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The year was 1957, the month September, and I had just turned eight years old. Dwight Eisenhower was President, but in my life it was the diminutive, intense Sister Mary Lurana who ruled, at least in the third-grade class where I was held captive. For reasons you will soon understand, my parents had remanded me to the penal institution of St. Brigid’s School in Westbury, New York, a cruel and unusual punishment if there ever was one.
Already, I had barely survived my first two years at St. Brigid’s because I was, well, a little nitwit. Not satisfied with memorizing the Baltimore Catechism’s fine prose, which featured passages like “God made me to show his goodness and to make me happy with him in heaven,” I was constantly annoying my classmates and, of course, the no-nonsense Sister Lurana. With sixty overactive students in her class, she was understandably short on patience. For survival, she had also become quick on the draw.
Then it happened. One day I blurted out some dumb remark, and Sister Lurana was on me like a panther. Her black habit blocked out all distractions as she leaned down, looked me in the eye, and uttered words I have never forgotten: “William, you are a bold, fresh piece of humanity.”
And she was dead-on.
One day in 1957, in the third-grade classroom of St. Brigid’s parochial school, an exasperated Sister Mary Lurana bent over a restless young William O’Reilly and said, “William, you are a bold, ...