From the Mount to the World

By: Greg Hoard

image: Military man saluting flag

The College of Mount St. Joseph is nestled in the wooded bluffs high above a gentle bend in the Ohio River. It is a quiet place, unassuming in nature. From this peaceful campus, individuals tied to the Mount are gaining skills and experience that imbues them with a passion to impact the lives of people throughout the world, in places ravaged by war, poverty, natural disaster, and generations of deprivation.

They treat the wounded in Iraq. They tend to children and families in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They fight for the rights of orphaned children in Romania. They educate the young and indigent in Appalachia. They rebuild lives and homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

They willingly shoulder the task of opposing injustice, wherever they may find it, around the globe.

They are people like Naval Commander Angela Earley, MD, Sarah Mulligan, SC, Megan Madden, Debra Weber, and Mike O’Brien. Their lives of service are the story of the Mount and its mission.

Mending Soldiers

It is among her earliest memories, the drive from her home in Xenia, Ohio, to Cincinnati to see the doctors who examined her foot and leg.

“I remember their faces and the way they looked at me,” says Dr. Angela Earley ’91. “Even as a little girl, I knew they were trying to help me.”

Earley was born with a rare congenital foot deformity. Before she was 3-years- old, she underwent three orthopedic surgeries. “I think even then I knew I wanted to be a doctor,” Earley says. “I wanted to do what had been done for me.”

Through junior high and high school, when dreams often delude best intentions, she never wavered from that desire. She set her sights on attending a small liberal arts college to prepare for medical school. When she found the Mount, Earley knew it was what she needed. “Sometimes there were only five or six people in my physical chemistry class,” Earley says “That kind of personal attention was perfect for me instead of getting lost at some big university.”

Freshman biology class at 8 a.m. was required for those intending to major in biology. Earley remembers Professor Gene Kritsky, Ph.D., looking around the room and hollering down the hall, asking his secretary to call students who were absent.

“I don’t know of any other college or university where a professor would care if you showed up for class and they certainly would not ask their secretary to call a student’s dorm room and say, ‘You are paying a lot of money for this class. Why don’t you show up?”

Seated at her desk at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., where she trains surgeons, Earley remembers many at the Mount who helped and guided her along the way.

“These were people who knew me by name and knew me by reputation, and they did everything they could possibly do to make sure that my classes fell into a cycle so that I could graduate in four years,” she says.

In spring of 1991, Earley graduated with a 3.9 GPA, a dual major in biology and chemistry and early acceptance to the University of Cincinnati medical school. After struggling to pay her medical school bills, Earley took advantage of the military’s Health Professions Scholarship Program. It pays the expenses of medical students in exchange for a year of active duty status for every year spent in school.

“Right now,” she says, some humor in her voice, “I’m up to 18 years.”Earley did a tour of duty in Iraq in 2007, stationed first at Al Taqqadum airbase between Falluja and Ramadi, and later at Combat Outpost Golden near Lake Tharthar. In 2010 she was in Afghanistan.

Earley has seen horrific things and tended to wounds most can’t imagine. She has done everything within her power to mend soldiers ripped apart in service to their country. Today, she trains others in trauma and critical care surgery. She doesn’t know what she’ll do when her Navy commitment is complete.

“That’s far away,” she says, “that’s 2021. But I am sure it will involve education and training. That’s my focus now.”

Serving the Forgotten

Sarah Mulligan, SC, has to consider the question for a long moment. “Let’s see,” she says, a certain lilt in her voice. “When did I graduate from the Mount? I think, yes, it was 1962, some time ago.”

Two years after joining the Sisters of Charity, Sister Sarah enrolled in the Mount’s nursing program. Her voice is as cheerful and energetic as it most assuredly was in 1958 when she first walked on campus. She seems, even in a short conversation, supremely happy and hopeful. Sister Sarah has seen many bad moments, circumstances and blight that have chilled her soul. Yet she has dedicated her life to making things better for those who are forgotten or ignored.

For 19 years, Sister Sarah has worked at the Daniel Comboni Community Clinic just outside Guatemala City. The clinic started out slowly. “But every day it seemed like there was another need that was necessary,” she says. “So, it grew very rapidly.”

Today the Comboni Clinic offers a pharmacy, a laboratory, outpatient care, dental programs, nutrition programs, and schooling for children and adults.

“So many of the mothers could not read or write,” says Sister Sarah. “They don’t know about proper nutrition or dental care.”

That leads to a host of problems: Hunger in children under age five, diabetes, pneumonia, other lung conditions, and intestinal infections.

“Just getting clean water is a problem,” Sister Sarah says.

This is the place and the people to whom Sister Sarah has dedicated much of her life. “They are wonderful people, hard working people,” she says. But work is hard to come by. Those with jobs make $250 a month, working six days a week. Gasoline is $4 a gallon.

And there are very few schools. Sister Sarah says one teacher may have up to 45 students in a class. There are no books.

“All their lessons went on the blackboard,” she says.

With every day a new need arises. Thankfully, Sister Sarah has help. Each year, a group from the Sisters of Charity assists at the mission. Students from the Mount visit the clinic to volunteer, as do groups from St. Ignatius Parish in Cincinnati and doctors and nurses from TriHealth.

“People have been very supportive,”

Sister Sarah says, “and that gives me the feeling I should keep going on.

“How long? Oh, I don’t know, a few more years,” she says, and there again, is that lilting, uplifting laugh. “I feel like I’ve been blessed with good health and lots of energy. So, I feel like God gave me that to put to good use.”

The Value of Human Life

Megan Madden ’11 was a nursing student at the Mount when a volunteer experience shaped her future. She was working as a nurse’s aide in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She was assisting a veteran nurse in the care of a badly injured woman.

“I was only with her about a day and a half, but she passed away,” recalls Madden.

The supervising nurse was nonplussed. “On to the next patient,” Madden says. “That was her attitude. I was shocked. This was someone’s grandmother, someone’s mom. I place more value on human life than that.”

That image – like so many from post-Katrina New Orleans – led to life changes for Madden. She made several return trips to New Orleans, the most notable an 18-month stay working with the St. Bernard Project to rebuild and restore the homes of hundreds.

“It is amazing to me, shocking really, that after all this time there are still 10,000 people waiting to come back to their homes,” Madden says. “People don’t realize that it’s not just a structure that has been destroyed. It’s a home and all that goes with it – the memories, the possessions, all the things that mean so much to a family.”

Madden made her first volunteer trip to New Orleans when she was still in high school in Hillsboro, Ohio. The Mount’s Monica Gundler, SC, ’83, led the group. It was 2005, not long after Katrina made landfall. Madden learned about the trip through her church.

“You couldn’t imagine how bad it was unless you actually saw it with your own eyes,” Madden says. “I knew then that I wanted to go back and help those people.”

She enrolled in the Mount’s nursing program in fall 2007. After her experience with the New Orleans patient, Madden shifted her academic focus to religious studies, psychology and sociology. Each year, she returned to New Orleans with Sister Monica. And each year the engaging experiences left her feeling compelled to do more. “I felt like I needed to do it,” Madden says.

After graduation in 2011, Madden joined the St. Bernard Project, which has restored or rebuilt more than 470 homes. She returned to Ohio in January 2013 for a management training position with Velioa, a global transportation company heavily involved in the New Orleans restoration.

Madden still talks to the people whose homes she helped rebuild because she wants them to know that “we care about them,” she says. “A part of me will always be there.”

Positive Role Model

Each day, Mike O’Brien ’08 sees children suffering from poverty, the elderly living in unspeakable conditions and a populace riddled with drug problems.

Roughly a third of the children he works with do not live with their biological parents. They live with grandparents or family members. The rest are in foster care because of their parents’ involvement with prescription painkillers and methamphetamine.

They are near McKee, Ky., in Jackson County: a town with one stoplight and a courthouse. There is very little work. Most survive on government assistance.

“It’s really sad and really rough,” says O’Brien, a religious and pastoral studies major. “But everyday I drive to work with a smile on my face because this is exactly where I want to be, making a difference in the lives of children in an area where high school is often the end. You either leave or you stay and live in poverty.”

O’Brien works for the Christian Appalachian Project, a non-denominational organization serving the poor throughout eastern Kentucky. He discovered CAP as a Mount student.

“I wasn’t exactly a model student,” he says. “It took me five years to graduate. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know.”

O’Brien wanted to work with children in education, but school seemed too structured. He yearned for something beyond the classroom experience. He wafted about until he took a religious studies class with Marge Kloos, SC, D.Min., associate professor in the Department of Religious and Pastoral Studies.

“Sister Marge used to say to me, ‘Look, Mike, this isn’t for anyone but you. You need to work through things.’ O’Brien says that advice taught him how to be a good worker and how to be responsible, not only in the academic sense, but in the job market and professional world, too.

John Trokan, D.Min, chair of the Department of Religious and Pastoral Studies, drew O’Brien further into religious and pastoral studies. Trokan took a group of students to work with the Christian Appalachian Project each spring. Something about it resonated with O’Brien.

He returned to CAP each spring and summer. After graduation, he landed a full-time position with CAP. He doesn’t make a lot of money and that’s OK.

“People and relationships and working with others to make their lives better – that’s what drives me,” O’Brien says. “Here, I can serve as a positive role model and let these children know that they are not destined to fall into the life that surrounds them – the only life they have ever known.”

’We Move Justice’

Debra Weber ’04 came to the Mount as an adult student after embracing the Catholic faith and Catholic social teachings. She found something here that she was missing: a belief that life should be directed toward building relationships and love and justice for all humankind.

The Mount proved to be her launching pad. In the past 17 years, Weber, who majored in social work, has made 13 global mission trips and many more in the United States. She visited Eastern Europe, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Hopi Navajo reservations. “I go back to the same places and villages to see the same people,” Weber says. “It’s a way of saying, ‘I’m not leaving you.’ It’s a way of showing solidarity.”

Weber is direct and straightforward. Everything that gives her joy is grounded in her faith and her experience at the Mount.

“The caring quality of the faculty toward the students is very impressive,” she says. “They don’t just want you to graduate, to be a survivor. They want you to thrive.”

Weber is the Coordinator of the Office of Peace, Justice and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters of Charity. “We move justice through education, advocacy and action,” she says.

Members work across the United States and abroad in health care, education, housing, immigration, human trafficking, and climate change. Weber’s job is to make sure their voices are heard.

The “Water with Blessings” program teaches impoverished families in Mexico how to obtain and share clean water, and its importance to healthy living. “We’re getting water to moms who don’t have access to clean water,” Weber says.

Weber speaks with energy, enthusiasm and devotion. For her, the job is a vocation – something that fills her with one clean breath after another. “I don’t want to go anywhere else,” she says. “I don’t need to move up. It’s just not important. It’s hard to put into words. I’m humbled.”

This is, in part, the story of the Mount and some of its people. There are other such tales, too many to be told here. But all are embraced in the words of Sister Sarah Mulligan, the lady with the wonderful, warming voice; the lady who graduated in 1962 and journeyed off into the world:
 
“The Mount has always tried to produce students who leave and are well educated, but who also have a very real concern for society and the world and life and people,” she says. “I believe that’s still a very real part of the Mount.”

Sometimes, the World Comes to the Mount

He’s the strength and conditioning director at the Mount dealing with 550 student athletes, but he’s more than that. Brent Rogers is a young man who muscled-up on world knowledge before ever setting foot on the campus so far from his roots and experience. At 36 years old, he brings a unique perspective to the gym and the classroom. Rogers grew up in Superior, Wis., on the shores of Lake Superior. The winters were brutal, isolating to some. Others, like Rogers, pushed back with skiing and hockey, ice-fishing and skating. As a boy, Rogers thought about what else was beyond the cold, white whistling outside his windows.

“In high school I had a history teacher who talked about different cultures and different people, and it was fascinating to me,” he says.

Later, he encountered an anthropology professor who had traveled throughout Africa. “He told us about herds of rhinos surrounding him as he slept under his Land Rover,” he remembers. “Somehow, I was very drawn to that.” His upbringing next to Lake Superior spurred an interest in marine biology. Rogers attended the University of California- Santa Barbara. He took part in the “Semester at Sea,” sailing out of Vancouver and circumnavigating the world.

“I was exposed to all these countries, foods and cultures, poverty and wealth – everything,” Rogers says. “It was eye opening for me. I got to spend a week in Israel and Vietnam. I had time to build friendships.” The experience led Rogers to do more than be a tourist.

After graduating from UC-Santa Barbara with an anthropology degree, he joined the Peace Corps. He spent 2½ years in Zambia (in southern Africa,) where he lived in a mud hut. He had no running water, no electricity – nothing from the world he knew.

“Just cooking a meal took two hours or more,” Rogers says. “I had to build a campfire and gather water and boil it and then cook the meal.”

Rogers returned to the U.S. in August 2004, and entered the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., where he earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

From there it was back to California and a fellowship with Athletes’ Performance in Los Angeles, where he worked with: Abby Wambach, Olympic soccer star; Dustin Brown, captain of the Los Angeles Kings; Danny Granger of the Indiana Pacers; Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher; and many others.

Rogers also worked with NFL Europe in Hamburg, Germany; the Baltimore Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals and the University of Kentucky.

Then, he heard about the job at the Mount.

“The academics at this school are great,” Rogers says. “The question here was what does it take to get our athletics to the same level?”

The opportunity was a chance for Rogers to help the school reach its goals while sharing his experiences in a leadership position.

“It’s different than anything I’ve ever done,” he says.

By influencing the young athletes in positive ways, Rogers helps them make good decisions for the rest of their lives.

“I’m teaching them about life and the world,” he says. “Most of them don’t know what it’s like to live in a mud hut.”