A Lucky College Degree

Today I’d like to share a 65-year-old story that illustrates the power of a college degree, as well as the kindness of two priests,  who recognized the intellectual potential of a poor Irish kid from St. Louis.

It’s a sweet story about my father, Vincent Patrick O’Shaughnessy, who is dying of pancreatic cancer. As I sit at his bedside, this is the story more than any others – and my dad has lots of stories – that I love to remember.

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St. Louis University High School

My dad was supposed to attend an archdiocese high school back in the 1940’s, which would have provided him with an adequate education.  Father Redding, the pastor of my dad’s grade school at St. Cronan, however, asked my dad one day why he wasn’t going to attend St. Louis University High School, a Jesuit school for boys. At the time, SLUH was considered the finest high school in St. Louis and it still is today.

My dad explained that his parents couldn’t possibly afford SLUH’s tuition. My dad’s parents, grandparents and two siblings lived in a tiny three-room (not three bedroom) house with one electrical outlet on the wrong side of the tracks. Undeterred, the priest picked up the phone and got the principal of SLUH on the line. The principal agreed to give my dad a scholarship.

My dad was placed in the top honor’s track at SLUH and he managed to do well at the school even though he worked most nights at a grocery store to support his family since his father was disabled. My dad often couldn’t begin his homework until after midnight.

From his hospital bed this week, my dad chuckled that the Jesuits at SLUH “brainwashed” him into believing that a college degree was not negotiable. He had to go to college. (His parents hadn’t even graduated from grade school.)

After graduating from high school, my dad was prepared to work his way through St. Louis University by attending classes at night, but then the GI bill came along after he got out of the Navy. He earned his electrical engineering degree at St. Louis University, where he made life-long friends, and he eventually pursued an engineering master’s degree and an MBA at SLU and Washington University in St. Louis respectively.

I can’t help thinking about how a simple phone call and the kindness of two priests changed the course of my dad’s life and his children as well. My dad’s brother and sister, who didn’t get the chance to attend an extraordinary college prep high school, never made it to college. And none of their children went to college either. All five of my mom and dad’s children graduated from college with at least one degree.

I wish I could thank the priests who gave my dad that chance. I will never forget their kindness.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

 




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7 Responses to A Lucky College Degree

  1. Daniel Doyle March 1, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    Lynn,

    Thanks for sharing such a heartwarming story. My father was the son of poor Irish immigrants also. He barely got out of high school himself. He ended up serving 30 years in the US Army but always knew how important a college education was. He impressed that upon me and I was the first one to ever graduate from college. It is my dream to get all of my children through college too.

    Dan

    • Lynn O'Shaughnessy March 2, 2015 at 4:32 am #

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for sharing your story of Irish immigrants. I hope you succeed in getting all your kids through college just like my dad did!

      Lynn O.

  2. Mairead McKenna October 3, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. My father was the first in his family to leave Ireland, the year was 1969, when the “TROUBLES” began. I am a naturalized US citizen. My son, Michael just started his second year at Michigan State University. I am a disabled parent, unable to work, due to a genetic disease called Hemochromatosis. My DNA results confirm that I carry a gene from each parent, a mutated gene traced to the Bubonic Plague. It is not curable, but treatable to an extent. It has caused liver damage, I’ve had cardiac surgery, and now have osteonecrosis (dying bones in knees and hips) as a result of phlebotomy treatment. There are also some neurological issues as a result.

    I will not be able to continue tuition payments because of the many medical and financial hardships. Any advice would be most genuinely appreciated.
    Sincerely
    Mairead
    (586) 268-6438

  3. Lynn O'Shaughnessy May 19, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    I’m glad you enjoyed my father’s story. We obviously share a similar background. I bet you are as proud of your father as I am of mine. It’s easier to sympathize and root for first-generation college kids when your own parent benefited from a helping hand.

  4. Mary H May 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

    Dear Lynn,
    Very touching story on many fronts , how the priest came through and made it possible, how your father managed to keep up with the course load, track team & homework at midnght, while supporting his family & how he was ready to attend university at night.
    The immigrants that came to this country knew that education was the best investment for their children to get ahead, and the Irish led the way..
    Sounds like that has passed down to you , with all your encouraging posts to those who seek direction & how to pay for college.
    Enjoy this precious time with your father
    Mary
    (another 2nd generation daughter of Irish immigrants ,whose father went to a Jesuit HS on a scholarship)

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