She Found Gratitude
Eileen Long Hessman ’60
After her first year of classes at Chestnut Hill College, life changed dramatically for Eileen Long Hessman ’60. With the death of her father and loss of her family home, Hessman moved onto campus (she had commuted for three years of high school at Mount Saint Joseph Academy and her first year of college), which truly became her home.
“The College was such an important part of my life. Everyone was very nurturing and caring. The friends I made there have become lifelong friends, and they helped me emerge from grief and loss,” Hessman recalls. “As the years have gone by and I’ve looked at how strong an education my friends and I had there, I’ve been amazed.”
She remembers the Sisters of Saint Joseph as “not only administrators, but professors and role models who exhibited a tradition of perseverance and commitment to what they did, including education, values, critical thinking and formation of character.” She credits the experience with making gratitude a large part of her life.
The psychology major/English minor studied hard. She swam with the team her first year, sang in a small choral group throughout her stay and focused on academics. After graduation, at the beginning of the Kennedy era, Hessman moved to Washington, D.C., and shared an apartment with other CHC graduates. She worked with the U.S. Dept. of Labor, counseling young people and encouraging them to stay in school, and she helped establish a job corps program.
While in Washington, she earned her master’s degree in English literature from Catholic University, and then she joined a volunteer group and traveled to Tokyo, where she taught English literature and writing for a year.
“I had been looking for a way to combine psychology and English, and writing is one of the avenues to guiding young people. If they are in need of help, it shows up in their writing,” she says.
When her teaching commitment was complete, rather than fly home, Hessman decided to see more of the world and took a ship halfway around the world, visiting and staying with friends of CHC or family.
A couple of events stand out for her from this unusual experience: “Around 1964, many people from Vietnam were on the ship,” she begins. “They were Catholic, and their priest would hold Mass in the hold of the ship. I joined them, and the singing in Vietnamese was beautiful.”
She disembarked in Alexandria and toured Cairo. Then she flew to Israel and stayed in the Franciscan House of Hospitality in Jerusalem, taking day trips from there. “I met some of the scholars who had been working on a new translation of the Bible, taking the newly discovered Dead Sea Scrolls into account.”
She ended her journey in Rome, where her mother joined her to celebrate Christmas.
It must have taken some measure of courage to set off on a ’round-the-world journey alone. She credits the sisters of Chestnut Hill College. “They were not only nurturers, but they knew how to encourage others with their spirit. They had a ‘can-do’ attitude that just let you know that you could do whatever you set out to do in life — with God’s help, of course.”
In addition to attending reunions, serving on the alumni board in the 1980s and donating to the scholarship fund, Hessman and her husband, Andrew, established another fund — the Long-Hessman Endowed Fund, providing support for the CHC/SSJ Legacy Program.
Hessman, who worked as a writer and editor for a time, raised two children, Sean and Annamarie. She volunteered in each of their schools, and, since they have grown, she has led intensive ecumenical Bible study groups. She also is an amateur investor and finance coach.
Her life has been challenging, fun and diverse.
“I took for granted that women could be college presidents and heads of research teams, and publish, grow and change and do all that in a spiritual context,” she says. “It meant that I could go out of Chestnut Hill and do it too. As I got older, I realized what I had accepted as normal and had taken for granted was something to be grateful for. And I am.”