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PCC volunteer literacy tutor Sister Mary Noreen O’Leary turns 90 years young

By Kay and Peter Talbot, courtesy of Literacy Links.

On Nov. 7, Sister Mary Noreen O’Leary celebrated her 90th birthday. A 25-year veteran PCC Volunteer Literacy Tutor at Sylvania Campus, she retired in 1987 from Marylhurst University. As a tutor, she has filled whatever niche coordinators needed, whether it was one-to-one or small group tutoring, leading a conversation group, or working as a classroom aide. She has touched the lives of hundreds of students, and donated over 2,700 hours of volunteer time.

A Northwest native, Sister Noreen graduated from University of Washington in 1943 and completed the fifth year of teacher education in 1944. In 1946 she joined the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, a teaching order whose mission is “the full development of the human person.”  With a master’s in Fine Art, Sister Noreen taught academic subjects and art from grade school through college.

On Nov. 7, Sister Mary Noreen O’Leary celebrated her 90th birthday. Her relief “Treasured Gifts” depicts the beauty of nature — sun, water and trees — and allows the sight impaired to experience by touch.

On Nov. 7, Sister Mary Noreen O’Leary celebrated her 90th birthday. Her relief “Treasured Gifts” depicts the beauty of nature — sun, water and trees — and allows the sight impaired to experience by touch.

Sister Noreen spent several years working with the Hispanic community in Los Angeles improving her Spanish and teaching ESOL. She was impressed by intergenerational cooperation within Hispanic families: teenagers helped younger siblings and seniors were valued and contributing community members. She feels American society tends to separate generations and could learn something from their model. She encourages students to get their children to help them with their English and to speak it whenever they can, as when shopping or visiting with neighbors.

Her advice for new tutors?

“Enter into the student’s process,” she said. “What do they find difficult? Make your teaching student-centered by building their confidence and love of language. Learning is an adventure in thinking! Making mistakes is part of learning.”

Sister Noreen’s art works, including mosaics, paintings and relief designs, grace the Mary’s Woods residential complex and Marylhurst University campus. Her relief “Treasured Gifts” depicts the beauty of nature — sun, water and trees — and allows the sight impaired to experience by touch.

Truly 90 years young, Sister Noreen belongs to an active senior community — which includes a 96-year old exercise leader and a vibrant, active, and independent 103-year old nun. She maintains an art studio and continues to offer art tutoring.

How does she keep so active?  Part of her secret is her love of teaching. She says:  “I love coming to PCC. I meet the world here.”

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