The Sisters of St. Joseph
The first rule of fandom is that you root for the team your dad roots for. My dad immigrated to this country as a soccer fan. Specifically, a Benfica fan, being a native of Lisbon. And a soccer fan he stayed.
As a fat little immigrant kid, I wanted nothing more than to be “normal.” By which I mean, not get beat up by the kids in my neighborhood who called me a “pork and cheese.” For some messed up reason, I wanted to be ONE of them. (It’s very confusing being a kid.) I wanted a Schwinn with a banana seat, the A-Team, to celebrate the Fourth of July, and most of all, I really, really wanted to love baseball.
There was no baseball in our house.
When I turned six my parents, God-fearing Catholics that they were, decided to enroll me in Holy Child Catholic School on North Broad St, where I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. My first day was terrifying. I knew about two dozen words of English, all learned from watching TV. The other kids were frightening and already drawing up a schedule for kicking my ass at recess. At the front of the room stood one of the most imposing sights I’d seen so far in my young fat life. A nun. And not one of those new friendly nuns. This wasn’t a Lillies of the Field nun. This was a straight-up box-headed starched-up bride of Christ holding a metal yardstick and rosary beads the size of medicine balls. But, lo and behold, BEHIND this nun! Tacked up on a corkboard behind her desk: an autographed photo of Greg Luzinski. The Bull. Currently roaming left field for the Philadelphia Phillies. And it was then I learned one of the most delightful secrets of life in these great United States: nuns love baseball.
I made a pact with the Sisters of Saint Joseph that day. I would let them teach me about God and Jesus if they taught me about baseball. And so we played our part for years. For every station of the cross I endured I expected to find out why Paul Owens was called The Pope. For every rosary said I expected to hear why Larry Bowa would get so damn anxious at the plate. I traded Confirmation for the balk rule. (I still understand neither.)
In 1980 the Phillies went to the World Series for the first time since 1950, and while at home my parents wondered what all the fuss was about, the Sisters of St. Joseph started every day with a recap of the previous night’s game. And when the Royals’ George Brett was pulled from Game 2 with hemorrhoid pain you could sense there was a prayer circle involved. We prayed for Carlton to pitch well, and for Bowa to keep his temper under control. And when the Phillies won it all the Sisters had us make signs and march in an impromptu parade down Broad St.
That was our last year together. The Sisters stayed. I went to high school. Luzinski went to Chicago.
The Catholic stuff? Well, I’m an alumni. But the good Sisters carved out a place in my heart. They attempted to fill it with Jesus and that didn’t work so well. But they did in fact teach me something about faith. And baseball. And for that they are dear to me.