as her hand rattled off poor Kevin’s skull.

“How dare you make mockery of the Lord’s name. Read it again!” she barked, “with due reverence.”

Totally bemused as to his crime the boy began to read again. All was fine until he got to that particular line; almost imperceptively his voice began to rise and out it came exactly the same as before. Whack! This time her cane struck the desktop making everyone jump with fright.

“AGAIN!” she bellowed, almost frothing at the mouth.

Kevin just couldn’t seem to help himself. He started off in a perfectly normal tone of voice, but as soon as that particular line loomed, something seemed to take hold of the boy, a force beyond his capacity to control. The class as a man leaned forward, avidly following the text in their bibles with their fingers. All fingers paused at the same moment on the name of Jesus, there was an air of unbearable tension, would Kevin get it right? Father John swallowed hard. What was wrong with the boy, did he have a death wish? He managed to get the J out fairly normally, but that E was irresistible, he seemed compelled to take it to its very limits. His voice soared; if he’d been an opera singer he would have got a standing ovation. As it was, he was a ten-year-old boy in a school run by a nun whose sense of humour, not to mention humanity, had been removed at birth. Kevin let out a shriek as she whacked her stick across the back of his hand. Grabbing him by the collar, she then hoisted him from behind his desk dragging him to the front of the class. Roughly ejecting the nearest child from a chair, she placed it in front of Kevin. He was obviously no stranger to the ritual and his little face paled. He began to stammer an apology, but she simply thrust him forward, forcing him to bend over the back of the chair, pressing a hand against the back of his neck to keep him down.

Father John tried to intervene, “please Sister, I’m sure the child meant no offence to the good Lord, there’s really no need...”

She turned her spite filled countenance on him, bellowing, “School discipline is a matter for me to decide Father! I’m Headmistress of this school, as the Bishop will confirm, and I will not tolerate Blasphemy from this little heathen or anyone else!” She raised her cane and with a vicious swipe brought it down across the centre of her victim’s bottom. The thin, much worn material of his school shorts offered nothing by way of protection. Kevin’s small body went rigid as the cane struck, he gave a muffled scream, and only the nun’s hand on his neck prevented him from shooting upright. With deadly accuracy the holy Sister swung back her arm and brought the cane crashing down across the boy’s vulnerable backside again. This time Kevin made no sound, but Father John noted that the hands gripping the seat of the chair went white at the knuckles. The cane fell again and the priest found himself praying that Kevin would make a sound, that he would start to cry. That’s what she wanted, the sadistic bitch, to hear him cry! But he remained stubbornly silent. The fourth stroke of the cane made such a crack as it hit the underside of its small target that almost everyone in the class jumped with fright. The sheer force of the blow propelled Kevin further forward so that his chin was almost resting on the seat of the little wooden chair, his feet barely touching the floor. Still he made not a sound. Even the odious Mark Simpson, who at first had been smirking, was now looking uncomfortable at this vicious treatment of a classmate.

“Sister, please, the child’s been punished far in excess...” Father John flinched as she flicked the cane away from the boy’s trembling bottom, raising it into the air in preparation to strike again. With a triumphant glance at the priest she whipped it down harder still and Father John bit his tongue, realising that he was simply increasing her determination to inflict pain on the child. Fortunately the bell for lunch went at that moment and Kevin was reprieved from receiving a sixth stroke of the cane. Father John offered a silent prayer of thanks. Sister Austin was a rotund individual, she liked her food and would not risk being last in the dinner queue. Pulling Kevin upright she pressed her fleshy face close to his flushed one and hissed ominously. “We will return to this matter immediately after lunch.”

If Father John was hoping to be let off the hook, he was sadly disappointed.

“I shall expect you to be here Father, after all you chose the boy to read. I could have told you it was a mistake.” She thrust Kevin out into the corridor, locked the classroom door and swept off, cleaving a path through the throngs of children like Moses parting the red sea.

Hunkering down in front of the child, Father John silently used his handkerchief to wipe away the secretions that were slowly leaking from Kevin’s eyes and nose.

“I didn’t cry, not in there, she didn’t make me cry in front of everyone, did she Father?” The tears fell faster.

The priest held the boy for a few moments until he had composed himself. “You were very brave.” Father John patted the quivering shoulders and straightened up. “You’ll have a fine set of stripes to show off to your mates.”

Kevin reached his hands back to rub his painfully throbbing bottom. He gazed fearfully at the priest. “I wish you hadn’t picked me Father, she’s gonna kill me again, after dinner, she’ll kill me.”

“I’m sorry Kevin. I’ll pray for God to fill Sister Austin with mercy and kindness.”

“Can’t you just pray for her to be struck dead Father?”

The priest patted the boy’s shoulder sympathetically. “I don’t think the good Lord would answer a prayer like that.” More’s the pity, he thought privately.

“What about paralysis of the arms, so she can’t cane me again Father.”

“I’ll give it a go Kevin, but don’t build up your hopes. Just try to read the passage in a normal voice.”

“But I am doing Father, that is me normal voice.”

“It’s the E’s Kevin, there’s only one E in Jesus, and it’s a short E.”

“Not the way my dad sez it Father.”

“Just do your best son, practice over the dinner hour, keep saying it to yourself, remember, it’s a name not a swear word, and a holy name at that. I mean if you say Peter, you don’t drag the E’s out do you? Just think of Jesus as being like Peter.”

“But he wasn’t was he Father, Jesus wasn’t like Peter, Jesus was the son of God, but that Peter was just an apostrophe.”

“Just try Kevin, there’s a good lad.” said the priest wearily, unwilling to get into a discussion on the difference between a disciple and a punctuation mark.

Father John nervously fingered his dog collar as the class took their seats after lunch.

Sister Austin, if it was possible, was looking even sourer than she had that morning; someone must have beaten her to second helpings of pudding.

Kevin, at a sign from her, rose to his feet, his face registering a mixture of emotions; relief at lifting his sore bottom from the hard wooden seat, and fear at what was to come.

“STAND UP STRAIGHT!” She roared...“No, not you Father, I was talking to McNally.” She picked her short cane up, swishing it experimentally. “Everyone get their bibles out.”

Desk lids went up with a clatter and then down again, a host of puzzled faces turned in her direction.

“I can’t find my bible Sister.” The cry went up and down the classroom.

The classroom was searched from top to bottom, desks turned inside out, but not one solitary copy of the book was to be found. Sister Austin was mystified, she had locked the classroom door and she had the only key. It was the same the school over. Every copy of the children’s bible,” had disappeared from behind locked doors.

Father John cleared his throat, “don’t you think Sister, that the good God is trying to tell us something here?”

Sister Austin thrust her face an inch from his; it was not a pretty sight, red and sweating from her frantic attempts to dredge up a copy of the holy text. “I do not Father, I think that foul play of a very human kind has taken place, and I’ll find out who’s responsible, you see if I don’t.”

Father John took his courage in both hands and pulled rank. “I prefer to think that God has shown a little mercy to a child that’s tried his best to please. When Jesus said suffer little children, he didn’t mean it as a literal instruction. Perhaps it’s time to move on to some other subject Sister.” He held her gaze for as long as he could, thankfully she turned away before his spine turned to liquid.

“Hiya Father,” Kevin had been waiting for the priest to emerge from the Off Licence, handily situated three doors down from the presbytery. Licensees in these parts were no fools they knew who their best customers were. “Thanks for getting me that miracle today.”

Father John raised his hand in modest acknowledgement. “God moves in mysterious ways Kevin.” he put the two bottles of Guinness he’d just bought in his cassock pockets, and climbed aboard his pale blue Lambretta scooter to ride the fifty yards or so back to the presbytery.

“Father, your cassock, remember what happened last time.”

“Good man Kevin.” Father John tucked his flowing robes well up out of the way of the scooter wheels; “don’t want to go arse over tit again. Would you like a lift?”

“No thanks Father,” Kevin shook his head vehemently, the priest’s incompetence as a motorist was legendary. It was a commonly held opinion that only the direct intervention of God had so far prevented disaster for priest and pedestrian alike.

“Follow me back to the house then, I’ve got something for you.” He roared off, coming to a screeching halt some two hundred yards past the presbytery.

Kevin waited patiently as the priest turned the scooter round and tried again. On the fifth attempt he managed to park it fairly close to the house and got off. “Here, hold these,” Father thrust the bottles of well-shaken beer into the child’s hands while he searched, unsuccessfully, for his keys. “Mary, Joseph and all the saints I’ve lost the buggers again.”

“Why do you lock the door in the first place Father, no one would nick from a priest’s house.”

“It’s not fear of thieves that makes me lock the doors Kevin.” He lowered his voice, glancing over both shoulders and whispering, “it’s the Catholic Women’s League. They scare the hell out of me. If I left the door open, the place would be full of them, cleaning and cooking and telling me I’m drinking too much.”

“How are you going to get back in Father?”

“Don’t you worry, I always keep a hair grip handy for emergencies.” He whipped one out of his pocket, inserted it into the lock, gave an expert flick of his wrist and opened the door. “You don’t spend two years as a prison chaplain without learning how to turn a few tricks.” Father John gave his astonished little friend a wink, “come in, mind that box. I’ll have to shift it before somebody breaks their neck.” He went to the bookshelves and took down a small parcel, “this is for you. I bought it this afternoon, it should keep the wolf off your back.”

Kevin beamed as he opened the packet, inside was a children’s anthology of verse and poetry, “aw...thanks Father, this is brilliant.” He impulsively hugged the priest.

“You’re very welcome, and I promise never to pick you for bible reading duty again.” He handed over a toffee with a smile, “how’s your backside by the way?”

Kevin unwrapped the toffee, saying with a slight grimace, “its alright thanks Father, as long as I don’t sit on it.”

“You’re a hero, that’s what you are.” Father John ruffled the boy’s hair, “Off you go now son. I’ve got some serious work involving a bottle opener to do.”

On the way out Kevin couldn’t help but peep inside the large box in the hall. It was full of books. He stared in consternation at the familiar yellow covers of ‘My Very Own Bible.’ God did indeed move in mysterious ways. Sucking his toffee, and clutching his book he skipped happily home.