Dona Lucilia had outdone herself in providing the best possible education for her children at home. However, despite all of her concerns, in 1919, having reached the appropriate age, Plinio would have to be enrolled in school. She naturally chose the best in São Paulo, run by the Jesuit Fathers. Plinio would now continue his studies under the guidance of the sons of Saint Ignatius, but this was not enough to set Dona Lucilia’s maternal heart at ease. She was fully aware of the dangers which, even in those times, lurked in the company of schoolmates.
How would her son respond to finding himself at odds with a world so contrary to the moral preservation inherent to his home setting? Would he hold his own, or would he let himself to be dragged along by bad influences from his new companions? Only time would tell.
One day, Plinio himself spoke to his mother about going to school. His cousins, who already attended that school, were prompting him to come and study with them. A closer cousin, finding the easiest way to attract him, told him that the playground was filled with cherry trees, and that the students were free to eat the succulent fruit at recess.
Two worlds in constant opposition
On his first day at school, after one or two classes, recreation time arrived. Going out onto the spacious grounds, he looked around for his cousins amid the multitude of boys running and shouting. They had promised to introduce him to the other students. And where were the famous cherry trees? Finally, one of his cousins appeared, breathless and excited.
“Plinio!” he shouted.
“Where are the cherry trees?” the new student asked, hoping to enjoy some of his favourite fruit during his first break.
“Let’s play soccer!” the cousin responded.
The hard battle of life had begun for Plinio, with the tragedies, disillusionments, and failures that every child of Adam must experience. His first disappointment was that of not finding the anticipated cherry trees.
Then, he saw before his eyes two worlds developing side by side, in constant opposition – that of the priests, turned toward the sacred, with their grave bearing and austere garb, creating around themselves an environment symbolizing tradition and eternal truths. The other was the world of the students, riveted in that post-war era by the vulgar “modernity” of Hollywood and drawn to the resulting simple and carefree manners.
It was not difficult to detect traces of the first anarchist and libertarian germs that would infect society decades later.
At school, these two antagonistic influences naturally alternated several times throughout the day. At the beginning of recess, everyone filed in silence to the playground entrance, where a young teacher in clerical dress blew a whistle. At this signal, it seemed that a tornado struck the boys, dispersing them in all directions. The more rambunctious ones usually assembled in a corner of the playground to tell jokes, or to criticize and mock the teachers; others devised small uprisings against bothersome disciplinary norms. Most of the students were carried along by their young leaders, on the crest of the changing times.
Although the good and pious Jesuits priests preached orthodox doctrine for months on end, when students got together during their recreation, an argument or a careless quip by a boy during a five-minute conversation was capable of tearing down all that the professors had achieved with hours and hours of classes.
Plinio did not allow himself to be dominated by these surroundings. Although his light complexion and hair and slim physique were not likely to intimidate others, he decided to confront the situation. Deep down, he opted to fight to preserve in his soul the innocence that Dona Lucilia had so zealously protected and fostered.
Now it was up to him and him alone to preserve the white robe of the Faith and of chastity that he had received at Baptism.
Dona Lucilia discreetly observed her son’s slightest attitudes, to see if he was resisting bad influences or was imperceptibly being carried along by them.
Through Plinio’s speech, gestures, his way of treating others, and, especially, through the “sixth sense” unique to mothers, Dona Lucilia sought to detect possible symptoms of his succumbing to the new modes.
In the late afternoon, when it was almost time for Plinio to return from school, Dona Lucilia would go to the terrace of the house and wait for him. She wanted to see him arriving from a distance, to observe shades of difference in her son’s behaviour after accumulated exposures to the school and street setting, that so contrasted with the home environment.
As he approached she stepped inside, and peered at him through a window. She saw him calmly open and close the heavy entrance gate, climb the stairs with dignity and ring the bell. She waited for him to come into the room, then hugged and kissed him and gave him her blessing. She was relieved to see that her son was the same as on the first day of classes.
A change brought on by fidelity
But one day she noticed a sudden change. Plinio arrived with a pile of textbooks and notebooks under his arms. The gate was unlatched. He kicked it open and, after entering, pushed it closed with his shoulder. He crossed the yard with a quick and heavy step and ran up the stairs two at a time.
Dona Lucilia, from her window lookout, instantly drew her conclusions: “He has become like the others. He has changed.” Despite the apprehension piercing her soul, she redoubled her affection, and limited herself to asking:
“Filhão, how did classes go?”
She received the same answer as always, for he was an excellent student:
“Very well, Mãezinha!”
Until Plinio finished school, he continued to act in this same way and only years later would mother and son speak openly to each other about the subject. She discovered that Plinio, through his faithfulness to the upbringing she had provided, had at first been affable and ceremonious at school.
But some of his classmates had adopted a “sporting” manner, which was considered manly. It didn’t take him long to realize that, in order to gain the respect of the other students, he had to prove that he was energetic and ready to assert himself almost forcefully when reasonable arguments failed. That was when he decided to adopt a “sporting” manner, which did in fact win him favour with a certain number of colleagues.
During this enlightening conversation between mother and son, Plinio made it clear to Dona Lucilia that despite this alteration – a completely exterior one, ruled by his practical sense – absolutely none of his principles had changed nor had his fidelity to the education he had received at home. His loving mother readily saw that this was true. ◊
Taken, with minor adaptations, from:
Dona Lucilia. Città del Vaticano-Nobleton: LEV;
Heralds of the Gospel, 2013, 244-249