Sister Mara closes a chapter
Anyone who has been on the second floor of Ricarda cannot help but notice the daily line of students outside Sister Mara Faulkner’s office.
But at the end of this year, Faulkner will be retiring after almost 40 years of teaching in the English department at CSB/SJU.
“I think she’s had a profound and lasting impact on how people think about writing and literature,” colleague Matt Callahan said.
Inspired by her own English teacher, Faulkner knew even as a sophomore in high school that she wanted to teach.
“I just loved it. I thought ‘I want to do this’,” Faulkner said.
Throughout her long career, Faulkner has always looked for new and interesting ways to present material she is passionate about to her students.
“I just love dreaming up a new class, thinking about what kinds of activities we should do and what kinds of questions we should ask and how we should organize it,” Faulkner said.
One of Faulkner’s favorite subjects to teach is literature by women. This love began while doing research for her Ph.D. dissertation. Though women’s literature was not widely read in the academic community at the time, Faulkner felt that reading work by women opened up a new world. Since then, she has sought to present her students with works by new, lesser known authors in addition to classic literature.
“I try to listen for the silent voices,” Faulkner said. “They show up more clearly when you set them alongside the stories that we’re more familiar with … It’s the interplay between the known and unknown that is revealing.”
Faulkner was eager to learn something new from her students every day. She approached each class with thought-provoking questions but had no set answer she wanted students to produce.
“It’s exactly the reverse. I’m hoping they will say something I’ve never thought of before,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner views teaching as a lifelong learning process. She believes that a good teacher is made, not born. Over the years, she has been able to observe and experiment with different techniques to fine-tune her own teaching style. Ultimately, Faulkner believes learning cannot fit into a box.
“She never stops looking for ways to become a better teacher or ways to adapt material so that it’s more accessible to students,” English department head Cindy Malone said.
As many of her students can attest, one of Faulkner’s greatest attributes as a teacher is the attentive feedback she provides.
“She spends incalculable hours going over drafts with students…She has infinite patience and wisdom and insight,” Malone said.
Throughout her many years as a teacher, Faulkner has maintained a profound and heartfelt compassion for students.
“She really does care as a person,” senior Cody Maynus said. As an English major, Maynus has taken several classes from Faulkner, who is also his adviser.
“There’s never been a time where I didn’t feel like I could go to her with anything that I had to talk about,” Maynus said.
Faulkner agrees that teaching has given her a unique insight into the lives of her students.
“You can look at students in these classes and think they’ve got everything, but it’s not true,” Faulkner said. “You give one writing assignment and all of a sudden you find out all of these things that students have to carry.”
Faulkner views writing as not only an outlet for personal thoughts and emotions but also as a powerful tool for communicating and connecting with others. She believes people write what they cannot say.
“Everything that I write is because I need to say it to other people; it’s important for some reason. I put things into words that I can’t put into words any other way. I think that’s true for students, and I want them to have a chance to do that,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner is not only a teacher of writing but also a published author.
“She’s someone who’s been able to balance complete dedication to her teaching with a focused, creative scholarly life,” Malone said.
Faulkner’s publications include her memoir,
, which was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award in 2010. Her poetry collection titled
will be coming out this summer.
Callahan believes that Faulkner leads by example, and because of this, she inspires others to emulate her and to do their best
“She’s critical but in the most productive, positive sense of the word. It’s intimidating for students but in a good way,” Callahan said.
In addition to writing, Faulkner plans to use her retirement to learn new things like knitting and baking bread.
Though Faulkner is retiring, she plans to keep teaching. She hopes to teach ESL to immigrants in St. Cloud and offer a writing workshop at the CSB Spirituality Center.
“I just can’t give up teaching. There must be other kinds of work but I just can’t think what they are,” Faulkner said.