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Although it has been 40 years, Jacksonville attorney Michael Prendergast, 48, clearly remembers receiving his first holy Communion. He was specifically instructed, “Don’t chew Jesus,” as he learned how communion hosts are transformed into the body of Christ during the consecration.
  Author and Jacksonville attorney, Michael Prendergast and his wife, Mary Lou.

This candid tale is one of many featured in a book he co-wrote with former Catholic school classmate, Danielle Schaaf, titled, Don’t Chew Jesus! A Collection of Memorable Nun Stories.

The 240-page, hardcover book, now in its second printing, is a compilation of nearly 400 firsthand anecdotes and recollections gathered from more than 100 Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the United States, Canada, Ireland, England and Germany. The stories were collected through dozens of speaking engagements, newspaper articles, radio and television news items, Internet message boards, friends, neighbors and even strangers on the street.

“This book’s been a blast,” Michael says, describing how the idea for the book came about. Michael and Danielle, at their 30th eighth grade graduation reunion, were surprised by the number of stories fellow classmates had remembered about their former teachers. “We wanted to put them together in a book,” he says. “Being taught by nuns was not as much about education as it was an endurance contest,” he says candidly. “You were comrades in surviving - passing the test of Catholic education.”

Although Michael recalls being rapped on the knuckles “all the time,” this book is about much more than embellished stories of corporal punishment. The two authors developed a website to collect stories from all over the country from individuals, churches and civic organizations that recall many humorous and touching stories - many about devout piety, religious training, tough love and classroom antics. Submissions are even included from the sisters themselves. The following is an excerpt entitled, “Spring Forward.”

While Sister was out of the room, two of us pulled down the shades and another turned down the lights. We then set her classroom clock forward two hours. Sister glanced at the clock when she entered the room and, startled by the time, told us to leave.

“Oh my, students your parents will be worried sick about you! Run, run, go home. Class dismissed.” We were slapped with a week’s detention.

“So many [of the stories] had the exact same themes, experiences, stories about the sacraments and bizarre, but not abusive, discipline,” Michael says. “It’s the ‘greatest generation’ of nun stories.”

Michael was raised in a Catholic family and attended St. Luke Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla., for eight years. He attended a public high school, graduated from the University of Florida, and is now a partner at the firm of Coffman, Coleman, Andrews & Grogan, P.A. in Jacksonville. He specializes in labor law.

While Michael says his Catholic faith did not lead him to his profession, he has never forgotten the values he learned from the sisters in Catholic school - to be honest and follow his conscience. “Nuns have put out a lot of ‘rule followers,’ Michael points out. “People like lawyers, judges, referees are lasting legacies of the nuns. They have also left behind a legacy of work in hospitals, such as St. Vincent’s.”

“We were trying to honor the nuns who answered the call,” he continues. Although the book wasn’t written with the idea of calling others to consecrated life, Michael doesn’t discount the idea that reading this book may influence someone to answer that call. “We still have sisters, but not to the extent that we once did.” The number of religious sisters in the United States has dropped from 179,954 in 1965 to 66,608 in 2006.

Michael, a lector, usher and member of the Men’s Club at his parish of 15 years, St. Matthew in Jacksonville, says the sisters who were his teachers opened students’ minds to the idea of a vocation, “not just to be ordained, but they inspired us to lay vocations and pushed us to get involved in community service. The sisters would always tell us being good Christians was the example you set for others.”
  Author Michael Prendergast’s first grade class (1964-65) at St. Luke Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla.
Right, Michael Prendergast in first grade.

“When we went to Catholic school everyone was taught by nuns. We wanted to pass that on to kids who don’t have the experience we had. There are very few nuns in Catholic schools now,” he observes. Michael and his wife, Mary Lou, have two daughters, Katie, 15, and Emily, 12..

“Perhaps Don’t Chew Jesus! can help preserve the dedication, passion and influence of these women,” Michael hopes. “All of us have had one or more sisters that have had that lasting effect on us.”