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Unforgettable Teacher

"It's a joy to get up in the morning"

By Brian J. Lowney
Assistant Editor
Rhode Island Catholic 

June 7, 2007

PROVIDENCE — Some teachers are simply unforgettable. They lead by example and never lose their smile or joie de vivre. They change lives. Eileen Madden is one of them. Her students must think she was born with an eraser and a piece of chalk in her hand.

For the past 33 years, the dedicated teacher has not only provided hundreds of inner-city children with the building blocks of a solid education, but has also instilled in them, by stellar example, the principles of a strong Catholic faith.

“It’s a joy to get up every morning as is evidenced by the fact that I’m the first one here,” says the 55 year-old Holy Ghost School third grade teacher. Madden arrives shortly after 6 a.m. to prepare her classroom and coordinate the school breakfast program.

The Rhode Island College alumna credits her parents, June and the late George Madden, and the Notre Dame Sisters who taught her and her eight siblings, for planting the seeds that blossomed into a fruitful career as a Catholic school educator.

“We all went to St. Teresa’s School,” she recalls. “I always said, ‘One day, I’m going to come back and get one of those big desks.’”

She continued her education under the tutelage of the Notre Dame congregation at the former St. Teresa High School, earning a diploma in 1969 as a member of the last graduating class.

“That’s what I knew best. That was my home away from home for all those years. There was a family atmosphere,” Madden says, recalling that she participated in numerous processions and enjoyed school plays and many other activities.

Her father was also a graduate of St. Teresa School and later taught at La Salle Academy for five years before becoming a teacher at Aldrich Jr. High School in Warwick. Her grandmother, Anna (Hodgson) Madden, also graduated from St. Teresa.

With a watchful eye always on the lookout for “one of those big desks,” Madden returned to St. Teresa after graduating from college and taught second grade at the Olneyville neighborhood elementary school until it was destroyed in a fire in 1990 and forced to close. She remembers finishing the school year in the former Blessed Sacrament Convent.

Madden then transferred to Holy Ghost School where she started as a second grade teacher and then moved up one grade level.

“My parents were happy when I was finally promoted to third grade,” Madden quips. Noting that she likes to poll her class at the start of each new school year to determine their likes and dislikes, hobbies, habits, and favorite activities, Madden learned in 2003 that half of her class was coming to school without eating breakfast. It was about the same time that the government’s free breakfast program was being initiated, so Madden took charge and organized the school breakfast program at Holy Ghost School. She currently feeds about 60 hungry students every school morning before they set off to class.

“I take care of setting up and serving breakfast,” she says. “I’m here in the dark in the winter.” Madden praises Holy Ghost School Principal Carol Soltys and the school’s faculty and staff for their continued support and camaraderie. It’s a family,” she acknowledges.

“Carol is a good principal. She is receptive to ideas. You feel that you are working with her not for her. You can make choices — and use them to make a difference.”

While Madden is comfortable teaching all subjects, math is her favorite. “I’m the daughter of a math teacher,” she says, laughing. “All the Madden girls love math.  It’s a giant puzzle.”

A parishioner of Mary, Mother of Mankind Church in North Providence, she’s seen many changes in Catholic schools during her long career.  For example, when she started teaching at St. Teresa about a third of the faculty were religious sisters.

“I’ve always taught in inner-city schools,” Madden emphasizes. “Today our schools are more culturally and ethnically diverse. I couldn’t tell you how many countries we have represented here.”

Her class is small this year with 15 students including some from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Haiti, Guatemala, Nigeria and Ghana. “It’s a rich tapestry,” she observes. Madden admits that she’s energized by comments from former students, now adults, who want their own children to enjoy a similar experience in a safe, nurturing environment. “They tell me, ‘I send my child to a Catholic school,’” she adds. “They continue to make that choice.”

Soltys commends her longtime colleague for Madden’s unwavering commitment to her students. “Eileen is an excellent teacher,” the principal acknowledges. “She always looks out for the kids’ best interest. She’s been with us for many years, but she’s always has something fresh and new to teach the students.  She’s loyal to Catholic education and to our school.”

Madden says that the students enjoy hearing stories about her happy childhood and Catholic education and amusing tales about her 13 year-old black and white tabby cat named Jazzy. “The kids know all about him,” she reveals, breaking into a broad smile.

When she’s not in the classroom, the popular teacher relaxes by doing puzzles, reading, gardening and enjoying a good baseball game. “I’m the Number One Bo-Sox fan!” she proclaims. And while she’s rooting for the home team, she’s got a whole fan club cheering for her.

Permission to reprint granted by The RI Catholic

Rhode Island Catholic | 184 Broad Street | Providence, RI 02903 | 401.272.1010 | 401.421.8418 (Fax) | www.thericatholic.com

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