Ursuline News

Exceptional Years of Service: A Series

The Exceptional Years of Service wall outside of Haggerty Library features Ursuline faculty and staff members who have been employed by The Academy for over 20 years. Over the next few months, we will be featuring those on the wall in a series. This week, we are pleased to introduce Ms. Pat Mendina.

Ursuline Academy of Dallas welcomed Pat Mendina in August of 1986.

Since she was a young child, Pat had wanted to teach, even reviewing the ABC’s and numbers with her teddy bears and dolls.

“Teaching is in my blood,” she said. “When I visited Ireland in 2012, I discovered that my ancestors were Hedge Row Teachers in the early 19th century in Leitrim but had to leave because of encroaching famine and political unrest. We were the Flynns who settled in Wisconsin in the Kettle Moraine area near Holy Hill where they then established a school system.”

A friend of Pat’s was the first to mention the Ursuline name to her upon her move to Texas in 1985. At the time, she had been working at her alma mater, Divine Savior High School in Milwaukee.

“Originally, I didn’t think Catholic or private school was something I wanted to explore,” she said. “However, public schools in Texas had a hiring freeze, so the Superintendent of the Richardson Independent School System encouraged me to explore the private schools in the Dallas area. Then I remembered Ursuline and made the call.”

She first talked to the Academic Dean who said he needed an English and drama teacher (“Yes, drama!” Pat said) and was asked by the Dean to come in for an interview. The rest is history.

“Once I read the mission statement, I knew I had found a home,” she said. “And when I drove up the driveway and saw the statue of the Sacred Heart, I realized how lucky these people are to work in a school like this.”

She started out teaching freshmen World Geography and had two drama classes.

“Although I had been in a lot of productions in high school, my only claim to fame was a nephew who was a professional actor,” she said. “Needless to say, I called upon him to give me some tips.”

She researched, worked hard at it, and had students write their own scripts and produce their own shows. “A good time was had by all!” she said.

At the end of her first school year, there was a reduction in staff due to the a downturn in the economy and enrollment decreased from 735 to about 500 or so.

“I was fortunate enough to obtain a position in the Development Office and work there throughout the summer of 1987 until that fall,” she said. “At this point, one of the teachers who had been at Ursuline for many years decided to take a public school position in Carrollton, leaving an English position open.” She went to Principal Jean Placke and asked her to consider her as a candidate.

Over the years, Pat has noticed several changes at the school.

  • In the late 80s, Ursuline seniors were lucky to be considered for college and programs other than Liberal Arts.

“Myrna Tenholder, our only college counselor at the time, would take students’ resumes to schools all over the country, introducing them to those in charge of admissions in engineering, computer science, pre-med, and research programs,” she said. “I remember in the early 90s when one of our seniors was accepted into the Architectural Program at UT Austin- it was a breakthrough!”

  • Laptops were introduced in the mid-90s.

“I feared that the girls would drop and break these expensive machines in my classroom; therefore, the first day that they had their computers, I made them sit on the floor,” she recalled. “The desks were sloped, and I was afraid the computers would slide off.”

Her next memory of this day was of her standing behind the podium with her notes for the day all neatly arranged, feeling totally in control, but by the end of the class, sitting with the girls right there on the floor, learning along with them. “I began to ask them questions,” she said. “So, the teacher became the student!”

Pat notes that it is humbling to watch a student struggle with a concept, for example, the line of reasoning in an essay or the development of her own ideas in the commentary. 

“She works very hard, asks for clarification, participates in class, yet might not achieve the results that she wants in that moment,” she said. “What is rewarding is to see her persistence and patience form a more resilient and robust character, a character that will serve her well in future endeavors.”

“It has been my sincere hope that my students find their personal voices, not only their writing voices but also their speaking voices,” she said. “I often tell them that someday they will have to advocate for others- whether they be family, friends, or members of their communities. I encourage them to use their voices to help others.”

Pat celebrated 35 years at Ursuline as well as her retirement in May.