Last week I noticed there was a pen collector’s convention that was held in Philadelphia. In the era of Blackberries, personal digital communicators, smart phones and Kindles competing with I Pads for market share and attention…the humble pen is often viewed as an antiquated technology in a world of glitzy gadgets. Whenever I think about writing with a pen, I fondly remember the Palmer Method, which was taught in grade school at Saint Gabriel Parish in Gray’s Ferry, Philadelphia in simpler days.
Catholic education is truly a life long process that starts in grade school, develops with higher education and sustains itself in married and family life. My personal and professional life are rooted in the foundational principles from Catholic grade school ranging from handwriting techniques, grammatical usage, mathematical analysis and of course my religious beliefs. The basic discipline taught by the Mighty Macs through the Palmer Method has remained part of my personal, spiritual and professional life since Sister Alphonsus Ligouri first revealed the graffiti technique expounded by Palmer.
Of course, I was not very good at the Palmer Method. As a southpaw, I was always smearing the ink, dragging my hand over the page and letting my fingers do the work of writing. Mortal sins in the world of penmanship for the Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Quite often my lack of Catholic penmanship contributed to Sister’s need to go to Confession and perhaps even pushed Sister to imbibe more than holy water. At Saint Gabriel’s School, the sister that taught me would always exclaim, “Mr. McNichol, you have the handwriting of a priest or a doctor…do it over again, until it is right!” Well, I never quite made it to those career choices, but I do continue to write with a fountain pen.
The fountain pen I use is a Mont Blanc Diplomat. It’s big and bulky and makes me think all of the time about the great female religious that provided my primary Catholic education in Gray’s Ferry. I still smear the ink, still combine writing and printing and sometimes cannot understand my own graffiti. Sr. Francis Joseph I.H.M. would most likely “stroke out” if she saw my handwriting!
However, every time I pick up a pen, I am thankful for having experienced this part of Catholic education in the 1960’s. The simple pen over the years has provided me with comfort, solace and even income from my writings. Who would have thought that the rigorous exercises taught by a group of religious sisters would provide the catalyst for writing about religious events and topics forty years later?
Theologians tell us that moments of grace occur through subtle and often unnoticed means. I think the use of the fountain pen, the Palmer Method and the I.H.M. Sisters has provided this author with a lifetime of graced moments through Catholic education and the example of devoted religious educators.
If you remember the Palmer Method…you too have been graced through the simple pen, much more nostalgic than the most contemporary personal digital assistant. Just for the sake of it…take out a piece of paper and send someone a note, written in real ink…it will make all of those women religious that toiled to teach us Catholic faith through simple graced moments, very proud of us all.

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist writing on Catholic topics and issues. He attended Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, where he studied both philosophy and theology. He writes frequently at & . Hugh writes about his Irish Catholic upbringing and educational experiences at . He has contributed works to Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, The Irish Catholic, Dublin, the British Broadcasting Company, London and the Philadelphia Bulletin, Catholic Exchange,, Blogger News Network & The Catholic Business Journal and Wilmington Examiner. Comments are always welcome at

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