About 125 mourners gathered Wednesday at Most Holy Trinity Church in Saco to pay tribute to Irene Mitchell, a former longtime teacher at Biddeford High School who devoted her life to inspiring young people.

Irene Mitchell taught for almost 50 years in Biddeford. Contributed photo

Mitchell died Sept. 7 after suffering a stroke. She was 89.

She taught business and English classes at Biddeford High from 1952 to 1991. She spent the next decade teaching for Biddeford Adult Education helping students earn GED certificates.

About 30 of her former students attended Wednesday’s funeral Mass to pay their respects.

“She hasn’t taught at Biddeford High since 1991,” her brother Robert Gowen of Kennebunk said in a phone interview after Wednesday’s service. “Everyone said they loved her. They said she was the best teacher they ever had. I must have heard that 20 times today.”

Mitchell began her career teaching business classes aimed at helping young women become secretaries. She taught shorthand, typing and office practice. In the early 1980s she became an English teacher. She also taught sex education.

Gowen said she was a firm but fair teacher who was respected by her students and colleagues.

“The rules were the rules,” he said. “After that, she was open to any kind of discussion. She was tough but she was fair and students responded well to that.”

Early in her career, Mitchell coached girls basketball and tennis.

Biddeford Adult Education posted on its Facebook page Tuesday that Mitchell was a huge part of its program for many years.

“She had such an impact on all of her students and the staff. We will miss you terribly, our friend,” the post said.

In August, Mitchell was the guest speaker at the 50th reunion of Biddeford High School’s class of 1968.

Mitchell lived in Saco. She never married and didn’t have children.

“Her kids were the thousands of students she had,” her brother said. “She was married to teaching. She wasn’t interested in anything that would have taken her away from that.”

Outside the classroom, Mitchell had a passion for music, especially opera. She was a good athlete, who played tennis, racquetball and bowled. In later years, she walked frequently and loved to watch tennis and golf.

Mitchell also had a passion for traveling. According to her obituary, she traveled to Europe many times and lived in Ireland for one summer and attended the University of Galway.

Her brother recalled a trip she took to Australia in her 70s. “She rode a zip line,” he said.

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