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Photo by Joseph Sommo
Photo by Joseph Sommo
John Diorio and Mary Pat Gannon inside the lobby of Archbishop Molloy High School on May 30.

A pair of distinguished teachers who served Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood for half a century are finally walking away from the profession to enjoy their retirement.

John Diorio, who taught government and economics for 59 years, and Mary Pat Gannon, an English teacher for the past 44 years, both recently announced that they plan to retire when the current school year ends in June.

As iconic figures in Molloy history, they have taught thousands of students and multiple generations of families in some cases; seen the school transition from a boys-only school to co-ed; and experienced the evolution of technology in the classroom first hand.

When QNS spoke to both of them on May 29, however, Diorio and Gannon both expressed a passion for education that could carry them for even longer.

“It’s bittersweet because I think I can still walk into a room and teach at the drop of a hat,” Gannon said. “I’ll find it very difficult to shut off that part of my brain.”

Gannon’s love for literature dates back to when she read all of the children’s books in the library and her mother had to plead with the librarians to let her start reading the adult books, she said. Even though she went on to study biology and chemistry in college at first, Gannon eventually realized that English was her calling and changed her major. Especially when her courses required her to read more books, she felt like she had “died and gone to heaven,” she said.

When she began her tenure at Molloy in 1974, Gannon was one of only a handful of women on the faculty at the time. During her career, she taught English courses at every level, influenced several students who went on to become successful writers and authors and was one of the first teachers to adopt the smartboard as a tool in her classroom.

While that use of technology allowed her to better connect with a generation of students who became increasingly visual in their learning style, Gannon said, her unique experiences also taught her much about herself.

“I have learned that I’m still learning,” Gannon said. “That kids bring to a piece of literature a new vision, and they make me reevaluate it and I see it with fresh eyes because of how they look at it. No piece of literature is ever static; it depends on the eyes and ears of kids reading it.”

For Diorio, his passion for government also predates his teaching career when he was a staff member for then-Congressman John Lindsay. Diorio said the staff was instrumental in getting Lindsay to run for New York City mayor, and Diorio later became the mayor’s legislative assistant.

He began his tenure at Molloy teaching history in 1960, but found his way back to politics by 1968 when he was instrumental in creating the American Government course for the senior curriculum. He then moderated the Political Science Club from 1968 to 1995 as his courses on government, economics and constitutional law grew in popularity.

Over the course of his career he used his political connections to invite guest speakers to his classes such as former Governor Mario Cuomo and former Congressman Joseph Addabbo Sr. — the respective fathers of current Governor Andrew Cuomo and current state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., both of whom wound up in Diorio’s classes.

But, as Diorio recalled, he considers his years of teaching and mentoring young minds as his defining achievement.

“What’s very impressive here is the average student who’s living a very complete, average life,” Diorio said. “To me, that’s successful. Somebody getting married, having kids, working and helping their family, that’s what we’re about. I’ve been fortunate because these boys and girls are so fabulous.”

Diorio added that making his students aware of who their political representatives are locally and nationally  and in turn seeing those students share that information with their parents who were also unaware — is one of the most rewarding things he experienced during his career.

When he finished teaching his last class on May 23 and walked out of the room, Diorio said he was overcome with emotions as the faculty and students surprised him by lining the hallway and applauding while congratulating him. He tried to rush to the elevator after giving a few waves and smiles, but he couldn’t avoid being captured on a video that was posted to the Molloy page on Facebook.

Unlike Gannon, Diorio preferred to use the chalkboard until his last class and didn’t adopt all of the new technology. Naturally, he’s not on Facebook, but when someone showed him the video’s 50,000 views and thousands of comments, he was amazed.

“Thousands of people telling me I’m their favorite teacher, the best teacher they ever had, the best course they ever had, I helped them become lawyers, I helped them become secret service agents,” Diorio said. “Maybe I did, but that was my job basically. I didn’t take it as anything special. That, to me, is one of my greatest accomplishments.”

While Diorio and Gannon will find it hard to leave behind the enormous legacies they created at Molloy, they both said they have no immediate plans for their retirement other than some much deserved relaxation.

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