My most beloved teachers were nuns who taught us to help the poor, pray for the sick, and send our milk money to El Salvador. It was there that I learned of the necessity—and the possibilities—of self-sufficiency and cooperation. . . . In their polyester pantsuits and orthopedic shoes, Sister Irene and Sister Betty—my first- and second-grade teachers—emanated a sense of joy and purpose I found infectious. . . .
I was 5 when I began first grade in the fall of 1981. Sister Irene, with short, silver hair and oversize glasses, sat before my class in a little orange chair. With a map of Central America pulled down behind her, she passed around a badly photocopied picture of the sisters’ burned-out van [American sisters killed by Salvadoran death squads]. I don’t remember her words, but I remember the sensation: the gravity of the shock tempered by Sister Irene’s insistence on forgiveness. We did not learn about “capitalism” or “revolution.” The nuns did not traffic in propaganda . . . Sister Irene taught us that vulnerability didn’t separate humans, it connected us.
The nuns taught us generosity and introspection as directly as fractions and cursive. My education, in other words, was never only about me, but also about the world I was poised to inherit.
From “Everything I Know About Feminism I Learned From Nuns” by Liesl Schwabe, New York Times, Feb. 16, 2019.