Alumni Profile: Colleen Gibson '09

Alumni Profile: Colleen Gibson '09

Photo of Colleen Gibson '09

Sr. Colleen Gibson '09

Ignatian, Through and Through

There’s no way I could’ve imagined that I’d be a vowed woman religious, but that’s the thing about vocation: it’s always in you, but it’s the gradual work of life... we are always ‘becoming’ who we are.

— Sr. Colleen Gibson '09

Colleen Gibson ’09 stood on a hillside overlooking the city of Sydney, Australia one summer night during the 2008 World Youth Day celebration. Her conversation with Rev. Mark Scalese, S.J., one of the chaperones for the trip organized by Campus Ministry, had just taken an unexpected turn.

After telling him about her upcoming internship at Commonweal and her aspiration to be a writer, “He asked if I’d ever considered religious life,” she remembered, “and I said I had, but I didn’t really think it was for me.”

“You are Ignatian, through and through,” Fr. Scalese told the rugby player, service trip volunteer, and soon-to-be senior class valedictorian. “You’d make a great Jesuit, but we don’t take women.” He suggested she look into the Sisters of Saint Joseph, an order started by a French Jesuit. She promptly filed his advice away for future consideration.

Sr. Colleen was introduced to Ignatian spirituality at Fairfield. Although she attended a large public high school in central New Jersey, she had only looked at Catholic colleges and Fairfield “felt like a place where I could fit in and be comfortable enough to be myself, but also challenged to grow,” she said. Intrigued by the idea of an interdisciplinary major, she chose American Studies, later adding a religious studies double major.

In her first week on campus, Sr. Colleen stumbled across the women’s rugby team table at an Activities Fair. The players assured her no prior experience was necessary and encouraged her give it a try. By the end of her first year, she had received both a concussion and MVP honors. By sophomore year, she was team captain.

Antithetical to her calm, quiet nature and ultimate vocation, Sr. Colleen admits to a rough and tumble reputation on the rugby pitch: “People say I played like an animal!” Yet, she values the sport for being more than what her father likened to “a riot, but without the rules.”

“Rugby is 15 players on the field at a time and it requires every type of person,” she said, noting the solidly built props, the smaller hookers who get lifted up, and the lean, super-fast backs. “There is a unity and diversity to the team, and to the sport in general. Playing 45-minute halves without a break teaches patience and endurance — you learn to lean on and trust your teammates.”

Recalling her discussion 12 years ago with Fr. Scalese, Sr. Colleen thinks her younger self would be surprised to know that she is, indeed, now a Sister of Saint Joseph (SSJ). “There’s no way I could’ve imagined that I’d be a vowed woman religious,” she said, “but that’s the thing about vocation: it’s always in you, but it’s the gradual work of life... we are always ‘becoming’ who we are.”

Four years ago, Sr. Colleen helped found the SSJ Neighborhood Center in Camden, New Jersey. With herself and just one other religious sister working full-time, the Center offers: weekly community prayer, a food pantry, life skills classes for everything from sewing and crocheting to personal finance, a 19-bed community garden, and English classes — ten sections of which had to be moved online due to the pandemic.

Sr. Colleen also authors the blog “Wandering in Wonder,” and is a published writer in National Catholic Reporter, America, Commonweal, and Give Us This Day. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of women at Fairfield, the Class of 2009 valedictorian was invited by the Center for Catholic Studies to deliver its 20th Annual Anne Drummey O’Callaghan Lecture on Women in the Church this past October.

Although Covid-19 prevented an in- person presentation, her lecture, “Showing Up: The Radical Work of Commitment in Uncertain Times,” was live streamed to 473 screens via Zoom. In it, Sr. Colleen recognized the need to empower women as leaders in the Church. “If you go to any parish, even in the midst of the pandemic, women are the ones in the pews, the ones leading ministries. Women show up to make a difference, to promote social justice, and to pass the faith on to the next generation.”

The last time Sr. Colleen visited campus was for her 10-year reunion in June 2019. “Fairfield is a place where I left a part of my heart,” she said, “and where the groundwork for so much in my life was laid. To remember all those connections, and to recognize that this place transformed who I am — I’m just so grateful for it.”

Other Articles in the Winter 2020 Issue

50 Years of Firsts

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Leading With Kindness

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Alumni Profile: Joe Sauvageau ’79

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First To The Big Dance

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The Age of Personalization

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They Got Game

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Letter From The President

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