Sitting by the window, Elizabeth Killorin explains that her life motto is “cura personalis,” the Latin expression which means “care of the whole person.”
When it comes to Killorin, a campus minister, playwright and mother, it is obvious from merely an hour conversation with her that this phrase is the driving force of her life.
“I really did try, when I was teaching, to make relationships with the students and to form sort of a community in that class every day.”
When prompted to reflect on her past 12 years of being an English teacher at Boston College High, Killorin fondly recalls the effort she put into encouraging her pupils to open up and experience worlds of literature they had never imagined. “When you’re talking about stories and characters’ lives, you can address issues that aren’t going to play out in their minds.”
Despite the stimulating conversations that take place during book discussions, Killorin felt she would be a better fit as campus minister — someone who provides guidance about a student’s faith — because teaching in the classroom disrupted her ability to build positive relationships with the students.
“It would break my heart when I had a student who is going through a rough time and I would have to turn them away because I really needed to finish making this test for next period,” she said.
Now, to Killorin’s delight, she makes time with the student body without having polishing lesson plans at the top of her list. Her new set of responsibilities allows her to focus on other things like,“[C]ommunity building, on being the emotional support for students and being a trusted adult that they can come to and talk with, or even just joke with,” Killorin said.
Committed to assisting the student body at every turn, Killorin also lends her expertise to BC High seniors as they write their college essays. And no, this is not one of her job requirements.
“Campus ministers aren’t also college essay resource people,” Killorin explains with a small chuckle, “I just love doing it.”
With English teachers often having 50 other students to attend to, Killorin puts it upon herself to be a reliable and personable mentor for college essays. She describes the process as“soul-sucking.”
“It’s a little heartbreaking to see them really see themselves as a product that they have to sell,” she laments.
Her best advice for navigating this tedious process? “Tell me a story. And it might even be something that you didn’t even think was a big deal. But when you tell it to me, I can see all these qualities of you in it.”
Though constructing the college essay is pressure inducing, it’s always worth it in the end when they prevail. “I love when the kid finally gets it,” she said, smiling, like she was replaying the memories in her head, “And you can see like, they’re so proud of it. That’s really addicting. How do you say no to that?”
Despite juggling a promotion as campus minister, and three kids, Killorin has found the patience and determination to write and direct an original one-act play called “Candles By The Sea,” which follows an old married couple as they grieve their son, a New York firefighter who perished during 9/11.
On the night of Killorin’s play, my mother and I arrived at BC High, lowering into the cushioned seats of the BC High auditorium. I flipped through the folded Playbill, apprehensive and excited at the same time. After some chatter, the lights began to dim and we were welcomed to the production.
When a character, Tom, asks the waiter if he’s going to light the candles, he responds, “No, they’ll just blow out anyway.”This on-stage conversation is a microcosm of the age old discussion on the shortness of life, how in moments of grief one can feel apprehensive to seek out light, because it may get torn away once more. Thankfully the ending of the play is one that radiates hope and light.
“I come out for that final scene, where there’s there’s still hope in the darkness. There’s light there,” Killorin recounts.
Her motivation for sharing the story largely stems from her admiration for Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to the New York Fire Department and the first fatality from 9/11. His work resonated so much with her that she included him as a character. “I wanted it to sound like him. So a lot of his lines are actually his words.”
Killorin’s devotion to helping her students is tremendously admirable, as well as her insatiable desire to spew creativity whenever possible. Knowing that a mother of three small children not only acts as a campus minister and college essay advisor, but also writes and directs a 40 minute one-act play for fun, is enough to encourage any current procrastinator to get up and say “if she can do it, so can I.”