Neal Noonan has always wanted to teach history. And when his moment came, he sent his resume to a number of different high schools, and as he says, “They looked at me, a veteran, a retired police officer, and thought, ‘Nah, he’s not for us.’ Which I was okay with. CM on the other hand, called me in and it clicked.”
The idea of service was something that Noonan has always carried with him. In truth, seeing as none of his family served, it seems to be an innate instinct. Acceptance to Tulane University put him on a course to civilian life, that is until a moment of reckoning struck. “I realized that I didn’t want to be here and what I really wanted to do was to march down into the Marine recruitment offices and enlist.”
And that’s what happened. But Noonan had to wait many long months until a spot opened-up and he could head to boot camp, which coincidentally was a stone’s throw from Tulane on Parris Island, LA. “In my four years of service, I did a lot of deployments and was very fortunate to be stationed on a US Navy naval vessel as part of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. I never served in combat. I was wedged in between the Gulf War, which was in 1990 and the War On Terror, which of course started after 9/11.”
With his discharge in 2000, Noonan’s thirst for service wasn’t diminished. The now 23-year-old went straight into the Massachusetts State Police Academy or as he likes to say about that time in the services, “I went from one ‘butt-chew’ to another.”
Arriving at CM, after receiving his master’s degree, and starting as a substitute teacher, Noonan wasn’t sure what to expect. “I was pleasantly surprised how welcoming Catholic Memorial was to me, a veteran, and how much of an emphasis that they put on military service as a positive thing,” he notes. “Let’s face it, a vast majority of students will go on to a four-year college after this. I’m very proud that CM puts an emphasis on military service as a possible path to serving one’s community.” Annually, each graduating CM class has a number of students enroll into one of the branches of the military or join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in college mixing academic studies with military training and leadership skills.
Noonan thinks that the drive to serve either one’s community or country has in great part to do with the school’s summer read and the accompanying programming that hits home the subjects covered in the books. “I try to look at it through the perspective of a teenage boy. And I’d like to think that students appreciate the sacrifice that other Americans have made. Take for example this year’s summer read, Devotion. The young men in that book were no different than our young men. Something like that could happen to anyone of them. I hope the idea of sacrifice and brotherhood and friendship is something they see and say, ‘Hey, that could be me someday.’”
Now, a history teacher, teaching Western civilization to sophomores, and US history to juniors, Noonan, it’s fair to say, is an insider experiencing all of what CM places importance on. Take for example, a veteran funeral held last fall. “I thought that was a great moment for the boys to have that time to reflect,” says Noonan referring to the funeral service of US Army Veteran, Roberto Espejo. “I told my students, that could be any one of us, guys. So don’t ever take for granted what you have here.” And that is exactly how Neal Noonan, veteran, retired trooper and history teacher sees his experience in the place he wants to be.