CBL in our “New Normal” – Morgan Vacca ’23

Life at Holy Cross is busy. This semester especially, I’ve noticed that people’s schedules are crazier than ever. Successfully planning something with others is becoming an accomplishment, and having time to yourself is becoming rare. Seeing the campus revert back to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic has been exciting. However, the stress that process has brought on students is extremely taxing, and, dare I say, “unprecedented.”

As a CBL Intern, I was worried about the impact that this unexpected stress would have on students going to their CBL sites (myself included). Having what seems like a million things to do is distracting. This kind of distraction seemed like it would take away from students’ experiences at their sites, and their desire to connect with others. 

At the beginning of October, I helped facilitate a reflection session in a Montserrat seminar. As I prepared myself for this session, my fears about students and CBL were heightened. At that point, most of the students had started going to their respective sites, and I was so worried about what they would say. However, the second I sat down, I was pleasantly surprised. I barely had time to introduce myself before students started telling me what site they were going to, who they met there, and what had happened. Whereas most conversations I had on campus always seemed like everyone was just trying to get to the next place they had to go, this one was different. Everyone was engaged. Everyone was fully present. Most importantly, it seemed like everyone was truly passionate about what they were doing.

After four years here at Holy Cross, I never realized the real power of connecting with one’s community until that day. This semester has been hectic for everyone. However, instead of adding to that stress, it became clear to me that our community is one of the few things that can relieve it. Forming connections with others, reflecting, and learning about oneself is something that it seems like no one has time for anymore. However, being present in the community gives people the opportunity to do exactly that.

Four Years Filled with Lessons and Change – Valentina Maza ’23

Almost four years later, I have yet to believe my college experience is coming to an end. As I was thinking about what I should write, I realized that my time as a CBL intern is also falling short. This would mean that I have a single blog post left to write. It’s crazy how time flies, isn’t it? I know it sounds cliche, but it truly amazes me. I recall who I used to be during my first year, and sometimes, I have difficulty recognizing my old self. Some might say that’s also crazy, but I firmly believe college is about ongoing change and figuring out who we are. Multiple experiences have driven my personal growth throughout my time at Holy Cross. My time as an intern and working alongside the Donelan Office have influenced me since my first year in Worcester. Because of that, I would like to reflect on my time with the CBL office.

During my first year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Marie Anne Center as a part of my “Social Ethics” class. It served the primary purpose of CBL; I could apply the concepts I learned in class to real-life situations. However, I discovered more about myself there than anywhere else, so I joined CBL. My role as an English tutor truly shifted my perspective on life and helped me understand the need to remove presumptions. I assumed I would meet
Spanish-speaking students, but most spoke Portuguese. I was outside of my comfort zone for the semester but learned so much from each of them. Due to my lack of Portuguese, I was always nervous about not giving my best self. But even then, each of them welcomed me with a smile. Until this day, I cherish the Brazilian woman who invited me to share dinner because she had passed her citizenship exam. They taught me the importance of gratitude. Amid my discomfort, I felt at home with all of them.

After that year, I knew I wanted to continue working with the CBL office, so I became an Intern. I volunteered with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program during my junior year. I met some of the most remarkable and determined people who also taught me many lessons about life and myself. They showed me how finding joy and appreciation in everything could change how we view life. Lastly, this year I am an Ignite Fellow tutoring third graders. I
work with them online since they are in Texas. Like all my other experiences, I have learned to work with my students individually, not as a homogenous group. They show me that we all have different needs, but even then, the least we can do every day is treat others with kindness and never forget about a smile.

Following my three volunteering experiences, I reflect on my old self during the first year. I have learned so much about others, and I have learned about myself through them. As my CBL experience begins to wrap up, I am forever grateful for the lasting influence it continues to have in my life.

Embracing Uncertainty – Delaney Walch ’24

My first year at Holy Cross was tumultuous; not only did I enter college in the midst of a global pandemic, but I grappled with the certain uncertainty that comes with starting college. I constantly questioned whether I was choosing the right academic path, what clubs I would join, and if I would ever feel prepared for life after these next four years. As a junior, I can confidently say that this uncertainty does not go away. Rather, this uncertainty has become a driving force for my personal growth, as I have found that embracing uncertainty has led me to incredible opportunities to learn more about myself and my community. 

I began to develop the notion that discomfort is an opportunity for growth during my first-year CBL experience. Although my experience was confined to my dorm in Hanselman through my computer screen, I faced discomfort. I collaborated with students from Worcester Public Schools Transition Program as well as a Nurse Practitioner student to create educational panels for healthcare professionals on ableism. As an outsider who had never worked on this type of project before, I was hesitant to contribute to conversations and I feared that I was not doing enough to help. However, by taking the leap to act and speak despite my worries, I was able to make the most out of my experience. Hearing the experiences of people with disabilities in healthcare helped me perceive others through a more compassionate and informed lens. Through fully immersing myself in new environments, whether that was through my computer screen or at City View School through the CBL Latin Program, I was able to gain insights that informed my perspectives of different groups of people. I am certain that I would not have otherwise had these perspective-changing experiences if I did not take the opportunity to go beyond the minimum requirement of showing up to my CBL site and take risks to form stronger connections. 

Our experience of learning from others as students tends to be a more passive than active process. We have grown accustomed to sitting and listening in lectures, and sometimes we are brave enough to take the leap to ask more. To make the most out of our experiential learning experiences, we must treat learning as an active process that requires constantly challenging our comfort levels and perspectives. We must strive to learn with others by stepping out of our comfort zones. Through my participation in CBL and Spring Break Immersion Program, I have learned that leaning into discomfort, rather than letting it be a debilitating force, has increased my understanding of others and their lived experiences. 

My mantra since my first year, which has continued to be pertinent to my engagement experiences at Holy Cross, is the following quote: “if you want something you have never had, you must be willing to do something you have never done.” Growth lies within the new and uncomfortable. I would encourage everyone who is seeking opportunities for growth to not only lean into discomfort but seek experiences that might completely alter their current beliefs about others and the world.

“My First Month as a CBL Intern” – Megan Yee ’25

It is hard to believe that I have only been a CBL intern for around a month now. I am very grateful for the friendships I have built and knowledge I have learned that has so quickly accumulated. When I first applied to the CBL intern program, I knew that I would be joining a community of my peers who share the same passion for engaging with the Worcester community. It was not until I was fully immersed in this community, that I understood the dedication and passion that comes with this engagement. It has been rewarding to hear from the other interns about how passionate they are about volunteering at their CBL sites. For many (including myself!), it is the highlight of each week. I value learning from my peers about their perspectives on social justice issues and their passions to create change in our community. 

Equally important as the relationships I have built in the CBL program, are those that I’ve built through my weekly visits to St. Mary Health Care Center. Every Saturday, I volunteer at the St. Mary Health Care Center, a rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in downtown Worcester. At St. Mary’s I engage with residents through conversations, games, and other activities. During my first visit to St. Mary’s, I spent my time painting the nails of three residents. Upon entering the room, they told me that they already loved my presence and I eagerly told them it was reciprocated. After I painted their nails, they instantly told me they felt “young and beautiful.” I find it rewarding to know that I can help enrich the lives of others, even if it is something as simple as painting their nails to make them feel confident. Furthermore, I value the connections I have built with community members that have come out of these engagements because they have allowed me to understand diverse perspectives and reflect on my own. I believe that in order to make an impact on your community, you need to understand it first. By immersing myself in the community and being open to diverse perspectives and conversations, I have found that I can better understand my social responsibility and how to help the community better reach its needs. 

Although my experience as a CBL intern has been short, it has been more impactful than I could have ever imagined. I have been able to explore outside of the Holy Cross bubble and thus better understand ways I can better advocate for the community. I am excited to continue deepening my engagement with the Worcester community and gain a deeper understanding from new perspectives.

“Notions of Service” – Sophie Fitzpatrick ’25

My Catholic High School had a yearly “community service” requirement: 20 hours, 10 in school, and 10 out of school. Even before this, I’d done “service” in middle school and spent many summers volunteering at a local preschool/summer camp. During these summers, I racked up close to a hundred “volunteer hours.” I remember the satisfaction of coming to school in the fall with a note signed by my boss attesting to this time spent “in the community.” In high school,  the acts that I thought of as service were uncomplicated. I made cards for the Sisters who lived in the convent next door, organized school fundraisers, and ran charity 5ks. Once I had my community service form signed off,  I didn’t give these individual acts another thought. 

During my Sophomore year, I became pretty involved in climate change activism. I went to protests, did lots of research, and fought the administration for eco-friendly changes on campus. It became a part of my personality – I was the vegetarian that got on the loudspeaker every day at lunch to remind girls to recycle and carry their own silverware. But despite the passion I had for this work and the amount of energy I put into it, it did not fit my definition of service. There was nobody to sign off on my community service form, and whether I realized it at the time, this drilled in a message that is so often inculcated into high school students, especially in Catholic institutions: that charity which yields tangible results is more important than advocacy or more abstract kinds of community work. I came to believe that service was only meaningful when you had something to show for it, be it funds raised or that sought-after signature on a service form.

Before applying to college, I assumed that my hundreds of community service hours would make me stand out to the schools of my choice. However, when I began to fill out applications during my senior year, I wound up leaving most of the “service” I had done out. I felt silly listing my time spent giving tours of my high school campus to upper-class Long Island families as service. For the first time, I became disillusioned with the ideas of charity and service that had been presented to me thus far. 

If college applications started my questioning of charity, they also began to affirm in my mind the importance of advocacy. I found that while my “service” didn’t seem important enough to include in applications, my climate change research and activism formed the backbone of each of my college essays, supplements, and interviews. For me, my advocacy work was just as fulfilling, if not more so, than the charity I had been involved in; however, I didn’t at the time have the language of social justice to talk about this with others.  

Flash forward to the fall of 2021, I started CBL with the Worcester Public Schools (WPS) Transition Program for Professor Ryan and Professor Jenkins’ Montserrat, Identity, Diversity, and Community. I immediately fell in love with the program, which seeks to help young adults with intellectual disabilities develop skills for life after high school, and form close friendships with students. Our first CBL reflection in this class was about “Toxic Charity.”  This reflection centers on the idea that often there are unintended consequences of well-meaning charity that arise when the volunteer assumes a position of superiority (whether conscious or not) over those that they are meant to be serving.  Rather than uniting people, this approach to service is divisive and has a tendency to alienate those receiving service.  For the first time, I saw the dissatisfaction I had with my high school notion of service articulated. 

In class, we learned about the Jesuit mission of being a person “with others.” This resonated with me more and more as I participated in the community in ways that didn’t yield the concrete results or satisfying log of service hours that characterized my high school experience. Each week I visited WPS Transition led to new revelations about what it means to serve in the community. I went from leaving my site frustrated that I hadn’t been able to help the students more, to realizing that the best way I could help was by being a peer and a friend, not by being the “helpful volunteer” that I had long strived to be.  In this way, CBL helped me to finally dismantle the toxic charity mindset that had been instilled in me throughout my years of CCD and Catholic education. 

Now, a year after this pivotal lesson,  I’ve been tasked with leading reflections as a CBL intern. I do this task with enthusiasm, as I’ve seen firsthand how transformative conversations about these topics can be. 

“Reflecting on My First Year as a CBL Intern” – Anthony Mabardy ’24

I served my first full year as a CBL Intern this past school year. Reflecting on the year, I realized how amazing of an experience it was for me. As a member of the class of 2024, my sophomore year was my first year being fully on campus and in-person at Holy Cross. It was definitely a big adjustment for me because classes were back in person for the first time since my senior year of high school. Clubs, extracurriculars, and CBL sites were starting to gather in-person again. While I did face some challenges adjusting to the world around me returning to somewhat “normal,” I was able to make the most of the situation and learned a lot about myself in the process.

First, I participated in CBL during my spring semester of Freshman year, being  completely on zoom with the Nativity School of Worcester. This past school year, I was lucky enough to be able to return to the Nativity School in-person with the same students that I had tutored on zoom the previous semester. It was an amazing experience getting to meet them in person and work with them to the best of my abilities. Reflecting on this experience, I realized how much these students meant to me as well as that strive I get when being able to make in-person connections with others: noticing how much more I was able to connect with the students I was tutoring while in person and the more I learned about them and myself during our weekly sessions. Additionally, I gained a lot with working with young children, as it requires patience and making genuine connections with them. All in all, I had an unforgettable experience working with the students at the Nativity School of Worcester and learned a lot about the students and myself in the process. 

I enjoyed being a part of the CBL Intern Program this past year for the first time. Not only did it allow me to continue with the program, it also provided me with a great group of friends that I learned a lot from. Being able to listen to the experiences of others allowed me to learn lessons from countless sites despite not having the time to visit each of them on my own. The CBL intern community creates an inclusive environment for others to share their experiences which allowed me to teach others about what I learned from the students at the Nativity School as well. Having the space to allow for these discussions has allowed me to put my time spent in CBL into context in my life. This has been very beneficial for me and has allowed me to grow as a person and as a CBL intern. I also enjoyed being able to meet with other CBL students to give them feedback on their journals and push them to reflect on their experiences. This allowed them to learn more about themselves and brought me great joy knowing that I was able to help someone become a better version of themselves.

In conclusion, I had an amazing experience as an intern this past year and am beyond excited for the year that is to come. I have learned a lot in the past year, I am looking forward to new experiences and to learning more about myself and learning from others.

“Reflecting on my Summer in Worcester” – Sarah Ayers ’23

Being a CBL Intern has changed the course of my life. It sounds dramatic, but as a senior beginning my final year at Holy Cross, I feel that I can finally say that and truly mean it. Through the Donelan Office, my understanding of community service and the world of non-profits has grown significantly. I have participated in three different CBL agencies at this point, and all of these opportunities have allowed me to explore and further realize my passion for working and making connections with others. My time as a CBL intern has influenced my life on and off campus. I made new friendships, learned new skills, and even changed my future career path all thanks to my time as an intern. Looking ahead to my final year participating in CBL, I am happy to say that I am the most excited I have ever been to begin volunteering with my partner. Usually, I am full of nervous energy before my first visit, but for the first time, I will not be stepping into an unfamiliar environment but one that I know fairly well. This summer I interned at the Nativity School of Worcester, and I will spend the year tutoring there for two hours each week. 

The mission of Nativity and the important place it holds in the Worcester community both exemplify why it is an excellent place for students to learn the value of service. The Nativity school model is unlike any other school I had experienced prior to this summer. It is an all-boys, tuition-free, Catholic school that aims to provide students living in low-income areas with a learning environment that enables them to succeed. While at school from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm every day, students are given two meals and offered various snacks throughout the day. While the days are long, it is clear that the school serves as a second home for the students. Teachers and faculty members build incredible bonds with students that go far beyond the classroom. This summer I felt honored to be welcomed into this incredible community. Every member—teachers, students, and faculty—truly care about one another. It is a community characterized by joy and love, and for me, it was the embodiment of the Jesuit values that I have spent the past three years learning about. Human dignity is at the center of Nativity’s mission. Teachers make every effort to help students grow as human beings rather than solely focusing on their academic abilities. I got to spend three weeks in the classroom with the sixth graders, and by the end of my internship, I was shocked at how upset I was to leave behind the relationships I made at Nativity. I could tell the students trusted me and that meant more to me than I ever could have imagined. Rather than scaring me away from teaching, as I thought it would, my experience this summer reassured me that teaching may be the career for me. It is difficult, however, to imagine being a teacher anywhere but Nativity. 

Thankfully, I have the opportunity to return to Nativity as a tutor this semester. One of my favorite aspects of CBL is the fact that participants are encouraged to make connections that go beyond the surface level and that extend past one’s time spent with their partner. Returning to Nativity gives me the chance to continue strengthening the relationships I have already formed. I get to continue showing up for the students I spent the summer with even if it is only for two hours a week. There is one final aspect of my internship at Nativity that contributed to my appreciation of my time there. As I mentioned, Nativity plays an important role in the Worcester community. Nativity students and alumni reside in Worcester, and their family members are business owners, local politicians, and advocates for their community. I had never felt as connected to Worcester as I did during my two months at Nativity. One of the great things about CBL is how it encourages students to leave the hill and experience the city that we call home for eight months out of the year. Through Nativity and learning from the experiences of the students and their families, I finally feel that I am not just a student that attends a school in Worcester. I am a member of the Worcester community as well. I am looking forward to the opportunity to continue building upon the connections I made this summer with the students and the city alike. 

“Studying Abroad and CBL” – Jocelyn Hernandez ’23

As a young girl, studying abroad in Spain has always been one of my dreams. In Fall 2021, I was finally able to make that dream a reality. While many people emphasize the importance of learning to live on your own when you are abroad, I was able to have both; there were of course times where I was on my own but I also had one of my closest friends from HC with me in Granada as well, Melanie. Having her as a support system during my journey abroad was definitely important because I knew that I was never truly alone.   

Studying abroad certainly changed my mindset on many things. I realized the importance of independence in all aspects. For instance, before traveling abroad, I started my first real job as a server at a restaurant and saved up so that money would not be an issue in Spain. Being able to rely on myself in that way was extremely important for me because it was a burden that my parents did not have to deal with. 

The classes of course were also different from the normal HC classes. There was this sense of openness and lots of discussion rather than the professors lecturing a whole lot. Fortunately, I was able to experience two aspects of the Universidad de Granada. I took 3 classes at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas where all my classes were in Spanish and I took one class at the Facultad de Filosofia y Letras where my class was in English. This allowed me to fully experience both dynamics of classes in Granada. I was intrigued to see how I would feel in each class because while Spanish is my first language, I was not used to having 3 different classes in Spanish. However, I quickly fell in love with all my courses and was astounded at the level of inclusiveness from all of my professors. 

One of the most impactful academic experiences abroad was completing the ICP Project required by Holy Cross. The objective behind the project was immersing myself in the Spanish culture and reflecting on my observations and learnings. I decided to tutor two 6 year old girls, Alejandra and Michaela. For the majority of my time with them, we practiced speaking in English and I taught them new words that they wanted to learn. Being with them was an amazing experience because I was able to see how progressive the Spanish culture really was. Both Alejandra and Michaela were raised with the understanding that they could choose any profession they would like to. For them, their advantage was having parents who were professors at the University. Their parents emphasized the importance of education and it was reflected on the future goals of both girls. Understanding the Spanish culture was important for me because it served as a form of guidance for my course: La Imagen de la Mujer en los Siglos XVIX-XX. Based on my experiences with Alejandra and Michaela, I was able to offer my own perspective on different themes in the Spanish culture and why the image of women in Spain has stayed the same or changed today. Having this experience was important to me because it was like having CBL but abroad. Had it not been for my time as a Community-Based Learning Intern, I would not have been able to connect my observations outside of the classroom to my learning inside the classroom. This was crucial for me because it only made my time abroad even more meaningful. It also allowed me to leave Spain as a changed and improved student and person as a whole. If anything, embracing myself in this new culture only strengthened my ability to adapt to new people and surroundings and certainly aided my service as a first time Intern coordinator with the WPS transition program. 

While I was fascinated in learning more about the Spanish culture and traveling to different places, there was also always a sense of sadness deep in my heart because I knew that I was visiting places that my parents had never seen. Being raised by immigrant parents, I was constantly reminded of the mobility barrier that was present in my family. My father could never visit his family in Guatemala because that would mean him not being able to come back to the US. My mother was also not able to visit Peru for the same reasons. At the core of my study abroad experience was breaking the barriers that society had set for my parents. I understood that me traveling to all these different places was a win for them as well because it meant that their sacrifices were worth it. They both crossed the border to ensure that their future children would have better opportunities in life than they ever did. As I stood by the view from Santa Maria Maior in Lisbon,Portugal, I was reminded of my parents’ journey to the States and the content they must feel to know that their daughter was exploring places they have never been able to.

If I learned one thing from traveling abroad, it’s the importance of staying true to my roots and identity especially when there are others from completely different cultures and backgrounds. If there is anything I learned from CBL it’s the importance of being vulnerable and entering new chapters with an optimistic and open mind set. As I conclude my junior year, my commitment to immerse myself in the Worcester community has only strengthened. It has also inspired my decision to live off campus next year at the Edge Union Station. My hope is that I will be able to get to know the Worcester community at a deeper level.

“Reflecting on my First Year as a CBL Intern” – Catherine Cannamela ’24

It’s hard to believe that an entire school year has gone by on Mt. St. James! As I reflect on my sophomore year of college, which has been full of new friends, experiences, and discoveries, I think that being a part of the CBL Intern Program has been a monumental and formative part of my journey at Holy Cross. I remember moving into school in August and being nervous to meet the other interns and what being an intern would actually entail, but all of that anxiety went away as I was welcomed with open arms by Isabelle, Mattie, and the rest of the CBL Interns. Since then, I’ve made friendships with my fellow interns that will last a lifetime and memories at my CBL sites that I will hold onto forever.

During my first semester, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a CBL course focused on Latin-American culture. For my CBL component, I chose to volunteer with Ascentria Care Alliance, where I tutored unaccompanied refugee minors from various locations in Central and Latin America. I was originally very nervous to tutor native Spanish-speaking students because I’m not super confident with my language skills and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fully communicate with the students and help them. Though the language barrier and the virtual format of our site was challenging, I felt like I overcame my anxiety once I was able to spend one-on-one time with the students and be able to help them with their individual needs. It was a very rewarding and mutualistic experience to be able to help the students learn English while they were helping me learn Spanish. I feel like I was able to reflect on my privilege of having English as my first language, and my eyes were opened up to social justice issues within the education system since the students at Ascentria were forced to learn and socialize in English and didn’t receive adequate learning resources for the language. I also was able to apply what I was experiencing at CBL to what I was learning in the classroom. Much of our class centered on social justice issues and history of Latin American countries as well as the traumatic and difficult experience of migration to the United States. Therefore, I was able to approach my interactions with Ascentria students with an approach of knowledge, care, and sensitivity, which allowed me to form lasting connections with them. 

During my second semester, I wasn’t in a CBL class so I had completely free choice of where I wanted to volunteer for the first time! I chose to work with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program where I spent time and led activities with 18-22 year old students with intellectual disabilities. Ever since I took my Montserrat class called “Identity, Diversity, and Community” with Professor Ryan, I’ve developed a passion for disability studies, so I was very excited to explore that through CBL. I volunteered on Thursdays, which was the Spanish-speaking students day, so again I was a little nervous to use my Spanish-speaking skills. However, the students and assistants were so welcoming and understanding and I immediately felt comfortable around them. I was really excited to utilize the Marshall Fund for the first time and saw my ideas come to life when we all participated in a bracelet making project. My favorite part of the semester was getting to know the students and all of their personalities and stories. For one of my classes, I wrote a reflection on the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in the Gospel of Matthew and I related it to my personal life by connecting it to my CBL experiences. Here’s an excerpt from that paper: 

Every Thursday, I spend two hours with Spanish-speaking eighteen to twenty-two year old students with intellectual or developmental disabilities, who have a large range in their functioning and verbal communication. Because of the pandemic, the students come to Holy Cross and I usually partake in some kind of game or activity with them and then we eat lunch in Crossroads and play a game of pool. At Crossroads, I am often struck when I observe how Holy Cross students typically react when they see the WPS students eating lunch at their school – with surprise, avoidance, or even snickering. In these moments, I find myself reflecting on my own privilege as an able-bodied student attending a college that has a mostly able-bodied population and does not have a very accessible campus to those with disabilities. Again, I try to channel Jesus’s example in my interactions with the students in hopes that Holy Cross students will view them as equals and draw closer to them instead of backing away. When one of the students, Jahzeel, reaches out for a fistbump as he usually does to everyone in his near vicinity, I stretch my hand out back eagerly, feeling “restored” as I watch the mutual smiles and giggles on our faces (Matthew 12:13). The smiles spread wider when I see Jahzeel stretch his hand out to a Holy Cross student and he doesn’t get ignored as often happens. I watch stretched hands meet and recognition click in the Holy Cross student’s brain that we are all human and want to feel the positivity and belonging we receive in a fist bump. 

Overall, I think what I will take away most from my first year as a CBL Intern are the relationships I made. Whether it was through spending time at my sites, leading class reflections, discussing my CBL experiences with Mattie, Isabelle, and the other interns, I truly feel like CBL has brought me closer to so many people. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this program and feel like it is my home on campus and beyond. 

“An Open Letter to Prof. Ginny Ryan” Patrick McQuillen ’23

Patrick wrote this blog post as an open letter to Prof. Ginny Ryan (Montserrat) upon her retirement from Holy Cross in Spring ’22. Patrick was in Prof. Ryan’s CBL Montserrat course in 2019-2020. The CBL Office thanks Prof. Ryan for all that she has done for CBL!

Dear Professor Ryan,

As I sat down to compose this letter in the seasonally overheated stacks of Dinand Library, I had a lot of trouble with finding a proper way to start this letter. Well, I think the proper way to start this letter would be to congratulate you on your retirement at the end of the academic year! It must be an exciting time for you and your loved ones, and I bet you cannot wait for extra family time. To give this letter some context, each intern in the CBL internship program is required to write a blog post during each academic year. Upon hearing about your retirement, I knew I wanted my post to reflect on my impactful time in your class during my first year at Holy Cross.

During the summer prior to my arrival to the Hill, I was notified that I would be enrolled in your Montserrat for the 2020 academic year. “Exploring Difference?” “Did I actually put this class as one of my top choices?” Was one of my initial thoughts as I read through the email from the College. Initially, I didn’t think the class would be the right fit for me. Nonetheless, I showed up to the first class with the mindset that at least my religious studies requirement would be fulfilled by completing the class. Upon my arrival to class on the first day, I sat in the back right corner of the classroom, hoping to avoid awkward small talk with my fellow classmates as I did in high school. Eventually, all of the seats in the classroom were filled, as we all nervously awaited your instruction. As you introduced yourself, and the expectations of the class, I learned that this class was affiliated with the CBL program. “CBL?” “What does that mean for me?” I thought to myself, as the class reviewed the syllabus. When I learned that the program was based on community service, I was hesitant about how service would align with my busy schedule. However, because my parents had served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after their graduation from the college in 1984, I knew I should keep an open mind about the opportunity to experience something different. Additionally, your enthusiasm when it came to the selection process, and close relationships with Prof. Jenkins and the existing CBL interns certainly enhanced the overall experience for myself. 

In the weeks that followed my decision to volunteer at the Ascentria Care Alliance, I would be challenged both spiritually and intellectually as your carefully prepared lessons tied in my volunteer experience with the class material. The inclusion of materials like Far From The Tree and The Confessions of St. Augustine, changed my perspective on the world around me and helped me process the various unfamiliar situations that I encountered during my weekly trip to the Ascentria Care Alliance. The service aspect of the course also had a positive impact on the classroom environment. Because you encouraged openness within class discussions, I felt that my classmates were able to bond over shared experiences that were especially notable from prior service experiences throughout the semester. Quickly, the nervously quiet classroom environment became a community unlike any other at Holy Cross. As your infectious compassion influenced conversation between me and my classmates, we began to have compelling conversations about race and privilege within contemporary society. These discussions helped my classmates and myself gain the confidence to speak on topics that many previously considered to be too uncomfortable to discuss with others. By helping me find comfort in discomfort, you taught me how kindness and open mindedness can be used to bring familiarity to unfamiliar situations.

Though the academic year was quite meaningful, my most vivid memory from the class came the day after the College announced that they would be sending students home for the remainder of the 2020 academic year due to the onset of the COVID pandemic. The morning after the announcement, everyone in the class promptly showed up as usual. Clearly, many students in the class were distraught about the announcement. Instead of proceeding with class as usual, you opened up the floor to us to ask questions about what was going on. At the end of our question asking session, you said that we were all free to leave class early because it didn’t make sense to cover any class material during such a turbulent time. Instead of getting up and moving towards the door, every student in the classroom remained seated. Silently, we all sat next to each other and found comfort in each other’s presence. At this moment, I recognized the community that had formed within the classroom. It was clear that none of us knew what was going to happen in the coming days, but that was okay because we could all rely on each other for support. It certainly takes a special instructor who values the holistic development of students, to create an environment like the one that had developed during my freshman year.

Within the weeks that followed our evacuation from campus in the spring of 2020, I was thankfully accepted into the CBL internship program. As a student who arrived on campus without prior knowledge of CBL, it is safe to say that your instruction had a significant impact on my decision to apply for this program. Throughout the course of the year during my freshman year, you gave the class an opportunity to engage in reflection with interns from the CBL internship program. During these reflections, I became aware of my compassion for social justice, and learned the importance of reflection. As a result of these discussions and your encouragement, I gained the confidence to share about my own experiences within the larger class group. By sharing my experiences with my classmates within a large group, I quickly became comfortable with leading conversations, which is a skill that I rely on as a student leader within the Holy Cross community. 

It’s safe to say that my story is not unique. In fact, there are many other interns that share similar experiences to mine. Year in and year out, a significant amount of students apply for the CBL internship program from your class. This is obviously not a coincidence. As a result of your willingness to challenge students intellectually and spiritually, your students develop into responsible citizens that positively influence their community. I would like to especially thank you for challenging myself, and changing the trajectory of my college experience. Enjoy retirement!


Patrick McQuillen