A favorite person in from my childhood had a very strange name, Theckla. Now who had ever heard of such a name? Over a period of time I learned many versions of the story of "Thekla". Since the original Theckla lived nearer to the times that Romans ruled the world, I did not know her. However, I met a delightful, kind woman who had taken her name as a sister of the order of nuns founded by St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. Mother Theckla turned out to be a bright light in my girlhood.
I must have been pretty daring because shortly after meeting her I felt comfortable enough to laugh at her jokes and tell her she "was funny enough to be on TV." One of the young women, who worked at the school, shushed me for daring to speak so directly to the person who would become my teacher for three grades. Mother Theckla, however, had a good sense of humor and put me at ease. Like many 8 year olds, I was easily led by the catechism lessons we learned. One day I ran to Mother Theckla in tears. "What's this? Why are you crying?" I had just learned that only Catholics went to heaven and I was concerned that one of my heroes was not there. Abraham Lincoln was an early hero to me. I was born on his birthday and everything I read about him showed him to be caring, diligent, and concerned with undoing injustice. Patiently and kindly, Mother Theckla soothed me and stated clearly. "President Lincoln followed his religion and was a good man. He most definitely is in heaven." That was my first experience of an ecumenical practitioner of the Catholic faith. And I believe it preceded Pope John the 23rd's call for opening the windows of the church. This was his metaphor for letting in new light and air into what had become a stilted religion.
I bring up my fourth grade teacher in loving memory because I am a teacher and a "fallen" Catholic who still appreciates the sisters who helped raise her. I believe many of my more loving and caring approaches to life come from these Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and of course my family. I credit Theckla most because when I most needed a motherly touch, she provided it.
Despite the fact that my parents were working class, I had the privilege of a different learning environment and experience. These helped me see greater complexity in the possibilities and obstacles that people from my parents' working class and immigrant status encountered. I fear it instilled in me a desire for living as if I were a Roosevelt or Kennedy—I did it in my mind rather than in fact. While in the convent school I had one kind of experience. When I was in Manhattan that was another experience, and later when I left my beloved Sacred Heart Villa to move to California I once again encountered new situations. I suppose it was a good thing that I learn t be flexible at an early age because life has challenged me to adapt to new things all too frequently.