Sister Mary Ignatius takes the stage to directly address her audience with a monologue in which she explains the universe. Or, at least, the universe according to Catholic dogma, which is the only truth that Sister Mary knows or needs. This explanation reveals the state of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. From there, Sister Mary’s monologue proves quite instructive for non-Catholics who may be only passingly familiar with concepts ranging from the stage of limbo to the actual birth to which the Immaculate Conception refers.
Sister Mary then introduces Thomas, a second grader attending Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow parochial school with the information that though he may be only 7 years old, he is fully endowed with the capacity to make the choice between committing a sinful act and refusing to commit a sinful act. And God, in His wisdom, will hold him fully accountable for this responsibility. Thereupon Sister Mary engages Thomas in the call-and-response mechanistic demonstration of the Catholic catechism in which Thomas reveals only his masterful talent for rote memorization without the nasty intrusion of any sort of critical thought.
The utter meaninglessness of the Q&A that is the catechism is revealed with Sister Mary’s dogged determination to explain how she came to be the model of nunnery that she so clearly assumes herself to be: being one of 26 children to which her mother gave birth and how that mother was put into the madhouse upon her determination that she had, in fact, married the devil. Sister Mary also provides a non-comprehensive list of famous people destined to suffer the eternal fires of hellish damnation; a list that includes both Roman Polanski and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The list might well have become comprehensive had not four students whom Sister Mary taught back in 1959 arrived to put on a Christmas pageant performance penned by her best student: Mary Jane Mahoney, class of ’48. Noted accomplishments: Stigmata in the 7th grade.
Sister Mary begins to question her former students about life after Our Lady of Perpetual Sorrow and discovers that her lasting influence upon them is not quite what she expected: all they really recall from their experience is that Sister Mary’s devotion to Catholic doctrine far exceeded fanaticism and that fanatical devotion was the primary cause of their adult misery.
Gary is a homosexual who was raped while attending seminary. Philomena is an unwed mother of a toddler. Diane has had two abortion, both stimulated by becoming pregnant as the result of being raped. These three former students have all committed mortal sins. Thank God, they brought along Aloysius, the most successful graduate of the quartet: his alcoholism and wife-beating and occasional suicidal contemplation only constitute venial sins, after all, and then there’s the fact that he attends Mass and still finds the time to confess his minor sins.
What Sister Mary is truly surprised to learn is that each of the students actually have the gall to blame her instruction for their problems. Aloysius has bladder problems stemming from her refusal to let him to go to the bathroom. Philomena claims the Sister used to hit just being stupid. That surprise is quickly covered by the argument that they have no real reason to cast blame since everything she did was done to prepare them for the agony of the adult world which she clearly explains in increasingly sarcastic and hateful replies.
Diane will have nothing of this. What she really blames Sister Mary for is not so much the effects of her life, but the cause: Catholic doctrine insists that the world is full of order and sense even in the face of truth and facts that clearly show it is not. And so, she has arrived with a loaded gun to exact vengeance on the Sister for the sin of lying. As Diane is taking the time to aim her gun, however, she fails to notice that Sister Mary has pulled out a weapon of her own which she uses to put a fatal bullet into Diane. Then she trains the target on Gary and kills him. Handing the gun to young Thomas with instructions to keep it aimed at the alcoholic wife beater, Sister Mary advises Philomena to leave.
Exhausted from the unexpected visit from former students, Sister Mary falls asleep while Thomas continues to hold Aloysius at bay with the gun as he begins practicing his catechism yet again without any apparent insight into the meaning of a single word.