Kindergarten teacher is spiritual mother to many children

Categories: Around the Diocese,Synod,World Meeting of Families

dudgeon

Kindergarten teacher Paula Dudgeon poses for a photo in her classroom at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Marshall, Minn. Despite not having a husband or biological children, she still considers herself a mother to many people — children and adults — with whom she interacts on a daily basis. Photo by Sam Patet

By Sam Patet
For The Visitor

Paula Dudgeon knows she made the right decision at age 29. After spending nine years with the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary of Waukesha, Wis., she discerned that God wasn’t calling her to spend her life as a religious sister. Instead, she thought he wanted her to get married and have a family.

Things haven’t panned out the way she planned.

“When I left the community, I didn’t expect that 20 years later I would still be single,” she said. “But I have to believe it was part of God’s plan.”

Dudgeon, 51, is a kindergarten teacher at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall, Minn., a position she’s held for 18 years. She also teaches the Creighton Model FertilityCare System of natural family planning to married couples.

Dudgeon admits that her life is different from her married friends and family members: Every day she has to cook her own meals, she can’t ask her husband to do the laundry if she doesn’t feel like it, and her apartment is empty when she arrives home after a long day at work.

But at its core, her life is exactly the same as theirs.

“We all become part of God’s family at baptism,” she said. “We are children of God, and what greater joy can there be than that?”

Friends and family say Dudgeon’s life as a single woman is full of joy.

“She’s always in a joyful, upbeat mood,” said Nicole Dudgeon, 20, one of Paula’s nine nieces and nephews. “She’s always just been wonderful to all of us nieces and nephews.”

“She never runs out,” said Connie Lanoue, Paula’s youngest sister. “I see her in a classroom of 25 kids, and she just never runs out.”

Although she does not have children, Dudgeon sees herself as a mother.

“A mother is recognized by her ability to give herself,” she said, quoting St. John Paul II. “Having an individual who cares about someone — whether it’s listening to their woes or whether it’s being their friend in a difficult time or whether it’s helping an elderly person with some of their needs — I think those are important parts of mothering … and they come from a gift of self.”

And Dudgeon does just that in a variety of ways, from helping a 5-year-old student tie his shoe to babysitting a niece or nephew when daycare isn’t available.

“For everyone that she comes into contact with … it’s instinctive for her to want to guide and help,” Lanoue said. “It’s just who she is to be in that role, whether it’s as a sister or as an aunt or as a teacher.”

The giving of one’s self to others is something God asks of everyone, whether they’re single, married, a priest or consecrated religious person, Dudgeon said.

“According to my state in life, I am able to give myself to [God], whether it’s in a marriage in an intimate, physical relationship, whether it’s as a priest through the vows … or whether it’s me, out there waiting around,” said Dudgeon, who acknowledges she is still open to the possibility of marriage.

The different vocations complement one another, he said. When she encounters a couple that’s been married for 50 years, she’s inspired to live out her vocation with continued devotion.

And when a couple she’s teaching is wondering whether they can remain abstinent while using NFP, all they have to do is look at her life for an answer.

“I think that creates a common bond there, that creates a similarity in the choices that we’re asked to make and in our self-giving,” Dudgeon said.