Pagan Babies

A long time ago, I attended Catholic grammar school.   Part of our religious instruction included a daily collection that raised money to adopt “pagan babies.”  For $5, we could save a soul in where, I’m not sure, but I presume it was somewhere in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the end of each collection, our teacher, Sister Mary Francis, would announce the tally and report the balance we needed to attain our goal.  Once we reached the five dollar mark, we got to name our new pagan baby, which gave us both a sense of ownership and a significant diversion from regular class time.

In sixth grade, my mother quit smoking and donated the $5 she would have spent on cigarettes to the pagan babies.   I will never forget striding into school, five dollar bill in hand, determined to rescue a pagan baby while simultaneously securing a hall pass for my beleaguered classmates.

When it came time to name the pagan baby, my friends offered up many names as that was part of the drama.  After much debate, we agreed to call our new pagan baby “Eileen Patricia,” after her true benefactor, my mother.   It was a glorious day.

My mother’s generosity made a huge impression on me.  She did not limit herself to pagan babies, but quietly supported a number of causes that helped the poor and less fortunate.

While I bluster about my addiction to sugar, I also know that it is ironic and sad that many people don’t have enough money to pay for their next meal.  In San Francisco alone, one in five adults and one in five children face the threat of hunger each day.   Poor people lack adequate nutrition because junk food, like chips and cookies, is often less expensive than fruits and vegetables.

As part of my quest for sainthood, I’m donating $10 to the San Francisco Food Bank for every day up to 30 days that I keep my pledge of “no sugar.”  The SF Food Bank serves more than 200,000 people each year, partnering with 400 organizations such as St. Anthony’s Dining Room.  Fresh fruits and vegetables comprise 60 percent of the Food Bank’s distribution.

My donation gives me another reason to keep my pledge and inoculates me against creeping self-indulgent disease, a potential side effect of blogging.  Sister Mary Francis and Eileen Patricia would be proud.


8 responses to “Pagan Babies

  • Joanne Desmond


    Great Blog!!! I do remember the pagan babies well. In our class we would compete boys vs girls (girls always won)!!! My favorite part was naming the babies (always had to include a Saint’s name). I enjoyed going down memory lane with the blog, but was also quite touched by your comments about your mom, she was always very generous and give freely without much fuss or grandstanding. You have inspired me to think more clearyl about food and those who don’t have it. The food bank will the lucky receipent of you blog so go girl, I may even make a donation myself!!!

    • Nancy Hayden Crowley

      Thanks Josie. I remember we switched genders so that we’d adopt a boy, then a girl, etc. I loved naming the babies too. Kind of like junior high version of playing house. I’m glad I’m inspiring you. You are always an inspiration to me with your true and loyal friendship.

  • Stripped Sweater

    Truly inspiring, Nancy! Such a cute story. I love the picture of the doll. Looks like someone from Little House on the Prairie. look forward to your posts all the time. Keep writing!

  • Peggy Geary

    I definitely related after eleven years in a Catholic school. There are a million of these stories waiting to be told! Cute!

  • San Francisco Food Bank

    Hi Nancy,

    Good luck in your quest! For every day, the $10 donation is enough for the San Francisco Food Bank to provide $60 worth of food or 30 meals!

    You might be interested to take part in the San Francisco Food Bank Hunger Challenge which will be September 11-17 where we challenge people to live on a food stamp budget for a week.

    All the best,


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