BRIAN HENNESSY ’00, J.D. ’03
|Brian Hennessy ’00, J.D. ’03 receives the
Ignatian Award from Gerri Beasley ’65.
Photo by Adam Hays.
Brian Hennessy had already overcome plenty of obstacles to succeed in school and begin a successful career as a lawyer. Since leaving the Santa Clara campus, he has faced down even more serious challenges—ones that have changed not just his own life, but the lives of countless others for generations to come.
A short time after graduating from law school, Hennessy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was not his first brush with the disease, which also claimed his best friend and fellow Bronco Dodge Ackerman ’02 at the age of 22.
Where others might begin to question or doubt, Hennessey found clarity. He says, “Cancer helped to change me. I had a mission I hadn’t yet realized.”
He founded the Council of Goodness, with the objective of teaching through action. Students who join the council pledge 100 hours of community service each year for all four years of high school and make a commitment to return and mentor and support one other student. But before that, they focus on service inward to themselves. Hennessy’s methods of meditation and self-evaluation would be familiar to St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose own spiritual exercises have inspired growth and reflection for centuries.
As for Hennessy’s own story: He grew up poor, in Gilroy, surrounded by gangs, crime, and violence. He was provided the opportunity to change, thanks to a partial scholarship to attend Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose. That was made possible, he says, by his father, who pushed him to succeed academically—and who, as a railroad foreman, literally laid the track that connected their troubled neighborhood to San Jose.
Getting to and from school meant long days and plenty of hard work. His scholarship, though generous, didn’t cover all of his costs, so Hennessy worked at the Gilroy Outlets to help with money for family and school. But after fighting cancer, Hennessy realized that his life was about more than just “getting out” himself. He needed to help others find their way out of difficult situations and set the goals to make a better life possible.
The Council of Goodness is in its fourth year now, with more than 30 student members. Brian Hennessy is now cancer-free.