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Q & A about Disturbers Row

For those of you who don't know me, I have been a reporter and writer for more than 40 years now. I was born and raised in Chicago, and spent the first 31 years of my life there, all in the same neighborhood: Logan Square. I began my reporting career at the City News Bureau of Chicago in 1979 and eventually ended up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I worked for various publications. My favorite was The Albuquerque Tribune newspaper. I put in 13 years there. This is a 20-year-old picture, but I'm using it because I still haven't taken a better one. I figured there might be some questions about my latest book, Disturbers Row, so I'll try to answer some of them here.

Q. I'm not sure what this book is. Is it a memoir, or is it fiction?

A. It's both. Most of the stuff in the book, about 85 percent, really happened. I embellish on the things that did happen, and I did make a few stories up. But everything in the book is based in truth.

Q. In the book, you went to Our Lady of Grace School in Chicago. Is that its real name?

A: Yes. It's at 2446 N. Ridgeway Avenue in the Logan Square neighborhood.

Q. Was there really a Sister Zita?

A. Yes. She was quite real.

Q. Some of this seems hard to believe. Did the nuns really beat you up that much? And did a nun really hang a first-grade kid on a coat hook?

A. Yes and yes. Many of the nuns were, in retrospect, serial child abusers. They were beating, punching, verbally abusing kids from first grade on. Yes, they threw erasers, chalk and rubber balls at first-graders, and they clipped clothespins to their ears, noses and lips. One nun used to stuff rubber balls into the mouths of first-grade kids who talked. That's first grade! And yes, the first-grader being hung on a coat hook is a true story.

Q. So you are saying that nuns physically abused first-graders, mean six-year-old kids?

A. Yes.

Q. Were the Disturbers real?

A. Yes. There were five of us.

Q. The stuff you write about--the nuns beating and abusing kids--never happened to me. It can't be true! It isn't true!

A. It might not have happened to you, but it happened to me and my pals. It's my story, not yours. And it's true. The people who don't, or won't like this book, are deniers and apologists--kids who slavishly obeyed the nuns and who ached to conform. I can still hear them: "Oh, Sister, I've been good, I've obeyed your every order. Can I--please, Sister, please!--may I have a gold star?"

For you deniers out there, here are some comments from one of my classmates, Alice Martynek Holtom:

"I just ordered a copy from Amazon for my daughter in Portland. It may give her some insight into her Mother's past.

"I was thrust into Sr. Dennis's first-grade class, speaking and understanding Polish only. F's on report card, yeah...go figure! I was too quiet, she said. Didn't anyone tell her No English?

"Learned quickly, ending up with F for conduct. Why? Talking too much! Couldn't win! She'd shove rubber balls in my mouth. She shot rubber bands at me. She used her 'Board of Education' with holes drilled in it, across my butt in the front of the class. Good ole OLG!"

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3 commentaires

Tim Collins
Tim Collins
15 mars 2022

In my defense, all I can say about this rant is, "Dennis Domrzalski started it, Sister!" Back in the day, it was our only misguided form of classroom salvation from holy retribution! Sometimes it even worked! It was all in the delivery! The survivors of 'Disturber's Row' were not 'on a mission from God!' Neither were some of the nuns! So, before I begin, let's give a big; "Bless me father, for I have sinned, (I'm just here for a friend!") Some nuns we remember were well past their prime, unable to deal with kids at that stage of their lives. Nuns take vows to live a motherless, sexless, existence of sacrifice, poverty, self-denial, absent of worldly pleasures, or …

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Again, a great comment!

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