Catholic School Education + One

Sacred Heart Elementary

Of all the years of my limited education (I barely graduated high school — I say this because the only thing I really did okay at in high school was music, and even that is relative when I think about the talent that came out of my graduating high school class). I value the seven (cumulative) years of elementary school as the best years of my entire education. I did not attend kindergarten (pre-school didn’t even exist) and I spent my whole 6th grade year at Tangelo Elementary (the “+ One” I mention in the title) in Orlando, Florida — another bright spot in my education where I met lifelong friends, had the most amazing music teacher, Mrs. Bradbury, who did a full opera and a Shakespearean play with us 6th graders. She taught me to play the recorder, the autoharp, and the bells!

I hit the teacher lottery when I moved back to Florida (again) to find Mrs. Bradbury had become the music teacher at my middle school.

Until I was 12 years old I wanted to be a nun. At my wise old age now I understand why. The nuns who educated me at Sacred Heart Elementary could hang with the most brilliant people I have met in my life. They were wise. They were calm. They were strong. And they were full of grace. Grace, a word I have come to love and appreciate over the years. Even when one of my teachers, a nun, was slapped across the face by a student she barely flinched. She simply spoke to the young boy in a calm voice. He was gone the next day. (Gotta love private school education! I know this hasn’t changed much because my kids went to private schools at times and if a student didn’t adhere to the rules, they simply were not tolerated. I love this approach. Almost as much as I love each individual’s right to express themselves. Almost.)

I learned so much those years but learned very little in school in the years that followed. But that’s okay. Because if I were to describe my education experience and use the famous phrase and title of a best-selling book, I would change it slightly: All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Catholic School + One.

That one year at Tangelo Elementary gave me my first exposure to black people. We had just adopted my half-black baby sister but until moving to Florida and attending an integrated public school I had had very limited encounters with blacks. The Catholic school and church I attended was all white. Although we did visit my grandparents at my father’s childhood home frequently in an all-black neighborhood. I don’t recall one single problem but who knows maybe I was as naive then as I am now. I cannot even begin to wrap my brain around racism. It’s. Just. Plain. Stupid.

Highlights of my early education were not limited to the nuns I had at the Catholic school in Rock Island, Illinois. I also had lay teachers whom I remember with such fondness. Mrs. McNamara, my 5th grade teacher at Sacred Heart was definitely a stand-out. I still remember every word to McNamara’s Band which she began teaching us on the very first day of school. (Listen below.)

I also remember my 3rd grade teacher, Mr. Ostertag. I thought he was awesome in every way. I’m not sure how he was my 3rd grade teacher now that I think about it because I recall having Sister Mary Ann, the principal, as my teacher that year too. I think he was there just part of the year.

And of all the teachers I had it’s a priest whom, to this day, I consider the most amazing human being I have ever known personally — Father John (Jack) Real. I met Fr. Real at my brother’s funeral. I will never forget the day. There was a storm and it rained a lot as we buried my brother, Tommie. He spent a great deal of time at our home and became personal friends with my parents and I remember him being, along with my parents, very outspoken against the Vietnam War.

After 25 years he became disenfranchised with the church and left the priesthood and later married an ex-nun. Last I heard he runs a place for the homeless in Colorado. Which doesn’t surprise me one bit. I have spoken to him once in the last 40 years. I consider him the only mentor I have ever had. I believed every word he said and hung onto his every word whenever he spoke. I told him a secret that no one else on earth knows.

To say I idolized Fr. Real would be an understatement. As a child I did not have the greatest male role models in my life so to be around him was very good for me. Ah, just thinking about him as I write brings tears to my eyes. I wish my children could know him.

Fr. Real circa 1968-ish. What a smile!

There are many things about my childhood education I appreciate and wish I could share with my own kids. They both were not very impressed with their education although, like me, they had teachers they really appreciated.

I guess it just goes to show education really is about the teachers. They are so important. With so much power. The Catholic church, schools, and nuns sometimes get a bad rap. I have only good things to say about my Catholic school education. Heck if we hadn’t moved from my hometown I might still be Catholic. Nah, I doubt it.



See my blog, 5 Heart Rating at I am a Wellness & Wine and Special Events Producer

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Jean Oshima

See my blog, 5 Heart Rating at I am a Wellness & Wine and Special Events Producer