Good things come in small packages. And sometimes in those small packages, if you’re lucky, you’ll find the most precious of gems. Such is a gift received by St. Thomas Aquinas High School in September, 1981.
Forty years ago, Mary (“Madame”) Chamberlain began teaching French at STA. She wanted to share her passion for learning the beautiful, rich, melodious language that is often deemed the language of love. To speak French means to view the world kaleidoscopically- to enjoy colorful idioms, delicious cuisine, delightful pastries, a rich history, flavorful wines, and textured lifestyles. French speakers have an unofficial invitation to travel the globe- from Belgium to Niger, Canada to Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire to Vanuatu. And, of course, to parlez-vous français means one must visit Mary’s beloved beau Paris.
For this pint-sized sparkler, however, teaching has involved much more than just classroom instruction. For Mary, to truly educate a student means that they should leave her classes not only proficient in French but fluent in personal dignity. She is a consistent shaper of the whole child, the whole person. She believes strongly that teachers have an opportunity to help form the virtue and character of each student. She knows that young people need to learn good behavior, manners, structure, and respect in order to be successful and reach their full potential.
Many teachers go the extra mile for their students, but Mary has been going the extra mile for 40 years. Four decades of rising early, staying late, volunteering for every extra activity, baking, cooking, delegating, selling Box Office tickets/Coffeehouse hot cocoa, setting up/breaking down Fashion Shows, theater productions, choir concerts, Baccalaureate Masses, regular Masses, Commencement ceremonies, and rallying for Spirit Week, Twin Day, March Madness, faculty gatherings and all the other million blips that have been dotting her calendar back when calendars were desk blotters and not Google Cals. Forty years- 14,600 days- of serving St. Thomas Aquinas like a Russian nesting doll, always pulling out another version of herself each time the school (or any of its staff) needed help.
Before she empties her classroom completely, we were able to pepper her with a few questions:
What have you most enjoyed about your time here at STA?
I have enjoyed working with so many dedicated educators and staff who have made STA a home to me as well as to many students. I have also enjoyed the travel experiences to Canada, Italy, Spain and England with my students. I can't even explain the joy it is to see French come alive through travel. Watching my students as they see Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower for the first time makes everything I've done worthwhile.
Please share a favorite memory (or several) from your time here.
I have soooo many. I would say that the kindness shown to me throughout the years will always stay with me. Of course the many trips with Ed Tinney, Diana Finan and Mary Rice will always be near and dear. We shared some wonderful times together and actually survived every trip unscathed. We ate our way through many countries and have wonderful memories to last a life time.
What will you miss most?
I will miss my colleagues and the students who have made STA my second home.
If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?
You need to be kinder to yourself. The walls of the school will still stand if you are not there. Being perfect comes at too great a cost. Just do the best that you can each day.
What is your one final message to the STA students of tomorrow?
I would say that you should strive to do a good deed every day. Always be the best version of yourself. Do things as though your parents were watching. Live with passion and in doing so, bring joy to those around you.
Baptized as Mary Anne, it is no surprise that Madame exudes qualities resembling our Christian mother and grandmother. Prayer, faith, and service guide her life. She upholds the foundation upon which our school was laid, one cemented by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and the general educational ethic that STA students receive an excellent education not just for school but for life.
We will miss this special spire of our World Language Department, the cornerstone of our faculty. But we know we will see her again sitting in the front seat of STA concerts and events, cheering loudly.
And, one day, we will follow the gaze of Ben Goodman as he crosses the stage, collects his St. Thomas Aquinas High School diploma, and gives a long, loving nod to his grandmother- reminding us all that true lights in darkness reside in our hearts.
Nous t’aimons, Madame. Merci pour tout.