Best to begin this story with an explanation about the prevailing attitude and belief that corporal punishment was good for the child and encouraged in our community. Punishment was meted out with some glee in the parochial school system in the early 1960s in Philadelphia. The preferred weapon of choice? A three-foot wooden ruler, and for tougher hides, the half-inch maple pointer. Both instruments were employed on a regular basis, especially on boys who had a propensity for wildness.

As a young boy growing up in a practicing Catholic household, it was assumed that we would all attend Catholic school. I, like all of my Italian-American neighbors, was part of the Stella Maris parish in south Philadelphia.

I had spent a total of nine years in Catholic school, and it was beginning to wear very thin on my gluteus and hands, not to mention my pride. By the eighth grade, my reputation as a troubled and troublemaking student was well known. As the sisters of the Saint Joseph order so delicately put it, “I would grow up to be a wife beater and a criminal.”

The details of my mistake involve two other classmates, Nick Del Asandro and Richie Crowbar. The three of us had the dubious distinction of spending most of our first semester in grade eight standing in the back of the classroom, a form of detention for not completing our homework. The problem with detention was that it gave us an opportunity to spend time with one another, size each other up and eventually decide that not doing homework was the easiest way to be sent to the back of the room and goof off. After a few weeks of our plotting and goofing off, Sister Mary Catherine Marie got wise to our scheming and decided to include some severe corporal punishment in addition to our standing detentions.

We had had enough. The past nine years had been a constant, unwinnable battle and we wanted a way out. Bishop Neuman High School, an all boys’ Catholic school, was looming on the horizon, and no pleading with our parents was going to get us out of that inevitability, which would undoubtedly be an extension of the torture. Rumors on the street had made us wise to the fact that corporal punishment in Bishop Neuman High School was meted out not by the sisters of St. Joseph, but by the brothers and priests, who weren’t afraid to dole out a much heftier class of punishment.

Our parents turned down our repeated requests to transfer us to the local public school. Even if it was peopled by the “unclean” non-Catholics of the neighborhood, we were willing to take our chances. Left with no alternative, we decided that we were going to run away. Our plan was simple. No notes were to be left announcing our departure. We would pretend to go to school and pack our school bags with food and clothing. We left one morning headed for League Island Park at the most southern end of the city. At the edge of the park was the train yard for the Philadelphia waterfront. Our plan was to hop a freight train and be out of town before anyone was the wiser.

It was a cold morning, and we built a small fire in a wooded area next to the train yard while waiting to begin our journey. We didn’t know where we were going, but we were getting out of Catholic school one way or the other. What we didn’t know was that the school had called our parents to inquire as to why three boys from Sister Mary Catherine Marie’s class weren’t in school. By 11 a.m. that morning, there was a citywide search on for three missing children. Our camp was discovered around noon, but we managed to escape the first set of police officers that were dispatched. We weren’t so lucky with the second, larger contingent. We were arrested and brought to the local police station. We were surprised to find our parents waiting, looks of worry plastered across their face.

Though at the time this was an incredibly difficult event for my parents and I to get through, being expelled from Catholic school allowed me to meet many great teachers in the public-school system. These teachers were instrumental in changing my behavior and ultimately the direction of my life. The sculptor I am today in large part is directly a result of my expulsion from parochial school. I can say I am proud of the mistake I made.

— Marinaro is a professor in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

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