Saint Columbkille alumna fondly recalls her Catholic education from the 1930s

Mary Coleman Maye ’39 turned 100 years old on February 26, 2022. She was born in Brighton at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital. She lived in a few houses in Brighton, most memorably in a Victorian house at the corner of Priscilla, Winship and Chestnut Hill Ave. A lot of Italians lived there, but also Irish immigrants, too. The area was called Bugg Village. Her older brother John Coleman (Class of 1937), sisters Elsie (Class of 1941) and Catherine or “Rena” (Class of 1943), and her youngest brother Paul (Class of 1949) were all Saint Cols graduates.

Mary’s father emigrated from Cork, Ireland in 1908 and lived in Brighton. Mary’s mom reportedly had a steerage ticket on the Titanic, but was able to come over in 1911 instead. The family also found a receipt for a donation that Mary’s father made around 1910 to help build the Convent. 

Mary’s dad worked at the MTA, which caused him to lose his hearing, so he was out of work on disability. He was able to be a flag man at night for MTA construction jobs. To make ends meet, her mom did housework as a job, so Mary would help her make beds.

As an adult, Mary talked about how idyllic it was to live in Brighton during the Depression. She worked hard and cared for other kids after school. Her family was very important to her. She walked to school every day, even during snow storms. 

“I loved Brighton,” said Mary during a Zoom interview with Saint Cols in June 2022. “It was the best place I ever lived.”

Fr. Tracy was the pastor of the parish while Mary attended Saint Columbkille. She highly valued her time at the school, crediting much of her faith and education to the nuns.

“My education at Saint Columbkille means everything,” recalled Mary. “The nuns taught us everything practical. Your parents didn’t have the time to teach you everything, so the nuns taught us every subject.”

There were two classrooms for each grade for first through eighth grade. The school was very dedicated. If a student didn’t understand a lesson, the nuns would spend extra time to make sure everyone understood what they were teaching. Each class had about 45 to 50 kids with no special services. Mary recalls that the discipline and teaching abilities of the nuns were incredible.

In the 1930s, students were asked to study the catechism as part of our homework, then go into school and the nuns would ask questions. You never knew when you might get called on. She remembered going to confession once a week. Life revolved around the parish and the school. Mary stayed a true Catholic throughout her life. She was very spiritual up to the end, and it was very important in the way she lived her life and how she raised her children. 

“The church was the center of their life growing up. It was the community,” shared Mary’s son Bob Maye, who lives in Rye Beach, MA near where Mary spent the last years of her life in a nursing home facility.

At Christmastime, Fr. Tracy would give every student a box of hard candy. They would spend the day at the school watching each class perform Christmas carols. First and second grades were in the chorus in the Cantata and did a dance. The story of King Herod was performed as part of the Cantata and was popular for many years to come.

“The Cantata was wonderful,” said Mary. She participated in the chorus (60 girls) and helped her own daughters participate by making their costumes. They sold candy at intermission for all the families, which her son Bob remembered fondly. Mary’s daughter Patty Maye Wheeler ’68 played the Virgin Mary in the Cantata when she was in high school.

Sister Clarice was Mary’s favorite teacher. Betty O’Connell Walsh and Dot McCarthy Cronin were great friends of Mary’s. They served on the committee that put together the group’s 50th reunion in 1989. Mary recalls that many of their classmates joined the clergy.

Following graduation, Mary worked at the Army Corps of Engineers under Major Winchester doing engineering projects in and around Boston during the war. She did night school at Brighton High to work on her secretarial skills. Mary met Bill Maye in 1940, and he joined the Navy in early 1942 and got out in late 1945/early 1946. 

Mary married Bill Maye at St. Columbkille Parish on October 4, 1947 and had their reception at the Institute which was later the Junior High when her children attended. After the war, they weren’t able to find housing in Brighton, so Mary and Bill moved to Dorchester, then Jamaica Plain where Mary Ellen Maye Whyte (Class of 1966), Patty Maye Wheeler (Class of 1968) and Kathy Maye Cook (Class of 1969) were born.

Patty clearly remembers the day in November 1953 when “I was sent to kindergarten with my older sister and was brought to a new home at 83 Cresthill Road where my brother Bob was born in 1956.” In 1959, the family moved to 8 Priscilla Road (St. Gabriel's parish), where her younger brother Paul was born. Bob and Paul went to St. Gabriel’s, though Paul attended Saint Cols for four years in elementary school. The three Maye sisters all graduated from Saint Cols, which Mary loved.

Once the family moved to Brighton, Mary had her parents very close by again and her sister (known as Catherine, Rena or Kitty) either right around the corner or in the first-floor apartment after the move to Priscilla Rd. Mary and all her siblings were close as children and remained close all their lives. Mary lived in Brighton until 2005.

“Our family is no longer physically in Brighton, but definitely a part of us has never left,” says Patty, who now lives in Florida.

Mary’s children remained steadfastly dedicated to her and her care throughout the later years of her life. “She is truly one of the greatest of the greatest generation,” says Patty.

In April 2020, Mary got COVID in her nursing home and recovered with no long-term effects. Unfortunately, Mary’s sister Catherine (Rena or Kitty), who was Mary’s neighbor in the nursing home, did not recover from COVID and passed away in April 2020.

Following a Zoom conversation with Saint Cols in June 2022, Mary passed away in November 2022. Her funeral was held at St. Columbkille Parish. Mary and her sisters, Rena and Elsie, as well as Mary’s daughters, were/are all steadfast supporters of Saint Columbkille. We are honored to share the history of such a wonderful Brighton family.


mary coleman yearbook photo   

class of 1939   class of 1939

mary coleman maye 100   100birthdaycake   mary coleman maye   

maye family

Seated: Mary Coleman Maye and Catherine (Rena) Coleman
Back: John Coleman, Elsie Coleman Cronin, Pat (Hughes) Coleman and her husband Paul Coleman 

mary and paul Mary and her son Paul Maye in 2021
patty and mary Mary's daughter Patty Maye Wheeler and Mary in 2021