#PREPpeople is one in an occasional series of snapshots spotlighting the people of St. John's Prep
Name: Mary Kiley
Hometown: Norfolk and Roanoke, Virginia
Currently Resides: West Peabody
Education: B.A. Biology and Psychology; Master’s in Theological Studies; Certificate in Positive Psychology; Certified Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner
Years at St. John’s: 20
Subject: Religious Studies
Describe a teacher who inspired you growing up: A graduate school professor, Rev. Lawrence Boadt, changed the whole trajectory of my life. Soon after reluctantly walking into his required course on the Pentateuch, I discovered that only through interpreting the Hebrew Bible from the viewpoint of the original, inspired religious storytellers themselves could their spiritual truths be fully understood. I ended up concentrating my graduate degree on the Hebrew Scriptures and will always be grateful to the humble, hilarious, masterful, scholarly brilliant Larry Boadt. May he rest in the greatest of peace.
Classroom lessons evolve, but what’s an exercise, unit, or concept you look forward to teaching every year and why? The Catholic Church does not believe that the Bible’s purpose is to give factual science or history stories. Rather, its purpose is to give us profound religious truth and a deep, dynamic relationship with God. Reading the Bible with this kind of awareness is truly, spiritually powerful. In the Hebrew Scriptures freshman class, I love seeing students’ faces when they realize that the Catholic Church embraces science. So many are unaware that the Church has long-embraced Darwin’s theory of natural selection and related theories of evolution. Their sense of relief that they do not have to choose between religious faith and scientific belief is powerful indeed.
List four traits or tactics you think are crucial to a gratifying teaching career? With a nod to Lawrence Boadt (from whom I modeled my teaching style):
- An ongoing passion for the subject matter.
- A deep, appreciative awareness that each student is simply another (younger) human who deserves to be taken where they are in life with interest and compassion, including the ability to apologize to a student and/or class when needed, modeling the power of forgiveness within a world culture that has seemed to forget its intrinsic healing and hope.
- A fun sense of humor that includes a positive, self-deprecating mode when needed.
- A warm humility that helps bring forth a sense of co-learning in the classroom.
What’s the most insightful thing a student has ever said to you? Way back, when my colleague’s delightful son, Peter Dankert Jr., was a freshman, he had a great insight that I have never forgotten. When a classmate was out of line, Peter piped up, ‘Ms. Kiley, he’s thinking with his head and not his heart!’ So wise and so true.
The global pandemic has disrupted virtually every aspect of our society. Is there any wisdom or an unexpected silver lining that it’s brought to you personally, in spite of everything else? I got COVID at the very beginning of the pandemic which turned into a sometimes-scary case of long COVID. It took me a solid year to fully recover (with some health issues still remaining). I was grateful to St. John’s for [allowing us] to be able to teach the following year fully remotely. Having so much time in relative isolation is emotionally difficult, but it helped me turn inward, deeply. It was not easy at first, but ultimately, it was truly transformative.
If you weren’t a teacher, what would you do for a living? I’m a science person at heart. I’m fascinated with weather, weather systems, huge storms of all kinds and what makes them tick. Another part of me would have loved to have studied meteorology intensively and ended up as the female ‘Jim Cantore’ on the Weather Channel, being in the thick of storms while teaching others about this fascinating field of study.
Fun fact: I love cars. Even from a young age, I could pick out the model and make. I still can. I drive an appropriate yet fun ‘teacher car’ a Golf Tsi (turbo charged) with 5-speed manual transmission. Vroom, vroom!