Current St. Joseph’s students would have to call themselves lucky if they could keep up with Class of 1962 graduate Virginia O’Rourke McLaughlin. An active participant on both the Long Island and Brooklyn branches of the St. Joseph’s College Alumni Association, “Ginny” seems never to have a moment of rest, with her energy and time spent between giving back to the college she credits with giving her “a lifetime of learning,” and enjoying her retirement with a full social and cultural life.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in child study, McLaughlin continued her studies at Hunter College, where she received a master’s degree in speech communication. She worked as a classroom teacher and then as a speech pathologist in public schools, first in Brooklyn and later in Hicksville, Long Island. She has lived in Huntington, Long Island for more than 40 years.
“I had a fabulous career,” she said of her work in education, which included writing curriculum for television, helping with the development of Head Start programs, and working in private practice after retiring from the classroom. As with most of her successes, she credits St. Joe’s with her fulfilling and dynamic career.
“It’s the St. Joseph’s degree that made me strong in new situations. I knew I had what I needed to be successful,” she explained.
McLaughlin’s time at St. Joseph’s — when tuition was just $16 a credit — was in some ways difficult, as she was not prepared for the amount of reading that she would have to do, and struggled in some of her science and math classes. With the help of her teachers, she managed to succeed academically and maintain the alumni scholarship she was awarded before her freshman year, while also participating in the Chapel Players Dramatic Society, the religion committee, and the yearbook.
Her mother, Anne Hennessy O’Rourke ’35, was a major influence on her life, ever enthusiastic about St. Joseph’s and allowing her daughter to work only during the summer and while school was on break, so that she would have the benefit of fully experiencing everything St. Joseph’s had to offer.
While working through the rigorous academics of St. Joseph’s, McLaughlin’s life was balanced by the tremendous friends she met and has kept to this day. “All these years later, my dearest friends are the ones I met all those years ago because we shared something that only comes once — your undergraduate education,” she said.
In addition to offering an atmosphere in which she bonded with her classmates, the College also introduced her to the expansive cultural opportunities of New York.
“Our campus was New York City,” she explained. “We had this amazing city, and we were encouraged to explore it. Life was out there; life was not just in Brooklyn and there was a lot to see and do.” A love for art, opera, ballet and theater was instilled in McLaughlin while she was at St. Joseph’s, and has carried her through life. In conversation, her references to Broadway shows, museum exhibitions, and contemporary fiction are numerous. Though she lives in Huntington, she takes the train to the city to meet friends almost every week to catch up on the latest shows, or to participate in one of the three walking groups of which she is a member.
Walking, camping, paddling and hiking are all a big part of McLaughlin’s life. Several times a year she participates in shoreline walks of Manhattan — the 32-mile circumference of the borough is a favorite. In the warmer months, she enjoys solo camping in the Adirondacks and paddling Long Island’s waters. When asked if she is ever fearful about camping alone, she emphatically said, “No; campers are the nicest people in the world.”
Traveling continues to be a highlight for her and she frequently visits Ireland to spend time with her family and hike the mountains and coastal trails. When not exploring the city, getting into nature, or spending time with her family — she has three children and four grandchildren — McLaughlin dedicates her time to giving back to St. Joseph’s.
“The thrill for me has been to be on the board. That’s what St. Joe’s is about: You receive, but then you give back.”
She serves as a liaison between the Long Island and Brooklyn alumni boards, helping them to stay up to date with each other and support each other. In 2006, she established an endowed scholarship fund in honor of her sister, Annie O’Rourke ’71, who passed away in 2001. The fund benefits one Brooklyn Campus student each year who is in need of financial assistance.
“I’m indebted to St. Joe’s for the breadth of living that it has given me,” McLaughlin says.