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A world of experience

While in Morocco, Loyola alum Erin Atwell worked on a variety of health initiatives, including teaching a middle school health class, organizing a regional HIV/AIDS skit competition for youth, and helping develop a women’s health center with adolescent girls in the community.

Loyola’s commitment to social justice was once-again manifested in January with the announcement that Loyola is ranked 17th for the amount of alumni serving in the Peace Corps among mid-sized universities. Loyola currently has 26 alumni serving in the Peace Corps, and since its inception in 1961, more than 415 Loyola alumni have served in the Peace Corps around the world.


So where have these globe-trotting, social-justice seeking Loyolans gone, and what have they done? Below, you’ll learn more about where some of Loyola’s Peace Corps volunteers went, what they did, and where they are now, including the story of the first-ever Peace Corps member from Loyola, Martin J. Gleason.

  • After graduating from Mundelein College with a BA in history and minors in English and secondary education in 1964, Suzanne Kelly, who is from Chicago, moved a continent south to serve as a public health worker in Sao Benta do Una, in Brazil. Kelly says John F. Kennedy’s words “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” and her Catholic upbringing pushed her to move forward on this life-changing venture. Once in Brazil, Kelly says she did a myriad of health jobs, from checking in on patients after procedures to vaccinating children. In addition to teaching her Portuguese, Kelly says the experience was humbling, and she will never forget the resilience of people there, though they faced the difficult cycle of poverty. Today, Kelly is a retired high school administrator in New England with two adopted Colombian children, who volunteers as an ESL teacher on the side. She says she is fortunate to have had such a life-changing experience.
  • Rose Maria LaRocca was born and raised in Chicago, but after graduating in 1969 with a degree in English literature from the College of Arts and Sciences, she packed up and headed to work as a teacher-trainer in Uganda. While in Africa, LaRocca set up conferences for students working against STD and HIV and worked with a government program to develop workshops for teachers and administrators on the government’s Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy for Communication to Youth (PIASCY). LaRocca credits professors at Loyola who encouraged her to ask questions and open her mind for pushing her to pursue the experience. LaRocca now works in high-rise property management in Chicago, but says she keeps a part of her experience with her at all times. “I left a little piece of my heart in Africa and took a bit of Africa’s heart with me,” she says.
  • Claire Donze says there was no “aha” moment when it came to deciding to join the Peace Corps; it was simply always something she had wanted to do. So after she graduated from Loyola in 2011 with a degree in English and international studies, she applied and was sent to the Guizhou Province in China (the least developed province) to teach English to high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. She says in her education at Loyola there was always “a focus on the widespread purpose or importance” of what was being taught in her classes, and that perspective helped her see the importance of the world outside the classroom. Donze also said that every person she had talked to who had served in the Peace Corps had a phenomenal experience, and thus far she says her own has been the same. She says she hopes to go to graduate school for environmental science when she gets back from China.
  • It is apparent that John Casey’s experience has stuck with him: he began a recent e-mail with “Namaste.” This is likely because Casey worked as an English teacher and teacher/trainer in a small village in Nepal from 1988 to 1990. Casey originally got the travel bug when visiting friends at the Rome Center during his first year out of college, while he was teaching at St. Benedict’s High School. Casey, who graduated with an English degree in 1987, loved the experience of traveling abroad and applied to the Peace Corps soon after. He says the experience offered him a fantastic opportunity to explore the world and learn about other cultures, and himself, all while creating a worldwide group of friends. He also says the Jesuit connection even prevailed in Nepal: while working, he met a Jesuit priest who was living in Nepal after opening a school. He says the priest was genuinely interested in his Loyola experience, and had done amazing work with the school he opened. Casey now works as an elementary school counselor and case manager for a Chicago Public School in the West Humboldt Park area.
  • What inspired Erin Atwell to join the Peace Corps, where she served in Morocco? An experience on a different continent: South America, to be exact, where she studied abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile.  Atwell, who graduated from Loyola in 2007 with a degree in international studies and a minor in Spanish, was inspired to go to Chile because of her undergraduate volunteering through Loyola4Chicago at Centro Romero, a social service agency for immigrants, as well as the Jesuit curriculum that emphasizes social justice. While in Chile, she took classes on poverty and spirituality, and realized that she wanted to serve in the Peace Corps after graduation. While in Morocco, Atwell worked on a variety of health initiatives, including teaching a middle school health class and organizing a regional HIV/AIDS skit competition for youth. She also helped develop a women’s health center with adolescent girls in the community. Atwell says her experience in Morocco affected her in “more ways than [she] can describe.” One major way is her current career path: after getting her master’s degree in international political economy and development at Fordham University, she is currently an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Rwanda. She will be there for six months, focusing on strengthening the agriculture and economy.
  • Though Kevin Giglinto got his MBA from Loyola’s Graduate School of Business in 1994, a year later, his degree took him to Romania, as a business development advisor for the Peace Corps. Giglinto says he had always been interested in learning through other cultures, and he had been interested in the work the Peace Corps was doing in Eastern Europe at the time. After finishing his final year of classes at Loyola, Giglinto was about to go to a pub on St. Patrick’s Day, when he got a call asking if he would go to Romania in May. He enthusiastically responded yes, then (in his words) took out an atlas to make sure he knew where Romania was. His work in Romania, however, helped him quickly understand the lay of the land. Giglinto says he worked within a network of business development centers with state-owned companies that were transitioning to private or public ownership, and new start-ups diving into the business world for the first time. He says his Loyola education helped him, especially in the area of ethics, which could get a little murky in Romania. He is currently the Vice President for Sales and Marketing for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
  • On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy signed the executive order that officially began the start of the Peace Corps. Nine months later, Martin J. Gleason was on a plane, heading to Nigeria to begin his work with the Peace Corps, making him the first Loyola student to join the Peace Corps. Originally, Gleason had attended Loyola for his undergraduate degree in political science, graduating in 1958, and had immediately gone to Loyola Law School, where he graduated with his JD in spring of 1961. In the time between graduation and departing, Gleason passed the bar in Illinois and attended Peace Corps training at Michigan State University.  Gleason says President Kennedy, as well as his Jesuit education that emphasized “doing,” “serving,” and “men and women for others” prompted him to join the Peace Corps. Once in Nigeria, which had just been liberated from British rule, he worked with a newly opened university where he lectured on social sciences, and later assisted in the opening of their law school. But this wasn’t the end of Gleason’s Peace Corps experience. After returning from Nigeria, he was hired as a paid staff member at the Peace Corps headquarters in Washington DC, where he helped develop further programs in Southern and Eastern Africa, frequently traveling to Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, and what was then Tanganyika. Subsequently, Gleason enjoyed a robust domestic and international political career in several fields, including working on Hubert Humphrey’s political campaign, as the chief of public affairs officer at Columbia University, and most recently as an adviser in the Office of the President in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gleason says the Peace Corps experience broadened his perspective and gave him an “enduring appreciation for the diversity and complexity of the world.” He also says his Loyola experience prepared him for his work in Nigeria by opening his mind to the larger world. Today, Gleason lives with his family in Washington DC and one of his daughters is a current senior at Loyola.

To find out more about Loyola’s new ranking, click here.

  • By Anna Solowiej on 3.8.2012 at 7:19 am

    I graduated from Mundelein College in 1986 with a degree in Dietetics. I was never suRe of what to do with my degree. In 1993 I finally fulfilled a long term dream of applying and being accepted in the Peace Corps, mainly because of my degree! The sisters at Mundelein were always an inspiration for me in helping those in need and fighting social injustices. Anyway, I served in Nepal from93-95 as a Community Health Voluteer, living in a very remote village teaching Nepalis proper hand-washing, sanitation and eventually HIV education. I since then have returned to school and recently graduated from Law School with a specialty in Health and Public Law. I am now a Partner at a law firm assisting persons in need of disability benefits. My education and friendships with the BVMSisters was a definite inspiration for the course of my life!

  • By Katy Mills on 9.28.2012 at 9:02 pm

    I was reading the above article about John Casey. I believe the Jesuit priest he is referring about is my great-great uncle Marshall Moran. If you know how I could get ahold of him, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

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