Alumni Spotlight: S. Mary Ross '69, C.S.J.

Alumni Spotlight: S. Mary Ross ’69, C.S.J.
Setting Others on the Road to Redemption
by Valerie Esposito

While growing up in Brooklyn, S. Mary Ross ’69, C.S.J., knew that she wanted to become an educator. After receiving a Catholic education, she and a group of friends chose to attend St. Joseph’s College because of the reputation it had gained for training teachers.

During her years as a child study major, S. Mary was a member of the varsity basketball team and the Student Government Association. After graduating, she spent one year teaching before entering into the Sisters of St. Joseph. She then earned a master’s degree in education and continued teaching before becoming a campus minister at Queens College and then executive director of Providence House, a not-for-profit organization founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

Located in Brooklyn, Providence House helps transform the lives of homeless, abused and formerly incarcerated women and their children by providing shelter and support through a network of organizations. 

“I ended up a little far from my post-graduation dreams,” S. Mary said. “I had been taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph since kindergarten and my education has afforded me endless possibilities.”

Leading a life characterized by integrity, intellectual and spiritual values, social responsibility and service, S. Mary also earned a law degree, worked as a public defender and volunteered to teach defense attorneys in Afghanistan.

After an extensive career in which she held many positions, S. Mary felt ready for a change and applied for a seat on the New York State Board of Parole. When she was appointed in 2008, S. Mary became the first alumna of SJC and the first Sister of St. Joseph to do so.

Comprised of 14 members who are appointed by the governor to serve six-year terms, the board’s primary task is to decide if an inmate serving a sentence in one of New York state’s correctional facilities should be granted discretionary release to the community.

“As members of the board, our main goal is to protect public safety,” S. Mary said. “We try to fulfill our mission by making fair and accurate decisions about people who are incarcerated to determine if they present any danger to society.”

By interviewing the inmates and reviewing reports prepared by parole officers, the board determines whether or not they will be released to parole supervision and what the conditions of release will be for each inmate.

“We are a very dedicated group who share many different views on a number of things, including life and death,” S. Mary said. “The joy in doing something like this is jointly making decisions in a professional and courteous manner with people from very diverse backgrounds.”

Since joining the board, S. Mary has interviewed more than 3,200 people and played an integral part in making decisions about their releases. In addition to hearing what the inmates have to say, the board also interviews victims and their families regarding the impact the crimes committed have had on their lives. S. Mary handles the majority of these interviews for Nassau and Suffolk counties and describes this task as heart wrenching.

“The greatest challenge is making the right decisions,” S. Mary said. “We don’t have a crystal ball, and we can only hope that the people we release become law-abiding citizens and do not commit any new crimes.”

2014 will mark the end of her six-year term on the Board of Parole, but S. Mary hopes to be reappointed so she can continue doing the work she has come to enjoy.

With that said, her advice is simple: “Do what you love and you will always be happy,” S. Mary said. “If that’s not possible, then do what you can the best way you can, and don’t settle for less than what can bring you happiness.”

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