April 2021 Better than Expected: ND Law School 1987 Alumnae Reconnect During Pandemic

Despite the isolation and social distancing brought about by the pandemic, a group of class of 1987 Notre Dame Law School alumnae found themselves reviving bonds that formed 34 years ago. Julia Briscoe ‘93 JD writes about how these friends started a social Zoom meetup to stay in touch only to see it grow into a monthly class reunion. 

Better than Expected: ND Law School 1987 Alumnae Reconnect During Pandemic

By Julia Briscoe ‘93 JD

Expect the unexpected. At least for some of us, almost nothing was less expected than the global shutdown of society because of COVID-19. Like COVID-19, however, we humans are protean — and social. Like maze runners, we found new paths of creative reconnection. 

In this spirit, a cadre of Notre Dame Law School alumnae from the class of 1987 has turned a handful of Zoom calls into a class-wide ladies’ forum. 

It all started with a trip to Las Vegas. Mary Ambrose-Gerak, Karen Koster, Kristin Jaros, and Shauna Brennan, who had kept in touch off and on since graduation, decided to meet for a girls’ weekend. The trip was a success, and they were ready to plan the next one when the shelter-in-place orders took effect. While waiting, they decided to stay in touch via the fledgling Zoom application. It was an idea that would prove transformative.

The early calls were spent comparing notes on the still young shelter-in-place experience—how, where, and with whom they each were waiting out the pandemic—and, among other things, they tapped into a common feeling of isolation. There were 44 women in the roughly 155-member class of 1987, 43 of whom are still living.* Mary reached out to class secretary Mike Gurdak for email addresses, and the group began to grow. As she observed, “Isolation is not limited to pandemics,” and the foursome took it upon themselves to start reunifying the ladies of the class.

Mary Ambrose-Gerak '87 J.D.

As attendance grew, topics ranged from celebratory to somber to intellectual. One call focused on careers and another on charitable work; there was even one on pets. Mary noticed how naturally the classmates picked up where they had left off 34 years ago, comparing notes and discovering common life experiences. Their diverse paths in life brought them together. Some of the former classmates have kept in touch over the years while others have reconnected, and still others are getting to really know each other for the first time. They collaborate, they celebrate (complete with party hats and champagne toasts), they network, they fundraise, they brainstorm, they laugh, they cry, and at every meeting they pray.

The conversations are enriching, yet it is not the dialogue per se that holds the group together. It is simply that rejuvenating process of bonding and rebonding. The common thread, if there is one, is faith in the broadest sense — faith in the sense of trust in, reliance on, and firm belief in each other. Mary summed it up: “Friends found each other at times of great uncertainty….I believe one of the invaluable resources that we offer each other as ND ladies is to be available to assist and support each other as we continue to make a difference in the world, doing the most good!” She describes the calls as a “spiritual bouquet.” It is in this sense that the virtual gatherings are, in some members’ opinions, uniquely Notre Dame.

The meetings are monthly, typically on a Sunday simply because that has been the day when those members who work or care for children or aging parents have a few moments of rest. The calls are consistently well attended. Members have also set up a Notre Dame Ladies Class of 1987 Facebook page.

There are no male classmates in the group, for no particular reason. Perhaps they will join in the future. In the meantime, they are included in a group email and shared Facebook page.

The pandemic has made us all reevaluate our priorities. Social distancing may or may not be the answer to eluding COVID-19, but it has ultimately made the world smaller by bringing people together in new ways. Had there been no pandemic in 2020—had things gone as expected—the alumnae of the class of 1987 might not have reconvened, shared, and bonded on the same scale. They have yet to meet in person, and yet they are closer than they were before the pandemic or might ever have been without it. The shelter-in-place will end, and the world will reopen. What is the plan for the virtual gatherings going forward? As of this writing, group members have no plans to stop meeting. 

*Editor’s Note: Kim Fanning Chelini passed away in 2008. 

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