Many young people take gap years. Nobody takes gap decades.
That is, except for Cathleen Srour.
At 49 years old and expecting her first grandchild, Srour completed her undergraduate degree from SJC Brooklyn in 1988. Thirty-one years after she entered Tuohy Hall as a freshman in 1957. While life’s many twists and turns temporarily displaced Srour (then Cathleen Kennedy) from the College, she always knew she would return.
“When I first considered going back to school, I was very nervous, having been out of a classroom for years,” she said. “I was afraid that all those years of child-rearing had turned my brain to oatmeal. I soon found out that was not true. Along the way, I had gathered very useful experience and knowledge that prepared me for success at St. Joseph’s.”
I have said many times over, going back to SJC was the best thing I ever did for myself.
Through perseverance and the guidance of faculty member S. Rosamond O’Keefe, C.S.J., Srour not only graduated with departmental honors, but would fulfill her lifelong goal: Working with children in her chosen field of psychology.
The Road To, And Away From, SJC
In September 1958, Cathleen Srour was a sophomore student hooked on St. Joseph’s College.
“As soon as I started (my education at SJC), I felt as though I had found a home, personally and academically,” she said.
The education major had handpicked SJC to earn her degree, and was working part-time to pay her school tuition.
Then came the news. Srour’s family had to unexpectedly move to Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island. More than 50 miles away from Clinton Hill. The sophomore had no choice but to leave Brooklyn, and St. Joseph’s, to join them.
“At the start of the semester, I asked for a leave,” Srour said. “I planned to come back the next semester, in January 1959.”
The College’s then-academic dean, S. John Baptist, heard Srour’s plan and attempted to convince her to stay. S. John knew the likelihood of returning to school diminished once a student left. But Srour didn’t have a choice.
“After I firmly declared my resolve, S. John put a note in my file that read ‘Miss Kennedy plans to return.'” Srour said.
With less than two years of college under her belt, Srour moved east with her parents. She would stay the course she set out upon at St. Joe’s, securing a teaching position at a parochial school. At the time, it was possible to get a teaching position with some college education, if you agreed to continue to attend school while teaching. So Srour taught elementary school and earned college credit while attending an off-site center for St. John’s University.
I had such a positive early experience at St Joe’s that I literally had a longing to one day return and graduate.
“I think I was always interested in the idea of mental and emotional health as important factors in a child’s ability to succeed,” Srour said. “I thought if I could ever return to school, I would change my major to psychology so that I could work with children to address those issues: family issues, divorce, illness and others.”
By 1961, Srour had married, and for the next two decades was a stay-at-home mother. But the desire to return to St. Joseph’s persisted.
Twenty years later in 1981, her children grown, Srour made an appointment with the SJC registrar, determined to finish what she began in 1957. “To my amazement, I saw S. John Baptist,” she said. “It was 25 years since she had told me that I would not return. I told her I had been raising four children, and that seemed to satisfy her.”
Srour then met with the registrar to plead her case. Upon opening her file, a handwritten note met the registrar’s eye: “Miss Kennedy plans to return.”
With S. Rosamond as both a teacher and a mentor, I was preparing for a professional life that I could not have imagined.
After re-enrolling, Srour changed her major to psychology. Under the tutelage of psychology faculty S. Rosamond O’Keefe, she began a seven-year odyssey – taking three credits a semester – while working at St. James Cathedral as director of a Diocesan retreat program.
“I have said many times over, going back to SJC was the best thing I ever did for myself,” Srour said. “S. Rosamond guided me through those seven years. I earned membership in the Sigma Chi Honor Society and a place on the Dean’s List. I helped to found a support group for older students called ‘Act II’ to help them navigate through college requirements and academic life.
“Most importantly, with S. Rosamond as both a teacher and a mentor, I was preparing for a professional life that I could not have imagined.”
Srour graduated in January 1988. After she left SJC, Srour began work developing a holistic health program at an all-girl parochial high school, before moving to an alternative high school in Brownsville, Brooklyn. There, she became an integral part of the guidance team, putting her psychology degree to good use assisting in the mental and emotional health of her students. Srour also taught health as an adjunct of St. Francis College until 2004, when she retired from the public school system. She then moved to a full-time position at St. Francis teaching majors in Health Promotion.
Today, Srour is fully retired and enjoying life with her husband, children and 10 grandchildren. She’s an avid traveller, having set foot in Rome, Sorrento, Prague, Normandy and Moscow, among many other cities across the globe.
But she insists returning to SJC was the best decision she made.
“I had such a positive early experience at St Joe’s that I literally had a longing to one day return and graduate. It was a deep-seated longing that surfaced as my children grew and I found it possible to return,” she said. “I still believe it was the best thing I ever did for myself.”