Karin McClelland: A Lifelong Lasallian

Quotes from this story were originally published in the 2019 LV Annual Report.

In 1990, Karin McClelland set off from Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga to volunteer for one month as part of the school’s Christian Service Internship, now called Lasallian Service Internship. A few days into her placement in the Brothers’ community in the Bronx, Karin learned about a new volunteer program for college graduates to spend a full year living and working in Lasallian communities.

“I’m like, ‘You mean I can do this for a whole year?’” she recalled. “This is so cool!” She called her college roommate, Brenna Fitzgerald, who was doing her own Christian Service Internship in St. Louis, and suggested they put off grad school and become Lasallian Volunteers.

Sure enough, after graduation, Karin and Brenna headed to the Bronx, where they lived with five Brothers and worked at the Highbridge Community Life Center, a social service agency in the South Bronx. The young women developed a dropout prevention program for young people from the South Bronx, utilizing a new retreat center in Goshen, New York.

Remembering back to when she signed up to serve as an LV, Karin said, “I think I wanted to keep doing the work in the Bronx a little longer, and this felt like a smart way to do it. And to get some life-work experience. What ended up being as powerful, if not more powerful, was the constant, daily kind of figuring out who I was as a woman of faith.”

Following the Lasallian Calling

Today, Karin directs the Mission and Ministry Center at Saint Mary’s College of California. Looking back at the three decades since she joined that fledgling volunteer program, she said, “I don’t think I really knew until about 10 years ago that working in Lasallian education—that’s my calling.”

“Even if I’m not working in an actual Lasallian institution—which I have mostly, but not exclusively, over the past 30 years—my view of the world, in particular of education and structural poverty, has totally been shaped by my experience with the Brothers.”

After two years as an LV, Karin continued her work at Highbridge, then worked and attended grad school at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, before becoming the third director of Lasallian Volunteers in 1997. From there, she studied for a master’s of divinity in Chicago, where she stayed for over a decade, working for the Midwest District and in San Miguel and Catalyst schools. During that time, she and her family continued living in Lasallian community, even with two young children, by living in the San Miguel Community and later by welcoming two Lasallians into their home to live, share meals and pray. In 2012, she and her family moved back to California, where she eventually found her way back to Saint Mary’s College.

Looking back on 30 years of serving as an LV, recruiting LVs, working alongside LVs, directing the program, sitting on the Lasallian Volunteers Advisory Board (a role she currently holds), and implementing Lasallian values into her life, Karin found herself fully immersed in the Lasallian mission.

Looking to the Past and the Future

Karin said she admires the Brothers for taking that leap of faith in 1990. “There were only a handful of Brothers who, when this movement started to unfold, didn’t bat an eye,” she said. “Maybe 10 or 15 who thought, ‘Yeah, this isn’t crazy, that I might be living with young people—including women—in my vocational life.’”

“It really took a pretty innovative subpopulation of men to break ground and show other Brothers how life-giving this is,” she said. “If they can do it, I think others are kind of going, ‘Okay, let’s give it a try and see how it works.’”

She is also impressed by their continuing choice by the Brothers to welcome LVs into their lives and support the program in other ways.

“The Brothers are getting older,” she said, noting that many of the most involved Brothers are now in their late 60s to 80s. “I’m older. I’m the age Brother Ed Phelan was when he was my community director. And I don’t know how he did it. It’s exhausting, to constantly help shape, and grow, and form, and listen.”

But she sees the program’s benefits as mutual. “I think the joy and the vitality of most of the young people who have been in the program have really helped many Brothers maintain hope in the future of Lasallian education.” McClelland also noted that this is one of the most valuable formation and vocation discernment experiences being offered to young people today.

Continuing a Lasallian Life

Every year, Karin gets together with a group of 12 to 15 women who volunteered in the Bronx over the first several years of the LV program. “We all come from different places, and schools, and whatever,” she said. “But I think what’s really beautiful, and what’s transcended time, is that we all had this formative experience with the Brothers. We all have this common experience of having been Lasallian Volunteers.”

“And more importantly, we’re all still involved in work, either paid or volunteer, in either education or social services. We’re doing work in the world that’s really important to deepening our faith,” she said. “Some go to church, some of them don’t. Some weren’t even raised Catholic, but there’s something beyond ourselves that inspires us to keep serving young people. The thing that we all have in common is that we all know we’re doing work that deeply matters in the world, and that it’s our calling. This is not common with our peers.”

“It’s like a deeper, different kind of soul connection that you can’t orchestrate,” she said. “If it weren’t for Lasallian Volunteers, we never would have met each other. And these are some of the most significant women in the world to me.”

“Time and time again, I run into former Lasallian Volunteers,” she said, “and they’re still doing the mission, living the mission, and have certain values that have been instilled by living and working with Brothers and other educators—that they take into all forms of employment, all types of institutions.”

“This reality keeps me engaged, committed, inspired and energized to contribute my time, talent and treasure to the Lasallian mission locally and globally.”

Katie Rose Quandt is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, who often writes about incarceration and social justice. She served as an LV at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore, Maryland, in 2010-2011.


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