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St. Nick's Outlaws

By Jim Colombo


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Copyright 2001 Jim Colombo



Chapter 24


The ladies of St. Vincent’s high school invited the gentlemen of St. Nick’s to their


Halloween Ball. Everyone was required to wear masks. Costumes were optional. The


lads thought that Reverend Mother would ride in on her motorcycle wearing her Hell’s


Angels black leather habit, dismount, crack her bullwhip, and declare that the dance had


begun. They referred to her as Attila the Nun. She was about six feet tall, 180 pounds,


and wore sunglasses every day and night. She believed that her purpose in life was to


defend the virtue of each lady at St. Vincent’s Academy for Virgins. Reverend Mother 


personally chilled each lady to thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit prior to the dance to


prevent any warm emotions of passion or lust. The purpose of any social function was


to prepare and educate Catholic ladies and gentlemen in the refinement of the social


graces. “The Locomotion” by Little Eva was number one.  For most of the ladies it was


an opportunity to wear their padded bras and back-less dresses. For the gentlemen it


was an opportunity to improve their charming ways when hitting on the ladies. It was also


an opportunity for a gent to accidentally bump the hardware on the chest of a frozen virgin


to see if those were real or heavy metal. Some ladies wore hardware with sharp points.


A gent had to be careful to not lose an eye. The problem with the dances was that most


of the guys and gals had boyfriends and girlfriends from other schools. It was mandatory


for the ladies and gents to attend. The nuns and brothers didn’t think that the student's


initiated contact with the opposite sex without their permission. It was uncomfortable for a


guy or a gal who was going steady with someone else to enjoy an evening of dancing


when they wanted to be with their special person at the dances.  Some of the ladies and


gents were dance buddies.  They paired off for the night, and hung out just talking and


occasionally dancing.  Each were going steady with someone else. After a couple of years


of attending the dances they had become friends.  


Jim wasn’t going with anyone, and danced with any gal who looked like she would


enjoy his company. Some gals looked like they were defrosting, and others were born with


headaches. Those were the gals that you faked right and went left to avoid getting


harpooned by an Icelandic virgin. Some ladies spent most of the evening in the ladies


room gossiping and comparing the labels on their dresses. Ladies didn’t compete in


sports, so they competed in other ways, like who had the most expensive dress or the


cutest boyfriend.  


Smoking wasn’t permitted and some of the guys went into withdrawal.  O’Brien


and Wilson needed a cigarette. The lads went into the men's bathroom and noticed an


electric fan attached to an open window. It circulated the air and blew it out.  Wilson lit


one cigarette and blew the smoke towards the fan. The smoke blew outside.  Both tried 


making smoke rings and aiming them at the fan. When they finished smoking,  O’Brien


knocked off the burning head of the cigarette into the sink, turned on the water, and


watched the extinguished ash float in a circle, then go down the drain. The cigarette


butt appeared to be extinguished, and it was tossed into the trash with discarded paper


towels. They walked out confidant that they had smoked a cigarette under Attila's nose


and got away with it. Twenty minutes later at nine-thirty the lads heard sirens. They


became louder.  It became apparent that the fire trucks were coming close by. The


students stopped dancing when they saw the flashing red lights reflected in the windows


facing Van Ness Avenue. Attila the Nun told the students to quickly form two lines and


exit. The ladies in the powder room were summoned, and in minutes Attila had evacuated


the hall.


Orlando was an elderly Mexican man who worked as the janitor for St. Mary's


Cathedral. He was returning home from his nightly walk to the liquor store, when he


noticed white smoke coming from the window.  Orlando called the fire station.  The


fireman answering the phone had a difficult time understanding Orlando’s broken English.


When the firemen arrived they noticed smoke coming from the men’s bathroom. They


began spraying water at the open window, while another group entered the men’s room


from the main entrance. The fire in the trashcan was quickly put out. There was a black


trail that ran up the charred wall to the ceiling. The fire chief was surprised that the hall


didn’t have a sprinkler system. Attila was enraged.  She wanted to carve the heart out of


whoever was responsible for violating of one of her supreme laws, no smoking on the


school premises. She lined up all of the lads, and when she smelled tobacco on O’Brien's


and Wilson's breath, she had to repeat the Fifth Commandment several times,


"Thou shall not kill."


Brother Justin was embarrassed, and personally assured Attila that O’Brien and


Wilson would never attend a dance at St. Vincent’s. The lads spent two weeks in jug with


Bad Ass. Each paid half of the damages to the men's restroom by washing cars for two




Unfortunately, two weeks later on a cold and windy November Saturday night, a


vagrant found an unlocked side door at St. Mary’s Cathedral. He thought that he could


escape the cold and sleep that night in the church. The wind whistled threw the old


church's weathered doors and windows. It created a chilling draft. The vagrant arranged


some newspapers to cover himself from the cold. He lay by a rack of candles to get warm.


The vagrant lit a cigarette with a candle, he got comfortable, and fell asleep before


finishing the cigarette. As the vagrant fell deeper into sleep his shoulders shrugged. The


newspaper on his chest slid to his right arm, then down to the smoldering cigarette that


now lay burning on the floor by his hand. The wax on the floor was beginning to melt


and the newspaper soaked in the melted wax. It ignited and burned his hand. Startled,


he lunged and knocked over the first tray of lit candles. The remaining newspapers that


he used to keep warm landed on the melted wax and lit candles and began burning.


The fire ran across the wax floor towards the wooden pews. Years of wax and varnish


quickly ignited. The fire jumped from pew to pew. The carpet at the altar caught on fire.


Gold and red tapestries hanging from the wooden ceiling ignited. The fire raced up the


tapestries, and the wooden ceiling quickly was engulfed in flame. The vagrant ran to find


something to fight the fire with. There was nothing. Shocked at how quickly the fire had


spread, he ran outside to the back were the janitor lived in a one-room shack. He pounded


on the door, waking up Orlando the janitor. He yelled, "FIRE!" and pointed at the church.


It was three in the morning when Orlando called the fire department. The fire was


only minutes old, but spreading fast. The fireman who answered the call had difficulty


understanding Orlando’s babbling about the fire at St. Mary’s. Moments later a second


call came and the firemen of Station Seventeen were on their way to fight the fire. Precious


time was lost. When the firemen arrived, the stain glass windows were exploding from the


heat. Black smoke twisted upward. St. Mary’s Cathedral was made of brick with a wooden


roof. The fire and heat made the church a brick oven. The fire was extinguished at dawn.


The faithful began to arrive for seven-thirty mass, and looked in shock and horrified. The


brick structure was standing but the wooden roof was gone. The stain glass windows were


blown out or blackened by smoke. The burnt smell that lingers after every fire hung in the


morning air. There were yellow barricades at all of the entrances. All of the pews had


burned like kindling. The wax floor was charred and twisted, and the walls were streaked


with black. All of the gold and red tapestries were burnt or charred black.


The fortress that had once stood atop Cathedral Hill was now a brick shell


waiting to be demolished. After the cathedral was demolished, the students sold bricks


for five dollars each to raise funds to rebuild St. Mary’s.  The vagrant who started the


fire fled during the confusion. There was no church to clean, so Orlando was let go. He


went to Stockton, California, to live with relatives. The students no longer had a church


to attend mass during Lent and First Fridays. The services were held in St. Nick's gym, but


the presents of God was missing.  One careless cigarette destroyed ninety-two years of


history. St. Mary's was the seat of the San Francisco archdiocese. It was the church that


City Hall, the Police and Fire Departments, St. Vincent's, and St. Nick's attended Mass. 


Five years later a new cathedral was built with steel, cement, and stain glass windows


resembling an auditorium rather than the house of God. It didn’t have the same character


and history that St. Mary’s had established.  It no longer had the humbling presence of






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