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The Office of Graduate Student Life

Student Spotlight: Annette M. McDermott, SSJ


Graduate/Professional Student Spotlight: Annette M. McDermott, SSJ
Arts and Science, Political Science, Doctoral candidate, 2013 (asap)

Where Annette grew up:
Westfield, MA
Westfield is a very Yankee town in western Massachusetts. While the population has grown to 41000 in the latest census, we are still small and relatively homogenous. My Dad was Mayor of Westfield during the early 1980s, and my Mom, who is Chinese and a native of Trinidad, brought some diversity and excitement to the city. I remember the social columnist in the city writing these pieces about my Mom that were actually quite funny and indicative of our lack of cultural diversity.

Undergraduate Institution:
I attended and graduated from Fordham University in New York. It was a major leap from my small town of Westfield. The Rose Hill campus is in the Bronx, and I was on the crew team. The first workshop on-campus for women was “How to Say No to a Rapist” which was in response to the “Son of Sam” drama that was gripping NYC at the time.

As part of our crew regimen, we ran from the campus up the Grand Concourse to the East Harlem River, where our boathouse was located. It was a thrill, as we believed we were running for more than exercise as we were told to tuck our long hair (A Son of Sam attraction) into our hoodies. To add to the rough and tumble of those years in NYC, our majestic Victorian style boathouse was torched and we lost our valuable old shells and grand history.

I was an political science major specializing in International Relations, and held the first internship at the United Nations, as part of my course work. I served as a technical adviser during the International Year of the Child for UNICEF. The City offered me a tremendous education on many levels.

I also loved the fact that I could go to Mass in just about every building on-campus and at almost any time during the day and night. I loved attending Mass late at night in the suite rooms of Jesuits, Jim Loughran and Ray Schroth. It was impressive to see students leaving their studies for a few moments and plopping onto the living room floor and then entering into the sacredness of Mass.

Annette’s life pre-BC:
It was the death of the sisters, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel and lay woman (Jean Donovan) in El Salvador on December 2, 1980, that was the seed that has led to my vocational and career path. It was the statement by Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the first woman UN Ambassador for the US, that “the nuns were not just nuns; the nuns were political activists” that has been the argument and counter argument in my head, heart, and spirit. I entered religious life seeking to live the gospels and to be a hopeful witness of the teaching of the Catholic faith. In pursuit of these ideals, which keep me very humble, I have been involved in many projects, but found great meaning in helping to build and support community organizing projects of faith-based congregations, labor unions, and other grassroots groups, through the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty program of the U.S. bishops. I served as the Cabinet Secretary of Social Concerns of the Diocese of Springfield, and on the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) as a consultant to the bishops on CCHD. My attendance at the UN Conference on Women in Beijing with the Center of Concern (1995) also helped to remind me once again the harsh globalized reality of such issues like poverty and human trafficking.

What led Annette to Boston College:
Boston College’s strong theology department was initially my attraction. I had the opportunity as a special student status and during the Summer Institute programs, to take courses with professors David Hollenbach , Lisa Sowle Cahill and Alan Wolfe. It was my course with Alan, Religion and Politics, which helped me to see I could dovetail my love of theology and church issues back to my love of political science. I had studied at Fordham and at Trinity College (CT) MA in Public Policy, during the strong secular period in which political science did not seriously engage religion. Boston College was willing to open that pathway for interested scholars.

Annette’s experience at BC:
It has been a fairly challenging and humbling time for me. I wish I were about ten years younger. I have had some health issues, which presented me a couple of additional hills and valleys along this doctoral adventure; but on the flipside the community has been incredibly supportive. The faculty, staff and students (both undergraduates and graduates) have energized me and sustained me in pursuit of this goal. It is only through the support and patience of the BC community, my Sisters of St. Joseph community, my family, and friends that I can see the light ahead. The recent Dissertation Boot Camp was a great boost for me, and it seems for all the participants.  My adviser, Alan Wolfe, Director of the Boisi Center for Religion in American Public Life, has been from the beginning my guide and loyal companion on this journey.

Annette’s current projects:
I am writing my dissertation on American Catholic Sisters and the Public Square. It is a qualitative study that looks at the changing role of American Catholic sisters in the public square since Vatican II based on competing narratives of the two religious conferences.

Annette’s Hobbies:
I still row! I am member of the Mt. Holyoke College Community Rowing program. I love it. I am also a fairly avid photographer. I love the play of light and feel very close to God through the lens of the camera.

Post-graduation plans:
Actually, I am now Chaplain and the Catholic Adviser to the Mt. Holyoke College community. My hope is that I could add teaching to my workload. I would love to maintain my spiritual relationship with the campus and teach courses in either a Religion or Political Science Department in the Five College system. The Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield, also has a college, Elms College, which does not have a political science program … something in the western Massachusetts region, but who knows … there are a fair amount of possibilities.

Parting words/advice to those interested in pursuing a similar career path:
Lol! My path is not for those of weak hearts (literally and figuratively)! Pay attention to your passion, pray, believe in yourself--believe in the goodness of others. Stay positive. Exercise and maintain balance. And most importantly, laugh!

Fun fact about Annette:
I love Yo Yo Ma.