15-year-old missionary is an unusual college freshman

Mikhaila Moynihan has lived much of her young life with her missionary family in Haiti. (Photo provided)

Mikhaila Moynihan has lived much of her young life with her missionary family in Haiti. (Photo provided)SENECA—Mikhaila Moynihan, age 15, should be starting her sophomore year in high school this fall.

Instead, friends are throwing going-away parties for her as she leaves for Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va.
For the past 25 years, the all-female school has  admitted a select group of academically gifted students who are still years away from earning their high school diplomas.

“It won’t be long,” Mikhaila said. She is spending as much time as she can with her friends in Upstate South Carolina before leaving again.

Mikhaila will make the trip Aug. 24 with her parents, two brothers and a sister. She is the second of four children in the Moynihan family, who have spent much of their lives as Catholic missionaries with The Haitian Project. The organization  operates the Louverture Cleary School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Patrick Moynihan, a deacon at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg, returned to head The Haitian Project around the time the earthquake struck in January.

The Moynihans were in Oconee County until then but moved back to rebuild the school and assist victims. The family returned to the Upstate this summer but plans to be back in Haiti by the end of August.

“I was taking a lot of one-on-one classes with tutors in Haiti and pushing myself as far as I could go,” Mikhaila said.

She completed eighth grade at Walhalla Middle School. She learned geometry and other high school-level courses on her own in Haiti.

She will be 16 in October.

“You have to have a strong character to be able to live on your own,” said Christina Moynihan, her mother. “It’s not necessarily that you have to be extraordinarily gifted academically. You also need to be able to demonstrate that you can live without your parents.”

Some might question placing a young teenager in a college environment, but Mikhaila had reached a roadblock, Mrs. Moynihan said.

“She couldn’t learn as much as she needed in the classes in Haiti,” she said. “What has happened with our family is that we had to look for an alternative education out of necessity. Generally you don’t look to send your 15-year-old away, but she’s ready.”

Mrs. Moynihan said they have sought God’s guidance in their decision and believe this is part of His plan.

Christy Baker, associate director of student life at Mary Baldwin, said the girls in the program for exceptionally gifted live in their own residence hall, which has adult dorm mothers.

Other than that, the younger girls are integrated into the larger campus.

Mikhaila welcomes the extraordinary challenge that awaits her, though she admits she’ll miss her tightly knit family.

“I will miss being able to talk to and confide in people who know me really well,” she said.

Mrs. Moynihan said it’s going to be sad to see her go, but attending college will open opportunities for her daughter. One of those involves Mikhaila’s plans to go to medical school.