BALTIMORE — Alice Chen wasn’t expecting to receive a class ring at Mercy High School in Baltimore this school year.
With family resources stretched because of a business fire, the senior didn’t have extra money for the cherished school symbol.
In September, however, Chen slipped on a “legacy ring” donated by Celeste McGinnity Skinner of the class of 1968. It fit perfectly and now remains on Chen’s finger.
Chen said she was “washed over by a wave of shock and immense gratitude,” as she learned about Skinner and the Mercy legacy ring Skinner donated to the school to be passed along to a deserving student such as Chen.
“Receiving a legacy ring adds a layer of connection to past graduates and commitment to being a ‘Mercy Girl’ that you wouldn’t feel otherwise,” Chen said. “The ring is a representation of strong, compassionate and independent women who have come before me. It empowers me to hold up to that standard.”
Skinner moved to Louisiana some 40 miles north of New Orleans a few years after high school. She had a 37-year career as a social worker in child protective services while raising two sons.
She spontaneously removed her Mercy ring and donated it back to the school while attending her 50th class reunion.
“It was an emotional moment for me,” Skinner told the Catholic Review, Baltimore’s archdiocesan news outlet. “I wanted to give my ring to someone who would carry on the Mercy legacy.”
The Mercy Legacy Ring program started in 2003 when a class of 1964 ring was given to the school, according to Karen Maimone, director of alumnae engagement at Mercy and a member of the class of 1992.
Some 50 rings have since been gifted, and alumnae have bequeathed their rings in wills. Mercy rings also are passed down from grandmothers to mothers to current Mercy students.
“The Circle of Mercy is really timeless,” Maimone said.
Chen is a Catherine McAuley scholar and a member of the National Honor Society. She enjoys a plethora of school activities including producing podcasts on immigration with two of her classmates for their senior project.
“To be a ‘woman of Mercy’ means we are called to challenge the wrong, stand up for what we believe, pursue our goals, and leave our footprints behind for the next generation to follow,” Chen said. “It means to bring forth what it means to be a Mercy girl both as a global citizen and a good member of the Mercy community.”
Chen’s future interests include studying biology and neuroscience and exploring linguistics and ethnic studies. Her long-term goal is to become a physician bringing health care to historically excluded communities.
Chen said the letters and gifts exchanged with Skinner represent “the beginning of a bond forming.”
“I’m so grateful to have the special relationship with her (Skinner) and I see her as a role model who embodies the values of Mercy,” Chen said. “That pushes me to pursue my goals relentlessly.”
Skinner, 71, noted that she has never lost her bond with Mercy. She participates in weekly Zoom chats with former classmates living in Maryland, California, New Mexico and Kentucky. Up to 20 classmates join the video chat to reminisce and share stories.
Skinner now hopes to meet Chen in person during a trip to Baltimore in the spring.
“To know what meant so much to me can mean so much to somebody else brings me to tears,” Skinner said.
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Parks is a visual journalist for the Catholic Review, the news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.