The Cursing Nun

I’m not sure what’s worse about this story. "Nun Reads List of Curse Words to Kids" That it was listed on’s home page as one of the top stories of the day. That so far 86 news organizations have picked it up. Or that it caters to the same hoary anti-Catholic stereotypes about women religious that have existed since before I was born. (That’s 1960 if you’re keeping count). Sister Kathy Avery, principle of St. Clare of Montefalco School, in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, told her fifth-graders and sixth-graders that she wouldn’t tolerate any cursing in school. She then proceeded to list those curse words after Mass one day. Why is this an interesting article for the media? For the following reasons, all of which are closely related to some lazy stereotypes about sisters and nuns. (Choose one). 1.) Sisters don’t know about the real world, and so when they curse, it’s funny. (Stereotype: Sisters are clueless.) 2.) Sisters are pure and sinless. So their using curse words is shocking. (Stereotype: Sisters are superhuman.) 3.) Sisters do the same things that they tell others not to do. (Stereotype: Sisters are hypocrites.) 4.) Sisters don’t even realize when they’re doing something that will seem odd to others. (Stereotype: Sisters are dumb.) 5.) Sisters, especially in school settings, are overly strict. (Sisters are tyrants.) 6.) Sisters are not even supposed to be around any longer. (Sisters are extinct.) Most of the sisters I know are talented, capable, dedicated women. None are clueless, superhuman, hypocritical, dumb or tyrannical. And they are not extinct. If you think I’m overstating things, imagine the same story told about a lay teacher, or a teacher in a school in another religious tradition. Would it, do you think, garner as much attention? James Martin, S.J.
9 years 5 months ago
Yes, I agree with Anne; very much an overreaction. I read the AP story and found it delightful, and more an example of a creative teacher setting strong boundaries in an effective way. As an old school board member, I believe any teacher reading banned curse words would have sparked interest. I came away with none of the stereotypes Fr. Martin found. Furthermore, as an old newspaper editor, I would have picked it up as a good story myself. More power to Sr. Kathy. Interesting the way the same thing strikes two people so differently.
9 years 5 months ago
"we also need to be aware of the ways that these stereotypes can be harmful in the long run." But Jim, these stereotypes were/are created by the Catholic church. If you promote and foster your clergy/religious as pure and chaste then they are going to be stereotyped. That said, I do believe that any teacher doing this would have drawn attention, not as much as a nun but certainly local media would have picked it up. Furthermore, if a public school teacher did this it would be viewed with a very cynical eye. I can only imagine the outrage of religious parents if little Jim came home from public school and said that Ms.Teacher had read off that list of curse words. Ann
9 years 5 months ago
It seems that if you get the security code incorrect and it gives you a new one it removes your name from the entry. I just noticed and realize this might be why you posted my email address as opposed to my name in my first post. Also, it would be great to be able to receive updates when items of interest are added to. It would avoid having to check back for replies and also create more interest and perhaps participation.
9 years 5 months ago
All good points, especially the comment that someone does actually have to say those words for students to know what they are! But do people think that the fact that she is a nun had nothing to do with why this story was picked up by so many media outlets? I'm not charging some vast anti-Catholic conspiracy, but I think that the fact that it has "nun" and "curse words" in the title made it irresistable. And why, exactly? There's a reason why the Kansas City Star filed the piece under "Weird News."
9 years 5 months ago
I'm not sure how the kids are to know which words are against school rules if they don't know what the words are? In law as well citizens are entitled to know what exactly is being prohibited before they can be held to the penal consequences. In less filth saturated circumstances, the specter of a nun or brother in school, especially if that one models goodness and kindness, reciting sorry-butt language can incite even doomed youth to try concrete ways to become part of the solution.
9 years 5 months ago
Good point: It's true that the church, broadly speaking, has promoted nuns as emblems of purity, albeit more in past decades. But the media use this gleefully, in a way that they would not do so with other religious groups or ethnic minorities. Catholicism is often singled out in such cases, and while Catholics need to be able to take a joke, like everyone, we also need to be aware of the ways that these stereotypes can be harmful in the long run.
9 years 5 months ago
As usual you are overreacting. It's quite simply because the Catholic church has promoted nuns as models of purity and using bad language in any context is contrary to that image. And while I applaud her for doing it, after Mass from the pulpit was not the right place, she should have taken it to the classroom.
9 years 5 months ago
Bless the nuns, strangest mixtures of shrewdness and naiveté. One of them, teaching an English class at Loretto Heights College in Denver, declared, concerning Queen Elizabeth 1: "Virginia Queen! Hmmmph! She was no more virgin than you or I!"

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Greg Hicks as "Richard III" (photo: Alex Brenner)
It would be fascinating were the producers able to arrange a quick transfer to a venue somewhere near the White House.
David StewartMay 26, 2017
In the hyper-curated, beautiful world that Dev lives in, a scene that conveys the touching, ugly stubbornness of marriage seems totally impossible.
Eloise BlondiauMay 26, 2017
This image released by the Minya governorate media office shows bodies of victims killed when gunmen stormed a bus in Minya, Egypt, Friday, May 26, 2017 (Minya Governorate Media office via AP).
The attack in central Egypt today killed at least 26 people, including children aged 2 to 4, and wounded 25 others.
Gerard O'ConnellMay 26, 2017
The data and facts are clear: If you care about working families and sound economic policy, SNAP is the program for you.
Meghan J. ClarkMay 26, 2017