Paul Moore: Sister St. Andrew was bemused — and we were cocooned with care

In My Father’s House / By Paul Thomas Moore

One of the little girls in my second grade class was animatedly relating how she had “just fainted” at her first glimpse of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show the night previous.

Sister St. Andrew was bemused. I’d seen that look before. It was the same look Mom wore when she wasn’t so sure about what we were telling her, but she found the story entertaining enough to let us continue.

“Now dear,” said Sister, encouraging a little sober second thought if not insisting on it, “you didn’t really faint, did you?”

The girl, who would have been all of 7 or 8, was sticking to her story, “But I did, Sister, I did!”

It was Monday, Feb. 10, 1964. The only reason I know that is because it’s a matter of historical record that The Beatles made their first appearance on the Sullivan show on Sunday, Feb. 9.


Just two and a half months previous I witnessed a very different teacher reaction when Miss Fobert spoke to someone at the door of our classroom, then came back into class crying. It was Nov. 22, 1963, and President Kennedy had just been shot.

Kids interpret the world through the reactions of adults. When Sister St. Andrew and my Mom silently smiled while listening to my stories, that showed me some things in the world like mop-topped Beatles are exciting and fun but needn’t be blown out of proportion (which John Lennon, for one, would have totally agreed with).

Alternately, Miss Fobert’s reaction showed me that other happenings outside my world could be serious indeed, so much so that adults — teachers even — could be shaken to the core and let tears flow. I had previously had a crush on Miss Fobert, and after that felt even more protective of her.

Back with The Beatles, I hadn’t really understood what was going on during the Sullivan show. I didn’t catch the name when Ed first announced them, and then the screaming started, and didn’t really stop, and Mom and Dad were talking over what was happening onscreen, the way they did when they thought something was a bit much, “Honest to heaven . . . .” My 7-year-old self was just waiting to see if my favorite Sullivan act, Topo Gigio the puppet, would be on later.

So, the next morning at school, when all this talk of Beatles and fainting came up, my first thought was they were talking about insect beetles in a kind of miniature circus performing act. I felt bad as I would have enjoyed seeing something like that. This also lined up with my understanding of the sort of thing girls fainted about.


Ash Wednesday was two days later, Feb. 12, 1964, and that ushered in another interesting time at St. Pius X School in Peterborough, Ontario: we were permitted to eat breakfast in class! I trooped through the path behind the school, back from morning Mass at St. John the Baptist, carrying my lunch pail like the construction workers used, only smaller. There wasn’t time to eat at home and still observe the one-hour fast before Mass, hence the reason for breakfast at school.

As I walked into class, the desktops arrayed before me featured a sea of lunchboxes. Mine was advertising-emblazoned with some early 60s TV show, now just out of my memory’s reach. Sister led Grace, and then I unwrapped my wax paper-protected sandwich — usually cheese or peanut butter — and unscrewed the top of the glass-lined thermos, which held either Tang orange drink, milk, or cocoa (hot chocolate). It was like unwrapping love.

Yes, it was a protected innocence. Adults got a kick out of our enthusiasms, and we were trusted (occasionally) with their honest emotional reactions to world events, but there is no doubt that between home, school and Church, we were cocooned with care. It is a blessing for which I will be forever grateful.

PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic commentator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at

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