The only thing that Geraldine Boudreau ever wanted to do was teach. Good thing, too, since she has devoted more than 63 of her 85 years to the practice. So far.

Born in Rumford in 1925, Boudreau retired to the Chapman House, in Auburn, about a year and a half ago when health issues compelled her to scale back the career she began in 1946 as Sister Muddy Benoit, a member of a Rhode Island convent that was part of the order of the Sisters of Saint Chretenne, of Quebec. Thirty years later, while teaching as part of the Catholic school system in Lawrence and Amesbury, Massachusetts, Gerry began to worry that Catholic schools would soon be closing, and the system’s need for teachers would diminish. She worried that she might be re-assigned by her order into some other specialty, most likely as a nurse. All she ever wanted to do was teach, so she began a quest for new skills through which she became an early specialist in special education and moved on into secular schools with a newly minted Masters in Reading and Learning Disabilities earned at an age when other teachers would have begun to think about retirement.

“Sister Muddy” was transferred home to Rumford, where she taught from 1957 to 1965, where she helped start that community’s first full-day kindergarten. She taught up to 74 students a day, most of whom were reading by the time they completed her kindergarten program.

In the mid-1960s, Boudreau taught at a private academy in Salem, MA. Among her students was a young Elizabeth Yastrzemski, daughter of the legendary Red Sox Hall of Famer.Yastrzemski ’s father, Boudreau remembers, “was always very generous to the academy in Salem. Elizabeth often brought in baseballs that her dad had initialed.” An admitted life-long Red Sox fan, Boudreau said that her convent “always said a special prayer for the Red Sox.”

By the early 70s, Boudreau was teaching reading in a “total immersion” French-speaking second grade in Lawrence, MA. “There were some pretty rough neighborhoods in Lawrence,” Boudreau recalled, and many of her students brought with them a full load of extra challenges.

“You must never think that any child cannot learn,” Boudreau admonished.

While in Lawrence and Amesbury, with significant foresight, Boudreau became concerned about the future of Catholic education. Having completed a B.S. in education, at the Catholic Teachers College in Providence, Boudreau moved on, after teaching a full day, to complete her M.S. at Lowell University at night, in 1974.

Desperate to avoid being reassigned away from teaching, Boudreau approached the superintendent of public schools in Methuen, MA. “I don’t have an appointment, but I really need to see him,” she told the receptionist. She became one of the first teachers in Massachusetts devoted full time to teaching special needs kids, grades 1–6. She asked her sisterhood to grant a two year sabbatical, and entered the public school system as “Miss Boudreau,” an appellation that was entirely new to her after more than 30 years in the classroom.

Ten years later, Boudreau moved to Lewiston, with her sister, and taught for another 25 years at Holy Cross and, for a time, at Holy Family JHS. “Whenever a teacher said ‘I can’t deal with that one,’ I would say ‘Give ‘em to me.’” Many of Boudreau’s most challenged – and challenging – special ed kids have moved on to successful careers of their own, often completing college and moving into professions. Some became lawyers. Among those of whom Boudreau is most proud, though, are the many who have become teachers.

The introduction to Who Really Cares, an introduction to special education that Boudreau published in 1997, intended for parents, teachers, psychologists, social workers and counselors, asserted that the book “outlines a method of helping the whole child become tomorrow’s citizen… a mature, independent and self-reliant person who places learning first…” a perfect summation of an extraordinary career.

“I had the blues for awhile,” Boudreau admitted, upon having to retire, “but this place (The Chapman House) feels a lot like the supportive community of the convent.” And, to cap it off, today’s children from Holy Cross are frequent visitors, in appreciation of everything Boudreau has given their community through the years. The circle is complete.


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