You never know where nuns will get “honorable” mention–whether fact or fiction. In this case, the questionable comment came during a tour of Chicago’s gangster history.

This afternoon I went on the Untouchable Tour … Chicago’s original gangster tour. True to its slogan, it was a blast. Our tour guide (and faux gangster) led us through the streets of Chicago recalling its gangster past. As we pulled up on North State Street downtown, the guide told us about the famous Chicago gangster Dean O’Banion. On our right was a parking lot that used to be the site of a flower shop. The shop was the legitimate front for O’Banion’s flower business (which proved profitable after many mob shooting funerals) and a hangout for O’Banion’s gang. Across the street was Holy Name Cathedral where O’Banion and his gangster buddy Hymie Weiss attended Mass. Our tour guide informed us that as a youth, O’Banion had been in the church choir there and attended its parochial school. And then the punchline … O’Banion goes from being the sweet altar boy type to a murdering gangster thanks to being taught by “the nuns.”

This joke got a few laughs from people on the bus. Yeah, it was temporarily amusing to think about the sheer contrast between altar boy and gangster. But, the implication is that the nuns were so mean or oppressive to the young impressionable “Deannie” that he turned into a gangster and killer. I don’t think so. (Perhaps his transformation into a gangster was due instead to being a member of the Little Hellions, the juvenile division of the Bloody Market Streeters. Just a guess.)

The offhand comment reflects a bad stereotype of Catholic nuns. While there may have been teacher-nuns who were unduly rigid, the vast majority were excellent educators who cared deeply for the spiritual well-being of the children in their care. So, is it worth a few laughs to denigrate a whole group of women whose primary purpose was to educate and care for children? I don’t think so.