Changing the World

Matteo Ricci College’s Serena Cosgrove inspires through action and activism

Written by Annie Beckmann

Photography by KJ Zunigha
March 27, 2012
For Serena Cosgrove, Matteo Ricci College is perhaps the best fit imaginable. Not only did she graduate from Matteo Ricci in 1985, with degrees in French and Humanities, but she is now an assistant professor there.

Jodi Kelly, Matteo Ricci’s dean, has known Cosgrove since the days when Kelly taught at Seattle Prep, where Cosgrove was a student in the late 1970s.

“Serena represents the best of our hopes for our graduates,” says Kelly, “namely, that they take advantage of their years as undergraduates to earn a well-rounded education in the Humanities in order to construct a solid foundation on which they can build anything.”

Cosgrove’s reasons for returning to SU are more complex than one might think. When she graduated, she embarked on an odyssey that took her to Latin America for extended periods in the revolutionary times of the late 1980s. An unarmed civilian in war zones, she put to use all she learned about social justice as an undergraduate at SU, first as a volunteer with human rights groups in Nicaragua, then in El Salvador.

“It wasn’t about charity. It wasn’t about saving anyone, it was about learning from them, accompanying people as they transform their lives, and standing in solidarity with the people of Latin America,” she says.

There were those who wanted her to return to Seattle. Among them, Dave Madsen, ’69, then in his greener years of teaching at SU, who left a memorable impression on her—and soon became her sponsor/godfather when she converted to Catholicism shortly after she found her way to Latin America.

After he read a story in the Seattle Times Pacific Magazine about Cosgrove’s fundraising efforts for Latin American women whose husbands had disappeared, Madsen wrote her. He suggested Cosgrove was involved in problems much bigger than she was and maybe it was time to be thinking of people other than herself.

Madsen, today an associate professor of history, chuckles over the irony—as if Cosgrove was thinking only of herself at the time. Nevertheless, in correspondence Madsen still keeps in his office file cabinet and shares with his students today, Cosgrove wrote back: “Hey, quit teaching if you don’t want some of your students to make the connections and try to take a role in the world, in history.”

It was 1989 when Cosgrove lived in San Salvador where six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered by members of the Salvadoran Army’s elite battalion, the Atlacatl. In a recent campus panel on protest movements, Cosgrove referred to that horrific occurrence: “To this day, those of us who were there feel we owe our lives to the martyrdom of the Jesuits.”

Cosgrove’s journey later took her to Northeastern University in Boston for graduate studies in anthropology and sociology, including a Fulbright for her doctoral research, then back to Latin America where she worked for a private foundation in sustainable development.

Lectures and papers brought her to Seattle again and she began work on Leadership from the Margins: Women and Civil Society Organizations in Argentina, Chile, and El Salvador. She soon learned from Arthur Fisher, then-dean, and Kelly, then associate dean, that a new leadership degree was in development at Matteo Ricci.

“A Jesuit education ties theory to real-world issues for me,” Cosgrove says. “I knew I was ready to form leaders for a different kind of world.”

Today, Cosgrove is expanding her research into Africa, hoping to facilitate exchange between women nonprofit leaders in the Americas with women in Africa.

Cosgrove’s family is another point of pride for her. Her daughter, Meme Garcia-Cosgrove, is a sophomore SU Sullivan Scholar who studies theater so she can support art-for-social change efforts in Latin America. Cosgrove has known her husband Martin Bosworth, ’85, since they were both students at Seattle Prep and later, Matteo Ricci College.

A thought-provoking speaker, when Cosgrove was recently on that SU panel about protest movements, she offered advice on how to stay safe during times of conflict. “I took risks, but they were calculated risks,” she said.

“You need to have a family of supporters to keep an eye on you. You also need information so you know what’s going on—have the history and facts. ... My impact would have been so much less had I been killed.”
Assistant Professor Serena Cosgrove outside the house of Petronila Catrileo in Pocuno, Chile with former SU student Jill Douglas in the background.