The College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE) celebrated a beloved tradition on December 5, 2012, when the annual Founders Day Celebration and Christmas Concert took place before an audience of more than 400 in Dolan Performance Hall, Annunciation Center, on campus. This year, the College honored Patricia Hallen Clough, ’69, with the Mother Xavier Award, for her work in developing a creative writing program for inmates at a Hawaiian women’s prison.
The Mother Xavier Award presentation was accompanied by the College’s Christmas Concert featuring the Elizabeth Singers, the Festival Choir, and Orchestra. The audience that packed the hall enjoyed the singers who included current CSE students, alumnae/i, and friends. Together, the audience and the performers celebrated Christmas as a community in true CSE style.
The Mother Xavier Award is the highest honor the College bestows on an alumna/i, and it is given to a CSE graduate who exemplifies the vision, courage, and faith of Mother Mary Xavier Mehegan (1825-1915), foundress of both the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth in 1859 and the College of Saint Elizabeth in 1899. Since its establishment in 1956, the award has been given to 56 graduates. Many recipients have been leaders in their fields and all have been devoted to serving and improving their communities.
In announcing Clough’s arrival to the CSE community, College President Sister Francis Raftery said, “The tradition of the Mother Xavier Award is in its 56th year, selecting an alumna who lives out the mission and values of the College as handed on by Mother Xavier. Tonight we are delighted to welcome Pat Clough – all the way from Hawaii. As an English major, secondary education, she used her skill and gifts so beautifully in Hawaii as she works with women prisoners. She not only taught them poetry, but – miracle of miracles – she tapped within them the ability to write poetry. As one woman prisoner said, for the first time in her life, she found she had a voice. So we look forward to celebrating Pat’s life and the tradition of the College of Saint Elizabeth.”
Clough credits her career success with the education she received at CSE. “I had the finest English professors at Saint Elizabeth’s anyone could hope to have as an undergraduate student,” she says. . “They instilled in me a love for literature and words. My work at the women’s prison for the past nine years has served to align me more deeply with my roots and the meaning and value of the transformation process, my own as well as my students. They have come to expect that of me – that I live what I teach.”
As a role model to her students and to present day CSE students, Clough exemplifies the College’s mission of commitment to service. Her writing project began when she noticed a group of women inmates working at a landscaping project at a local park while guards stood watch. Looking for a way to use her teaching skills after a career in education, Clough approached the prison’s administration, and Changing Lives … The Prison Writing Project was born.
Today, the group has written eight volumes of Hulihia, the Hawaiian word meaning to transform. In 2008, the writing project took its next step when it began a community outreach program, Prison Monologues, where a group of prisoners read their works to school and community groups. Clough has also written her own book, Unlikely Heroines. “My book is about the courageous, talented, and heartbreaking women I have come to know, imprisoned for years, finding freedom behind bars through writing.”
During the event, Clough was presented with the Mother Xavier Award. Looking out over the audience, Clough said, “It feels like a homecoming tonight. I am here where I started so many years ago. How many of us get to come back much later in life, revisit the impact of the teachings and offer in person what you did with your legacy? Sister Francis, you represent the gift givers – a Magi of the Sisters of Charity. Fortunate are we who can come back and tell you what we did with your gifts.
“My work at the women’s prison for the past nine years has served to align me more deeply with my roots and the meaning and value of the transformation process, my own as well as my students. My students have come to expect that of me – to live what I teach. I learned what being truly authentic means here at CSE and what a gift it is!”
Clough remained in New Jersey for the following week to host a writing workshop and address a justice studies class for CSE students.