Following Her Path
Thoughtful, focused and determined, Jennifer McCollum Kugler ’97 took her time and followed her own path on the road to marriage, degree, children and career — more or less in that order.
She attended CHC but left after a year to explore the idea of entering the convent. Over the course of five years, she chose to return to college and got married. Kugler returned to Chestnut Hill College and graduated in 1997 with her degree in elementary education and minors in religious studies and art history. Two years after graduating, she and Bill adopted their children from Vietnam — twins — a boy and a girl.
Kugler feels a special affinity for Vietnam. She has been drawn to its beauty and the injustices of the Vietnam War, in part because she had an uncle who fought there.
“I feel that my job is to bring justice into the world in whatever way I can, and I’ve always felt that if I know something is wrong, I need to help make it right,” she says.
She has always also felt she wanted to teach.
“I always knew I wanted to be a Catholic school teacher,” says Kugler. “And I always knew I wanted to attend Chestnut Hill College — from the minute I walked down the hall from Fournier to St. Joseph Hall. It just took me time to do it right.
“CHC became like family and I had friends across campus, in spite of our age differences,” she remembers. “I took a full load and worked in the business office and front desk and also volunteered in the graduate department.”
A little more than two years after landing her “dream job” teaching 8th grade at Holy Saviour in Norristown, Abigail and William came into her life. For several reasons, Kugler decided to take time off to be with her children, only 5-months-old when they came to live in Pennsylvania.
“I knew I wanted to pay special attention to bonding with them and plus, it would have cost more to return to work than to pay for two infants in daycare,” she says with a laugh.
Return to work, she did, after the children started school. And now they are preparing to attend Full Sail University, an arts and entertainment university in central Florida. After teaching middle school for 15 years, Kugler now teaches American history and sociology at John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School, where she has been since 2014.
Lifelong learning is another of Kugler’s passions, and she has just earned her master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide Studies from Gratz College. She also holds a graduate certificate in Jewish-Christian relations.
“I went for my master’s degree just for myself,” she explains. “I’ve always been interested in that era and its inhumanity. It’s so hard to understand how people could do that.”
When not teaching, Kugler works with the ADL’s Bearing Witness development program, a joint Catholic/Jewish program started by the Washington, D.C., Diocese and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), something she discovered about 14 years ago.
“Furthering education and relationships between Catholics and Jews is something I have always had an interest in too,” she says. She works with the ADL and facilitates some of their programs and is part of the Bearing Witness program in Philadelphia, which teaches school teachers about the Holocaust.
Kugler credits CHC and the “whole charism of the SSJ’s which imprinted itself into my DNA,” with her attention to righting the world’s wrongs and addressing injustices wherever she can.
“So many of the Sisters were examples of not just seeing injustice, but fixing it, and that became important to me as well,” she says.
“In this era of education as a business, CHC remains much more than that. It’s about an education, absolutely, but also about the formation of the human person, which is a huge deal,” Kugler adds. “I don’t know that a lot of colleges worry about that so much, but the Hill has never lost its commitment to the whole human being.”
- Brenda Lange