Mary Monahan, Dedicated Preschool Teacher, Dies at 67

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

As the oldest of eight children of two working parents, Mary Monahan was practically trained from birth to be a preschool teacher. After volunteering in a local Head Start program one summer during high school, she chose early childhood education as a career.

Mrs. Monahan immigrated with her parents from Ireland as a toddler, settled with her family in the Bronx, took care of her seven younger siblings while both parents earned enough to transplant the household to the suburbs and eloped when she was 18. She raised three children, began teaching, bought a nursery school and spent the rest of her life tending to young minds.

Mrs. Monahan, who lived in Bethlehem Township in Hunterdon County, N.J., a few miles east of the Pennsylvania border, died on Feb. 26 in a Raritan, N.J., hospital. She was 67. The cause was complications of Covid-19, her daughter, Shannon Monahan, said.

Friends spoke of her rare gentleness, openness to the world and genuine love of people. “When Mary smiled,” said Sylvia Heidbreder, who, with her husband, took the formal photographs of students at the nursery school, “it was like liquid sunshine.”

Mary Catherine Lynch was born on May 12, 1953, in Ballyheelan, a village about 60 miles northwest of Dublin in County Cavan. Her father, Edward Lynch, was a civil engineer. Her mother, Frances B. (Flood) Lynch was a cook and a florist.

The family moved to the Bronx when she was 4, in 1957, then to Bethlehem Township in 1965. She graduated from Phillipsburg Catholic High School in New Jersey where, volunteering in the Head Start program, she met Esther Monahan, who set her up with her son James.

In 1971, farmland near Lough Sheelin, close to where Mrs. Monahan’s mother was born in central Ireland (and immortalized in a ballad by the Irish group the Wolfe Tones about a mass eviction in 1848) became available. Her parents bought it and the family decamped back to Ireland — but not before Mary and James secretly married.

Mary enrolled in University College Dublin. James followed the Monahans to Ireland, but couldn’t find work. He and Mary revealed to her parents that they had wed, and in early 1972, they returned to the United States, where she became a naturalized citizen.

James, a technical designer for AT&T, died in 2009. In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Monahan is survived by two sons, Sean and James Monahan; five grandchildren; and seven siblings: Maeve Deemer, Eileen Lynch, Colum Lynch, Finola Lynch, Ciaran Lynch, Fergus Lynch and Deirdre Hawthorne.

After returning from Ireland, she earned an associate degree in early childhood education from Raritan Valley Community College in Branchburg, N.J., and embarked on a 40-year career as a preschool teacher. She joined the faculty of the Jugtown Mountain Nursery School in Bethlehem Township in 1989, and became the owner and director in 1999. She retired in 2018.

Inspired by her own memories of summers in rural New Jersey with relatives while she was living in the Bronx, Mrs. Monahan and her husband regularly hosted Fresh Air Fund children in their home. The couple organized other families to participate in the program.

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