Longtime French teacher Mary Jane Williams has been a fan of the language of France for many years. In fact, she says it goes back to high school.
"Mademoiselle Gorecki, my very first professeur de français, at Immaculata High School in Detroit inspired me to become a French teacher and made me realize how much I adored the language," said Williams, who came to Notre Dame in 2010. "After four years taking high school French, I continued four more years at Michigan State University and couldn’t wait to get into my own classroom to transfer that grand enthousiasme to high school students."
Williams graduated from MSU with a degree in French. She also earned a degree in sociology. Her first position teaching French was at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, and after a few years, she became chairperson of the school's department of languages.
"We had an outstanding department back then of nine full-time language teachers offering six foreign languages: French, Spanish, German, Latin, Polish and Russian," she said. "Just about every other year we escorted our students to France. Over the years, I've also had the privilege of teaching French to preschoolers, grade schoolers, and middle schoolers in both public and parochial schools in Michigan and one in suburban Chicago, Ill., in a school with more than 3,000 high school students."
Williams came to teach at Notre Dame Prep to finish up the French program after long-time French teacher, Dee Connors (Elbode), retired. She wasn't a stranger to NDP, however.
"My son, Bert, attended Notre Dame Marist Academy and graduated from NDP in 2006," Williams said. "It was truly interesting to experience Prep from a different vantage point when I joined the staff. This time, I was getting a view of the school as an insider."
She said that as a faculty member, she witnessed first-hand what she already knew in her heart as a parent: that the administration and faculty are hard-working, selfless, dedicated to their students and committed to excellence.
"As a parent of Marist Academy, I was thrilled to help launch the very first International Day, which still is in existence today," said Williams, who now helps out at Notre Dame's upper school in study hall and substitution. "As a parent at Prep, I enjoyed being co-president of the band boosters and also helped organize the band’s trip to London, England, in 2004 to march in the New Year’s Day parade. As a football mom, I loved helping out on those Friday night pasta meals for our team and joining with other parents before each home game praying the rosary for the safety of both teams around Mary’s statue in the courtyard."
"In addition to submitting petitions to MDOT with hundreds of signatures from parents, students and first responders from the Pontiac police and fire departments, it was a phone call into a local radio show and a discussion with Governor Granholm that finally got the ball rolling for a traffic signal at the very dangerous, fast moving, five-lane intersection of Giddings and Perry Roads," she said.
Williams said she truly misses not being able to teach French these days, but she's delighted that she's had a number of transfer students under her wing, finishing up third-year AP and IB French.
"Now, in my study halls, the students look forward to what they affectionately call 'French Fridays,' when we pray the Hail Mary in French," she said. "It is amazing how many were able to memorize it so quickly."
Williams also mentors for online learners at ND Prep who are taking courses through the Michigan Virtual University. In addition, as moderator of the school's Champions for Life Club, her students have been very active and have participated in the March for Life every year in Washington, DC. As a result of the group's fundraising efforts, every spring they've distributed nearly $1,000 among such Catholic charities as Mary’s Mantle, Angela Hospice, the Christ Child Society, PBJ Outreach and Birth Choice.
The Beatles and Gilda Radner
Williams currently is a resident of Rochester Hills, but grew up in a family of nine children (four boys, five girls) on the northwest side of Detroit within the Gesu Catholic Church parish, which was located across the street from the University of Detroit.
"Our neighborhood was chock full of Catholic families who attended Gesu Grade School," she said. "I remember being green with envy when the Cavanagh kids [Jerome Cavanagh was the mayor of the City of Detroit] down the street got to meet the Beatles when they came to Detroit in 1964. Also, we were accustomed to seeing Gilda Radner [of Saturday Night Live fame] walking by our house on her way to nearby Mumford High School."
At Gesu, Williams played basketball on the girl’s team and ended up playing forward as she was the tallest girl in her 8th-grade class.
"Back then we played six-on-six basketball," she recalled. "Each team had three forwards and three guards and only the forwards shot baskets. The three guards on one team defended against the three forwards from the other team. No one could cross over the mid-court line and players were limited to only three dribbles. I look back at that and just laugh, but we sure had lots of fun."
Just six months ago, Williams and her family celebrated the marriage of her son, Bert, to Breanne Marie Butler.
"Bre is a native New Yorker who met Bert at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan in operating room 23," Williams said. "Bert is a 4th-year resident there in cardio-thoracic surgery (two more years to go) and Bre is a physician assistant in thoracic surgery. Their wedding was here in Plymouth, Mich., at the beautiful Inn at St. Johns."
Deer in the yard
In her spare time, when she's not on the Notre Dame campus, Williams remains busy. In fact, she currently works as a wedding coordinator at her parish, St. Irenaeus in Rochester Hills.
"It's lots of fun meeting happy brides and grooms planning their upcoming weddings, walking them through their wedding rehearsal and preparing them for their big day," she said. "I also enjoy gardening, but unfortunately these days, it is becoming more like trying to outsmart the endless deer that traipse through my backyard and devour everything floral."
Williams and her husband, Bert, who is a senior key account manager at an electronics firm in Auburn Hills, remain active supporters of all things Notre Dame.
"For many years, Bert was the team videographer for ND Marist and ND Prep football," she said. "Nowadays, he still enjoys attending our football, volleyball, basketball games and all the school plays he can get to. He joins me at school dances when I chaperone and loves attending school jazz band and marching band events as well as seeing our talent shows and Concerts on the Hill, too."
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org.