Stories of Lights in the World

Kevin took a long drive to comfort a bereaved friend in person. Clare helped Uganda’s poor through her work with a non-profit. And Jim provides health care for homeless people on the streets of Boston.

They are just a few of the people so far honored as part of the Alumni Association’s Be The Light campaign. The campaign, which is available online at this Advent and Christmas season, aims to help the Notre Dame family share stories of people who make a difference through service, sacrifice, and passion for helping others.   

Bringing Comfort to the Bereaved

Mary Ahern ’81 honored her Notre classmate, Kevin Hawkins ’81.

“When my fiancé, Dave McCombe, died suddenly last year, Kevin got into his car and drove from his home in Nevada to our front door in California,” she said. “He said he just couldn't bear to have ‘that conversation’ over the phone — the one where a friend says, ‘I'm so sorry. I wish there was something more I could do or say.’ He showed up. He prayed with my son and I, grieved with us, and comforted us. I will never forget that gesture of kindness, and I am grateful for Kevin and his wife, Karen Kennemore-Hawkins.”

Parents and Grandparents Lead by Example

Jill Birkett ’74 SMC honored her parents, whose sacrifices and support helped pave the way for her education.

“My story is the same as many. A dad who graduated ND on the GI bill in ’49 and was a loving parent with my mom, who made countless sacrifices so that their seven children could be blessed with an excellent education, many of whom chose St. Mary’s and Notre Dame,” she said. “ How do I repay them for the gift, the gift of the lifetime friends made there? They are always in my prayers and I admit to singing the fight song the day of each of their funerals.”

Lori Delaney Johnson ’02 spoke similarly of her parents.

“The lights of my life are my parents Jim and Patty Delaney,” she said. “I'm thankful they scrimped and sacrificed to help finance my Notre Dame education, which shaped my outlook on life, strengthened my faith, and led me to my husband and children.”

The influence of parents who give back continues well into adulthood, said Kate Pastore Kayastha ’94.


“At 43 years old, my parents are still my brightest lights,” she said. “They are the best parents and grandparents I could ever ask for — I would be lost without them. They shared in my journey at Notre Dame, and we continue to have amazing love and pride for this most special place.”

For Kathy Willingham, her father, a friend of the University, was an example to emulate — and the way he was remembered points to the special bonds of the Notre Dame family.

“My old man wasn't a grad of ND, but he was a lifelong admirer of all that the school stands for, and he passed this legacy of pristine goodness to his children,” she said. “He was a true existential hero, in that he struggled every day to attempt to do the right, honorable thing as regards God, country, and family. He died two months ago, and someone was gracious enough to place a few strands of his hair in a candle at the Grotto. To know that his DNA will be forever at that place gives me great comfort.”

Caring for the Less Fortunate

A number of people had high praise for friends, family, and acquaintances who invest their time to help others.

Lauren Mack ’98 praised Dr. Jim O’Connell ’70 “for caring for the most vulnerable.” O’Connell, who serves as president of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, has been making house calls to the city’s homeless since 1985. In so doing he provides the sort of medical care that many people take for granted. An NPR story earlier this year detailed how he’s worked with people suffering from everything from diabetes, pneumonia, and frostbite to tuberculosis and AIDS.

Gene Strausser admired his nine-year-old son, Austin, who “spends his recess time with mentally disabled children at his school.”

And Gayle Stark gave thanks for those in her life who’ve helped her navigate the challenges of being a single parent.

“I'm thankful for my boss who has put a roof over my family's head for several years and for keeping his office open at the age of 83 so I can provide for my children,” she said. “I'm thankful for the youth leaders for being lights in my children's lives so they enjoy loving the Lord and all he has done for us.”

Making a Difference Around the World

Monique Caron ’08 highlighted the work of her friend Clare Byrne, who she said did an amazing job of “bringing her light to serve the poorest of the poor in Uganda. Her work as a pediatric occupational therapist for a year through CMMB was an absolute inspiration. Her faith, love, and joy shines through all she does!”

Marianne Herb Wells ’87 honored her sister and fellow alum Lisa Herb ’88 for her work to educate women in impoverished countries.


“Along with working a normal job and raising a lively son, she finds the energy to run her own non-profit to educate and mentor young women and girls in Afghanistan and other parts of the Middle East and Asia,” Wells said. “She has literally created beams of light from west to east, screen by screen, by connecting women across the globe with her volunteer network of online tutors and mentors. I’m so proud of her.”

Michelle McGrath had warm words for military personnel serving abroad: “To all our military service men and women, thank you for unselfishly devoting your lives to keeping our country safe.”

Bill Medley praised the teachers of the world for sowing the seeds of peace.

“They equip us to lead more fulfilling lives through learning, be that in our churches, schools, businesses, clubs, associations,” he said. “Through learning we grow and understand, and that virtue may be the only thing that can ever truly bring peace.”

Campus Lights Shine Bright

Many shared fond memories of faculty, staff, rectors, and others they met during their time on campus.

“I was reminded today of Betty Reeder, the sweet, ever-present night monitor for the women of Breen-Phillips for many years,” said Mary Beth Hofmeister ’84. “She was such a kind and gentle soul, keeping watch over us through the night until the light of a new day would arrive.”

Paul McCauley ’66 honored Rev. Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., ’78 M.A., ’80 Ph.D., ’87 M.Div, “particularly for his sensitivity and kindness in late September 2015, when we suddenly lost our 43- year-old Domer daughter Erin.”

Deb Simon hand kind words for Rev. Paul Doyle, C.S.C., ’65, ’75 M.Div., well known on campus as the rector of Dillon Hall and the organizer of the dorm’s ever-popular Milkshake Mass.

“I am so grateful for Father Paul Doyle who has always been a light of love and help to our family,” she said.

The campus itself is a light for JoAnne Laffey Abed ’93, who articulated how her Notre Dame experience has shaped her outlook on life.

“Of all our personal lights, we share a powerful common one: The Golden Dome,” she said. “It will always be a beacon and touch point for all of us, no matter where we are or how long it's been since we've seen it in person. We are ND, and we are called to share that light with all we meet.”

Who are lights in your life? Visit to learn how to pay tribute to them on social media.