The youngest sister on St. Dominic Mission in 1970 was Sister Mary Paul McCaughey. She was vivacious, intelligent, energetic, and tackled any opportunity to get a job DONE. One of the first stories I recall her sharing at the convent dinner table was about her Marian Catholic High School 1967prom night. Seems that after the main event a few of the couples went canoeing (it was late). Her date was unsure of just how to get the canoe in the water. While he was hesitating, young Mina threw the canoe over her shoulder and carried it to the waterfront. “That simple,” she said. A perfect example of her independence and determination.
Sister Mary Paul was fearless of classroom teaching. Students appreciated her willingness to take on messy projects and allow them to use their creativity. One week, the students made their own religion filmstrip. At its completion, the class proudly demonstrated their filmstrip. Later Sister Mary Paul claimed that she nearly choked on her suppresed laughter. Why? Each time, a student indicated to move to the next frame by emitting a LOUD “Eeek, Eeek!”
Even as an inexperienced teacher, Sister Mary Paul knew how to deal with opposition. The students did not want to follow some of the classroom rules. Dialogue took place. The following day, students had no direction from their teacher. By 11 a.m., students were begging Sister Mary Paul to teach, to give some instructions, directions, or even an assignment—anything! They were somewhat out of control and bored. Never again did they protest rules and homework assignments. The history lesson on Law and Order was learned.
Thanksgiving eve, all the sisters assisted in putting boxes of food from generous parishioners in the basement cabinets. Canned goods were stacked on the shelves—job finished. We thought. We finished late, and around 10: 15 p.m. Sister Mary Paul dragged outside a huge garbage bag full of empty boxes. She insisted no help was needed. However, minutes later, the kitchen door flew open. There stood Sister Mary Paul, framed by orange, yellow, and red flames shooting up the hillside behind her. She yelled, “The hill is on fire. Call the fire department!”
A sister dashed for the phone and I leaped upstairs to inform the prioress a fire truck was on its way. Suddenly sirens were whining and lights flashing as we looked down Columbus Road and saw, not one truck, but three with two rescue squads racing towards the now blazing hillside. Once the fire was under control, the firemen searched for the cause. They picked up the garbage bag and pulled out the large box of Diamond Strike-on-Box Matches.
Sister Phillip Neri and Sister Mary Paul approached the fire chief for the ultimate confession. The conversation was lengthy. Sister Mary Paul learned that IF you are going to burn….do it before 6:00 p.m.
I don’t think this is what St. Catherine of Siena meant when she said: “Be who you are meant to be and you will set the world on fire.”
The blaze on the hill and the territory it covered is typical of how Sister Mary Paul carried out her responsibilities with great ease. She cleaned, baked, cooked and shopped—and still had time to do a correspondence class. She had a love for words and learning. Often, she served on curriculum committees and assisted in organizing topic sequences. I recognized that Sister Mary Paul could go from A to Z without needing to walk through each step. She quickly comprehended the whole picture of any ideal. Her vision of education was then, and is now, impressive.