Celebrating 52 years of “Leo Love”
Movies and literature assure us that every love story has an identifiable beginning: a time, a place, a singular moment when the heart recognizes love and skips a beat.
For Charlie ’67 and Mary Pat ’68 McCarthy, the time was 1964. The place was Saint Leo College. The one defining moment, however, was a little more complicated.
“He talked like he had marbles in his mouth. For a southern girl trying to understand that New England accent for the first time, I just didn't understand him at all,” says Mary Pat, recalling her earliest conversations with the sophomore from Rhode Island. “And look at his car! Oh you just knew that car was trouble.”
Back then she was Mary Pat Stewart, a freshman who had recently graduated from South Tampa’s Academy of the Holy Names. She and a classmate were walking along a campus road when a bright red Corvette convertible rolled past them. The two occupants, both boys, were too preoccupied with themselves to notice the smiles and sly glances that were cast their way. The driver, Mary Pat concluded, was almost certainly a jerk.
The next time, however, she caught his eye.
“I saw her through the window of the student center, where she was standing with her roommate,” Charlie recalls. “When they came out, I started talking to one, then the other. Finally I asked Mary Pat if she would like to get a soda ...”
She was horrified.
“I thought he meant in the student center,” Mary Pat explains. “But he meant Dade City. It was scandalous! If you were a female student, you didn’t leave the campus, and never with a boy!”
It was Saint Leo’s fifth year as a co-educational institution after transitioning from an all-boys preparatory academy. The school was still adapting to the growing number of female students who filled the women’s dorms and crowded into houses in nearby San Antonio. Propriety was a chief concern. Buses would collect the women every morning and return them to their rooms in the afternoon.
Nevertheless, it was a welcome change for some students.
“There were maybe five girls on campus during my first year and hundreds of guys,” Charlie remembers. “We all complained because you could only get a date about once every 117 days!”
Despite Mary Pat’s concerns, Charlie managed to talk her into that off-campus soda, but her worries intensified when she saw the familiar red Corvette.
“She wasn’t exactly thrilled to find out I was the driver. I guess I had a bit of a reputation,” he admits.
It didn’t help that he slammed the car door on her leg as he waved to his buddies who were leaning out an open window in Roderick Hall.
The concerns, the worries, and the fears soon evaporated.
“I never even tried to kiss her,” Charlies jokes. “For the first few weeks, she thought I was one of the monks!”
Then, more seriously: “I loved every moment with her.”
He wrote her love letters every day, and when they parted in the afternoon at the bridge leading to what is now Marmion-Snyder Residence Halls, she would head straight to the single pay phone. She knew he would rush back to Roderick Hall to call her.
A half a century has gone by, and the road where Mary Pat first saw the red Corvette has long since disappeared. In its place is a love that has only strengthened.
This comes as no surprise to the couple, who have been married now for 52 years. To them it makes perfect sense that two hearts would find each other in a place so filled with the basic ingredients of love.
Integrity. Respect. Community. Values they share in common as lifelong, practicing Catholics. Values they’ve always shared with Saint Leo.
Charlie was ordained into the permanent diaconate in 2002, and these days he’s as likely to answer to “Deacon Charles” as he is “Charlie.” He and Mary Pat divide their time between Rhode Island and Florida, always making sure to include Saint Leo in their plans.
“We have such fond memories of the campus that we feel called to go see it, to go to Mass at the Abbey.”
That sense of belonging led the couple to make Saint Leo the centerpiece of what they feel are two important commitments. One of them is the 50th reunion for the Class of 1967, Charlie’s class year. Scheduled for March 31 – April 2 in conjunction with the annual Alumni Weekend festivities at University Campus, the event will mark Saint Leo’s first 50-year reunion as a four-year institution of Catholic higher education.
Of those classmates who have not yet seen the modern-day campus, Mary Pat can only say, “They are going to be in awe.”
The second commitment is one that Charlie fulfilled almost as soon he knew about it: He made a gift to the university’s new Legacy Scholarship Endowment, becoming the first member of the Class of 1967 to do so. When the Class of 1968 holds its 50th reunion next year, Mary Pat plans to make her own contribution as well.
They hope support for the scholarship will one day become a time-honored tradition for alumni who are celebrating their golden reunions.
“It all goes back to the example set by Jesus: Put others first,” says Charlie.
Mary Pat agrees, but she also has a message for today’s students, who are still inventing their futures and haven’t begun to imagine a world that is 50 years away.
“Stay close to your faith. You’re at the age now where you’re making decisions. Make that one of your decisions.”
Join the McCarthys in making Saint Leo great by making a gift today. Every donation, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.
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