St. Jerome’s, Saul remembers, “was hell on earth.” Even though St. Jerome’s is supposed to be a school, it’s really a place where the children—even the youngest—are forced to “do labor.” Children sometimes die by their own hand, or in horrific accidents. There’s never a funeral when this happens. Rather, the priests simply never mention the children’s names again, and life goes on.
Even though hockey brings Saul a lot of happiness, it can’t entirely make up for the misery of life at St. Jerome’s. The children are worked until their spirits are utterly broken. The fact that the children who die are never given a proper funeral (something a pious Christian would consider a religious duty) suggests that the teachers don’t have any respect for the students, and don’t embody the true spirit of the religion they are supposed to teach.
Year after year, Saul endures beatings, threats, and other forms of cruelty from the faculty at St. Jerome’s. Most terrifying of all are the nighttime visits, when the priests sneak into the dormitories and lead students out of the room with them. “Where they went,” Saul writes, “was never spoken of.” However, one little girl, Angelique Lynx Leg, describes her experiences at night with the priests as “God’s love.” As she says this to Saul, she begins to weep.
The passage introduces a tragic but important theme: sexual abuse. The clear implication of the passage is that the children of St. Jerome’s are sexually abused by their hypocritical, contemptible teachers. It is unclear from the passage whether Saul himself is abused as many of his classmates are.