Futures in Education Honors a Teacher for ‘Heroic’ Catholic Classroom Efforts

Mary O’Donoghue rings the bell for her students to go to lunch. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

ASTORIA — When Mary O’Donoghue immigrated to the United States from Ireland 30 years ago, she had no idea the impact she was to have on the children of Brooklyn and Queens. 

However, after more than two decades of service as a Catholic school teacher, O’Donoghue has instilled the values of kindness and hard work in hundreds of students through open communication, strong discipline, and structure in her classrooms.

“There’s always time for noise, but there are times when you have to be calm, and when they see the rules are there for their benefit … they know where it’s coming from. It’s for them,” she said.

Now, the Diocese of Brooklyn is recognizing O’Donoghue’s longstanding efforts. She is one of the Catholic elementary school teachers honored by Futures in Education at their Annual Scholarship Fund Dinner on Tuesday, April 30. 

Futures in Education provides scholarships and tuition assistance to children who would otherwise not have the means to attend Catholic schools.

This year, they wanted to pay tribute to the educators who make Catholic education possible, said John Notaro, executive director of Futures in Education and the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens.

Mary O’Donoghue talks to Emma Marina, an eighth grade student. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

“It is truly a sacrifice that each of our teachers are making to be in our schools, and that is part of what makes it so special,” he said. “What they are doing day in and day out is heroic.”

For O’Donoghue, being a Catholic school teacher means having the opportunity to go beyond the boundaries of the educational curriculum, and creating a welcoming environment to facilitate the growth of well-rounded children. Faith is part of that growth.

“They can talk about their faith. You can mold the whole person more in this world of such trouble,” she said.

In O’Donoghue’s eighth grade homeroom class, seven students are receiving partial tuition assistance from Futures in Education’s “angels” — individuals who subsidize the cost of a student’s Catholic grammar school tuition.

“She’s one of the best teachers I have ever had,” said William Royer, an eighth grade student and recipient of a Futures in Education scholarship. “She helps you through hard times.”

Since she became his teacher, William has developed an appreciation for math thanks to O’Donoghue’s hands-on approach to education. Her advice that guided him through his early education and helped him secure a place at St. John’s Prep in the fall was that “it’s not possible to know everything.”

Mary O’Donoghue teaches the Pythagorean theorem to her class. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

“Sometimes you can feel a little like, I don’t want to say stupid, but not the smartest,” William said. “It just helps to know that not everyone knows everything. That it’s not possible.”

O’Donoghue began her career at St. Nicholas Catholic Academy in Williamsburg, which became Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in 2010 and eventually merged with Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In total, she served at her school for 20 years, remaining until the school closed during the pandemic. 

In the fall of 2020, she joined Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy, teaching a class returning from remote learning — a group of kids, she said, that “did not miss a beat.” She teaches eighth grade math, science, and religion, as well as seventh grade math and science. 

Brother Joseph Rocco became the principal at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy the same year that O’Donoghue joined the faculty, and sees the veteran teacher as an inspiration. 

She’s one of the first people in the door in the morning, he said, and it is obvious to him that she sees teaching as more than a profession. It’s her vocation.

“She doesn’t just read the Gospel. She lives the Gospel, the message of Jesus, and everything she does comes from the heart,” Brother Rocco said.

From left: Emma Marina, eighth grade student; William Royer, eighth grade student; Mary O’Donoghue, eighth grade teacher; Brother Joseph Rocco, principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy; John Notaro, the executive director of Futures in Education and the Catholic Foundation for Brooklyn and Queens. (Photo: Alicia Venter)

O’Donoghue’s graduating class of 25 eighth graders has flourished, largely in part to her teaching ability, Brother Rocco said. In total, they have received $525,000 in scholarships for their high school education, including one student earning a tuition-free ride to Regis High School, a private school that accepts less than 10% of its applicants. 

“You can see where she brought these kids from the first year she was here for math all the way up to the eighth grade,” Brother Rocco said. “She is a gem for Catholic education.”

Beyond algebra and geometry, O’Donoghue has proven herself the type of teacher who supports her students outside of the classroom. Emma Marina, an eighth grade student, has been at Immaculate Conception Catholic Academy “since nursery,” and has had a class with O’Donoghue since she joined the staff in 2020. 

Education-wise, she says, O’Donoghue is one of the best teachers she’s ever had; beyond school, she has helped Marina through personal issues and loss.

“She’s someone you could go up to and talk to about anything, and I know that’s happened to me before,” said Emma, who will be attending Archbishop Molloy High School in the fall.

One thought on “Futures in Education Honors a Teacher for ‘Heroic’ Catholic Classroom Efforts

  1. It was wonderful to be part of the evenings activies. I think it’s important to remember how Catholic schools started, and why they started. The schools were in the parishes for all children,whose parents wanted them to have a Catholic education. Thus was regardless if they were able to afford it. Futures in Education makes this possible for almost one third of the children in our diocese. It was energizing to be with so many cheerful givers. I especially was touched by the speeches about how Futures makes a difference in the lives of individual families.