Sunday, October 24, 2010

Neighborhood Character: Brother Dominic

Schooldays form a large part of our childhood. Memories of those years come easily, maybe because that part of my brain is somehow compartmentalized and uncluttered with all that's happened in my life since. I've written here before about my grammar school, Our Lady of Lourdes, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. They don't call them grammar schools anymore because they stopped teaching grammar many years ago. That's evident in the speech and writing of our citizens, even "educated" ones. But I digress.

What makes those days so memorable is that as children, we are sent to school like blank pages, ready to be filled up with the academic knowledge that will help us get along in life. This knowledge is imparted by our teachers who become like surrogate parents, each taking part in our development for one year and then handing us off to the next higher grade where the process continues. Most of us can point with gratitude to those teachers who had the most positive influence on our young lives. I had two such teachers that I remember very fondly, Brother Jude, (View "School Days, Part 2") and Patricia Hornberger) View "Tech Alma Mater, Molder of Men"). Unfortunately, we shudder as we also recall the bad teachers. Brother Dominic was one.

Our Lady of Lourdes employed women teachers for grades 1 to 4; there was no Kindergarten in the dark ages. For grades 5-8 the girls were taught by nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and the boys by Franciscan Brothers. In the days when physical discipline was a reality in the classroom, teachers ruled mostly by fear. This sounds harsh, but in reality it eliminated a lot of the nonsense distractions teachers have to cope with today, and if you toed the line, you were usually OK. The nuns and brothers established the rules early on and you obeyed them, end of story. If you strayed, you paid.

Brother Dominic was the most feared disciplinarian in the school. His biggest regret in life was that he had missed out on the Spanish Inquisition. Instead, he took out his frustrations on the thirteen-year old boys placed in his care. Catholicism is a basically good religion that sometimes attracts bad people like pedophile priests. Brother Dominic was bad. Short but muscular, bald and humorless, he patrolled the hallways like a malevolent force, and as he was the 8th grade teacher, you knew you had to pass through his class before you graduated.

I remember older boys moving up from Brother Jude's 7th grade class, and how they changed when they met Brother Dominic in 8th grade. A shadow passed across their normally cheerful countenances as they prepared to spend a long year with the Angel of Death. Brother Dominic not only enjoyed physically abusing boys, but humiliating them as well. Maybe he had a Napoleonic complex and felt he had to live up to his reputation. There were also rumors of "inappropriate touching", but they were never addressed publicly. We all knew he was waiting for us like a dark cloud we had to pass through. "I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!"

In my years at Lourdes I found there were brothers who looked fierce on the outside but always had some redeeming quality that made them approachable. Brother Dominic was pure evil. I know some day he will have to answer to a higher power for all the boys he brutalized. As I finished the 7th grade, and was steeling myself for the fate that awaited me, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds. The hated Brother Dominic was leaving the school (maybe there was something to those inappropriate touching allegations after all) and my man Brother Jude was assigned to the 8th grade. In life we occasionally get unexpected breaks thrown our way. We may not deserve them but by the grace of God they come anyway. Thank you Lord for delivering me from clutches of Brother Dominic.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Saltwater Tough said...

I'm a bit younger than you. I was born in Flatbush on October 1st, 1957 just about a week after the Dodgers played their last game at Ebbets Field. My parents fled to Long Island.
As a kid, someone asked me if I knew where babies come from. Of course, I quickly and confidently replied, "Sure I do - Brooklyn!"

Saltwater Tough said...

I also had Sisters of St Joseph. Fifty kids to a classroom!
The nuns ran the gamut from nasty misanthropes to semi-violent kooks to saints on earth. Somehow or other, they managed to give us a superior education.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Nice to hear from you. Always nice to connect with a fellow Brooklynite.