When Helen O’Donnell came to Mount Ida College in the early 80s, she was adrift, having just lost both parents. Her father, Kenneth O’Donnell, had served his professional life alongside John F. Kennedy, seeing him through political failures and successes that propelled him to the White House.

“I knew I wanted to go to college, but I was afraid of being lost in the mix at a big school,” Helen says. Then, her sister-in-law, Chris O’Donnell, a history teacher, along with then Congressman Joseph Kennedy II, who had been like a big brother to her, recommended this small college in Newton that could afford her the ability to learn, grow and feel safe. “That College was Mount Ida and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity it gave me to do just that.”

After graduating with an associate degree in paralegal studies in 1982, Helen went to Washington, D.C. to study history and politics and ended up working in the office of Senator Ted Kennedy. It seemed such a natural progression with her father’s close relationship to the President. “I would get to bounce ideas off the Kennedys and they even helped me start up a small non-profit called the Democracy Foundation. Then, I was able to obtain a job at the “Congressional Quarterly” and soon learned I had a talent and a passion for writing.”

Jump forward a number of years and that passion was fulfilled with the publication of Helen’s first book, A Common Good: The Friendship of Robert F. Kennedy and Kenneth P. O’Donnell, and her work collaborating with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews on his 2012 book Jack Kennedy Elusive Hero.

With her first book under her belt, Helen discovered that her father had done a series of interviews with NBC White House correspondent Sander Vanocur that were housed in boxes at the JFK Library in Boston. “They were in no order, hadn’t been catalogued, but were a treasure-trove of conversations in which my father revealed a true behind-the-scenes look at life inside the Kennedy inner circle.”

She began transcribing the tapes and a few years later, The Irish Brotherhood; John F. Kennedy His Inner Circle, and the Improbable Rise to the Presidency, hit the shelves.
“It was an amazing journey, through the tapes, for me to spend time with my late father and create this chronicle.“ But, she adds, it would not have happened without her Mount Ida experience. “Going through the loss of my parents at such a young age, I didn’t’ have direction. Mount Ida gave me that direction – the ability to blossom without getting lost. My experience was about learning who I am and Mount Ida gave me the stability I needed to get on the road for the next steps.”

And a few of the next steps for Helen include a second volume on the story of the Irish brotherhood and a work-in-progress on Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack and JFK.

Tony D’Onofrio, assistant professor of biology and faculty advisor to the pre-medical student organization, has reasons to celebrate.  Not only has he  been awarded a Faculty Development Grant for his project “Bioinformatic Analysis of Bacterial Communities,” he is also beginning his first year as a full-time faculty member at Mount Ida.

With his research grant, he will be collecting environmental samples for a variety of sources and locations and analyzing them using next generation DNA sequencing methods.  “The analysis will produce data that includes information on the presence and abundance of different bacterial species which can then be analyzed using a variety of bioinformatic programs,” he says.


D’Onofrio will bring both his  robust research and education background to his classes here. While working as a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Antimicrobial Discovery Center at Northeastern University, he began lecturing part-time at colleges, including Mount Ida. He then spent two years as a Scientist at biotech startup Seres Health, before realizing that he wanted to return to an academic setting with a small, close-knit community.

Mount Ida’s biology major, which offers a classical foundation in biology as well as an overview of the latest developments in research technologies, was a perfect fit for him. “Graduates from our biology program will be prepared for careers in the life sciences, biotechnology and environmental conservation. Biology students can also choose to concentrate in pre-medicine or pre-pharmacy to prepare for medical or pharmacy school,” he notes.

Looking ahead at the future of the biology field, D’Onofrio believes the ability to effectively use computers to analyze, compare and draw conclusions from genomic data will be a skill that will continue to grow in importance. Knowledge and insight into these concepts is something that is incorporated into several biology courses at Mount Ida such as Genetics, Microbiology and Bioinformatics and Systems Biology.

In addition to  sharp, new analytical skills, D’Onofrio  also hopes students leave his classes with a better understanding of how biology relates to their lives and what career paths exist related to the field.

June 2015 – The need is great, and the subject difficult – helping urban youth and their families deal with and grieve the loss from sudden and unexpected death.

Joining the Summer Institute on Grief and Loss, presented by the National Center for Death Education (NCDE) at Mount Ida College, will be a day-long workshop with Annette March-Grier, an expert in bereavement and Founder and President of Roberta’s House (www.robertashouse.org)  in Baltimore, Maryland.


Selected as one of the CNN “Top 10 Heroes” in 2014, Annette March-Grier works tirelessly to facilitate the emotional, physical and spiritual healing for grieving children and their families.

A bereavement counselor for more than a quarter-century, she founded Roberta’s House in Baltimore, Maryland, as a safe and confidential setting where those struck by the trauma of the sudden death of a loved one, can freely and safely express their feelings and learn to cope.

Trained as a nurse with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, she worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital before joining her family funeral home business in Baltimore.  She went on to earn a degree in mortuary science and became certified as a funeral service practitioner.

“We are most fortunate to have Annette join us to present  ‘African American Youth Bereavement: Beyond Survival After Traumatic Losses.” says Diane Moran, NCDE Director. “Addressing the subject matter is of upmost importance, given the climate in the country and the prominence trauma plays in the lives of grieving African American youth.  We welcome her expertise.”

Roberta’s House offers services without charge to the community.  Workers and volunteers at Roberta’s House believe every individual has the capability of healing and positive memories can become the motivation to live fully and purposefully.

Grier is a member of the Association of Death Educators and Counselors, Trustee of Sheppard Pratt Hospital, a member of the Harbor City Chapter of Links Inc., and many other professional associations.

For more information on the National Center for Death Education Summer Institute on Grief and Loss, July 20 – 24, 2015 visit www.mountida.edu/ncde or call 617-928-4727.