By Lori Waddell

I used to pray seven times a day.  Actually, I was required to pray seven times a day as a part of the contract I signed to teach at Charlotte Catholic High School.  Before I began teaching there, my idea of Sunday morning worship was Meet The Press.  Cleaning the house and screaming at the talking heads dodging questions and babbling about the state of affairs was, to me, just as useful as the tradition of church.  Prayer was never a part of the ritual. I always thought of prayer as personal, as needing to have purpose.  Prayer was not something to be shared with twenty teenagers, aloud, seven periods a day, five days a week.

It was prayer that scared me the most about teaching in parochial school.  I was afraid I would mess up and offend someone.  I was also unsure of how I felt forcing kids to pray memorized prayers.  I did not see how these rote memorized prayers helped develop faith; but who was I to judge?  Tim Russert was my preacher.

For weeks, I put off the inevitable, asking for volunteers to lead the class and out of desperation, volunteering students so that I would not have to stand in front of twenty or so teenagers and mess up what, I was told, was the central element of their education — faith.  So each day, I listened as my students recited the same prayers over and over.  One day, I did three Our Fathers, two Hail Mary’s, and an Angel of Mercy

Finally, I knew the time had come for me to gain control over my fears; plus, I had run out of mandatory volunteers.  So I stood at the front of my classroom, the crucifix at my back, as if to guide my efforts, and waited for the bell to summon my faith.  I looked over into the crowd of my students.  Their red, white, and blue polo shirts blurred as I simultaneously closed my eyes and bowed my head and said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit Amen.  Hail Mary, Full of Grace.” Yes!  I was not alone.  The students all chimed in, a low roar-like mumble that at least masked my insecurity of my first Hail Mary. “The Lord is with thee.”  I was doing it!  Conquering my fears!  I was praying, out loud, with my students. “Blessed art thou among sinners.”  This was not as bad as I had originally imagined. I was almost finished, in the home stretch; and off to teach about Manifest Destiny and western expansion.  “And blessed is the fruit of thy loom, Jesus.” I said it. In a split second I just said that Jesus was Mary’s fruit of the loom. Oh God, what was I going to do? I opened one eye to see if anyone noticed; the entire class’ heads were bowed; their eyes were all on me and the students were holding back the corners of their mouths.  Jeff’s blonde hair fell into his eyes, a good thing, because it covered up his almost uncontrollable urge to howl, an action that would have brought the entire class into hysteria. I didn’t know what to do.  I, myself, had an uncontrollable urge to giggle. I knew I had to hold it together. So with as much authority as I could rally within myself, I loudly and proudly finished what I had started. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”  The class was silent. The kids — again, holding back the quivering in the corners of their mouths — were staring at me, as if they did not know what to do.  “Get out your homework.”

I figured God was with me, for the moment at least, as no student mentioned this slip of the lips and the reference to undies; though I know that all were aware that I needed extra practice on the Hail Mary.  The next day, before I could even correct the previous day’s transgressions, Jeff announced that he was doing prayer.  Thank you, Lord, I thought, for these gifts you have given me.  I was off the hook, for B Period at least. 

Jeff was a life-size Ken Doll, complete with tan features and perfect hair that look as if they were chiseled from plastic underneath his popped collar and designer shorts.  Jeff was not plastic, but aware of his popularity; keenly aware of his ability to lead, even if his directions were sometimes faulty.  Jeff made the sign of the cross; the other students followed.  He looked at me, his sea-blue eyes twinkling from the glow of the fluorescent light, his hands folded serenely on top of his plastic desk, and a smug smile crept across his face.  God Our Father, Jeff was singing.  I had no idea what was going on, but the entire class repeated, in unison but not harmony, God Our Father. I wanted to laugh. They had certainly planned this, but not rehearsed. We Give Thanks. Jeff looked at me, as if to say ‘We got you!’ His eyes gave way that this was definitely a test. We Give Thanks. All the students were snickering. I had no idea how much longer this was going to go on, but I could tell that most of the class was waiting for my reaction. For Our Many Blessings. I sat reverently on the top of an empty desk, acting like I was listening.  For Our Many Blessings. I realized at this point they were made to sing this in Elementary School or something because too many of them were familiar with this song. Amen. Good it was over. Amen. I forgot the refrain.

“That was great, y’all.”  The class sat in their desks, proud.  “Jeff, for the rest of the year, you are going to lead the class in that prayer; this will be B Period’s official class prayer — y’all just did an awesome job!”  I could see the color drain from their faces and the corners of their mouths draw in — they thought they had outsmarted me; what they did not realize is that they just saved me six more months of Hail Mary’s.

It was not long after our sing-along that I completely overcame my fear and found daily prayer as an integral tool for classroom management. No matter how loud and obnoxious students were, when faced with reflection and told to pray, they all stopped, like little soldiers, crossed their chests with their fingers, and bowed their head.  At times, I felt eerie about how much control forced prayer has over them; other times I was thankful. 

One day, the afternoon announcements came on in G Period and all eighteen of my students missed not only announcements, but prayer, because they were too busy talking — actually, screaming — over each other to realize.  I finally regained control, had them pick up all trash from the floor, arrange my desks, and sit down before I would let anyone leave. The halls had already filled with students, not mine. I told them that we were going to pray since none of them noticed the prayer earlier. They were all huffy, anxious to be released from World History Hell — prayer, I told them, was their only savior. So we vigorously crossed ourselves, praying to The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And before I could even catch it out of my mouth, the words “Hey Mary” flew out into the middle of my classroom and landed on the floor.  All of the students looked at me, red in the face, and I just kept on going. “Full of Grace the Lord is with thee.”  A giggle came from the back of the room, crept around the corner and by the time we got to the fruit of the womb, it did not matte r — womb, loom, we were all laughing, some of the boys uncontrollably.  How we finished the prayer, I do not know, but when it was over, the students looked at me for dismissal as Ethan, in the most effiminent, southern drawl I have ever heard, busted me out with “Hey, Mary, whatcha doin’, girl?” Class dismissed.


One Response to “Hail Mary”

  1. Robin Shipmeadow Says:

    Is that so?

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