By HAROLD GWIN
James. M. Cooney is pretty straightforward when asked why he’s retiring.
“Forty-six years is long enough. I think it’s time for somebody younger,” said Cooney, reflecting on his longevity at Cardinal Mooney High School.
Cooney, 71, officially retired as assistant principal at the school as of June 30, but he’s still in his office and said it will probably take a couple of weeks to get things cleaned out.
He came to Cardinal Mooney in 1964, just eight years after the school opened, as a diocesan assignment while he was in seminary.
The school needed a religion teacher, and he was asked to do the job.
When he left the seminary the next year, he applied for a job with the school because he had enjoyed his time there and returned as religion teacher and soon was also teaching math.
He became a school administrator in 1971.
"I really enjoyed what I was doing,” he said in explaining his many years at the school, adding that he never had any interest in going anywhere else.
He enjoyed working with the students, their parents and the people in the school, “but the biggest thing is the kids,” he said.
It’s those interpersonal relationships that he will miss, he said.
Kids don’t change in terms of their maturity level, he said. Young people today may have more technical knowledge and ability than their predecessors, but, “A 16-year-old is still a 16-year-old. That doesn’t change,” he said.
“I’ve probably seen it all — more than once,” he quipped, but he’s also had one experience that perhaps no other school disciplinarian has experienced.
He met his wife of nearly 12 years, Mary Ann, through the efforts of one of her daughters who was a student at Cardinal Mooney.
In fact, it was the daughter who arranged for them to meet.
Cooney recalled that the young woman came into his office one day and suggested that he should date her mother. Unbeknownst to him, she was telling her mother the same thing, he said.
The two met at a couple of school functions and agreed to have dinner one night.
They dated for about a year and a half and then married.
Cooney said he not only got a beautiful wife, but five beautiful daughters in the bargain.
He grew up on the city’s South Side and attended parochial schools but didn’t graduate from Cardinal Mooney. The school didn’t exist then, he said, noting that he went to Ursuline. His two sisters and a brother all graduated from Cardinal Mooney, he said.
There’s a family atmosphere here that keeps people involved, even long after they’ve graduated or taught here, he said.
The job has involved more than student discipline. Cooney was chairman of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame, senior class adviser and supervisor of extracurricular activities, to name a few of his duties.
“I enjoy dealing with people,” he said.
He doesn’t have any definite plans for retirement. He first plans to just relax a bit, and he and his wife might do a little traveling, but he has no intention of moving from the area.
“I like Youngstown. There are great people in Youngstown,” Cooney said, adding that he likes to run into people he knows when he goes out, and that happens no matter where he goes in the Mahoning Valley.
He reluctantly allowed the school staff to throw a retirement party for him but refused any personal gifts. When someone suggested that instead of gifts, a Cardinal Mooney tuition scholarship be started in his name, he gave the plan his blessing.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the James M. Cooney Scholarship should contact the school office.