Their Legacy of Service

Kathleen Fox ’74 draws on her time at Saint Mary’s every day of her life

Let’s just get it out of the way. Kathleen Flynn Fox ’74 is the chair of the largest Habitat for Humanity in the United States—and it’s a big deal. Even before she was elected to the role in June Kathleen Flynn Fox2022, Fox had worked every day in key roles. Whether it’s engaging with new board members, attending the dedication and blessing of new homes, fundraising, or myriad other tasks, it’s an active role, and she couldn’t be happier.

Habitat for Humanity of Collier County was established in March 1978 and has built more than 2,400 homes to date. It is one of the oldest and most successful affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International, which was organized in Americus, Georgia in 1976. Like all affiliates, the pandemic stifled the volunteer corps of the Naples, Florida-based organization, drastically reducing its ability to build and refurbish homes. Then, just as it regained its stride, Hurricane Ian hit Collier County hard, creating another series of extraordinary circumstances. 

“Southwest Florida had a shortage of affordable housing prior to Hurricane Ian,” Fox said. “All of us at Habitat Collier have had to really kick it up in order to meet the need. It is dire.” For every house built, there is a waiting list of 20 or more applicants, she said. “But we are mission-driven, and we are doing all the work that we need to do in order to get houses built.” She is grateful that volunteers are able to work again and the organization is back in full swing.

Fox is actually the first woman to lead the board in its 45-year history, but she doesn’t dwell on that. “It’s kind of sad that we’re still saying that in this day and age, but I don’t worry about that. I just want to get the job done. I want to get the houses built now and move the families into them.”

She is no stranger to public service. Prior to her work with Habitat, Fox spent 35 years with Catholic Charities as a volunteer, chairing the Minneapolis board, as well as sitting on the national board. Fueled by her Catholic faith, Fox does all she can to keep humanity in all of her volunteer assignments. In 2010, Catholic Charities USA presented its Centennial Medal to her in recognition of her volunteer service. Then, in 2012, she was recognized by the College when she received the honorary Doctor of Humanities. Throughout her life, she has been an ardent supporter of children’s charities, especially those which promote children’s literacy, and supporting programs that assist those in poverty. All this in addition to a rich professional life, as a partner with Silver Fox Partners, sole proprietor of Silver Fox Marketing, and vice president of Lieberman Enterprises.

Her love of Saint Mary’s runs deep, and she gets to campus as often as possible, bringing with her some big ideas. Because of Fox, today Saint Mary’s alumnae can have their funeral Mass at Church of Loretto. The idea came to her four years ago, so she got to work, collaborating with Sister Veronique Wiedower ’70, CSC, president of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, to formalize the process. Now all alumnae have this opportunity.

Continuing her legacy, Fox’s two granddaughters attend Saint Mary’s. Caitlyn Fox ’23 will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while her sister Chelsea Fox ’25 is studying business. When she earned her history degree in 1974, she was the first of her five siblings to do so.

“Saint Mary’s was definitely integral in letting me see the world,” Fox said. “The education I received was transformative. There is nothing like it. I left there with friends that I can call in the middle of the night to this day. It really is so much a part of my DNA, it would be hard to separate Saint Mary’s from church, from friendships and my  family.”

This clarity allows her to see the world through a different lens, and it impacts her work every day at Habitat. 

“When the families move in, when we bless the houses, it’s the icing on the cake for me. The families have been through a lot to get there, and you can just tell they are going to achieve the American dream of home ownership, and the chance to escape the cycle of poverty,” Fox said.

Another Trailblazing Alumna at Habitat

There is no doubt that Saint Mary’s provides students with the tools they need to blow expectations out of the water. Just ask Cathy Kurczak ’09, manager of construction operations at Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston. In a male-dominated industry, Kurczak feels right at Cathy Kurczakhome, confident in the skills she’s developed while at and since graduating from Saint Mary’s. We asked Kurcak to elaborate on her current role at Habitat and reflect on her years at Saint Mary’s.

Saint Mary’s College: How did you get into construction management?

Cathay Kurczak: It more or less fell into my lap. Once I found Habitat and found this passion for building homes for deserving families, I wanted to grow my skills and keep moving up within Habitat. I’ve also been fortunate to have amazing supervisors that see potential in me and have given me the skills needed and opportunities to grow. In the long run, I either want to be the CEO of a Habitat affiliate or work for Habitat International.

What do you like best about your work?
Serving others; all I have ever wanted to do is serve others. We work alongside deserving families who are bettering their families lives, it’s incredible to see the joy these families have in making their homeownership dream come true. I also love the volunteers because it’s the same feeling of serving others. Volunteers come for a single day, whether they have construction experience or not, and try to make a difference in the lives of the future homeowners. You see the joy and empowerment in volunteers also because so many of them would never have had the opportunity to work on a home, use a power tool, realize they can carry a sheet of plywood. Every day is different and incredible.

It's a male-dominated industry. What is that like for you?
I have never had a problem with working in a male-dominated industry. I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing co-workers who also believe anyone can do any job. Habitat for Humanity cares about all the people of the world, and the working environment is one for all people regardless of sex, gender, race, ethnic background, sexuality, religion. I also believe that since my only experience in construction is with Habitat for Humanity, my perspective is skewed with what it would be like to work anywhere else in construction as a woman.

There are people outside of Habitat that come to Habitat build sites who are not used to being directed by a woman and it shows. I try to meet people where they are, and walk with them from there to be successful in the project at hand. I don’t take it personally; I think that is key. Everyone reacts to situations based on their previous knowledge or experience, and everyone is coming from a different place. Accepting that fact and agreeing we all have a common goal is how I adapt to work through a challenge. It’s hard for me to say anything negative because it’s not me or what I focus on, I try to find the positive in all situations, but I cannot deny I know many women, many of my coworkers, have had many issues with men and this issue of white male dominance that continues in construction and our country. At times I do think about how my Saint Mary’s education paved a path for me to be successful in this industry and I think that’s why I have gotten to where I am.

What brought you to Saint Mary's for your undergraduate degree?
My sister attended Notre Dame (’07) and I loved visiting her there, but I was looking for a smaller school where I could play sports, so I visited Saint Mary’s. I remember loving the campus and the feeling I had walking around before applying. I’m glad my sister was at Notre Dame because I wouldn’t have found Saint Mary’s without that.

What sticks with you the most from your time there? Was there a particular class, club, activity, etc. that is memorable?
Sports stick out the most. I played volleyball and softball. I learned so much from my coaches and teammates, about myself and my abilities, and I know I am who I am today because of those beautiful people.

What did you see yourself doing when you graduated? How far off is your current job from that?
When I graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise. I studied psychology and loved it, but knew I was not immediately planning to pursue a master’s degree. At the time I was still a summer Girl Scout camp counselor and considered a career in Girl Scouts, as well as wanting to continue with sports if possible. I was fortunate to be offered the assistant volleyball coach position at Saint Mary’s the season after I graduated. From there I became an assistant volleyball and softball coach for a couple of years at another Division 3 school in Indiana while spending summers as a resident Girl Scout camp director. New paths and opportunities kept progressing and I finally landed serving in AmeriCorps at Habitat in Indianapolis and found the career I wanted to pursue.

Did anything here prepare your confidence as a woman in a male dominated industry?
Saint Mary’s prepared me tremendously to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Every class I took, as a first year in particular, instilled in me women empowerment. I think just hearing it over and over again that women can do anything, that I myself could do anything and make an impact on the world, I never doubted what I could or couldn’t do. I was never intimidated to stay and/or grow in construction.

Is there a lesson / message in general from here that you carry with you?
“Once a Belle, always a Belle.”

March 10, 2023