Nursing for others: A Jesuit priest at the Connell School
by william bole
Richard Ross—registered nurse, Jesuit priest, and Connell School of Nursing instructor—applauds the young person who takes hold of a dream and pursues a life path unswervingly. But, he adds in a soft voice, “I was not that person.”
As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan in the early 1980s, unsure of what he wanted to do or study, Ross happened to take a job at the university hospital’s burn unit, stocking medical supplies. He was struck by how nurses in the unit “literally saved lives every day,” he recalls. He decided to apply to the nursing school at the university.
Ross continued to work part time as a nursing assistant at the same hospital while pursuing his B.S.N. After graduating in 1988, he went to work in the bustling maternity unit of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. During his 12 years there, he began to seek a deeper religious faith. He looked into volunteering with an overseas Catholic service organization. But a chance meeting with a nurse trained as a spiritual director led him to a weekend Ignatian retreat. A year later, in 2001, he entered the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus.
All Ross’s career choices and paths have been “related to the circumstances of life,” said the Jesuit. Quiet and unassuming, he wore a blue blazer and tie during an interview in a small third-floor Cushing Hall meeting room overlooking the 10-foot bronze sculpture of St. Ignatius Loyola on Higgins Green. “God is in the circumstances,” he said.
Ross was ordained in June 2010 shortly after receiving his Master of Divinity from Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry. The following spring, he joined the faculty at the Connell School.
Dean Susan Gennaro, who had been contemplating how to connect the school “in a very intentional way” to the University’s Jesuit mission, welcomed Ross with enthusiasm, she said. She was also pleased that his arrival increased gender diversity on a 47-member faculty that includes only three men.
When Ross arrived, Gennaro asked him to look at the school through a Jesuit lens, to help train attention on student formation and social justice. Some weeks later, he reported that more could be done to address the needs of “the whole student” to help each develop fully as a person, Gennaro said.
Ross also suggested a series of student-faculty lunches during which faculty members would meet with groups of three sophomores, sharing a moment in their lives that helped define them as human beings and professionals. Early in the spring semester, two dozen professors signed up for the program. “Richard has really helped us see more clearly how that kind of care for the student is foundational to being a Jesuit institution,” Gennaro said.
In keeping with the liberal arts tradition, the dean has also asked Ross to begin planning dinners involving nursing professors and faculty from other schools at Boston College. The goal is disciplinary cross-fertilization, “because that’s the way the world is going, the way it needs to go,” Gennaro said.