Catholic Center Named for Sue Paterno
At Tuesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the Suzanne Pohland Paterno Catholic Student Faith Center, Father Matthew Laffey had a few things to say about its namesake. Sue Paterno ’62 deserved the honor, he said, because “of what she’s done for the students,” and he added, “It’s a recognition of what she’s done for our community all the time. It’s a recognition of what she does for anyone who asks—all the time.”
Those words really resonated with me because I know how true they are. When I was a student, Mrs. Paterno went out of her way for me.
I was a sophomore and writing for the Collegian’s football preview magazine. The editors wanted a series of Q&As with people who were “around” the football program. They suggested I try to get Sue Paterno.
I thought this was a ridiculous idea, but I screwed up all of my courage and called her at home, hoping she’d agree to answer a few quick questions. She could not have been more gracious. Much to my surprise, she invited me and a photographer to the house. Even more shocking, when we arrived she escorted us to the kitchen, sat us at the big kitchen table, and fed us homemade cookies while I asked her questions and my colleague snapped photos. She entertained us—even now, I can hardly believe this—for four hours.
And she was wonderfully candid. She told hilarious stories about how inept Joe is around the house—calling her in the hospital after she had back surgery because he couldn’t work the dishwasher, and smashing a chandelier while removing an extra table leaf the one and only time he “helped” clean up after a post-game party. She provided us a glimpse of her life as a public figure, as well, explaining how she just couldn’t throw a scarf on over her curlers and run to Weis if she discovered she’d forgotten something on her grocery list. I had so much material, I had to beg my editors for more space—and even after I got it, I had to cut tons of amazing stuff.
I bothered her again the next semester. I was taking a magazine writing class, and our assignment was to explore a complicated issue. I picked Proposition 48, the NCAA rule that required athletes who didn’t meet certain academic standards to sit out a year. Knowing that Mrs. Paterno tutored many football players, I called her again, asking if she could talk to me about the issue.
She met me on campus and not only provided thoughtful analysis, but set up a meeting with a player who’d arrived on campus with a checkered academic past—on the condition that I not use his name. Because the story was for class, I agreed, and the interview was another fabulous learning experience. It broadened my horizons, making me realize how circumstances could get the better of even a well-intentioned athlete in a struggling school system, and taught me how to ask questions about a sensitive situation. That’s the kind of thing you’re supposed to learn in college, and one of the reasons I learned it so well was because of the generosity of Mrs. Paterno.
Why did she give me so much of her time? Back then, I had no idea. After reading Wednesday’s story in the Collegian, I realize that it must be just how she lives her life. It’s really nice to see her recognized for that.
Lori Shontz, senior editor