Our alumnae connections make us stronger. Stay connected
Gertie Girls and Gators, from the Class of 1922 to last year’s graduates, this is the place to stay connected and up-to-date with Saint Gertrude High School and fellow alumni! The advancement office strives to create moments and events where our alums are able to connect with each other, with current Gators, and with their alma mater. Through these connections, it is our hope that we can strengthen the bonds within a sisterhood that spans several decades. And we hope our special events will keep you engaged and connected in meaningful and joyful ways.
There are several opportunities throughout the year in which Saint Gertrude alumnae are invited to connect with each other and the school. Look out for invitations and event information in your inbox and your mailbox, as well as events posted on the Special Events page and on social media. In addition to our two annual magazines (Labora and The Towers), we strive to keep in touch with our alumnae through regular email communication and mailers, so it is imperative that you keep your information current in our database.
Have you changed jobs, published a book, gotten married, welcomed a child, or done something else interesting? Click here to tell us your exciting news! We'd love to include it in the next edition of The Towers.
Click here to tell us if you’ve moved, changed your email address, etc. It is important for us to keep all alumni records up-to-date to ensure you are receiving our most recent communications and updates.
In order to connect with Gators across the globe, we aim to livestream many events and athletic competitions. You can find our two livestream channels, as well as an archive of previously streamed events here.
Alumnae are vital not only to the history of Saint Gertrude, but also to our future. There are many opportunities and ways in which you can support your alma mater which you can learn about here. Thank you, in advance, for considering a gift to Saint Gertrude High School!
Mary Clare Curtin had flown only once before traveling from Virginia to Colorado in the summer of 2012 to enroll at the United States Air Force Academy. Today only birds spend more time aloft. Or so it seems. Curtin, a pilot, and a captain in the Air Force, flies the C-17A Globemaster, a massive four-engine jet aircraft that typically performs tactical, strategic, and humanitarian airlift missions. She estimates that over the past four years she has flown C-17s into “over a hundred different airfields in about 40 countries all over the world.” Some of her recent missions literally made headlines. Curtin flew into Afghanistan on four occasions during last summer’s evacuation of non-combatants from Kabul. She was the pilot and aircraft commander of a C-17 that delivered Marines and materiel necessary to secure the airfield and removed more than 1,000 people. As the aircraft commander, Curtin was required to be in the pilot’s seat for every takeoff and landing.
Time on the ground in Kabul was tense and “extremely volatile,” she said. But it was not without moments of cultural pride. Many of her outward-bound passengers were Afghani civilians. Said Curtin: “I got a lot of confused looks from the passengers – especially when I would give orders to my male crew members.” Other moments were profoundly poignant. Curtin recalled speaking with an Afghani man who volunteered to serve as the liaison and translator between Curtin’s crew and the other evacuees – most of whom spoke no English. The man told Curtin that had he and his family not been able to flee, they “without a doubt would have been killed by the Taliban.” Curtin said her four years at Saint Gertrude prepared her well for the Air Force Academy and subsequent active duty. Her years at Saint Gertrude, she said, “pushed me in a way I had never experienced before.”
Evelyn McGill '75
Executive Director of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation
Commission Evelyn McGill was a sophomore at Saint Gertrude when her father died in 1973. She made a vow to herself soon thereafter. Never, she said, would she do anything to create additional pain for her mother, Rachel. Never would she make her mother anything less than proud of her. Never would she lose sight of the Catholic values her mother worked so diligently to instill in her. “Mom did so much for me,” McGill said. “I wanted to say, ‘Thank you’. I decided to do it by being the best person I could possibly be.” Consider it done. Before Rachel passed away in 2020, she saw her daughter earn graduate degrees from Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, serve for 12 years as a deputy chief of administration in the Richmond police department and subsequently become the executive director of the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission (VWC). McGill has held the latter position for the past decade.
“All I’ve ever wanted is to make Mom proud of me,” she said. “I always believed that with following the Lord, and with the foundation Mom created in my heart and soul, I could pretty much do anything I set out to do.” McGill said her goal at the VWC is to create “the best and most effective” state agency in the country – and I believe we’re on our way to doing that.” So, apparently, do its staff members. The VWC was chosen in 2021 as a top workplace in Virginia and in 2022 as a Top Workplace USA. McGill said “we” is the pronoun of choice at the VWC. “We’re a team,” she said. “We work as a team. When you’re a team, the team’s success is everyone’s success.” McGill was Saint Gertrude’s commencement speaker in 2020 and currently serves as a Benedictine Schools of Richmond Foundation board member. She and her husband have two sons and three grandsons.
Caroline Townsend Neal, an energetic woman with a deep desire to help the less fortunate, wasn’t entirely content as a stay-at-home mom. She soothed her restless spirit by reaching out to children other than her own – specifically, children adrift in the local foster care system. Neal, a former social worker, founded Worthdays, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit endeavor, soon after the birth in 2006 of her third child. Her intent was to encourage children in foster care to feel worthy, important, and deserving of respect. What better way to enhance a child’s self-esteem, Neal said, than by acknowledgement on a birthday? Or Christmas? Or Valentine’s Day? Neal was in many respects born for the position she now occupies. She has seen life from a diverse – she prefers the word “unique” – perspective. She grew up on Oregon Hill. She attended Richmond Public schools in addition to Saint Benedict’s and Saint Gertrude. Her parents, she said, became foster parents while she was still a child.
Neal has watched with pride and delight as Worthdays has flourished. She said she initially feared the hill would prove too steep; that Richmonders wouldn’t see – or wouldn’t want to see – the grim, gray realities with which foster children often are required to cope. And indeed, this seemed to be the case. But then she began to seek assistance on social media and the Worthdays website. A transformation she describes as “absolutely incredible” took place. Now, she said, needs are met and requests filled almost as soon as they are posted. Her SGHS 2001 classmates are among those doing the responding. Even classmates with whom she wasn’t particularly close “are supporting us in a big way,” she said. Neal wears many hats during a Worthdays workday. She serves not only as the organization’s executive director but also as its fundraiser and social media coordinator.
Sarah Shelton '18
Human Rights Advocate
Sarah Shelton graduated from Virginia Tech with a double degree in marketing and French and two minors: philosophy, politics, and economics and international business. But the lessons that resonate most are those learned last spring during a three-week study-abroad visit to the East African town of Rilima, Rwanda. “We met some of the most selfless and kind people,” Shelton said. “They taught us, truly, what happiness, hard work, and gratitude look like. I can’t fully express the impact the community had on me.” So touched were Shelton and her 11 traveling companions that they worked throughout the 2021 spring semester on an in-depth project to empower the women of Rilima by introducing them to the rudiments of entrepreneurship. The United States Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, rewarded the group’s efforts with a $10,000 grant. Shelton and three other Virginia Tech students returned to Rilima in March to guide and advise the women who will serve as the program’s leaders.
The 15-week program will seek to introduce 30 or so local women to the concepts of business development and entrepreneurship – thereby supplying them with weapons with which to fight entrenched gender inequality. Shelton said she hopes the program “will maybe make a fraction of the impact on the community that the community has made on us.” Workshops will teach, through storytelling, skills such as decision-making and leadership. Seed funding will be offered at the end of the program. Shelton is no stranger to the concept of extending a helping hand. She said her parents “showed me ways to give back to others – not just in our community but around the world – by encouraging me from a young age to participate in service.” Her time at Saint Gertrude, she said, affected her in a similar way. Shelton intends, ultimately, to attend law school. Her likely areas of focus: international human rights and public international law
Beth Merwin ’72 and Katie Merwin ’00
A Mother-Daughter Powerhouse
Children learn by watching. Katie Merwin learned by watching her mother, Beth Merwin, already a respected and decorated nurse, pursue a doctorate degree in health services organization and research at Virginia Commonwealth University in the late 1980s. Said Beth: “From the time Katie was born, my career was a big part of our lives. She was three when I started work on my PhD. When she was in kindergarten, she’d seen enough to be able to tell me: ‘Don’t ever expect me to ever write a dissertation.’” Beth, undeterred, continued her climb toward the nursing profession’s highest peaks. Today she is a dean and professor at the University of Texas- Arlington’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. She is a consulting professor at Duke and a professor emerita at the University of Virginia.
Katie kept her promise. She never wrote a dissertation. She did, however, contribute to a remarkable double dose of family achievement by graduating from Barry University’s School of Law and subsequently becoming a partner in the West Palm Beach offices of the Florida-based firm of Cole, Scott and Kissane. Her areas of practice include civil rights law and commercial litigation. Beth said she has “no words to describe how proud I am” of Katie’s success. Katie said her mother was, and is, an exemplary role model. “Seeing a strong, career-oriented woman build a happy and fulfilling life – that’s my normal,” Katie said. Both women said Saint Gertrude helped point them in the proper direction. Beth said the school “gave us the opportunity to lead…the opportunity to participate. The culture at Saint Gertrude was one that built confidence.” The nuns, lay faculty, and older students, she said, sent a very strong message: ‘You can do anything.’” Katie needed only two words to describe the impact of her Saint Gertrude experience. She called it “very empowering.”
Ann-Frances Lambert '93
Richmond City Councilwoman
Shortly after graduating, Ann-Frances Lambert began her public policy career as a City Council liaison for (the now) Delegate Delores McQuinn, and later as a senior policy analyst for the City’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations of Richmond. Her dream of living in California sparked the opportunity for her to start her own drone business, where she provides aerial photography and videography services.
Ten years later, she returned home after the passing of her oldest brother, Ben (BCP ’85). Upon her return, she felt called back to public service to build on her late father Sen. Benjamin J. Lambert, III’s historic legacy (who was instrumental in the Innocence Project’s first success in Virginia and the first black to sit on the Senate finance committee). Ann-Frances’s father showed her how to bring communities together, and in her new role on City Council, she hopes to do just that. When she ran for office this past year, she built her platform on the slogan “Preserving History for Future Generations” with a focus specifically on the North Jackson Ward neighborhood. Ann-Frances hopes to be a bridge builder to unify all the residents of the city especially the Third District and to build on its past in order to create a new reality of peace and community. While her term has just begun, she is already making a statement with a listening tour during her first 100 days in office and by giving a voice to some tough topics and collaborating with the Richmond Police Department. Some might say public service is in her blood; others may say she simply has a heart to serve. We’d say it’s a little bit of both, but either way, Ann-Frances is set to make a difference right here in Richmond and we are excited to see her build on her family’s legacy.
Christine Cardigan-Benonis '04
Senior Director at American Forest Foundation
As a young explorer of the natural world, Christine Cadigan-Benonis found a love for the environment that would eventually pave the way for her future. During her ninth-grade environmental science class at Saint Gertrude, she noticed her textbook showcased various professional opportunities in the environmental world at the end of each chapter. A lightbulb turned on, and she realized she could take this environmental ethic she had within her and turn it into a profession that makes a difference.
Now, as one of the American Forest Foundation’s leading experts in policy and forestry, Christine helps bring together rural family forest owners and companies to address climate change. Nature-based solutions, especially forests, have the potential to provide a third of the necessary mitigation by 2030 to stay on a 1.5 degree warming pathway. The challenge in the U.S. is that most of America’s forests are owned by families and individuals, and their small parcel size means they are largely sidelined from providing meaningful solutions via carbon markets. Christine directs the Family Forest Carbon Program, an innovative new program, which gives family forest owners an opportunity to benefit from private financing in exchange for implementing sustainable forest practices that help sequester and store more carbon. This new initiative not only advances forest conservation, but it also introduces opportunities to more landowners, providing additional revenue streams they wouldn’t have otherwise realized. While we may not see the effects of her work for years to come, the good work is already inspiring others to respect all of God’s creation. Christine is driven to make the world a better place, both on her own small, family forest and beyond, for all those she works to serve, but most especially, her daughter.
Joanna Kettlewell, Ph.D. '09
Covid-19 Response Postdoctoral Fellow with the Association of Public Health Laboratories
While many of us were quarantining at home for the majority of 2020, Dr. Joanna Kettlewell was on the frontline working as part of a team within the Hawaii Department of Health to assist with COVID-19 response. As a postdoctoral fellow for the Association of Public Health Laboratories placed at Hawaii State Laboratories Division, she plays many roles. Whether testing samples in the laboratory, collaborating with epidemiologists on testing strategy, or defining laboratory protocol for sewage surveillance, Joanna has helped to implement expanded testing and control of COVID-19 across Hawaii. Adequate pandemic response requires a large team with varied expertise and skill sets and Joanna says she is honored to contribute. The aspect of her job of which she is most proud? Helping to facilitate the connection between mobile vaccine outreach and kupuna (elderly)-focused community groups in order to identify and vaccinate homebound individuals.
Additionally, she works routinely with the National Guard in the coordination of pop-up testing events to provide free COVID-19 tests to communities across the island of Oahu. She also supported the establishment of the Hawaii Department of Health COVID-19 Call Center. Joanna is grateful for the opportunity to get hands-on experience in varied aspects of pandemic response, knowing her work has helped to protect the most vulnerable.
As for next steps? Dr. Kettlewell will be pursuing a career in the Army as a microbiologist. She will be stationed at a major research or healthcare facility where she will work to support the well-being of the men and women who serve in the United States armed forces.
Kathleen Burke Barrett has spent her entire career in education and philanthropy, providing compassionate help and hope to those in need. She started as a teacher at Saint Gertrude and has since served in several advancement and leadership positions at various local non-profits (including Virginia of the Arthritis Foundation and the Greater Richmond Chapter of the Red Cross to name a few). Most recently as CEO of St. Joseph’s Villa, under Kathleen’s leadership, the organization has tripled the number of families served each year, expanded to serve over 50 localities throughout Virginia, added new services, and forged partnerships that connect marginalized children and families with the resources they need to gain independence. Amidst the pandemic, St. Joseph’s Villa has even expanded into a new area: eviction prevention which has helped nearly 700 individuals in the Tri-Cities area avoid displacement from their homes.
But perhaps her biggest venture and the one in which she is most proud, St. Joseph’s unveiled the substantial $9.5M renovation of their autism center in March. There is a tsunami of students with autism coming, and the Sarah Dooley Center for Autism aims to have a ripple effect in the community by not only teaching students with autism but training professionals who serve that community.
Kathleen’s servant leadership and strategic vision has not only been a gift to The Villa, but also to the Benedictine Schools of Richmond as she has served on the boards of both schools and was instrumental during the recent unification. A proud graduate, Kathleen says she credits Saint Gertrude for helping instill in her a sense of community and the value of giving back. Whether in times of stability or in times of crisis, Kathleen continues to lead by example in her steadfast commitment to improving the lives of those around her.
Brenda Brickley '69
Saint Gertrude Teacher
While most teachers knew from the start they were destined to be in a classroom, Brenda (Bullock) Brickley’s story is a little different. After graduating from SGHS, Brenda attended Longwood College where she received her B.S. in mathematics and spent the next eight years teaching in the public school system. But with a love for math (thanks to her own Saint Gertrude teacher Ms. Ann Morano), she changed directions and set out in the world of banking and auditing. She thrived in this fast-paced environment, but after nearly ten years, she felt there was something missing from her day-to-day life.
On a whim, she contacted Sister Charlotte Lange, was immediately offered a teaching job, and the rest is history. And while Brenda seemed to just “fall into” teaching, looking back she realizes God was calling her to teach and to teach specifically at Saint Gertrude where she could be surrounded by the love of the Sisters and fully embrace her Catholic faith. Twenty-six years later and Brenda has found herself as a head moderator, math department chair, assistant principal, board of trustees member, and recipient of the Faculty Ingenuity Hearts at Work Award for her initiation of the Math Peer Tutor Program. As a true Gator at heart (before we were “Gators”), Brenda served Saint Gertrude dutifully and faithfully at every level since she first walked the halls of Stuart Avenue in 1965 as a student. And this past March, after 26 years of service, Brenda announced her retirement. Every student she taught may not remember the quadratic equation or the Pythagorean theorem, but they will remember the joy and life she brought to the classroom every day. At the end of the day, Brenda was so much more than a teacher; she was a role model, a spiritual leader, a confidant, and friend. While we will miss her cheerful spirit, we know she will be back to visit often and will be praying for her next steps as she “graduates” once again from Saint Gertrude.