Forces for Good During The Global Pandemic

Be The Light: Volume 3


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Members of the Notre Dame family continue to help in the battle to end the coronavirus pandemic and to support those in need along the way. 

Below is Volume 3 of stories from across the ND family. Read Volume 1 and Volume 2 for more stories of alumni, parents, and friends being forces for good.

John Hickey '69

Jennifer Maccagnano, DO, FACEP, FACOEP, ’06

The Smith Family

Brendan Ward ’13

Additional Domers Doing Good


John Hickey '69 is helping to organize meals for hospital workers in the Milwaukee area and is keeping the Class of ’69 connected during this difficult time through the class blog.



What is your connection to Notre Dame? 

I graduated with a degree in economics.

My activities included: band manager; Student Senate, Mock Political Convention introduction of Gov. John Volpe, and Ski Club trip organizer; Student Government Academic Affairs Commissioner.

How is your work impacting the fight against COVID-19? 

Emergency room physician Peggy Barron, a neighbor, the wife of classmate Jim Lyons, and I created a program to provide weekly meals to the day and night shifts at two hospitals in the Milwaukee area. To date, we have raised $2,600 with contributions from ten members of the MKE ’69er Monthly Breakfast Club, several members of the ND Club of Milwaukee, and one neighbor. Peggy organizes the ordering and delivery of the meals with the staff, and I collect the contributions. To date, we have supplied over three weeks of meals, and we will solicit a second tranche of funding this week with a broader appeal. The details, with photographs can be found at this link to a story on the University of Notre Dame Class of 1969 Blog.

I created the blog in January 2017 and have edited since then as a way of communicating with our class in anticipation of our 50th reunion. From then until last fall, I emailed weekly updates to the blog and other news about the reunion to almost 900 classmates. The blog now has 932 stories posted.

In December 2019, I throttled back to monthly updates until the pandemic made its presence felt at the end of March. Since then, I have gone back to weekly emails to the class and have created several new series on that communications vehicle. The first was “The ’69er COVID Chronicles,” in which we have solicited stories from classmates about what they are doing to manage their social isolation. The intent is to share social-distancing strategies and to inspire others with how they can support people during the pandemic. These stories can become our class’s historic record of this unique time in our lives that we hope will not occur again for at least one hundred years.

The second series is what I call “Doc Talk,” which includes stories about classmate doctors and their family and friends who are medical professionals on the front lines of fighting this novel coronavirus. These people need to be honored and remembered for their heroism. Classmate Bob Gibbons, who also is one of the co-authors with me for two books we published about our reunion experience, has agreed to interview many of these people since they are too busy to write the stories themselves. (He is an outstanding writer, as you will see.)

We will also soon be posting stories about students and faculty in how they are handling remote learning/teaching.

Bob Gibbons, who has reviewed movies for 25 years, has also been going through his archives to post five movie recommendations weekly to help our class find some enjoyable films to watch as a diversion.

How did Notre Dame influence your career path?  

Our family has been associated with Notre Dame since my great-great-grandfather arrived at Notre Dame from Quebec in November 1849 to work on the campus. He was a foreman for the construction of Sacred Heart Church in the 1870s, helped rebuild the Main Building in 1879, and was a friend of Fr. Sorin. My grandfather was Knute Rockne’s neighbor, close friend, and sponsor (godfather) at the Rock’s baptism in the Log Chapel on November 20, 1925. My grandparents have had 29 descendants graduate from the school from 1937 until 2014. My grandfather’s construction company built 42 buildings and projects on ND’s campus from 1919 to 1979 — one of them the World War I Memorial — the east entrance of Sacred Heart Basilica — with the iconic “God, Country, Notre Dame” above the door. Notre Dame is in my blood, and those words have guided my life and career since graduation.

What message would you like to share with your Notre Dame family? 

The Jesuit motto, “A man/woman for others,” comes to mind. Find a way to support your family, friends, classmates, and those who are serving our country on the front lines of this terrible pandemic.



Jennifer Maccagnano, DO, FACEP, FACOEP, ’06 is an emergency medicine physician and an assistant professor at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine.



Jennifer Maccagnano

What is your connection to Notre Dame? 

I graduated from Notre Dame in 2006 with a bachelor of science in preprofessional studies and a minor in theology. As a student, I was usually found studying in the Hesburgh Library or the chemistry library in Nieuwland Science Hall. Outside of studies, I was involved with Campus Ministry and found great joy in leading freshman retreat and senior retreat. In addition, I assisted the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and St. Ed’s as a lector and Eucharistic minister. In fall of 2004, I had the opportunity to study in Rome, Italy, with the Notre Dame study abroad program at John Cabot University. Since graduation, it has been amazing to find connections at work with other Notre Dame physicians and to meet new friends through the Notre Dame family via the Notre Dame Clubs. I always had a smile on my face when I returned for our five- (2011) and ten- (2016) year reunions in addition to my annual trip to Notre Dame for a football Saturday.

How is your work impacting the fight against COVID-19? 

Being emergency medicine physicians, we are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this critical time, our goals are to send as many people home as possible while keeping patients who need immediate hospital services. Often, that means educating patients on self-quarantine and to return to the hospital for chest pain and shortness of breath. Sadly, some of these patients will deteriorate at home, but some will improve at home. While they are at home, it gives us space to keep the patients who need ICU beds and ventilators. However, the priority of sending patients home often requires additional resources for our most vulnerable patients. The homeless cannot just be discharged to a shelter if they have COVID-19 given the contagious nature of this virus. Therefore, some of these patients may require admission or longer emergency department visits as we work with social services and the Department of Homeless Services for patients to be discharged to shelters with isolation protocols. For my non-COVID-19 patients, disposition decisions are made in light of the risk of catching COVID-19 in the hospital versus the benefit of continued diagnostic studies as an inpatient. 

How did Notre Dame influence your career path?  

Notre Dame influenced my career because it had such a strong influence on me as a person. While at Notre Dame, I realized through my studies, research, faculty, and friends, that we are multi-dimensional human beings and if one part suffers, the entire person suffers. Seeing the connection between the spirit and the physical body had a strong influence on my desire to become an osteopathic physician which emphasizes a whole-person approach to medicine based on the mind, body, spirit philosophy of our founder Dr. A.T. Still. Upon graduation from Notre Dame, I realized the unique gift our faculty gave us in terms of their dedication to their students. I realized that our professors answered emails outside of business hours because of their care and dedication to us, and I hope that as an assistant professor at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, I am as available to my students as my Notre Dame professors were to me. 

What message would you like to share with your Notre Dame family? 

During this COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to say thank you to the family and friends who have offered messages of support and prayers. We on the front lines cannot do it without the support and dedication of those near to us. Thank you to the University, which has tried to make Holy Week and Easter possible through the Campus Ministry website. The Notre Dame family extends throughout the world and the presence of our family has not ended in this pandemic. I also would like to remind everyone to wash your hands, never forget to say “I love you” to those near to you, and visit elderly from a distance (FaceTime / talking to the elderly through the bay window [one inside and one outside]) and do whatever you can to stop the spread of COVID-19. Knowing a Notre Dame classmate passed away, seeing my previous resident in the ICU, and admitting cancer patients with pneumonia who are immunocompromised and realizing I may be one of the last people they talk to in their lives — brings this disease to reality. I wish my entire Notre Dame family health and peace in this time of distress, and I thank you for your continued prayers and support, and I look forward to celebrating with you at Reunion 2021.


Margaret ’93, Michael ’93, Connor ’22, Annie ’24, Ryan ’24 and Samantha Smith are helping to feed the homeless in their New Jersey community.


Smith Fam

What is your connection to Notre Dame? 

Michael Smith and I (Margaret) graduated from ND in 1993. Michael was a finance major and I was a graphic design major (and lived in Walsh). Our oldest son, Connor Smith '22, is a sophomore this year living in Alumni Hall (where his father and grandfather, William B. Smith, lived). My high school senior twins, Annie ’24 and Ryan Smith ’24, will both be freshmen in the fall. And my youngest, Samantha, is in 10th grade (and a hopeful for the ND class of 2026). Samantha started an organization called Gig For Good last year and used her passion for singing in combination with her love for volunteering at a local soup kitchen to raise over $12,000 for the AGAPE Community Kitchen. Sam held two benefit concerts, one in NYC last July and one in our hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, in October. The concerts were free to attend and through her GoFundMe she raised over $12K for the place where she loves to volunteer — serving and cooking dinners for over 200 homeless people every Wednesday. Because AGAPE provides a sit-down dinner, the community kitchen is closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the St Joseph Social Service Center, also in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is helping those in need who usually go to AGAPE. Samantha would like to turn Gig For Good into a non-profit that assists talented teens to combine their passion for performing to raise funds for their charity of choice.

How is your work impacting the fight against COVID-19? 

As a family, we all wanted to do something to help out during this COVID-19 difficult time. We decided to make 200+ ham and cheese sandwiches every week and drop them at the St. Joseph Social Service Center. We come together as a family around the kitchen island, gloves on, and enjoy making the sandwiches. While it’s only a small weekly act, we hope to inspire other families and teens because we know that many small acts of kindness and volunteerism really do add up.

What message would you like to share with your Notre Dame family? 

Our family loves the What Would You Fight For series as well as this new Be The Light campaign. As a parent, I couldn’t be happier to see my kids truly enjoy helping others and trying to encourage other teens to combine their passions to help make the world a better place one small act at a time.


Brendan Ward '13, through his work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Coastal & Northern New Jersey, is helping to get resources to the most vulnerable.

Brendan Ward


What is your connection to Notre Dame? 

I graduated from Notre Dame in 2013 with a degree in psychology. I lived in Sorin Hall and was immediately captured by the nature of the community present both there and on the Notre Dame campus as a whole. I was involved in research studies on educational and social development.

How is your work impacting the fight against COVID-19? 

I work with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Coastal & Northern New Jersey, and our agency serves 1,500 children (and their families) throughout 10 counties in NJ. My team's mission is to provide children direct support through 1:1 mentoring, and during this crisis and "social distancing" my team has gone above and beyond to let all of the people we serve know that we are there to support them in any way we can. Our jobs have transformed, and while we are still supporting our 1:1 matches, we are also connecting the most vulnerable families with resources and leveraging our community partnerships to provide relief for those who risk going hungry. We've been able to provide over 500 meals (and counting), as well as a growing $1,700 in grocery gift cards to families in dire situations. We've provided virtual check-in sessions to children throughout all of our site-based programs to let them know they are not alone throughout this and can reach out to us so we can help. We're introducing new Big Brothers/Sisters with their mentees virtually so that we can support even more children. We're calling all of our families to see how we can be of service, in addition to ideas for how the child and their mentor can stay connected and inject some positivity during this time. We're letting people know that they are not alone and have a whole community to which they belong.

How did Notre Dame influence your career path?  

Notre Dame provided me the insight of community and how we can be connected both locally and globally. I lived in a bubble until I went to Notre Dame, and through my opportunity of studying abroad in Fremantle, Australia, my worldview opened to include connections around the globe. Returning to Notre Dame my senior year, I served in the AmeriCorps program at the Robinson Community Center in South Bend, which showed me the power I have to impart small albeit powerful changes at a local level. Notre Dame was a conductive force, connecting its students with ways they can find meaning in helping the community to which they belong. The closer I looked, I realized I belong to the South Bend community and that I have the power to help. I moved to South Korea to teach English after graduation, and I realized I belonged to that new, rural, foreign community in which I was enmeshed. You are part of the community wherever you travel and are responsible for caring for it and its people. You realize you are part of a global community and can always be of help if you believe you have the power to. I thank Notre Dame for helping me discover that mentality. Notre Dame also showed me how one can be supportive with what you have. I am lucky enough to still be working throughout all of this and can support myself. I'll be receiving a stimulus check and was able to use mine to inspire other people who have the power to help to divert those funds to those who need it most by providing gift cards to grocery stores. 

What message would you like to share with your Notre Dame family? 

For all the negative one can find in the world — at any point — there are equal measures positive. Those of us with the gifts of community that Notre Dame has provided us, especially, should feel emboldened to BE that positivity for others and to spread it wherever you can. We are lucky to have this community, and we should extend community wherever we can — to those who are struggling, to those who did not have the gift of attending this or any university, to, simply, everyone we can. Making tiny changes through small gestures of kindness and compassion, that is how we build community on a global level.


Additional Domers Doing Good


Nathaniel Balmert, M.D. '13

Nathan is a resident physician with Henry Ford Allegiance Health. He graduated with his M.D. from Western Michigan University in 2019 and is now doing his internship year. He is on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 virus, rotating through the Emergency Department and soon through the ICU.

Cullen Hegarty, M.D. '94

Cullen works in the ER at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, as an emergency physician.  He is also the Program Director for the Emergency Medicine Residency program, overseeing 32 residents. Dr. Hegarty has been very involved with COVID-19 planning for his Emergency Department and for the residency program.

Christy Yakamavich Jimenez ’96

Christy is part of the front line of medical responders working as an ER nurse at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. Parkland serves as Dallas County's public hospital and was named the busiest ER in the country (as of the end of 2019). Her shift is from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. (or when the work has to be completed to care for her patients). She is dedicated to doing all she can to provide the care and comfort for people who come to the ER.

Tanya Kne, M.D. ’89

Tanya is helping to lead the COVID-19 response for the largest health system in Arizona, Banner Health.

Michael Mercurio ’13, ’17 J.D.

Although not working on the medical "front lines," Michael is a member of his law firm's "SBA Disaster Relief Team." In this role, he's been helping small businesses apply for grants and forgiveness-eligible/low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration (SBA) so that they can keep their businesses afloat and retain and pay their employees. I know that he takes his Notre Dame education and his vocation in law seriously and that he, therefore, wants to use his legal training to serve those in need. He has been working tirelessly to understand the CARES Act (which Congress passed to help combat coronavirus) and the related regulations so that he can help explain them to small businesses and nonprofits, determine their eligibility for certain grants and loans, and make the application process as easy as possible. I am so proud of Michael and how he has jumped at the opportunity to do what he can to help businesses stay open and their employees keep their jobs during this financially difficult time.

Kevin O’Mara, M.D., FACEP, ’76

Kevin works at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, a Level 1 Trauma Center in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. The patient population consists of many of the homeless and underserved. At the beginning of the pandemic, he recognized the need for appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and, based on years of HAZMAT training while in the United States Air Force, purchased his own respirator mask and helped persuade management to provide personal respirators for all of the Emergency Department providers. In addition, he works with many of the staff on the proper donning and doffing of PPE.

Julie Wilson

Julie Wilson, Morris Inn's Food and Beverage Manager, shows compassion to her team every day. It's hard to meet the demands of working on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is no stopping Julie. As she works from home, she's still calling and checking in on her staff and offering to help, as well as jumping in to homeschool her children.