‘A beacon of light:’ Teresa Prendergast’s legacy remembered at funeral

‘A beacon of light:’ Teresa Prendergast’s legacy remembered at funeral
Hundreds gather for the funeral of Teresa Prendergast at Our Lady of Lourdes Church Saturday morning. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

Teresa Prendergast’s passion for education started at a young age when she taught imaginary classrooms as a child and jokingly dealt out detentions to her sister.

That passion carried on throughout the remainder of her life as she was remembered as a passionate educator dedicated to her students at her funeral Saturday morning.

“She was a beacon of light in the world of education,” her son, Stephen Prendergast, said.

Former Great Neck Superintendent Prendergast, 60, died from a ruptured brain aneurysm on June 10. She is survived by her husband, James Prendergast, and their three children: Stephen Prendergast, Kaitlin Gammel and Megan Prendergast.

Prendergast’s funeral was held Saturday morning at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Malverne.

The song “Be Not Afraid” was sung by a performer as Prendergast’s coffin was carried by family members down the aisle to the front of the church. Many attendees joined in on the singing, filling the air with the Catholic song of hope and encouragement in challenging moments.

Prendergast’s son, Stephen, joined with his sisters to deliver the eulogy for their mother.

She was described by her son with a nymber of titles: educator, leader, friend, daughter, wife, mother and soon-to-be grandmother.

“In the end, she was more than just an educator, a leader, a mentor or a friend, to us, she was the greatest mother anyone could ever have,” he said. “Her love, wisdom and kindness have shaped us, guided us, and will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. We are who we are because of her, and for that we are forever grateful.”

Prendergast had been the district’s superintendent for the past eight years. She was planning to retire from her position July 21 to become principal of Sacred Heart Academy in Hempstead starting in August.

In her anticipated new venture at Sacred Heart Academy, Stephen Prendergast said his mother sought guidance through her Catholic faith.

“Looking back we see this as her preparation, not only for her new role but perhaps in some divine way to meet her creator,” he said.

Her son said that she lived by Horace Mann’s belief that education was the “great equalizer,” that education was able to mitigate the socio-economic differences between people.

“Our dear mother not only believed this, she embodied it,” he said.

While she was an avid educator dedicated to her work, her family was her main priority.

“We graduated from her school of life, filled with lessons of kindness, perseverance, integrity and love,” Stephen Prendergast said.

His mother was a first-generation Irish-American raised in the Bronx.

Her son said she embodied the fighting spirit of her parents in their pursuit of a better life in the United States. He said it translated in his mother through her “relentless pursuit of opportunities, the desire to make the world a better place [and] the audacity to believe that anything is possible.”

“Above all, she was an indomitable spirit who inspires those around her,” Stephen Prendergast said.

Prendergast had met her husband James Prendergast, the love of her life, while she lived in the Bronx. They were married for 34 years.

She enjoyed weekends at her beach house in Surf City, traveling, dancing, gardening, volunteering and reading.

Prendergast was a loyal New York Mets fan. Stephen Prendergast jokingly said that it was not easy, with the crowd laughing in response.

Despite her Mets loyalty, she would take her godson to Yankees games.

Stephen Prendergast said that his mother started her day every morning with contagious joy.

“Our home was an extension of her open heart,” Stephen Prendergast said.

He said she had the ability to make any ordinary conversation one of great significance, making people involved feel important.

One weekend on Long Beach Island, her son recalled that she had come across a group of young girls selling painted rocks. His mother went on to buy all the rocks from the girls, a cherished memory for the family. He said they still have those rocks.

“Her influence extends far beyond physical spaces and continues to inspire all who knew her,” Stephen Prendergast said.

The Dr. Teresa Prendergast Foundation for Children has been established in the wake of her death to raise funds for students who do not have the means to access higher education. The foundation was established to continue Teresa Prendergast’s legacy and commitment to education.

Money can be donated to the foundation through its GoFundMe page.

Nearly $20,000 has been raised in one week.

The foundation is in the process of being established as a formal non-profit. All funds raised through GoFundMe will be transferred to the foundation once established.

“And although our hearts ache with loss, we take comfort in the faith that this farewell is not forever, that there is a grand reunion awaiting us beyond this realm where we will share our stories, our laughter, our love,” her son said. “Until that day, we will honor her memory, keep her spirit alive, and remember a woman who taught us all in her unique way that anything was possible.”

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