Maria Cahill, a 21-year-old brunette beauty queen from Wilmington, Del., never planned on going into pageantry. But a message from the local Miss America director turned into a surprising, providential call to serve in her community as a model of charity.
Cahill, one of eight children and now a junior in college at Wilmington University, shares what it was like to serve as Miss Delaware 2011 and how she was able to stay strong in the faith even when the tide was against her.
Was it difficult to be a person of faith while serving as Miss Delaware?
It had the potential to be difficult. However, I was raised by parents who taught God, family and friends, in that order, were my priority. So even if I had Miss Delaware appearances all day Sunday, for example, I would always find time to get to Mass, whether it was very early Sunday or Saturday night.
Keeping God as my No. 1 priority really helped to keep me grounded throughout the year.
When did your faith become important to you?
My faith has always been the focal point in my life. I know that I am a better person because of my faith and love for my Lord. As I get older, and hopefully wiser, my relationship with him will continue to grow and get stronger.
Has your faith been challenged at all since you’ve entered the public spotlight? If so, how do you stand firm in your foundation?
Absolutely. I have been tested for years, and it really came to a head as I was Miss Delaware.
Philippians 4:13 has been my favorite Bible verse for years now, and it means more to me after my year as Miss Delaware.
"I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me" tells me that no matter what this world throws at me it is through Christ alone that I really can do what I put my mind to. Every decision I make is given to him.
What was your most meaningful experience as Miss Delaware?
I have had many memorable ones. One of my goals as Miss Delaware was to change people’s perspective on "pageant girls."
At one of my last appearances as Miss Delaware, I noticed this woman watching me. Eventually, she approached me and said, "You know, I haven’t watched Miss America for 20 years because I thought they were all dumb with no personality and just looks. After watching you with these kids, I think I am going to start watching it again."
That woman will never know how much that comment meant to me.
I have also had incredible and moving experiences when visiting hospitals.
Nothing touched me more during my year than doing room-to-room hospital visits. To see the look on children’s faces when they realized a "princess" was visiting them, at a time when they felt alone and scared, was an extremely touching experience for me.
Will you tell us about your platform, Drive Safe, and how you were inspired to take up this issue?
I lost a friend to a texting-and-driving accident just a week after I won Miss Rehoboth Beach, and I almost lost my older sister just a few weeks after that in a car accident.
I quickly realized that this is an issue affecting my generation, and I knew I could make an impact with it.
Are you involved in any other community-service groups?
I have volunteered with the Special Olympics for years as well as Best Buddies and the Children’s Miracle Network. I’ve also participated in a few mission trips here in the states.
My involvement with volunteerism, my work with the pro-life movement included, began when I realized that I was put on this earth for a purpose, as we all are. Serving those around me is what I believe I am being called to do.
How did people in the pageant world respond to your pro-life views?
I definitely got the extreme of both ends. I had people telling me to stop talking about the pro-life movement because I was supposed to represent "all people," which, I guess, doesn’t include the unborn babies. On the other hand, people were saying that I was just using my freedom of speech.
Does what you’re studying now relate to the issues that you’re passionate about?
I am currently a studio-production major, with a television and journalism focus, and a political-science minor. I hope to attend graduate or law school, and I aspire to have my own talk show and bring attention to issues that seem to be forgotten in our media today.
What advice can you give to young, faith-filled women?
In today’s society, there is a movement that tells people like me that we are completely nuts and outdated in our ways of thinking. I think it is with this way of thinking and loving that I am more free and able to be the best woman I can be.
Nobody will agree 100% with what we have to say, but it makes it easy when we know that, one day, we will be eternally happy in his [God’s] presence.
Mary Frances Boyle
writes from St. Louis.