Follow TV Tropes


Stern Nun

Go To
Spare the rod, spoil the Blues Brother.

"Bitches get stuff done. That's why Catholic schools use nuns as teachers and not priests. Those nuns are mean old clams, and they sleep on cots, and they're allowed to hit you. And at the end of the year, you hated those bitches, but you knew the capitol of Vermont!"
Tina Fey, "Weekend Update," Saturday Night Live

A character type of stern, usually elderly nun, who acts as a Stern Teacher at a Catholic school (possibly even a Sadist Teacher at a Boarding School of Horrors variety) but may (or may not) be looked back upon with some affection. A Discredited Trope nowadays, since a good many teachers at Catholic schools are now laypeople — not to mention that after about The '70s or so, any teachers beating students would not go over well with parents or administrators, whether those teachers have taken vows or not — but at one time occasionally Truth in Television.

The strictness that was their hallmark was partly due to the nuns applying the same standards to their students that nuns were expected to hold themselves to, and also partly because Catholic schools both then and now were occasionally used as reform schools for problem children.

See also Stern Teacher and Nuns Are Spooky. The nun in question may or may not be a Child Hater.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dee from Fake was raised in an Orphanage of Love by one of these. He even calls her "Penguin" out of affection (and to rile her up), and encourages the other kids to do so as well.
  • Sister Grace, the director of the English Boarding School in Candy Candy fits in here to a T. She's not evil, but strictly plays by the rules and doesn't tolerate when the students break them.

    Comic Books 
  • This trope played a part in the origin of Alpha Flight's Aurora / Jeanne-Marie Beaubier. The not-so-fond memories kind.
  • Aquaman: The Widowhood are an order of nuns whose husbands and sons were killed defending Atlantis. They are a potent political force, advise the king and have to give consent to his chosen queen. Think of them as the Bene Gesserit without the false humility.
  • Firefly: The Sting: The nuns are frowning sternly from the moment they appear.
  • Sin City: Marv named his gun Gladys after the toughest nun he had in school. He feels it has almost lived up to the name.

    Comic Strips 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Penguin from The Blues Brothers. She whacks both Jake and Elwood with her ruler for swearing.
    Jake: Well, I guess you're really up shit creek.
  • The reverend mother for much of the first Sister Act movie. To be fair though, she is clearly a good person, just traditional.
  • Sister Aloysius in Doubt is basically an example of showing this character type as having Hidden Depths.
  • Rosalind Russel's character in The Trouble with Angels was one of these character types. (But a lot nicer than most. She's firm, because you have to be with adolescents or they'll walk right over you, but never mean.)
  • Mother Mary Menglele from the 2012 film adaptation of The Three Stooges.

  • Sister Edgar has this reputation in Don DeLillo's Underworld. She stopped hitting her students when the majority of them became Black and Latino, though, because her conscience wouldn't allow her to beat someone who didn't look like her.
  • Although they were nurses, not teachers, the nuns at the hospital in Angela's Ashes fit the trope perfectly.
  • The Mother Superior in Bless Me Father.
  • In the short story "The Gift" (found in Rosario Ferré's Sweet Diamond Dust) Mother Artigas, the director of an exclusive Catholic school in Puerto Rico, appears to be this in the beginning. By the end of the story, the way she mistreats Carlotta, the only Black girl in school and newly elected carnival queen, reveals Mother Artigas to be a racist snob.
  • Conversational Troping in The Truth. Mr Tulip is disguised as a Vestigal Virgin, but is obviously a large, unshaven, violent man. Sacharissa says that she knew he was fake because he (sort of) swore; beyond that he was very much like the ones who taught her at school, except they were worse.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the third series of Cluedo, the murder victim Sister Concepta is very much this, talking down to everybody in the Grange.
  • Sister Dominick from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. Who knew that nuns could be so sarcastic? Despite this, Sister Dominick does have a sense of humor and encourages positivity. At times, she’ll even dispense wisdom and philosophy in a loose manner. However, she doesn’t hold back in dealing with those who display negative or envious behavior towards others.
  • Septa Mordane in Game of Thrones, who acts as the private teacher for Arya and Sansa Stark.
  • Father Ted: The only thing in the world that can scare Father Jack Hackett is a no-nonsense old-school nun.
  • In children's Britcom Educating Marmalade, Sister Conception and Sister Purification of The Convent of the Blessed Limit. They are men with moustaches and baseball bats.
  • Played for Laughs on Good Eats, when the nutritional anthropologist dresses up as one (and smacks Alton with a ruler) to explain the Roman Catholic origins of the modern waffle.
  • Sister Michael of Derry Girls is a snarky, no-nonsense nun and the head of a girls' school.

  • Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You by Christopher Durang.
  • The popular "interactive play" Late Night Catechism is based upon this trope.
  • In the musical remake of Sister Act, reverend mother once again takes up this role.

  • Sister Claire: Sister Marguerite is very harsh, especially towards Claire. Later it turns out she was under an affliction which made her bad-tempered. When it's lifted, she is pleasant.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Bart's teacher is one of these when he goes to Catholic school in the episode "The Father, The Son, and the Holy Guest Star".
      Back in my day, we used a ruler on unruly children. Nowadays, we use a yardstick!
    • In "Gone Maggie Gone", Lisa goes undercover at a monastery searching for Maggie, the place being run by a sardonic Mother Superior who enjoys making insulting riddles.
  • Time Squad Before being adopted (kidnapped) by Tuddrussel and Larry, Otto lived in an orphanage which was run by a particularly harsh nun.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Mother Penguin


Sister Mary Stigmata

Sister Mary Stigmata, aka "The Penguin", is none too pleased with Jake and Elwood's "filthy mouths and bad attitudes".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SternNun

Media sources: