There's was one who taught spanish at my high school, Sister Mary Thomas, she was a real badass. She was about fifty, had her hair in a short, blunt cut and wore boots. Big, butt-stomping boots. She taught Spanish, but in the context of teaching about the language, she taught about the economic instability in Latin America, the subversion of the Salvador Allende government, the opression of the poor and the lack of equality for women. She had advanced degrees in History and economics, but was teaching Spanish to callow high school boys, probably because someone thought she was dangerous, and she was dangerous.

She once told my mother that some of the boys she taught were so dense and so intent on not learning a thing that they made her furious. And when some of them gave me a hard time, she got so angry that she wanted to "rip off their faces and shake the blood out". No false piety for Sister Mary Thomas, when she was angry, you knew it. She absolutely demanded respect, and I gave it back to her in spades. She let the class know that it was her classroom, and while we were in it, we were going to learn or die trying.

In private conversation with her one afternoon, I learned that in her younger days she had been quite the activist. From organizing protests against the dealth penalty to taking to the streets in attempts to help drug addicts and prostitutes; Sister Mary Thomas was not content to talk about heaven, she descended into Hell to try to alleviate human suffering. A lot of the respect that I still maintain for the truly religious comes from this one woman, who helped me see that the Catholic Church, though old, is not neccessarily stodgy and inert.

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