Melissa McCarthy’s mysterious Mrs. Breen is missing no longer.
In fact, the former fifth-grade teacher, whom McCarthy cited as her inspiration for her role as an elementary school teacher on the hit CBS sitcom, Mike & Molly, has been in our midst the entire time.
Last fall, when with her favorite teacher, we launched . We had nearly given up hope when a former classmate of McCarthy put us in touch with Lynne Breen, who now goes by Lynne Mau. She teaches second grade at , where she's been for the past two decades.
Mau, now 54, didn’t realize the “adorable” little Missy McCarthy had grown up to be a TV and movie star until she was getting a manicure in Plainfield a couple of months ago. In the salon, another patron told her about the Patch article in which McCarthy named Mrs. Breen as her role model.
“Oh, my gosh, I had no idea she grew up to be an actress,” she said.
There was no drama club at St. Mary’s, and McCarthy told Patch she had little interest in acting when she lived in Plainfield and attended St. Mary and later Joliet Catholic Academy.
But a stint as a stand-up comedian led her to acting in her 20s. McCarthy saw her career take off in 2000, when she landed the role of chef Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls, which she played for seven years. She went on to a two-year recurring role on Samantha Who? and has had a string of movie roles, including The Back-up Plan, Life as We Know It and, most recently, the big summer hit Bridesmaids.
“It never occurred to me that this smart, tiny, short, bubbly little Plainfield girl would get famous,” Mau said.
Mau was McCarthy's language arts teacher for four years in the early 1980s—in fifth through eighth grades. McCarthy felt so close to her that she asked then-Mrs. Breen to be her confirmation sponsor, which Mau had to decline because she was confined to bed rest during her second pregnancy.
“I knew we had a special bond,” she said of the girl she described as a “cute, chatty, funny, diminutive” grade-schooler with a “baby face.”
In turn, McCarthy, 41, remembered Mau as being an extraordinary presence in her early life.
"She was the type of teacher who really listened to the kids," McCarthy said in a September Patch interview. "She was respectful to our opinions. Even my mom has said that I had such an affinity with her. I just love her and sometimes think, I wish I knew where she was."
Mau said she was flabbergasted she made such a lasting impression in McCarthy’s memory.
“I was so surprised to hear she would remember me. I was 23 years old. It was my first teaching job,” Mau said. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
Looking back, Mau wonders if it wasn’t her youth and inexperience that made it easy for girls to connect to her.
In the strict environment of Catholic education, the young Mrs. Breen may have seemed contemporary and supportive, she said. She wore stylish clothes and wasn't as strict as the nuns who also taught at the school, she said.
“I was sympathetic to the girls in their uniforms who couldn’t even push down their socks to show their individuality,” said Mau, who attended a Catholic grade school herself, St. Patrick’s in Joliet.
“I knew what it was like to grow up loving fashionable clothes and shoes, and living with restrictions,” she said.
Michelle Slaybaugh, a year younger than McCarthy, was also in Mau’s classes. Slaybaugh’s mother, Carole Slaybaugh, a retired reading recovery specialist at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, was one of Mau’s mentors when she was a young teacher. Mau reconnected with Michelle through Facebook.
“She was respectful of the students in way other teachers weren’t,” Michelle Slaybaugh said. “Catholic school can be a scary place.”
Her fond memories of “Mrs. Breen,” always so stylish and pretty and genuine, speak to her about how important teachers can be in the lives of their students, Slaybaugh said.
“You always felt safe with Mrs. Breen,” said Slaybaugh, now a branding specialist who lives in Glen Ellyn. “She wasn’t going to reproach you for being a 10-year-old.”
Mau grew up in Channahon, where she currently lives. She taught at St. Mary Immaculate in Plainfield from 1981 to 1984, moved to Arizona for five years and returned to teach at Troy in 1990.
Mau hasn’t had a chance to watch an entire episode of Mike and Molly, which airs at 8:30 p.m. Mondays, but she did catch a clip.
“She was trying to get the kids to be quiet and yelling, ‘Shut up,’ so I hope that wasn’t me,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think I ever told them to shut up.”
McCarthy has said she'd love to have a reunion, and Mau feels the same way, she said.
We’re working on it. Stay tuned.