Why I Give: Christine Barrasso' 65
Christine Barrasso ’65, MT (ASCP) SBB, MAS retired from a 39-year career at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. While leading the Transfusion Medicine and Immunology Divisions within the Department of Pathology she had the opportunity to work with noted scientists to establish transfusion practices during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and served as an international laboratory consultant.
Her success is her own, but she quickly credits the Sisters of GMercyU with providing invaluable academic and personal experiences that lead to a meaningful career.
Today, Christine is a fervent supporter of the medical laboratory science field and a long-term supporter of the University where her philanthropy through annual giving has provided an enhanced academic experience and access to a GMercyU education for generations of students.
Journey to GMercyU
As a teenager, Christine always was interested in laboratory science, but financial concerns appeared to limit college access. In the early 1960s, women were not necessarily encouraged to attend college. At that time in history, many considered spending on a college education for woman a waste of money.
She, however, was fortunate to have a grandfather who supported her educational desire. “He was an immigrant from Poland who could neither read nor write," Christine said. “As such, he felt that education is never a waste and never wasted on a woman. He financially supported my second year of college because I was uncertain if financially, I could return to campus."
At that time the Medical Technologist program, as it was called at Gwynedd-Mercy Junior College, was a two-year program. The national certification agency then expanded the program to three years of academics and one year of clinical training.
“Because of this change, the class split – 50% left for Hahneman, where they could earn a bachelor’s degree with the remaining 50% of the class at Gwynedd. For those of us who stayed behind, the good Sisters waived tuition for the third year,” marveled Christine. “Then they worked vigilantly to have to program expanded to a baccalaureate degree. Our class of '65 was the first non-nun baccalaureates to graduate."
During this time, Christine also was inducted into Sigma Phi Sigma, the national Mercy honor society.
Stories of the Sisters
A residential student, Christine lived in Assumption Hall. “When you live with the Sisters, you come away with a very different perspective on things. They were a fantastic influence in my life. They obviously took a chance on me, because I’m sure my test scores were not great — I think that speaks to the Mercy values. The academics they provided offered me an opportunity to develop a meaningful career in my life. I have always been grateful to them for that."
That said, the Sisters were firm, and you never questioned the rules.
“No one today would believe or accept the things that were expected of residents. It was like living in a convent, but it did provide a good formation. As residents, we had to dress for dinner every night. So, here you are at the science lab trying to finish an experiment in a skirt and loafers. You had to run back to Assumption Hall, put on a dress and heels and make to the dining hall in time for a formal dinner. After dinner every night, we prayed the fastest rosary and I think must have set a speed record so that we could get back to the dorm for a few social minutes before silence and study hall at 7:00 p.m. Mass was mandatory every Friday morning in heels and cap and grown. The entire student body wore caps and gowns for monthly academic assemblies. We were in caps and gowns a lot! I have no idea why. No one asked. That’s what you did because that’s what the Sisters told you to do."
Freshman residents (aka "boarders") were not permitted to go home until Christmas break.
“Sister said you had to adjust to the changes and college life. Many residents had issues with it but everyone returned in January! As I look back, none of the rules were punitive. And I don’t think anyone viewed them as such. We didn’t particularly like them but with few exceptions, we obeyed."
Residents also were not allowed to have cars. There was a “jitney service” that, for a small fee and on a limited basis, would transport students to Ambler. Social activities were dances (called "mixers") that were held monthly. "LaSalle students were transported to our campus and we in turn would be jitneyed to their campus with one of the 'good Sisters' chaperoning the ride," Christine explained.
There were three Sisters who Christine thinks were pivotal in her college experience.
Sister Mary Gregory, the President, was a bit intimidating and prided herself on knowing every enrolled student’s name. Sister Mary Joan, the Dean of Students was a tall, eloquent woman who could deliver the worst news in a positive reassuring manner. Sister Marie Denise was the History Department chair. She was quite a character and lived in Assumption Hall. She spent a fair amount of her time trying to convert me to a history major. These three women shepherded GMercyU from a junior college to a college. They recognized when changes needed to be made going forward and didn’t hesitate to insure such changes were made.
After graduating, Christine worked in the laboratory at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading, Pa. and later for a small biologic manufacturing company in Westchester, Pa. She moved to Baltimore, Md. in 1972 to attend the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s clinical and didactic graduate program in blood banking and hematology which lead to a certification as a blood bank specialist.
She earned her master’s degree in administrative science from Johns Hopkins University. Christine remained at Johns Hopkins Hospital within the Department of Pathology as the manager of the newly formed Transfusion Medicine & Immunology Division where she stayed for the rest of her career.
The 1980s brought heightened concern about the potential for transmission of the HIV virus through blood transfusions. “I served on a committee of the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) with a group of prominent scientist to develop national regulations for blood donations and transfusion practices to ensure the safety of the blood supply. It was a very challenging time for the industry," she said.
Christine participated as an inspector in the national accreditation program of the AABB. Her career also extended abroad where she served as a laboratory consultant in Tehran, Iran and worked briefly with the Health Minister of Tanzania on laboratory development.
She is widely published in her field and served as an adjunct faculty member at Villa Julie College (now Stephenson University) and helped to mentor many clinical laboratory scientists.
Meeting the Need in Clinical Laboratory Science
The Antoni Malecki Endowed Scholarship for Clinical Laboratory Science
Today, the healthcare industry is emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic in need of professional employees. That was the inspiration for Christine to create the Antoni Malecki Endowment Scholarship Fund for Clinical Laboratory Science.
“I think the clinical lab science track is an underestimated program, especially with the shortage of workers in this field. Programs are focusing on nursing, as they should, but healthcare has a critical need for allied health care professionals such as x-ray, clinical lab scientists etc.," Christine said. “Clinical lab science education offers a wonderful career but also provides a stepping stone to others.”
During her career, many of Christine’s employees who graduated with degrees in medical technology worked in the field then went on to medical school. She feels that it is an undervalued degree and is proud the GMeryU continues to offer this degree program.
“I think it is fantastic that GMercyU is flourishing and is developing and expanding its allied health care programs. It is an absolute credit to the Sisters of Mercy as well as the subsequent leadership who have done an excellent job, as well,” she said.
The scholarship is named in honor of her grandfather, the Polish immigrant who was instrumental in financially and morally supporting Christine’s decision to attend Gwynedd-Mercy College.
My grandfather believed in the opportunities that a college education could provide, and he did what he could to ensure that I was able to graduate. The scholarship will honor his legacy as well as provide access and affordability to future Clinical Laboratory Scientists.
Christine is also honoring her special relationship with the University through a planned gift as a member of the Mother Mary Bernard Graham Foundation, Gwynedd Mercy University’s legacy donor society.
“The Sisters of Mercy took a chance on me and offered me a wonderful education that provided the basis for a successful career," Christine said. "The opportunities and what I gained from my Gwynedd Mercy education inspired me to include the University in part of my estate plan so that future generations of students can continue to experience an outstanding education and Mercy values."