I Was Only Nice to Get a Good Grade, Then It Became a Habit

Queen of the dorks in Seventh Grade.

Deceptively innocent looking Fran.

One of the toughest assignments I ever had was in seventh grade religion class.

Our teacher, Sister Generosa told us our assignment was to do something nice for someone we didn’t know — every day during Lent. And here’s the kicker, we couldn’t tell anyone.

When I first heard that I thought, “What kind of lunatic goes around doing nice things for strangers and then never even gets to brag about it?” I was no kindly Mother Teresa back then so it seemed a little crazy to me and a lot to ask of kids. But for forty long days, I ran to hold doors open, helped anyone across the street who’d let me, picked things up for people and just generally tried to be a decent human, all so I could get a good grade in religion.

Proof Sister Generosa/Janet was my teacher.

Proof Sister Generosa/Janet was my teacher.

It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It wasn’t the kind deeds that almost did me in, it was the keeping quiet part! (If you think I talk a lot now, trust me, I was way worse as a pre-teen.) I was dying to tell my parents all the awesome things I’d done, so they could fawn all over me, but I couldn’t say a word.

Once lent was over, it felt weird and a little rude to stop holding doors open or helping people out. I’m sure this was Sister’s evil plan from the start.

Why am I talking about this now, when Lent came and went months ago?

Because Sister Janet Mock, my seventh grade teacher, just won the Outstanding Leadership AwardΒ at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ Annual Assembly last week, and I’m feeling pretty proud, but not the least bit surprised.

Even in seventh grade, I could tell she was exceptional. And it’s no shock that in her acceptance speech she gave everyone else credit for everything she’s learned over the years. She was always unbelievably kind and humble.

She started out as Sister Generosa, (a very appropriate name) then, when things changed in the late ’60s, and nuns no longer had to wear habits or keep their nunly names, she changed it to Sister Janet.

Seventh grade class

My seventh grade class with Sister Janet top middle. (The one with the habit.)

She was cool too. I remember someone asking her in religion class if she thought Jesus ever kissed anyone. She said, of course he did, he was a man. Then we asked if she thought he ever French kissed anyone, (seventh graders can never leave well enough alone) and she very matter-of-factly said, “Probably.” And the whole class tittered with the news that Jesus might have been just like us when he was 12, unless he was busy throwing money changers out of temples.

My dismal report card. I got my first two D's from Sister Generosa/Janet, but hey, I raised it up in religion to all A's! The sacrifice was worth it.

My dismal Seventh Grade report card. I got my first two D’s from Sister Janet (I’m blaming it on puberty) but hey, I raised it up in religion to all A’s!

She played Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” and told us that that’s how we should think of God — cheering us on when we do well — and right behind us when we’re down and out.

I’m certain you’ll find this unbelievably hard to fathom, but I actually considered becoming a nun at one time because of her. (Oh stop it, I can hear you laughing.) She made it look like a good thing to do.

I’m sure she doesn’t remember me, but Β her Lenten experiment with a bunch of seventh graders one year, has never left me. Any time I hold open a door, let someone in line in front of me, pick up something someone dropped, or resist mowing down irritating pedestrians with my car, I’m always grateful she taught me a better way to be.

20 thoughts on “I Was Only Nice to Get a Good Grade, Then It Became a Habit

  1. I thought that was a picture of Milena! Spitting image of you! Love the articles Fran πŸ™‚ Interesting your exposure to religion; seems a very positive influence. My experiences were quite different, but then again I asked questions they didn’t find so cute πŸ™‚

    • That’s pretty funny Micah. I’m sure we asked a few questions that weren’t so cute either. As for Milena, that’s quite a compliment to me. I like to think of her as Fran 2.0, Blonde, perfectly curly hair, green eyes and long legs…maybe even 5.0. But thanks!

  2. Enjoyed the article. All of us with Italian parents got the same message in a variety of ways. My mother always told me, in a rather crude but succinct manner, “Do good and shut up.” But I got it.

    • Thanks Chas. Our mom’s favorite was, “Be always a nize, have a respect anna remember de appearanze issa 100%. Between her and Sister Janet, I suppose being nice would have to take hold eventually. Thanks for always reading!

  3. We had 65 kids in our 8th grade class with one nun. There’s something to be said about the discipline and the values that were instilled in us by the nuns and priests … and also our parents. We were taught on a daily basis how to be kind, compassionate, mannerly, to do the right thing even though it’s hard, to do what’s right even when no one is looking, to not bring attention to ourselves for helping others, to let others praise us if they notice! God bless Sister Generosa for making a difference in a child’s life (many children)
    and God bless you for recognizing her in this manner after all these years!

    • Awww, DT. Thanks for the accolades, but now I have Catholic guilt over your praise of me. She really was a very special person. I wish her the best. Thanks for reading, as always! I hope you’re recuperating nicely. If I was there I’d pick a nice movie for you and make you some popcorn.

  4. Don’t go showing any of my report cards! Cute article and she’s still alive! From: At Fran’s Table To: btunno@bernietunnoins.com Sent: Friday, August 21, 2015 4:28 AM Subject: [New post] I Was Only Nice to Get a Good Grade, Then It Became a Habit #yiv1220949646 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1220949646 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1220949646 a.yiv1220949646primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1220949646 a.yiv1220949646primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1220949646 a.yiv1220949646primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1220949646 a.yiv1220949646primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1220949646 WordPress.com | Fran Tunno posted: “When I was in 7th grade, one of the toughest assignments I ever had was in religion class.Our teacher, Sister Generosa (Janet) told us our assignment was to do something nice for someone we didn’t know — every day during Lent. And here’s the kick” | |

    • I don’t have any of your report cards, but now I’m going to look for them! Thanks for reading. Yeah, I couldn’t believe she was still around and as vibrant as she is. She must have become a nun at 18 and couldn’t have been much older than that when she taught us. How rare to be so young and yet, so darn wise.

  5. I graduated 1968 and sung in the choir from 3rd grade thru 8th, so I remember Sister Janet. The issue she and I had was that I was a class jokester. One day she told me that she wanted to slap my face but understood the importance of humor in life. I didn’t get it then but later in life I took that to heart.

    • How funny Rick. I understand, and was the same way. ( I probably hid my mischief by sitting in the back of the room, looking innocent.) Thank God, she understood the importance of humor, that slap would have hurt. Wonder what you said?

  6. Ah, Fran: my life-changing nun was Sister Ernestine in second grade. Somehow she commandeered my wild mother to drive her around to her weekly charity cases. On one of these drives, my mother showed her the picture I had drawn of Sister in a ball gown (I thought she was too beautiful to hide in a habit). She blushed crimson and I wanted to kill my mother. Sister Ernestine was the living embodiment of grace and that has stayed with me through the years as well. She taught me how to write in script, how to spell well (she taught me ENCYCLOPEDIA and ARITHMETIC during those car rides), and most importantly, true generosity of spirit. I too considered being a nun because of her (and partly Audrey Hepburn and Jennifer Jones). You are right: those nuns are pretty sneaky.

    • Oh Linda, I knew we had a common bond that went much deeper than the PTA. I love your story about Sister Ernestine. God bless all those nuns, (even the crazy ones) who cared for us all those years.

  7. Okay Fran, even though I was with you through all of that, the only part I remember was the playing of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. I probably remember this because I believe I upset her when I told her I did not like it. When she asked me why, I said I didn’t like the beat of it! I must have though I was rating “records” on American Bandstand!

    • Margaret, that’s probably because being nice came so naturally to you that it wasn’t a stretch. For me, this was a life altering experience. That’s so funny about “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” She was a very good singer too! I remember the competitions she entered us in and all the choir practices too.

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