Alumni Perspectives

Too often, we’re reminded just how quickly time can pass. At Saint Joseph Prep, we have an amazing student body that inspires our faculty and staff every day... but we only have them for four years! Throughout the history of Saint Joseph Prep, Mount Saint Joseph Academy, Trinity Catholic, Newton Catholic, and Our Lady’s, a rich and growing community of alumni continues to grow and accomplish many wonderful successes in their personal and professional endeavors. To acknowledge and celebrate these highlights, we offer Alumni Perspectives.

Iva Penezic, Fatima St. Hilaire, and Elizabeth Taranto: SJP ’15

To listen to a podcast of their entire interview, click this link: Iva Penezic, Fatima St. Hilaire & Elizabeth Taranto.

As SJP students, Iva Penezic ’15, Fatima St. Hilaire ’15, and Elizabeth Taranto ’15 all had very powerful and positive Kairos experiences. They stopped by Saint Joseph Prep to discuss how they initiated the first Kairos retreat at Regis, as well as reminisce about their formative time at SJP.

“I still wear my Kairos cross every day,” Fatima shared in an interview. In fact, while attending a barbecue with Dan Leahy, Director for the Center or Ministry and Service at Regis, that cross sparked a conversation where Fatima was encouraged by Leahy to consider starting Kairos for the Regis community.

Over the course of a year, Fatima continued to think about it. She wisely understood how much time and energy are required to plan the weekend even after several years of execution at SJP. Starting it from the ground up would be a whole new endeavor. The good news was she had help...or rather, she volunteered her old classmates!

“I still remember in the library, I saw Fatima on the stairs as I was about to leave, and she said, ‘Hey, you’re doing Kairos, right?” recalled Liz of first learning about the opportunity... after Fatima had already signed her up. “And I thought, ‘Well, I can’t really turn down that offer, can I?’” Iva, too, was cornered just two days before the initial kickoff meeting. Fatima can be convincing, but it helped when the cause is so important to Iva as well.

After ten months of planning and preparation, the retreat hosted 14 participants and four student leaders, including Iva, Fatima, and Liz, as well as a BC High graduate who had previously attended Kairos. The group traveled to Charlton, MA for the October 20-22 weekend.

“It was beyond our wildest imagination,” Liz shared when describing the program’s success. “I think one thing that really made it unique was that people who had never talked to each other in any way before, are now hugging each other in the hallways.”

“I forced my roommate to go and dragged her to sign up,” Iva recounted, “but [now] she keeps telling me, ‘I need to go back to Kairos... I need a Kairos reunion weekend!’”

Because it went so well, plans are already underway for a spring semester Kairos retreat at Regis. Many of the participants from the fall are excited to become leaders, and with Fatima, Liz, and Iva at the helm, Kairos will grow to become a wonderful tradition and a life-giving retreat for Regis students for many years to come.

Lynne Connell Dello Russo MSJA ’73 and Catherine Dello Russo MSJA ’10

To listen to a podcast of their entire interview, click this link: Lynne & Catherine Dello Russo.

The dynamic mother-daughter team of Lynne Connell Dello Russo ’73 and Catherine Dello Russo ’10 of Watertown returned to campus this spring to reminisce about their respective times at The Mount.

Nailah Khoory ’18, also a Watertown resident, was their guide for the day. After climbing up to the 5th floor to see the new Learning Commons, Nailah wondered whether the long climb conjured up any particular memories. Lynne smiled, as she definitely remembers racing to get up that last flight so you weren’t marked late for class! Catherine remembers running back and forth, between classes and lockers. Nailah thought it was funny that they both mentioned the stairs. “At most schools, the hallways are places where students get to interact with each other… where they see each other. Here, it is on those stairs where you see all your friends”.

Both Lynne and Catherine’s fondest memories had to do with their teachers. For Lynne, it was the Sisters that have stuck with her. “We didn’t have a lot of lay teachers; we had a lot of sisters. They were so dedicated. They taught until they couldn’t teach anymore. So many stayed here, maybe not teaching, but doing other things, like helping in the cafeteria. The Sisters’ presence was great and it made for lots of order. It was definitely a little more strict then. You talked about the stairs being places where the students chatted, Nailah, well there was no saying hello in the hallways back then!”

“For me, my strongest memory was of teachers as well”, Catherine added. “I had some of the coolest teachers. I loved them all. They were so helpful in prepping me for afterwards.” “Teachers here now are the same way,” Nailah added. “They stay afterwards… you don’t ever feel like a burden.”

As for words of wisdom for current students: Get involved! Catherine offered, “My experiences getting involved at the Mount, helped me get involved at Northeastern. I saw many students who just did their work and went home. Getting involved is also how you make your friends.” Lynne echoed Catherine. “I think getting involved was important. I lived in Dorchester and had no friends who came here. I was petrified! There wasn’t a lot of choice about what you could do back then. It was either sports (which was just basketball!) or drama/music. The word ‘athlete’ is not in my vocabulary. So I took drama and music. Sister Ernesta and Sister Eleanor Zito taught me so much about singing. I spent lots of time here into the evenings, and didn’t go home. I had a wonderful group of friends… we went out to eat, then came back. I felt like I lived here for four years. My mother used to say, ‘Why don’t you just live over there?’ I would respond ‘if I could take my bed, I would!’” Nailah laughed, “Funny you say that… my mom says the same thing. I think that anyone who comes here feels that way!”

Lynne and her husband made the decision, and sacrifice, to send their children to Catholic school. This decision is one she feels strongly about. “Our faith means a lot to me and to my husband. We wanted our children to have an education that would bring out this extra part of our lives. Children need to become other oriented; to learn to help other people. I also think that children need structure and order and help showing them what’s right and what’s wrong. Parents need to give their children both roots and wings… and the (Catholic school) education we both received, gave us both.”

Both Lynne and Catherine were thrilled to witness all the wonderful things happening at Saint Joseph Prep, and excited to know that their legacy lives on in the scholars here now. “The transformation that has happened here at Saint Joseph Prep is absolutely AMAZING! The changes the school has undergone even in the last year. They are constantly improving things; giving students more advantages to become the best people they can be! It is so great that Saint Joseph Prep is still here; that they held on to the school and turned it into a vibrant and exciting experience for students. The library we are sitting in now that is so different. I read (Head of School) Tom Nunan’s story of Hope in the recent Phoenix Update. We need to have hope. We need to be hopeful for all our students that are here now.”

Catherine added, “These improvements and changes are crazy. I Hope you (as students) take advantage of all these changes that will help you later on. You may not see it now, but you will later. I can see that my career at Northeastern and in the Watertown Police Department comes from everything that I learned here!”

Juliette Noonan, Trinity Catholic ’09

To listen to a podcast of her entire interview, click this link: Juliette Noonan Interview.

JoJo Duplan ’17 caught up with Juliette Noonan, Trinity Catholic ’09 to chat about her high school experience.

Juliette had so many fond memories about her time at Trinity Catholic that it was hard to narrow down the things that she loved the most! “Being at a small school… I was able to do everything…. sports, drama, service.” She was able to channel her experiences as a cheerleader into athletic pursuits including basketball, softball and eventually volleyball.

Juliette’s experiences in the classroom were just as memorable. Her AP Calculus class was hard, but prepared her well for her future classwork at St. Anselm’s. However, it was the values that she found at Trinity… family, faith and hope… that really grounded her. These were values she had learned at home, but found them constantly reinforced in a Catholic school environment. Service was also an important part of her time at Trinity, where the core value of compassion was continually present. Her time spent volunteering in the Dominican Republic, particularly at a hospital, influenced her greatly. At St. Anselm’s, she chose to follow nursing as her academic path. “Compassion is key to nursing… it will make the difference for patients.”

Jo Jo and Juliette laughed as they found many common areas of interest... from sports to class government. Apparently, the joys and challenges of being a scholar-athlete haven’t changed much over the years!

Joan Cloherty Sullivan, MSJA ’81

To listen to a podcast of her entire interview, click this link: Joan Cloherty Sullivan Interview.

Recently we were fortunate to welcome back Joan Cloherty Sullivan, MSJA ’81. After MSJA, Joan graduated from Holy Cross with a degree in Mathematics and later obtained a Master’s from Boston College to embark on a career as a math teacher. She currently serves as the head of the Math Department at The Waring School in Beverly. Molly Wheet ’20 spent some time with her reflecting on her high school experience.

Before moving to the Boston area, Joan spent two years at a public high school. Her parents literally “plunked her down” here as a junior because her cousins were already enrolled. “There was no shopping around for schools back then!” As for the outcome? “I found my people here. It was cool to be smart. It was a great cohort of girls! I still remember my AP English class with Ms. Neylon and [working on] the yearbook. I felt validated as a person here; that I had good ideas and my teachers recognized that.” Molly agreed with the importance of being known at a small school, which ultimately helped her to choose Saint Joseph Prep over other options, including her hometown public high school.

Extra-curricular life was different then, as well. As Joan recalls, those were the days right after Title IX. “There were limited opportunities for girls to play sports. I think only one sport a season. There were lots of opportunities to get involved though, in other things… like the yearbook!” Saint Joseph Prep, on the other hand, offers its young women and men a multitude of sports each season, from soccer (which Molly plays) to ice hockey and lacrosse.

What about the importance of a Catholic school education? “I think it is important to know that Catholic education isn’t dogmatic. What Catholic education did for me was to build a strong foundation, one of compassionate leadership. I understand ethics and morals through a Catholic lens. I may not agree with everything, but I would never give up what I got [from it] as a critical thinker. As an adult, I am always looking back to my faith for help in making ethical decisions and in raising family. Kids today face so many challenges, that having strong foundation and time for reflection is important.”

Joan reflected on things that she might do differently if she could go back. “I would spend all four years here! I also wish I had known the Sisters better. It was the 70s then. I don’t think we really understood the choices they had made for an alternative life style. It was a difficult time for them too, as many of their peers left the sisterhood during that time. I wish we were more empathetic. If I could go back, I would work harder on that.”

As for final advice, Joan finished with these words of wisdom for Molly and her classmates: “In high school, I think it is so important to commit to stuff, but also to take risks. Don’t get too stuck in saying ‘Oh, I am an athlete’. I spoke earlier with Sharon King ’17 and she clearly has a strong identity as an athlete. But she was also open to trying new things… and discovered a love for robotics. Also, when you get stuck academically, ask for help! Learn to be a scholar, learn to be a learner. Then you will have all the strategies you need to be successful in college. Finally, remember that you are not alone. It is a community here!”

Natalie FitzPatrick, Saint Joseph Prep ’16

To listen to a podcast of the entire interview, click this link: Natalie FitzPatrick Interview.

While on her Spring Break from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., we were very excited to welcome back one of our most recent Saint Joseph Prep graduates, Natalie FitzPatrick ’16. Her interviewer was our own Jack Brooks ’17 who discussed with her the transition to college and the preparation she received at Saint Joseph Prep. As Jack prepares for graduation this June, it was a timely conversation!

Natalie was part of the very first freshman class at SJP and graduated in a class of only 41 students! Transitioning from a community that size to a school of 7,000 undergraduate students could certainly present some challenges, but Natalie felt particularly well-prepared to handle two aspects of the move: her faith and her writing.

“Being at a Catholic college, there are lots of experiences available that help to deepen my faith, but now it is my personal responsibility. SJP gave me reasons to want to go out on my own and prepared me to continue my own my faith journey in college. Academically, I have to say that my writing skills became much stronger at SJP. In English classes there were lots of opportunities [to write]. More than that though, my teachers really motivated and encouraged me to create a strong final product.” That attention to detail and drive to keep fine-tuning is something she observes sets her apart from many of her peers.

While Natalie took away many things from her time at SJP, there were several life-long lessons that she wanted to share. First, she has come to fully understand the importance of time management. Being involved with so many extracurricular activities at Saint Joseph Prep like National Honor Society, Campus Ministry, athletics, etc. helped her develop this skill, which has been critical to her success in college. Additionally, being fully committed to whatever she’s doing is incredibly important. Finally, although college students are there for the education, first and foremost, it’s important to pursue interests outside that the classroom that keep you happy and healthy.

Growing up, Natalie didn’t picture herself attending a Catholic high school. However, because her mother (Susan Gurliaccio ‘79) had attended the Mount, she decided to give it a shot. Then, when the school became Saint Joseph Prep before her freshman year, she decided to stick with her decision. “[SJP] gave me a fresh start and helped me find myself a little more. If I had gone to my public high school, I don’t think I would be as well-rounded. Being at SJP pushed me outside my comfort zone in the best way possible.”

Glad that she made the SJP choice, Natalie spoke highly of the benefits of a Catholic school education. This included developing “a deeper relationship with God” and a value system that she will have for the rest of her life. Additionally, she added that Catholic school helps you become the best person you can be.

As for the future of SJP, Natalie is clearly excited about the opportunities that await her alma mater! “Just being one year out, I can already see my high school is flourishing with continually increasing school spirit. Students here are supportive of one another... and always cheer each other on. You just don’t see that everywhere. It is really beautiful to see, especially now from the outside looking in.”

Thank you, Natalie, for all the great insights! We look forward to seeing you back on campus again in June for our Young Alumni Celebration!

Warren O’Reilly, Trinity Catholic ’02

To listen to a podcast of the entire interview, click this link: Warren O’Reilly Interview.

As the Allston-Brighton liaison for Mayor Walsh’s office, Warren O’Reilly, a 2002 graduate of Trinity Catholic, spends a lot of time right here in our neighborhood! Additionally, as part of the Boston Landing Transportation Task Force, we’re fortunate enough to see him walking the halls of Saint Joseph Prep from time to time. Recently, we were thrilled to welcome him back, as a member of our Alumni Network, to speak with Sophia Pappas ’18 about his time at Trinity Catholic.

Warren’s experience at Trinity was defined, in many ways, by the relationships he developed with his classmates and teachers. He recalled fondly his first day at TC when his English teacher introduced him to a new classmate from Haiti. As a recent transplant from Ireland, he was thrilled to meet another newcomer to the school… and the country. The diversity of TC was one the aspects he most cherished, and it’s a diversity that continues to make SJP a special community. Additionally, it was that same English teacher who introduced Warren to another valued aspect of his high school education: the theater! Performing on stage, as well as on the athletic fields, was an important part of Warren’s experience.

Warren identified several benefits to attending Trinity Catholic. “Education in a small school, [particularly] a Catholic and faith-based school, taught me when and how to ask for help, to call upon friends, and to open up to ask for help from a higher power in God.” Other benefits included learning how to act in public and how to dress appropriately. When asked how he would have been different if he hadn’t attended Trinity, he remarked, “I wouldn’t be as confident. I wouldn’t have gotten involved in theater. I would have been too intimidated. I never would have tried Campus Ministry or done community service if I hadn’t been made to.” Here, Sophia agreed noting that she has also been able to participate in many things including Robotics, Soccer, Track and Field, and like Mr. O’Reilly, Theater.

It was clear from the smile on his face that the Trinity legacy is alive and well! “I see it in the close relationships [students at SJP have] with teachers...the focused energy. This is a mature and engaging population and you have an aura about you as a student body here in a faith-based school. The building is different, but that’s the only thing!”

Warren encouraged his fellow alumni to become connected with and active in the Alumni Network, or as he joked, “the secret club.” It’s a great opportunity to track down old friends and, of course, there may be professional opportunities available as well.

Like any good politician, Warren had some final words of advice for our current students. Remember that “everyone has something to teach you... get around to as many different people as possible.” He also would encourage everyone to “remember the things that make you happy… and do them!”

Alison Socha, MSJA ’95

To listen to a podcast of the entire interview, click this link: Alison Socha Interview.

Recently, we were fortunate to have Alison Socha MSJA ’95 here to chat with Rebekah Forest ’17 about her high school experience.

Alison, a native of Melrose and graduate of St. Mary’s there, was very involved during her days at the Mount, with both tennis and hospitality at the top of her most memorable experiences. Hospitality was a group that worked on most major events, which enabled her to not only get involved in meaningful projects (like Aids Day), but also to connect with alumni.

She wouldn’t change much about her high school years. However, her advice to students is to get involved early. She wishes she had gotten more involved freshman year, which might have given her the chance to become part of other things and make other connections.

As for life after MSJA, Alison was well-prepared for Boston University. “I was academically well-prepared for college, with strong study and writing skills. With a laugh, Alison notes that “all of our class will remember the five-paragraph essay.”

Alison was fortunate to have 13 years of Catholic education, which is an experience that she felt “bonded her” to other catholic school graduates in the years ahead. “The gifts of our teachers and our administrators… made us who we are and helped us to work towards a common goal of making the world a better place.” This is a goal that Alison has carried with her throughout her career and life.

Last year, as we began the process of bringing the alumni groups together, Alison did not hesitate to become part of the Alumni Network Task Force. Being part of an alumni network is important for so many reasons… most importantly “connections and perspective”. Additionally, continuing the legacy is important to Alison. “The Sisters of Saint Joseph were a big part of our experience and taught us the values of social justice and egalitarianism” by the way they lived. Those values live on today at Saint Joseph Prep.

Thank you Alison for your continued commitment to Catholic education and to Saint Joseph Prep.

Cara Swan Burke, Newton Catholic ’84

To listen to a podcast of the entire interview, click this link: Cara Swan Burke Interview.

Cara Swan Burke graduated from Newton Catholic in 1984, and earlier this month, she sat down with Sophia Sa’Ponte ’17 to discuss her experience attending a Catholic high school and why she has made the same investment in her children that her parents did in her.

For Burke, the biggest advantage is a focus on developing the whole person. “[Catholic education] teaches great values. It holds you to such high expectations; it’s a constant reminder around you every day [to be a] kind, good person.” That consistent message to be your best self and to treat others with compassion and dignity has greatly informed how Burke lives her life and the lessons she seeks to instill in her daughters, Elizabeth ’14, Hannah ’17, and Allison ’20, who have all attended or currently attend SJP.

As part of this belief, she is very supportive of—and often amazed at—the extensive service opportunities made available to students at Saint Joseph Prep. In fact, Hannah, a senior at SJP, recently traveled to Camden, NJ where she spent the weekend volunteering at various service sites while staying at the Romero Center. Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is the poorest city in the United States. Whether it’s going down to Haiti or the Service to the Dear Neighbor program after school, Burke says service is an “extension of who you are, and being able extend who you are is such a gift.”

When asked by Sophia what advice she would offer to SJP students, Burke counsels young people to not only take advantage of the service opportunities made available to them, but also to be who they are every day and embrace their individuality so that being one’s true self is second nature in college.

Thank you, Mrs. Burke, for the example you set for your daughters (and their friends!), for the excellent work you do at the Theology Department at Boston College, and for all the support you have shown Saint Joseph Prep throughout the years!