“For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required.” — Luke 12:48
After talking to Maryanne Cullen for a while about her life, one is tempted to ask, “Honey, when do you SLEEP?”
But Cullen has lived her life under one simple philosophy: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
And Cullen has been given much in her 58 years. She is the mother of nine children: Patrick, 33; Martha, 32; Bridget, 31; Bernadette, 29; Theresa, 27; Michael, 25; Joan, 21; Brian, 18; and Francis, 14. She also has three grandsons.
Cullen is an accomplished lawyer. She graduated from Franklin & Marshall College at the age of 17, graduated Villanova Law School and passed the bar at 20.
She married her husband, James, a Lancaster judge, at 21.
It would have been easy for her to take the high-powered career route, buy a house in the suburbs, and nanny out her children. But Cullen didn’t. She left work in 1984 to be a stay-at-home mother and to homeschool her children.
She remembered, “It was a good decision. There was just too much confusion.” Cullen said life was starting to get more complicated with orthodontist appointments, music lessons and sicknesses. But there was more to her decision. Cullen also wanted to give back a little of what she, herself, has been given.
The Cullens have lived in a row house in Lancaster City for more than 31 years. She loves the diversity and the convenience of living downtown. The house is two blocks from the courthouse. James can walk to work so the family never needed a second car. “Simple is better,” Cullen said. “Not every child needs their own room.” Today, as her children are almost all moved out, Cullen chuckles, “We don’t have to downsize!”
Cullen loved homeschooling her children because it gave them all the flexibility to learn at their own pace, often excelling and moving forward quickly. This was key to Cullen because she was able to complete her education years ahead of the typical schedule. Cullen remembers just how she got the courage and the encouragement to do this. “When I was in the sixth grade at Holy Trinity in Columbia, there was a nun named Sister Cecilia. She must have seen something in me. She called in my parents and asked if I could take on more responsibility. She had me take over classes, do extra reports and help her. She really inspired confidence in me.”
Cullen said she was just 11 years old then, and just six years later she had completed high school and college.
“It really shows the power of just one teacher,” Cullen remarked. “I really learned that I was capable of more than what was expected. It has inspired me with my own children. Children are capable of so much more than what we give them credit.”
But Cullen has never been satisfied with just raising her own children. Throughout the years she has helped others worldwide. She sponsors children through the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. She and her family have traveled to places like Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador and Columbia to meet them. Her next trips will be to El Salvador this summer and to Kenya next February. Locally, Cullen volunteers with the YWCA to help homeless women and children so she and her children are able to “see the invisible people who live on the streets.”
“Anyone can be in that situation [homelessness],” she added. “Lots of people are just one paycheck away from it.”
As Cullen looks back on the time raising her children, she says the most difficult was when the first six were very young. They were closest in age and the oldest was just eight years old. “There were a lot of diapers,” she remembered.
Life is hectic with nine children and it would be hectic for anyone, even for someone like Cullen. As accomplished as she is, as smart as she is, and as much as she does for others, she still questions herself. After listing all the names and ages of her children in order, Cullen still had to wonder to herself and say, “I hope I didn’t leave anyone out!”
FAST FACTS ABOUT MARYANNE CULLEN
Cullen completes sprint marathons and triathlons. She completed the Turkey Hill Classic 10K and received a bronze medal for her age category. She will compete in the Senior Olympics held at Franklin & Marshall College this year. Cullen looks at exercise as a way to “free my mind.” And it also gives her a goal to work towards. At her age she feels blessed that she is still able to compete.
One of Cullen’s favorite places to be in downtown Lancaster is the library. “It’s just two blocks away and I just love looking at all the books. She is a member of two book clubs. “I love to hear others’ perspectives on a book.” She also wishes she had more time to read.
Cullen has kept her law license and education current.
She loves living in the city. “It’s nice to see how the city is growing. There is so much to do and you can walk everywhere.”
She noted, “What do they say? Fifty is the new 40? There is no reason you can’t remain active. I look at the 80-year-olds still competing and it is encouraging.”
She and her husband, James, have been married 37 years.
Cullen’s favorite way to cook while her children were growing up was with a crockpot. With different schedules, family members could just serve themselves.
Cullen said she learned something new every day while she was homeschooling.
Cullen says, “Cleaning is not my strong point.” Every once in a while the Cullens would have “Beaver Day” — a day set aside for the entire family to work together cleaning the house. “There are so many other things I’d rather do!”
Family vacations usually center around a family event like a graduation, a birthday, or a school break. “That’s better than a cruise!”
Felicia Loreto Knowlton nominated Cullen to be Mom of the Month and said “Maryanne’s altruistic kindness has made her a wonderful role model not only to her nine children, but to everyone who comes in contact with her. Her unselfish generosity and commitment to her children is absolutely remarkable. She lives her faith every day and puts her faith into action by her many volunteer activities.”
By Maureen Leader, Special Features Writer