Holy Cross Alumni Make Community Wherever They May Be

Whether in person or online, across the state or across the country, alumni find new ways to rely on each other for friendship and support

They're the people who can't wait to see those pictures of your kid wearing a Holy Cross onesie. They cheer your accomplishments and pray for you when things get tough. The ones you call to discuss life, faith or the meaning of it all.

Maybe you met in class or lived on the same floor. Maybe you met in a new city, far from the hills of Worcester, but connected over the common experience of your years on Mount St. James. Wherever it was, whenever it was, there was that spark of connection, of common experience. Oh, you're like me. You're one of us.

"I just think there is some seed planted in us from that experience, which is so nice to nurture with each other as frequently as we can," says Beth (Cunniff) Verrilli '85. Verrilli and a group of classmates started an annual vacation get-together in 2003, when they all turned 40, and have kept it up ever since.

And while the Holy Cross Alumni Association and Holy Cross clubs nationwide host hundreds of official events each year, there is something about gathering informally that hearkens back to the intimacy and closeness of days on Mount St. James. There are annual trips and birthday celebrations, many of which have appeared in the Milestones pages of this magazine, and even a book club or two. Holy Cross is not solely its campus — it is a way of being in the world with others, among others, for others. Meet a few of your fellow alumni who show us how.

'94 Grads Train Together, Laugh Together

Six ’94 alumnae trained for and tackled a 25-mile rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon in September 2018.

Their laughter was ringing off the walls of the Grand Canyon in the early hours of a late September morning in 2018. The group of six women, all members of the class of 1994, were near the start of their 25-mile rim-to-rim hike of the natural wonder when they ran into another group, resting on a water break. Maureen Haugh Powers '94 says the moment sums up that trip — and all the others the group has taken over the years since their graduation.

"They told us, 'We were just waiting to see who you guys were, we heard you laughing all the way down!'" says Powers, chuckling again as she retells the tale alongside her roommate from Healy Hall, Annie Long Sullivan '94.

Sullivan adds: "You can't beat the laughter. [And] there's nothing like these people who watched you go from a teenager to a grown woman."

Their group of friends is scattered from coast to coast, from New York to Chicago to Portland, Oregon, and down to Virginia in the South. While they keep in contact regularly, Powers says they have to be intentional about carving out time in their schedules to get together in person, which makes it all the more meaningful.

"We all have good friends, rich lives, but with this group of friends, we don't just relive the Holy Cross glory days," Powers says. "It's people that we can talk about deeper issues with, too — things that are happening in our lives, in the world. The combination of the shared history, the intention and an openness to intellectual curiosity, that's a unique thing."

'68 Grads Support Each Other Through Life's Joys, Challenges

Shared history bonds Roger Landry '68 and the nine buddies he met during his freshman year.

"These now old men knew me before I was a husband, a father, a doctor, a colonel, an author … all the things that have defined me since, and in the end, do not," Landry says. "Above all, I feel accepted. The collective arms of the group are around my shoulders. No matter what, these mates have been and will be there when I need them."

For the past 15 years, the group has been gathering in Florida each November, and before that, they were witness to marriages, professional accomplishments, sickness and injury, the addition of children and grandchildren. Landry likens their friendship to a tribe: "A tribe that is the safe harbor in the sometimes stormy waters of life. A tribe that brings us closer to the meaning of our very humanity."

'85 Alumnae Celebrate the Years Together

Members of the class of 1985 started getting together in 2003.

The Zoom call starts with a round of hellos and waving; a "Happy birthday!" wish; exclamations and congratulations about the new house that is the backdrop for one of the callers. The group's long history is evident when the father of Lynne Hutchinson '85 pops on screen to say hello and is met with big smiles and a chorus of "Hi, Dr. Hutchinson!" It's a Sunday evening in April 2020, when most of these women from the class of 1985 are at home due to government safer-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. They have an annual get-together in person every year, but started these biweekly calls to lean on each other and check in during the pandemic.

Among the group of 12, they were all friends or acquaintances at one time or another on The Hill, but it was Paula (Iaia) Grimm '85 who brought them all together in 2003, in honor of their 40th birthdays. She hosted the group, some dormmates from Hanselman and others from off-campus housing senior year, at her home that year ("We all like her baked goods, so we showed up!"). An annual tradition was born — and Julie Magri '85 notes that keeping it to once a year makes it a more sacred date on the calendar. Magri refers to the passing years collectively, calling their 2013 gathering at the beach "our" 50th birthday celebration (even though she had to miss that particular trip to care for her mom).

"When I look at everybody's faces [on Zoom], I think about what we've all been through in life," says Kara (Kellaher) Mikulich '85. "When you're in your 20s, you don't know what life is going to hold for you. And we've been through a lot with each other: marriages, divorces, kids, deaths of parents, breast cancer, illnesses. And there is something very special about having these long-term friendships to sustain you through all that."

BSU Alums Gather Annually for Networking, Fellowship

Student and alumni members of the Black Student Union began meeting annually in the wake of the group’s 50th anniversary.

Snow was in the forecast the day of the first gathering for Washington, D.C.-area Black Student Union alumni and students. Danita Beck Wickwire '94, who had organized the event alongside Marvin Blount '74 and Robina Barlow '76, wasn't sure if people would venture out in the bad weather. While nobody blinks at a snowy day on Mount St. James, 3 inches on the roads in D.C. is another story.

"But people came, that's how much it meant to them," Wickwire says of the event in January 2019. "Having attended the BSU 50th anniversary celebration [on campus in November 2018], we saw the importance of coming together — and coming back together — as friends and even as strangers who shared the same experience of studying at Holy Cross at some point in our lives. It's important for us to see one another and support one another and to network and to fellowship in that way."

Wickwire thinks of the D.C. gatherings as a grassroots effort that grew in its second year due in part to the work of an additional co-host, George Wimberly '92. And she would love to see other groups of BSU alumni across the country follow suit. Friends from campus have reconnected — like Wickwire and Andrea Jordan '92, who lost touch and didn't realize they were now living in the same area. Plus, they make it a priority to invite and advise current students. Wickwire's best friend, Angela Preston Weaver '94, helped an international studies major decide to study abroad and Wickwire connected the student with U.S. Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. '78 as a mentor.

As a class chair, Wickwire loves Reunion on campus every five years, but compares it to the blur of a wedding reception. "It is wonderful. You see so many of your friends and people you love from all over the country and the world, but you really only get to spend a few minutes with them," she notes. But when it comes to the BSU gatherings in D.C., she takes a different approach: "You truly have time for an intimate conversation and you can really set the stage for ongoing conversations over the phone, over Zoom."

30 Years – And Counting – Of Book Club With '70s Grads

’70s grads have held a monthly book club for 30 years.

Martha McGuane '77 gathered some Holy Cross friends together for a book club in the early 1990s, hoping to discuss some of the new authors she'd discovered as a high school English teacher. And 30 years later, they're still reading together.

With 13 members, they gather once a month; each member takes a month to host and choose the book. McGuane calls it "empowering" because of all the different types of books they've read and knowledge they've gained over the years. Member Anne Reilly Ziaja '78 jokes that she's read more science books than she ever would have chosen on her own and calls the group "life-affirming."

While all but one of the book club members are Holy Cross grads, they weren't all in the same group of friends when they were students. The group grew as readers invited other Crusader friends and acquaintances. Paula Sasso '78 joined after hearing about the book club at the Holy Cross coeducation 25th anniversary celebration; these days she's in charge of the scheduling and structure of the meetings, which always include a meal and socializing before getting down to book discussion. "It is just so life-enriching and, for me, a real gift, because I moved away to the Midwest as soon as we graduated and was really unconnected to Holy Cross for a lot of years," Sasso says.

They've hosted Holy Cross alumni authors three times: Irene Murtagh Drago '78, who writes fiction set in Maine, Edward Mahoney '67, author of "Young Eric Malone" and Gemma Kallaugher Cannon '78, author of "Voices of the Night."

It's not solely about books for this group of Crusaders, who have supported each other through the deaths of parents and other family members, and who rally to Sasso's annual call for clothing donations to Abby's House, the Worcester nonprofit that provides shelter and housing to women experiencing homelessness, violence or lack of income. Ziaja says she always looks for the bouquet of white and purple flowers at the wake of a book club member's relative. "These are women for others," she says. "We support each other, we hope the best for each other and we want to make sure that the thirst for knowledge [continues]." McGuane echoes the sentiment, pointing out, "In all the reading that I've done, it always says that friendships are so important in your life."

Theatre Alumni Connect, Cope Through Art

Eric Butler ’06 began hosting Zoom play readings during the pandemic, the cast mainly comprised of Holy Cross faculty, staff, students and alumni.

When Eric Butler '06 came back to campus as a visiting theatre professor and director of the fall 2019 production of "Ah, Wilderness!", he was surprised that the students ended every rehearsal by thanking him. "I thought, 'OK, this is going to wear off eventually, right?'" says Butler, who was a theatre and psychology double major during his time on the Hill. "But three months later, after every rehearsal, they were still saying thank you."

Later, when Butler organized twice-weekly play readings on Zoom for fellow theatre alumni, faculty and staff during the coronavirus pandemic, he said those meetings ended the same way as rehearsals.

"It's funny, before they sign off, they're saying thank you for organizing," says Butler, whose virtual readings have drawn alumni from the classes of 1975 through 2020, a few of whom he directed in the fall. There have even been appearances by faculty and staff. Edward Isser, associate dean of the performing arts and W. Arthur Garrity, Sr. Professor in Human Nature, Ethics and Society, Steve Vineberg, distinguished professor of arts and humanities, and Joan Townsend, office coordinator, joined in on a Thursday in May, with Townsend gamely nailing a German accent for a reading of the play "Biography" by S.N. Behrman.

Butler started organizing the Zoom readings for any and all friends who enjoy theatre, but it evolved into a Holy Cross majority. "There is that bond that we have, the appreciation to be able to connect at this time, with people that maybe we've lost contact with or don't get to see as much as we would like," he says. "There's the element of connecting with one another and also connecting with the material, whether it is a beautiful drama or an escapist comedy."

Butler chooses the play and casts the roles (that May night, Emily Strong Holmes '04 played opposite Danny Goodman '11 and Pat Simas '14), and rotates the casting among a growing number of passionate Crusader participants. Even beyond these virtual performances, it's typical for theatre majors to connect across the generations; they often return to campus for unofficial reunions after the Saturday evening performances of student productions (or, "Party in The Pit").

"Whether you've graduated in 1962, 2002 or 2020, the Jesuit values and the high standards of the institution connect those generations and experiences," Butler says. "Holy Cross alumni just love to help each other out, whether it is a classmate you knew really well or someone who graduated generations before you. You always have that connection, whether it is remotely or in person or on campus."

Written by Maura Sullivan Hill for the Summer 2020 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.