Skip to Main Content

Barry University Oral History: Mary Joseph Fitzgerald


                                         Mary Joseph Fitzgerald

Today is May 16, 1983. I am Sister Eileen Rice working on the Barry oral history project. We are in the home of Mrs. Joseph Fitzgerald.

Sister Eileen: Mrs. Fitzgerald, tell me about yourself. When were you born?

Mrs. Fitzgerald: I was born in New York City on June 6, 1928. We lived there for a number of years. In fact, I lived there for 24 years before I was married. I went to Parochial School and high school, the College of Mt. St. Vincent, and Fordham Graduate School. 

     I met my husband at the College of Mt. St. Vincent and he was a member of the Fordham Glee club. We dated and fell in love and I left graduate school to be married which was during the Korean War.  He was stationed in Virginia. Our first child was born in New York. We moved to Connecticut where our first son, Kevin was born. I neglected to mention that our very first child was Joanne whom we named after our father because we never thought we would have sons. Prophets we are not. Oh we're not because we ended up with six sons. 

     We moved then from Connecticut to New Jersey where the children grew to the age of about two years, the younger one, Kevin. Then my husband was transferred to Baltimore where we lived for seven years.  We had a number of children there, the first one being Richard, and then came Mark, then came Jeffrey, and then Bob.  After that span of time, once again Joe was transferred by his company to Massachusetts. Fortunately all these transfers were because and due to promotions, but we had the opportunity of living in various areas in the country. We liked each area we were in because we truly believe that you get out of an area or you get out of life what you put into it. We really enjoyed Massachusetts because of its historicity and because of the culture there. 

     We were blessed again in Massachusetts with a birth of another child, our Scott. After living in Massachusetts for about six years, Joe was transferred to the home office to the executive offices in Misskeegan. We lived in Spring Lake. We thoroughly loved Spring Lake. It was a beautiful setting, we had a lovely home on a lake and we raised the darlings, as we call them. We lived there for eleven years.  At that time, once again, business called us to another area and we came to Florida. During those years we saw the graduation of our daughter from college, of our son, Kevin, and Richard, and Mark from college. Jeffrey entered college during that span of time and was in his Sophomore year when we moved to Bocalatone. Bob was a Junior in high school, at Current McGibbons and Scotty in eighth grade at Bocalatone Academy. We found Florida a little different. We didn't find the roots there that we had found in the other areas, but the chance, that's because the sun shines so much and people have a different attitude towards life. 

     During our move, we wondered about the younger children at home and their reaction to living in the south, but they acclimated well.  One boy in particular, our Jeff, decided he liked Florida so much, that he wanted to leave Kalamazoo College which he thoroughly liked and live in the state of Florida. It necessitated our investigating colleges. 

Sister Eileen:  When you came to Barry, what was your first impression?

Mrs. Fitzgerald: Well, we came to Barry with a little bit of background. When our son Kevin heard that Jeff wanted to transfer, we were considering Stetson because it was a sister college of Kalamazoo College where Jeffrey went and it had a fine reputation. We were also considering the University of Miami and the University of Florida. The University of Miami, Jeffrey felt, was too large. He wanted a smaller environment. He was a history major. He always enjoyed history. His nose was always in a book one way or another, whether it be a periodical or a newspaper or a historical novel or a biography. 

     Kevin had met a Dominican Sister by the name of Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin in Saint Louis University where Kevin was doing his philosophy as a Jesuit Scholastic. He had been quite impressed with Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin and had heard that she was going to assume the presidency of Barry University and he suggested that Jeffrey contact Barry and investigate it as a possible college to attend. We called Barry and an appointment was set up in the registrar’s office and also one set up with the Chairman of the history department, Sister Eileen Rice. 

     When we drove into Barry we were kind of amazed because we were sort of used to the rolling hills of the campuses of the east and Middle West. We saw this very pretty picturess, flat campus with these lovely palm trees and we wondered whether Jeffrey was going to be content. From the moment we entered the doors of Barry, we felt a warmth that was truly sincere and a door that was open and welcome. Jeffrey, being Jeffrey, decided to investigate this university very thoroughly. He was concerned about the depth of the faculty because he had had such good experience in Kalamazoo with his professors. They're academic background was so varied that he was exposed to many historical opinions and feelings in the approach to history, so he didn't want to lose this. He wanted a faculty with an open mind. 

     When we were interviewed and he told them about his background at Kalamazoo College and the affiliation he had had as a semester in Philadelphia, he was concerned that he was going to lose a lot of credits in the transfer, but they were very responsive in the registrar’s office and suggested that we go and speak with the Chairman of the Department. At that time we met Sister Eileen Rice. She was very responsive to our needs and very warm and open in the discussion of Jeffrey's academic background and his potential at Barry. 

     After spending at least forty-five minutes with Sister, we came away with a feeling, I as a mother, that if he decided to go to Barry, he would be well taken care of both, academically, emotionally, psychologically, and in particular spiritually. The first building we entered at Barry before we went into the registrar’s office was the Chaplain and we stopped to say a prayer that Jeff would make the right decision. It's a beautiful, edifice and we were inspired by its simplicity as well as by its beauty. 

     Jeffrey was also interested in Barry. He looked around the campus and I could see him picturing himself there. He felt he wouldn't be lost, he felt he could contribute something. We have always tried to teach the children to contribute as well as to take. He was concerned a little about the number of history majors. He felt for chance there wasn't as many as he had hoped and the depth of the courses wouldn't be there. But, I know that he was pleasantly surprised. 

     The students on campus smiled and greeted him. It was kind of interesting because he had red hair and freckles and he sort of stood out at times because Barry is an international university with a number of students from various parts of the world. So, instead of falling right in, he was one of the odd ones as we used to call him. In evaluating the other universities, Jeffrey decided that because of the interviews and because he would be able to make a fairly easy transfer, that he wanted to apply for admission to Barry. But, before he did that, he decided that he wanted to take some summer courses so that they could know him and he could come to know them. And so that he too could make up the credits he might lose and be able to graduate with the class of 1983. He did this and he went to summer school and he enjoyed it. That was when he truly decided to attend Barry and looked forward to the Fall term.

     He lived on campus, he had a roommate who was a freshmen the first year and they were compatible, but there was an age difference. Jeffrey made friends, he was blessed because he made friends easily and he had the personality that reached out for people. He would come home occasionally on weekends and both Joe and I knew as parents that he was being cared for as a total being. We were really excited because we had him close by and because he was going to achieve what he wanted to in life. 

     That Junior year was a successful one for him. Of course, Jeffrey was very manic. He always wanted to do twelve projects when he should have concentrated on two. He would be very disappointed sometimes in his grades and think, "Oh, I should have gotten that A or A+" or whatever and maybe he would end up with an A- or a B. It was simply because he hadn't taken the time to do a little better or in depth work. 

     He came to appreciate the faculty at Barry and the association with them, with the members of the History Department, with the Social Studies Department, and with the members of the Philosophy Department.  I know he was very interested in Philosophy and in particular logic because in the back of his mind he wanted to go to law school. He decided that he was going to try to put an advanced logic course as part of the curriculum at Barry. He went to his professors and questioned them about this. They said, "Well, if you do this and that, you might achieve it." which he did and they did offer it as a course in the summer during the summer program.

     Perhaps one of the reasons Jeffrey selected Barry University was because of a potential religious vocation. When Jeffrey was in the eighth grade, he had approached Joe and myself concerning entering a seminary. We were very enthusiastic about his feeling towards a religious vocation, but we were concerned that he might not be able to make an objective decision at the age of thirteen. We encouraged him to wait until he had finished his high school. In the intern, our oldest son, Kevin, who had been a student at Cornell University, was approaching graduation and since his major was Biology Genetics, he felt that he had to make a decision whether he was going on to graduate school or whether he would seek a job in the scientific market place. Kevin, at the time of our discussion had mentioned the fact that he thought he might become a Jesuit. After our initial shock, we told him that it wasn't the easiest thing to become a Jesuit or to enter the seminary. 

     After investigating the Jesuits, that summer after his graduation, Kevin did enter the seminary in Saint Paul Minnesota. Due to this, we feel that Jeffrey questioned Kevin about his entering the seminary after Jeffrey's graduation from high school. We know that Kevin encouraged Jeff to go to college before making that decision. Kevin felt that way because this is what he had done. He felt that one needed exposure on all levels and especially during those very formative years. By formative I mean formative intellectually. We feel that is one of the reasons Jeffrey decided to go to Kalamazoo College. It's a very excellent school academically, a very strong school as far as history is concerned as a major, and it is a Baptist community school. This would give him an opportunity of seeing a school operating under those circumstances. We are very pleased that he made this decision, but we feel that it was just a stepping stone to his last decision to enter Barry. 

     When he was interviewed and when he walked around Barry, I had the feeling that he wanted to go there for several reasons, not only academically, but also to grow spiritually and to help him find his way in life Whether he was going to follow the path of the religious vocation, or whether he was going to follow the path of law which he was very interested in and intended to take his law boards in the Fall or whether he would someday marry is a question which will never be answered because Jeffrey died in an automobile accident August 31, 1982. 

     We know that Jeffrey was well educated when he was at Barry and by that I refer to it again as the total being. If I have any negative comments, I could only say that I'm sorry he didn't have a senior year there because we would have loved to have seen him graduate with his Bachelor degree. One of Jeffrey's concerns was the fact that the chance through a larger student enrollment, and that is in the process now, there could be more depth in the number of history majors and in the department. He also had some questions about the library and I know that also is being investigated and taken care of. His several terms at Barry, his life at Barry was a happy one. He gave and he also took. He was a happy individual and if a university has a goal, it is to teach the complete man and to teach all of us to be total human beings, spiritually, psychologically, and most important, because of its roll as a university, intellectually. Barry University opened its hearts to us when we first walked on campus and it continued to open its doors and hearts to us when our son's funeral mass was celebrated in its beautiful chapel. Our association will continue no matter where we live. We know as a family, all our children, and ourselves, that when we arrived in Florida, one of the nicest occurrences was our relationship with Barry University. We wish Barry God's be, we know because of the caliber of its administration, and the quality of its faculty, and the openness of its students, that it will succeed. It's needed in Miami. Miami needs to be shown the way. The way back, not only to God, but the way back to the man for all seasons. Thank you Sister for allowing me to speak with you.

Sister Eileen: Thank you.

Subject Guide

Profile Photo
Frances Sciurba