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The Mulryans and Bona's

Sep 08, 2023

Sandra Mulryan, former lecturer of English, and her husband, Dr. John Mulryan, professor emeritus of English, taught a combined 71 years at St. Bonaventure University before retiring from full-time work (she in 2013 and he in 2011). They touched the lives of thousands of Bona students throughout their careers.

Today, Sandra continues her love of teaching as an adjunct instructor while also spending time with John, who’s in the long-term care unit of Cuba Memorial Hospital. We caught up with Sandra in Friedsam Memorial Library on a hot summer morning to talk about all things Bona’s.


How would you sum up your time at St. Bonaventure?
I wouldn’t change a thing. I love teaching at Bonaventure. I tell my students I am a walking history book when it comes to this university. John and I arrived here in 1966. We met at Marquette University in Wisconsin. He was from New York City and I was from Buffalo, earning my master’s in English. It was a time when feminism was taking hold, and it was my first experience meeting women who were earning higher degrees and living very independent lives. I would later meet and come to admire Sr. Mary Anthony Brown, O.S.F., the first female faculty member hired at St. Bonaventure (1957).  Learn more about women at St. Bonaventure

What were your early years on campus like?
Busy. We first lived in Allegany with no car. John would ride his bicycle to work. He was 29 years old when he finished his doctorate work. By then, we had two children. These were the years of big families. We connected with the Andersons, Vosslers and Keenans. Soon our two children became six, with all being born at St. Francis Hospital. There was a cohesiveness within the faculty and staff. I remember Halloween at the Clubhouse Restaurant, Christmas parties with gingerbread houses and a roasted pig, formal dances, and a dinner rotation in town. Slowly there came double careers in families, people commuting and now online classes.

How did you begin teaching at Bona’s?
It was near the fall of 1987 and there had been a surge in enrollment. Leo Keenan was chair of the English Department then. His wife told him that I held a master’s degree in English. He called five days before the semester began and asked if I wanted to teach. Our youngest child had just started second grade. John said I could borrow his syllabus if I needed it.

And did you, need the syllabus?
(Smiles) I had taught freshman writing at Marquette for three years, so I was ready to teach it here. Actually, teaching writing is one of the most demanding things to do in the English department. But I enjoy it, and I find that the students are interested in it. I was hired permanently as a lecturer in September 1998. As a teacher, you must adapt through the years. And you have to hold the students’ attention. You can’t script it. So much of it is teachable moments.

What do you know best about the students?
Everyone wants to be seen and appreciated as a human being. They love writing about themselves and what interests them. They also need a personal connection. I give them feedback on everything they write. I have formal conferences three times a semester. A lot of the students find this to be the most valuable time of the course.

And what have you come to know best about St. Bonaventure?
This school attracts wonderful people who are kind, selfless and full of joy. We might not be a Harvard, but we have done very well with our graduates. There are things here you cannot get at an Ivy League school.

Word has it you are a thespian at heart.
That is true. Christopher Plummer’s 1957 performance as “Hamlet,” which marked the opening of the permanent Stratford Festival Theatre, inspired me. I’ve been involved with local theater since our son Patrick was 17. He is now 42 and teaching at Juilliard. I had a small part in the second act of “Taming of the Shrew” this past August with the Olean Theater Workshop.  

Your husband, John, is nationally known for his expertise on John Milton, as well as the mythological tradition in Renaissance literature. How is he doing and what would you like alumni and friends to know about him? 
His decades of research took us to England, France and Italy, and his invitations to speak about that research took us around the world. He inspired a lot of graduate students at Bonaventure — such as Marianne Micros, a published poet who went on to a teaching career in Canada. 

We’re grateful for the life we’ve had. We’re both very proud of our careers and especially of our children (Kathleen, Tom, who passed away nine years ago, John, Sandy, Michael and Patrick). Almost every day I travel to Cuba to visit my husband. Sometimes he remembers our life together. Sometimes not. He is happy, though, and he likes when I bring him a chocolate bar. 


Do you have a special memory you’d like to share with the Mulryans? The St. Bonaventure community is invited to send a note (and maybe some chocolate) to:

John Mulryan, Ph.D.
c/o Cuba Memorial Hospital
140 West Main Street 
Cuba, NY 14727

Pictured: The Mulryans, Commencement 2011
In this Commencement ceremony photo from 2011 Sandra Mulryan and Dr. John Mulryan (center) stand with (from left) Dr. Michael Fischer, then-provost and vice president for academic affairs; then-University President Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F., and then-Board of Trustees Chair John R. McGinley Jr., Esq., ’65, as Sandra received the Award for Professional Excellence in Teaching.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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