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Remembering Pat Kornachuk: ‘A Model of Civility and Decorum’

Remembering Pat Kornachuk: ‘A Model of Civility and Decorum’

Among a handful trailblazing women to populate the Prep campus on the threshold of the 1980s, the longtime English teacher seamlessly fused family, faith, and friends while attending to every student’s needs

Patricia J. (Collins) Kornachuk, a retired St. John’s Prep English teacher who brought grammar and composition to life for first-year students, passed away on July 30 at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. A native of Andover who made Danvers her home for more than 70 years, she was 93. 

A devoutly Catholic homemaker and teaching professional, Kornachuk, known to all who knew her as ‘Pat,’ is remembered by family, friends, and former colleagues as a brave and independent woman who maintained a sprawling social life, indulged in lifelong learning, and made certain her students felt engaged and heard. She was one of five women on the Prep campus working in staff or faculty positions when she came to the school in 1979.

“Pat was so genteel and kind,” says former English Department colleague Maryann Muhilly, who now serves as the school librarian. Kornachuk was affable but understated, gregarious but low-key, extremely well read but not at all pedantic. She was seamlessly welcoming, a profoundly loyal friend, and a natural athlete who indulged in that aptitude. She played field hockey at (now defunct) Punchard High in Andover, where she graduated third in her class, and continued her playing career at Salem State College, where she earned her bachelor’s degree. She was also an avid skier, tennis player, and golfer. She and husband Walter M. Kornachuk, a Danvers native, were married in July of 1952.

In the classroom, she was renowned for her patience, her reverence for “Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition,” and her impeccable cursive writing. In spite of that, she was not a taskmaster. During the hiring process, she thought she had blown her interview when, in response to the question “When do you think you do your best teaching?” she replied “When I work with the students who struggle the most.” Naturally, that level of humility and compassion was music to the Brothers’ ears.

“Pat always impressed me with her kindness, gentle classroom management skills, and a sincere welcoming attitude toward her students,” said John Klein, current co-chair of the Prep English Department. “She worked diligently to help her students develop their writing skills and she encouraged them to read insightfully. She was a model of civility and decorum in the classroom and she treated every student with respect and attentiveness.”

“I think she really cared about the teaching and she was relaxed about it,” adds Rob Schena ’85. “I think she cared about the students, and it made me want to learn more. I just felt very motivated in that class because I wanted to learn and she wanted to teach, and it was a nice, symbiotic relationship. I never really felt like I was getting the gist of English grammar before her class, but something clicked with her. I felt really, really comfortable with it, and I got better and better. It's like I wanted to do the work for her. She was just a wonderful woman.”

Kornachuk served as a long-time substitute teacher in the Danvers Public Schools system before coming to St. John’s. She left the Prep in 1994 to care for her late husband, who was battling Alzheimer's disease. A devoted communicant of Saint Mary of the Annunciation Parish for decades, she attended Mass daily at the Carmelite Chapel inside the Northshore Mall until the last few months of her life.

Kornachuk was one of eight children born to William and Josephine (Wholey) Collins, and she was the second-youngest of four daughters. Her father ran his own taxicab service in Andover before working in construction. Her mother insisted each of her daughters work at least one year prior to getting married so they would have practical skills to fall back on if “things didn’t go as planned.”

Born October 13, 1929, Kornachuk lived the first 10 years of her life during the global economic crises of the Great Depression, and her early teen years were dominated by the frightful advance of World War II. Somewhat implausibly, she became a person who always looked on the bright side of life. She was also a product of an era in American Catholicism, chiefly the 1950s and ‘60, where religion permeated every part of folks’ lives. 

Amidst the backdrop of socio-political realities like the Korean War, the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the Civil Rights Movement, the U.S. population experienced its biggest growth spurt in history—from 150 million in 1950 to 180 million in 1960—as newly married young couples began the baby boom generation. During the 1950s, nationwide church membership grew at an even faster rate than the population, from 57 percent of Americans in 1950 to 63.3 percent in 1960. In many parts of the country, the economy was booming and young families with children packed churches and crowded Sunday schools, parish picnics, and potluck suppers. As a consequence, sociability and childrearing were largely one in the same. 

The Kornachuks were no different as a salt-of-the-earth Danvers family that included five children, Patrice, Walter, Andrea, Lisa, and Mark, a 1985 graduate of the Prep. The parents’ tightest-knit friend group consisted of 12 to 15 couples from the Mr. and Mrs. Club of Danvers, most of whom were also associated with Saint Mary’s. Walter, a jocular and sharp-witted state police officer who later worked as an insurance adjuster, embodied a perfect complement to Pat’s more subtle bearing.

“She constantly filled her house with dinners for family (and friends),” wrote granddaughter Hayley Randall in her eulogy. “(She’d take advantage of) any excuse to have (guests) over, so long as she had her favorite glass of white Zinfandel.”
A number of those in Kornachuks’ social circle enjoyed St. John’s Prep connections, including Alec DeSimone P’68 ’83 ’90 GP’88 ’24 GGP’16 ’18 and his late wife, Martha, the parents of the School’s 2019 Distinguished Alumnus and former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Tom DeSimone ’68. The elder DeSimone was actually at Pat’s side as she received last rights. The couple was also fast friends with Bud Larivee ’41 and his wife, former Prep staffer Jane Larivee, the parents of John Larivee ’68. They routinely gathered for social events both with their entire friend group and various subsets. It was also common for club members to travel together. 

Pat herself was fond friends with the late Brother Edwin Boissonneau, who spent 27 years at the School as a teacher, administrator, and coach and gave her kids tennis lessons. She also remained close with John Mahoney, who taught English at St. John’s from 1979-84 and went on to become a key architect in Boston College’s undergraduate admissions process before retiring this spring as vice provost for enrollment management. 

“She loved St. John’s Prep,” says daughter, Lisa. “She lived down the street from it before working there, and when she had the opportunity to go there to teach full time, she jumped on it.”

“Even after retirement, she loved to go to the different events that she was invited to, and she maintained relationships with a lot of colleagues there,” adds daughter, Andrea.

Longtime friend Kay White recalls the sense of pride Kornachuk derived from being part of the St. John’s community. 

“She was so proud of the Prep, and really proud of having taught there,” she says. “She would always speak so highly of the other faculty and the students. She enjoyed her years there a great deal.”

As a young teacher in her 20s, Muhilly took note of Kornachuk’s keen acumen and effortless style when she had students in front of her.

“She was a master of teaching grammar and writing,” she says. “She was very good with literature, but she really knew her grammar. If you had a grammar question, you could go to Pat. She had her Warriner’s book memorized, and she was terrific with vocabulary, really giving the kids exactly what they needed at that point, plus being such a genuine person in the classroom, and always available for extra help.”

Perhaps more than any other character trait, Kornachuk’s knack for building relationships in the course of immersing herself in good works, good worship, and good times stands as an exemplar of a life well-lived. 

“Absolutely, that ability was an attribute of Pat’s,” affirms White, who will turn 93 this fall. “I spent many good years with Pat socially, so many memories. It was a truly wonderful generation to be a part of because we all had our attitudes and our formations and our upbringing, which were all very much alike. I treasure that all now looking back, thinking how lucky we were.”

Kornachuk is survived by her five children, Patrice McCarron and her husband, John, of Columbus, Ohio, Walter Kornachuk and his wife, Jeanne, of Danvers, Andrea Kornachuk of Arlington, Lisa Kornachuk of Danvers and Mark Kornachuk and his wife, Joyce, of North Andover. She is also survived by five grandchildren, Jeremy McCarron, Lindsey Modlich, Shanna Alexander, Hayley Randall, and Kaitlin Kornachuk, along with seven great grandchildren, Poppy, Rosie, Iris, Evelyn, Max, Elodie, and Everett. 

She is also survived by her sister Josephine ‘Dodo’ Gemmell of Andover, 89, and several nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her husband, Walter, in 1998, and six siblings, William, Paul, Arthur, Justin, Julianna Collins and Evie Barry.