North American Scholar

O'DONNELL, Maureen McManus

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  • Date of Birth (YYYY-MM-DD): 1931-01-21
  • Born City: Taunton
  • Born State/Country: MA
  • Parents: Andrew, a civil employee, & Catherine O'Connor M.
  • Date of Death (YYYY-MM-DD): 1989-02-17
  • Death City: Springfield
  • Death State/Country: VA
  • Married: Harold F. O'Donnell, 19 Feb. 1955.
  • Education:

    B.A. Albertus Magnus Coll., 1952; study at Boston U., 1953; D. Ed. (hon.) Yale, 1982.

  • Professional Experience:

    Lat. tchr, South Hadley (MA) HS, 1953-5; Westminster Sch. (Annandale, VA), 1974-8; W. T. Woodson HS (Fairfax, VA), 1978-88; Virginia Teacher of the Year, 1983; Fulbright grant, Rome, 1985; CAMWS Good Teaching Award, 1987; program consultant, Jenney, Burgess, & Baade, First Year Latin.

  • Publications:

    "A Teacher's Love Affair with the Classroom," U.S. News and World Report (19 Sept. 1983) 49; The National Latin Exam: Ten Years, 1979-1988, with Jane Hall, Sally Davis, Linda Montross, and Martha Abbott (Quantico, VA, 1988).Videotapes: "Maureen O'Donnell Presents her Philosophy of Teaching" (1982); "Amo, Amas, Amat: A Lesson in Latin One" (1986).

  • Notes:

    Maureen O'Donnell, known to her students as "MOD" or "mater," was a catalyst for the revival of Latin and the Junior Classical League in Virginia. A tireless and devoted teacher, O'Donnell returned to the classroom in 1974 after spending 15 years caring for her six children, four of whom died of cystic fibrosis. After moving from her native Massachusetts to the Washington, DC, area, she briefly taught in Annandale, VA. When she joined W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, as a part-time teacher, she built the Latin enrollment from 87 to 300 students in just five years.  In addition to basic Latin language courses she taught mythology, Roman history and culture. Her typical day began before dawn, preparing lessons, handouts, and quizzes. The day ended after 5 P.M., following tutoring sessions and practice sessions for the state and national "College Bowl" type contests called certamina, drawn from a workbook she compiled of over 100 certamen questions. Her students won four national championships and numerous inter- and intrastate competitions.  If a student had difficulty with a feature of Latin grammar and surmounted it, he or she was rewarded with a "magic pencil" inscribed with a Latin phrase. She was available to students on a 24/7 basis and advised them unprotects such as making togas and cooking from recipes in Apicius. The result was, as her citation fro Yale read, "You have made Latin live."   Her boundless energy, enthusiasm for the classics, and love of young people inspired her students to win countless state and national awards, and served as a pedagogic model for colleagues in Virginia and throughout the nation. In 1982, O'Donnell was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale in recognition of her contributions to teaching and in 1983 was named Virginia's teacher of the year.

  • Sources:

    Bart Barnes, Washington Post (18 February 1989); ""To Life, Latin and Love," Washington Post (21 Feb. 1989) A 22; "Unforgettable Maureen O'Donnell," Readers' Digest 136 (Jan. 1990) 63-7.

  • Author: John J. Donohue