"Mean Nun" Stereotype?


Im sure your all familiar with the “mean, bitter repressed nun” trope that is so often used in film and literature. My question is, is there any basis in reality for it?

I have seen on blogs and elsewhere many “Ex/ lapsed” Catholics describe that when they were kids in the 50s-60s the nuns were mean, rotten old hags were phyiscially and emotionally abusive. Im sure it is exagerrated but I have seen/heard this stereotype kind of often.

Did anyone here experience that? neither of my parents really did ( childhood from 60s-70s for them)!

Any thoughts?

Yes there were mean nuns, priests and bishops in the history of the Catholic Church. However, they were a minority of the people serving religious communities.

My ex used to go on and on about this. I was not Catholic and so assumed there must be something to it, as many who heard his dramatic story seemed to enjoy it so and sometimes relate it to things they had heard. He was and undisciplined kid from a large family and started out taller and bigger than the others (who eventually caught up with him) and his 2nd grade teacher cruelly used him as her “bad example” and it did have a lasting effect (and it made for great stories!). His mother took him out at the end of that year when she found out how the years had been for him…

But years later I became Catholic and wondered more. Were the other nuns also really awful, I asked for the first time? No. The Kdg. and 1st grade nuns were nice. And so was the nun- principal he was so often sent to.

Well my public school 2nd grade teacher was really awful too. She would would shock me by dumping my desk and making me pick it all up while she shamed me. I think I was so afraid of her I tuned her out. My 1st grade teacher had been so nice…This teacher had lasting bad effects on me.

But it never made a “great story”, not like the "mean nun"story. And I have never met anyone who did not have a bad public school teacher along the way. So I have come to think that were good and bad nun teachers, just like good and bad public school teachers. The nun ones just make great stories because its politically correct to put nuns down, IMO.

I had nuns from kindergarten through sixth grade. 1950s. I never saw a rough, bitter, or otherwise bad nun.
And these nuns were in an order based in Quebec. I doubt they had more than high school. These weren’t the cream of the crop in the nun business. But no bad ones.

You get a bunch of people together and if the talk starts about nuns everybody has a horror story to tell. Why? That’s how people are. Mary has to outdo John who wants to outdo Sue etc etc etc. They’re probably all lying. When it’s all over you have stories about a nun who was a chainsaw serial killer or former Nazi concentration camp guard.

Of course, the Hollywood movie producers pander to the moronic masses.

Great topic!! Past due for discussion really! I think the answer is yes and no. I have a friend and spiritual sponsor of sorts who is an ex-nun. She is wonderful and held in high regard by our Parish. She is now a retired English school teacher, and she rocks.

I also have a friend who went to a Catholic school when he was young. Punishments included kneeling on the register grid of a floor furnace! This experience fortunately did not keep him from the Catholic church! Like any other vocation, there are good and the “not so good!”:hammering:

Sure there were mean/bad nuns just like there were mean/bad public school teachers. Schools are very different now. Back then, as in some public schools now, you could physically discipline students. I got a swat on the behind for drinking out of the faucet at the sink using my hands. And I saw boys being pulled by the ear during recess. Didn’t see anything worse than that. We called it strict. I loved my 2nd grade teacher.

Also, back in the 60s there were 50 kids in my classes. When I was teaching a class of 35 I could only imagine how difficult it would be to control 25 boys and keep track of everything for 50 kids. I knew a sister who had 75 students :eek: and she had just graduated college.

People love to dramatize their sufferings as children.All the more fun to combine it with making fun of the Catholic Church and of people who are celibate! I doubt if nuns were any different than regular public school teachers.

I had a teacher in 6th grade who was Jewish and from New York. She was an energy filled, creative teacher. She was also a raging Witch, who would go on loud, verbal tirades, verbally unbraid people, throw things. A friend of mine and her triplet brother were both in the class and she would meanly, unfavorably compare my friend to him.

So, are all NY Jewish teachers mean?:shrug:

I had nuns for teachers from kindergarten through high school every year. They were not mean. They expected discipline and respect. For the children who did not listen, I have witnessed nuns startle kids by cracking a ruler on the desk, have a gum chewer wear the gum on their nose etc.

They were very precise with lessons and grading, nothing was subjective, and they seem to be fairer with grades. You got what you deserved, grades were not based on personality either way. So you had to do the work.(Or write the entire chapter for homework for punishment) Same with illegible or sloppy work too-not accepted.

Had good & bad, sisters and lay teachers. I think teachers had a whole lot of latitude in those days. That, too, was both good & bad. Perhaps nuns had the most latitude because they had more job security than lay teachers.

I have never met a mean nun all the sisters I met in the states were haitian sisters I forget the order but they were lovely women kind and helpful, the nuns here in mexico still wear the full habit so they are easily spotted and they have a smile for everyone even at 5 am on the metro when everyone is cranky I can count on one of the sisters to come stand near me and start a conversation or to help me with one of my fussy kids but Ive never had nuns as teachers so I cant say how they teach or if they are mean

I spent eight years in catholic grade school and had 6 Nuns, and none of them were mean, in fact I believe they may be saints, it’s been over 50 years and I still pray for them. What I do remember though is some pretty mean kids.

My husband went to Catholic schools in the late 60/70 and does testify about mean nuns.
He hated Catholic schools and left in the 5th grade. Fast forward to the now and our children did go through Catholic Schools and the one was run by a nuns. The teachers were secular but the principal wasn’t. We had nice ones and we have had awful ones which fit the bill, in fact the last one was really horrible.

To the extant that the “mean old nun” stereotype was in anyway true or commonplace, I think I have a possible explanation.

I think it was true that years ago there were more nuns than there are now. Maybe there was greater societal holiness way back when, but also there were fewer opportunities for women, generally speaking.

I think its possible that at least some of those nuns might not have had a spiritual calling at all but ended up taking vows because they were the “old maid” of the family?

Perhaps some had a tough time coping with the restrictions of sisterhood and took it out in bad ways? That is just a theory though…

Btw, though neither of my parents had “mean nuns” ( In fact my mother had lovely sisters of the Visitation!:D) They both say that teachers in their day were allowed to be much meaner and tougher than they are now (especially toward the boys)

An excellent theory at that. I do think some used the convent because of no other choices. Some may have been abused by family, maybe even sexually abused. Or, they were social misfits in some way, so escaped into a socially acceptable avenue. Not all of course, but some.


An excellent theory at that. I do think some used the convent because of no other choices. Some may have been abused by family, maybe even sexually abused. Or, they were social misfits in some way, so escaped into a socially acceptable avenue. Not all of course, but some.

Oh brother!
There’s a new level of speculative, unfounded, judgement. :mad:

What keeps the mean nun stereotype going?
Nuns don’t jump in front of the television camera to defend themselves. They’re easy to pick on.

Try it on blacks, Jews, or Moslems and see what happens. :eek:

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