By Carla Caldwell
A tall arched wooden church door leaning against a blank wall in Marie Corrigan’s office is more than decoration. The antique door and its inlaid cross hold special meaning for the founding director of Sophia Academy.
“I like the look of the door, but I want it to symbolize that while we don’t know where we are going all the time, God will take us where we need to go,” said Corrigan, of Brookhaven, who was just named “Georgia Mother of the Year.”
The award is presented by American Mothers, Inc., a 75-year-old nonprofit organization based in the area near Washington, D.C., that annually recognizes a mother from each state who is “devoted to strengthening her family, home and community.” Corrigan is in the running for the group’s “National Mother of the Year” award to be announced in May.
Notable program participates over the years include: Sara Delano Roosevelt (mother of President Franklin D. Roosevelt), Mamie Eisenhower (wife of President Dwight D. Eisenhower) and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Corrigan found herself on a painful and unfamiliar path when her twin daughters were born prematurely. They weighed little more than a pound.
Her daughter, Claire, did not survive. Twin Caroline would need extensive care in the coming years by family and medical professionals, but she far exceeded the expectations of doctors who said she would never walk or talk.
As the time to start school neared, Caroline faced learning difficulties. Corrigan and her husband, Vic, set out on an exhaustive, and ultimately unsuccessful, search for a Christian-based school that offered a rigorous curriculum, athletics and fine arts for students with learning differences.
Rather than give up, Marie Corrigan, who was trained as a nurse, rented space from a church n 1999 and started Sophia Academy with 11 students. Within five years, enrollment had doubled. Two years later, Sophia Academy received SACS/SAIS accreditation. A successful capital campaign secured a larger building for the school on Dresden Drive in DeKalb County.
The non-denominational Christian school for children in grades K-8 has served more than 300 families. The school uses a multi-sensory approach to serve students with dyslexia, auditory and visual processing deficits, and attention deficit.
Corrigan considers herself a “mother” to every child there.
People who nominated her for the “Mother of the Year” award see her that way, too.
In recommending Corrigan, the school board’s trustees and chairman wrote, “Marie’s true servant leadership and mother’s heart is continually evident both in her mothering of her own children and in her role as the ‘mother’ of Sophia Academy.”
Other recommendations were submitted by her church’s pastor, The Rev. Francis G. McNamee at Cathedral of Christ the King in Buckhead, by State Representative Edward Lindsey (R-Atlanta), and John O. Connor, Executive Director of Special Services for the DeKalb County School System. All point to Corrigan’s emphasis on family, faith and perseverance.
God and a supportive husband, she says, made it possible to establish the school that helped her daughter and to survive tremendous loss.
Today, Caroline attends college and is active in a sorority. She earned several scholarships including the HOPE merit scholarship, a drama scholarship, and a $2,500 scholarship from the Roswell Woman’s Club.
The Corrigans have three other children. Louise attends college. Mellie and Victor are in high school. All are strong students and active in school and community activities.
And there is Claire. Corrigan said that every year a close friend calls to extend good wishes on Caroline’s birthday and during the conversation, the two women always remember the child who died.
“Sometimes when I am standing near a window at home, I’ll see a shadow go by and I know it is Claire,” Marie Corrigan said. “She is my angel.”
For information about American Mothers, Inc., go to www.americanmothers.org.
For more information about Sophia Academy, go to: www.sophiaacademy.org