Beloved teacher dies of rare illness, students raise enough money to put her children through college

Students and family mourn beloved teacher taken by rare disease

Students and family mourn beloved teacher taken by rare disease

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — A school of students, devastated by the sudden loss of a favorite teacher, worked together to ensure her legacy lives on. Emily Casey died less than a month after being diagnosed with a rare and frightening disease.

In the two weeks since she passed, her students at Our Lady of Mercy School have raised more than $150,000 in her memory. 

It was pretty much love at first sight for Allen and Emily Casey.

“I just loved her bubbly personality, how much fun we would have together. We had a lot of the same interests; we did a lot of the same things. She was a great person to be around,” Allen Casey says of his wife. 

After the two got married, they started a family almost right away. Little Liam came in 2020 and Libby in 2023.

“I used to comment, ‘How lucky am I? I’ve got a great wife, great kids, we’re all healthy…we’ve got good people around us, good friends, active social lives.’ Everything was going as perfect as it could,” Allen says.

In addition to being a daughter, sister, a wife and a mother, Emily Casey was the head of the social studies department at Our Lady of Mercy School.

“She loved it. She loved the students. She taught all those girls, and she treated them as if they were part of her family,” her husband says.

Mrs. Casey impacted the lives of countless young women, students like Elizabeth Steron.

“She, to me, was just so much more than just a teacher,” she says.

It was a tough transition to college for Elizabeth but Mrs. Casey was there to help.

“She would check up on me every day, see how things were going, always remind me to go to office hours, just like the teacher she is, but also like the mom she is,” the Rutgers freshman says. 

Around Thanksgiving, Emily Casey started having memory and vision issues. She went to see a neurologist.

“They saw a couple things on the MRI that they didn’t like, but they couldn’t quite tell why it was,” Allen explains. 

Emily got through Christmas, and was planning to head back to school after break.

“We were helping her with lesson plans, and I was looking at the things she was typing and it just wasn’t making sense. She wasn’t able to find keys on the keyboard,” Allen recalls. 

On January 22, in the hallway of the emergency room at Strong Memorial Hospital, the Casey’s got a diagnosis of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. CJD, as it’s known, is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorder believed to be caused by an abnormal isoform of a cellular glycoprotein known as the prion protein. It impacts about one in every one million people. 

“They said, ‘You have somewhere between three weeks to a year to live. There’s nothing we can do for you. We can send you home with a couple of pills to help with the tremors and sign up for hospice,’” recalls Allen of the devastating diagnosis.      

It was a death sentence for a teacher, wife and young mother.

“She understood and the first thing, she started crying and the first thing she said was, ‘Oh my babies, my babies.’ And that was pretty hard,” her husband says.

Emily Casey died less than a month after she was diagnosed with CJD. She was 36 years old. 

In their grief, the students that Mrs. Casey helped shape into young women, have raised more than $150,000 for Liam and Libby’s college fund and to setup a scholarship fund in their beloved teacher’s name at Mercy.

“It’s been amazing to see that my wife had this much of an impact on so many different people,” Allen says. 

Her current and former students say they want to make sure Mrs. Casey is never forgotten.

“It would not be a Mrs. Casey formal meeting if I did not end it, the way she ended every single class for so many years. Have a great day, make good choices, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Elizabeth said through tears. 

Those who want to donate can do so through this link — a GoFundMe page for Emily Casey — or by sending it by mail to:

Emily Jayne Cloonan Casey
Our Lady of Mercy School For Young Women
1437 Blossom Road
Rochester, NY 14610