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The Soapbox: Confessions of a Catholic School Italian Girl

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Brandi Chambless

Bless me Father for I have sinned, my last confession was two weeks ago. These are my sins….

A thick French accent responds to me in a voice capable of being audible to himself as well as everyone else in the nave, “You missed Mass last Sunday…why?”

I cannot see his face, but the distinctive voice told me who it was.

Well you see, Father, the girls and I stayed out a little too late and I didn’t get home until long past my curfew, when I finally fell asleep….

“Anything else?” he asks.

Well, yes Father, I ate hog head cheese on Good Friday. Sorry about that.

Loudly repeating my sin of eating meat on Good Friday: You ate hog head cheese….hmmm. I see.

For your penance you will say an Act of Contrition, three Hail Marys, and an Our Father now go in peace and sin no more….Oh my God…I am heartily sorry for having offended thee….

And thus was the life of my twelve years in Catholic school. By the time a student exited Father’s confessional, everyone would be snickering since the aged priest was so hard of hearing that nothing was ever private.

We might then be collectively escorted back to class by a French teacher from the West Indies whose sole purpose was to instill Parisian French in the students. As a student in a small private school run by a confirmed Italian principal, the students were very blessed to receive individual attention. We were intimately acquainted with saddle oxfords, uniforms, chapel veils, and the Baltimore Catechism.

One particular day of my freshman year, I was sitting in class when the school principal Brother André peeks in and says in his heavy New Orleans accent, “Miss Tanner, I hear you have keyboard skills. You are the new organist. Here are the keys to the organ.” Though he always affectionately called me his little Italian girl and asked who was my Daddy, he was as firm as could be leaving me no choice to say, well, nothing.

Before I knew it, I was assigned a teaching hour of the day to conduct music class with the students and prepare them for Friday’s liturgy. My feet could barely reach the organ pedals and I really wasn’t all that good, but we got some songs ready for worship.

This was the routine for my four years of high school.

I didn’t anticipate ever using these skills again, but ended up traveling throughout the Southeast and Texas to work in and with choirs and praise teams. It was a lifetime experience I will always treasure.

Should I have found it sort of comical when one Sunday during my return to the village where it all started and was attending a modern church plant that the pastor turns to the congregation and announces the sound system has malfunctioned and does anyone have keyboard skills?

No. No. No. I tell myself. But, before long I realized that this is going to be shut down if I don’t step forward.

Though I was only visiting, the folks there were more than pleased with my average skill level as I called out those old Gospel hymns. One soul approached the altar as the congregation sang. Softly and Tenderly.

Should I have also found it interesting and even sort of comical when I found out later that day that it was Brother André’s last day of life here on earth and out of the clear blue in the same town those same average keyboard skills got found out once again?

I remembered those old organ keys he had given me that stayed in my purse from 1985 until 2009 when I turned them in at my twenty year high school reunion. When I made a confession to the choir that I had kept them for 24 years, we all had a good laugh followed by a little ceremony where I hung up the keys for good. Of course, I can steal away and play that organ anytime I so desire, but I found it so wonderfully beautiful that even six years of college didn’t point me toward the destiny that one particular prompting did that day when Brother André pulled me out of class. My only regret is that I think he died never knowing what a profound impact he as a teacher had on my life, as well as so many others.

Rather than dwelling on the influence he had, we found comfort in bringing forth hysterical confessions of childhood pranks like, Brother André, I guess now you know the truth that it was me who pulled the fire alarm so we wouldn’t have to go to class. Or I was the one who released the stink bomb at class night and skipped publications for a whole year to shoot hoops in the gym. Sorry about putting your car on blocks. You know what they say. When in Rome. So, with all of that bravery I also made my final confession. Brother André I am not now, or have never been, Italian.

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About The Author

Brandi Chambless

Read Brandi's column each month in The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper.

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