On Monday, the head chaplain and director of campus ministry from Holy Cross (my alma mater) passed away from cancer. Not only did she work at Holy Cross for 25 years, she also was a graduate of HC (class of ’76 the first women’s class to go through the college). This meant that she devoted over half of her life to our school. To say that Holy Cross has suffered a loss is a severe understatement. Kim McElaney left a significant footprint on our campus. As the director of campus ministry, Kim created many programs that emphasized the importance of service and Christian responsibility to help others. But beyond her various campus initiatives, Kim was just a warm presence at Holy Cross and embodied all of the characteristics that we are taught to strive for at Holy Cross.
When I arrived at Holy Cross in 2004, I was a nervous freshman and felt overwhelmed by the challenges of college, both in and out of the classroom. By November, I was very stressed and concerned about my ability to successfully finish the semester. I had heard that some students would study at Campion House (the campus ministry building). Campion was an actual house, converted into offices, but also maintained a living room and kitchen for students to pass time in. So, when I was not in class, I would go to Campion and study. All of the chaplains would say hi, offer me a snack, and just listen to my day, my studies, my concerns. Kim was one of the first to do so, and her welcoming presence made me feel like I was at home – even though home was six hours away. No matter what, even if I was struggling through the day, I knew I could come “home” to Campion and things seemed a bit brighter. Kim would always greet me with a smile and a hug, and it made a major difference. When finals came along, my stress mounted, so I spent more and more time at Campion. I did feel at home – I would even bring slippers and put them on while reading in the living room. All of the chaplains would stop by and check in on me, including Kim, who I am sure had a lot on her schedule, but spent time with me.
I got through that semester largely in part because of Kim and Campion House. Things began to pick up, and I figured out my studying groove. Even when things became busy, and I couldn’t spend as much time at Campion as I would’ve liked, it was a comfort to know that was my go-to place. Kim, and the other chaplains were my go-to people. She made a significant impression on me, a young woman, and her compassion and kindness was something I wanted to emulate. In all of my years at Holy Cross, her actions always stood out, and I graduated in 2008 with love and gratitude for what she had done for me four years before.
In part, I think her passing is so sad because it is such a testament to how many people she touched. Since Monday, so many people have spoken out about her kindness and the profound impact she had on their lives. To know that her warm presence is no longer on the Holy Cross campus is devastating. One wrote in to say “The heart of Holy Cross is gone.” And I agree. Our school is devoted to being “men and women for others” and Kim was entirely for others.
Kim’s approach is why I want to go into higher education. She always sought to make Holy Cross a safe environment that stimulated students to grow. I think that is at the heart of education – students cannot learn in a hostile environment. She made it warm and safe, and because of that, I grew. It seems as if the best way to honor Kim and ensure that her legacy lives on is to teach and work with that same compassion.