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Student Profile: Mary Reilly Callahan

Grandmother of seven welcomed as full-time art major

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“I might be 64, but I feel 19 in my head,” said an enthusiastic Mary Reilly Callahan

It’s been more than 40 years since the grandmother of seven has set foot in a classroom, yet Callahan isn’t fazed at the age gap between her and the majority of her fellow students. 

Better known as “Nana Mimi,” she has no intention of slowing down in retirement. Instead, she is enrolled this semester as a full-time student at Bridgewater State University, determined to finally complete her college degree. 

She has been quite busy over the years. 

In 1976, Callahan was a glass-ceiling breaker when she enlisted in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait.

Throughout her adult life, she also raised three children, worked as a food server at South Shore Hospital, gotten divorced, started her own cleaning business, remarried, and was employed as a home health aide.

There were days Callahan didn’t have a car and “thumbed” to work. During her time as a single mother, she worked as a health aide during the day, cleaned business offices at night, and also fulfilled her duties with the Massachusetts National Guard. 

“I was never without a job,” she said.

Over the years she endured the loss of her parents, helped nurse her husband, George; back to health after a heart bypass surgery; and when she isn’t spending time with her grandchildren, can be found working on her furniture-restoration business. 

Despite living such full life she isn’t done, and plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in art from Bridgewater.

Nana Mimi had difficulty concentrating during her younger days in school. Hence, learning was challenging, and she struggled to earn high marks. To cope, she found solace in art. 

“I was always drawing,” she said. 

Upon graduating from Rockland High School in 1974, Callahan applied and was approved for a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant and enrolled at, what was then called, the New England School of Art. 

She studied for only one year before life took her in numerous directions, but is now looking to pick up where she left off by completing a degree from BSU. 

“When I first came here, it felt like coming home. I parked my car, walked up to the first building and someone held the door for me,” she said. “I knew this was the place I needed to be.”

Callahan also recently found out why school was so grueling back in the day. Just three years ago she was diagnosed with ADHD. Armed with this knowledge she has been working with Pamela Spillane and the Academic Achievement Center and is finally achieving academic success.

It’s never too late, she said, to go after what you want. 

“I’m so happy I get to come to school. I never felt this way in high school, but now I feel it here… I never in a million years thought I was going to do this. I just want to keep going,” she said. 

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Bridgewater, MA 02325
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Bridgewater State University
131 Summer Street
Bridgewater, MA 02325
United States