All posts by Damian Martelli

Hilbert Basketball Hoops with Kanye Brown

In early March, a week before the school closed in response to the pandemic, country music star Kayne Brown came to Hilbert to unwind and play shoot some hoops. Student athlete Jesse Price was on the court when Brown arrived with his large entourage.

“Kayne was amazing,” Price said. “It was an awesome experience. After we hooped, he gave us tickets to his concert and backstage passes. Such amazing people and had a very great time.”

If back on that Saturday in March Kayne had expected to leisurely just shoot hoops, he was wrong.

Born in New Zealand, Jesse has called Australia home since he was 6 years old. In high school Jesse played varsity basketball.

“I have been playing basketball since I was six,” he said, “I love and embrace the journey to get better every day.”

With relatives in Los Angeles and Seattle, Price said he is a Seattle Seahawks fan. He said once he wore his Seahawks jersey on campus and “talked trash” about how they would beat the Bills. He jokingly said afterwards, he couldn’t leave his room for a few days for obvious reasons. He now knows he’s in Bills country.

Price is a criminal justice major who plans on attending law school.

Outside of basketball and school, Price enjoys playing golf and watching football and baseball. He also enjoys relaxing in front of the TV as well as an occasional movie. Of course there is always the fun of hanging around with fellow students.

When asked about his decision to attend Hilbert, Jesse said coach Andrew DeGranpere played a major role.

“I formed a great relationship with Coach DeGrandpre and that was a big part in me coming to the college,” Price said.

Sisters From Vietnam Find a Home at Hilbert

One may have had the opportunity to meet them personally or see them on campus adorned in habits and veils. They are Sisters Thu Pham and Doan Tran from Vietnam. Since their calling to Holy Orders up to the present, both are here at Hilbert to gain a valuable education which will enable them to perform their ministry in Vietnam. 

Before their journey to Hilbert began, both Sisters received their calling to Holy Orders in a distinctive way. Sister Thu described her calling as “Very strong and clear”. The strong part revealed itself when her friends set their sights on careers in the bustling city of Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital. For Sister Doan, she credits her father’s encouragement but, in the end, she said “God called through my father”.  Both Sisters come from agricultural communities in the rich rice fields of Vietnam.

When asked about the work or ministry they will perform upon return to Vietnam, Sister Thu said, “Do what our nun superiors asks us to do” however ministry assignments are often based upon one’s education and skills. Sister Thu Pham is a Human Services major. Her goal is to minister to victims of domestic violence, pregnant women, homeless persons, and the elderly.  Majoring in Psychology, Sister Doan Tran looks forward to applying her skills towards counseling others.

After undergoing years of theological studies and discernment, often through isolation and strict prayer, both Sisters took their final vows and received rings symbolizing betrothal to Jesus Christ. Once complete, together they travelled to the United States in furtherance of academic study. Following time at a junior college in Indiana where they studied English, they applied for scholarships through a program for Vietnamese sisters and priests.

The head of the program, A Vietnamese priest named Father Bao Nguyen, had the following to say when asked why Hilbert College was chosen “Srs. Thu Pham, Doan Tran, and I knew Hilbert College through Dr. Michael Brophy, the President, whom I have known for the past decade since he was the President at Palos Verde Marymount College in California. We have kept in touch for a long time, and Dr. Brophy invited the Sisters to study at this beautiful college. Instead of selecting large universities, the sisters want to have a better community life where the Hilbert college can provide hospitality and friendly intimacy.”

When Fr. Bao was asked about how familiar he is about Hilbert, he said “Hilbert college is a small college where people know each other and enjoy human development through social interaction and inner circles of classmates and faculty. Near the city Buffalo, the college has attractive location where students can contemplate the beauty of nature at Niagara Falls or cross the the border to explore Canada with the big city Toronto about two hours away. With its Catholic Franciscan heritage and values, Hilbert college is a good educational environment for the religious like Mrs. Pham and Tran from Vietnam to nurture their religious tradition and Catholic involvement in social justice. Hilbert truly is  what the sisters hope to accomplish formal education here in the U.S. and prepare them for the global leaders with competent skills of discernment, responsibility, and leadership. “

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of State titled Government Committee for Religious Affairs, approximately 7% of the Vietnamese population is Catholic (2019). Sister Doan and Thu’s ministry will be a lifelong commitment of serving their fellow citizens regardless of religious denomination and their Hilbert education will play a key role in fulfilling their service to others.

Hilbert Women’s Soccer Coach Sees Bright Future

On any given NCAA Division 1 team, there can be a multitude of staff delegated to perform certain roles. But for Hilbert College Women’s Soccer Head Coach Jenna Castricone, most of it falls on her.

As a division III program Hilbert doesn’t have the funding or staffing of big programs so, like many of her colleagues at that level, she needs to wear many hats to keep her team going

“It’s a lot more than I assumed coming in, but I’ve been grateful,” Castricone said.

It shows.

In speaking of her return to the Hawks in 2019 Castricone, a Hilbert soccer alumnus, said returning to her old stomping grounds has been great.

“I was excited and glad to be back here,” Castricone said. “I love the school and I love the atmosphere.”

Castricone, who also played softball and earned her bachelor’s degree in Sports Management went on to get her Master’s in Sports Administration at Canisius College. Along the way, she was an assistant coach.

“I’m very appreciative to be given the chance to get the team on track,” she said.

During her first season, Castricone faced several challenges. First and foremost, she knew a re-build was in order, with the number of players dwindling. Second, some of the players were new to the game and came onto the team as walk on’s. Towards the end, Castricone said the team made improvements

“Offense scored nine goals last season,” she said. “Even that slight improvement is the right way up”.

Still, defense was identified as a critical area.

Castricone has spent a considerable amount of time scouting and recruiting. It is the kind of work that makes the part time job seem full time and her efforts show a promising season.

“I have a strong freshmen class and they’re even challenging the seniors,” Castricone said.

The freshmen class includes five experienced players whom she is confident will help, as well as one Sophomore walk-on.

“Four additional recruits would have been on the roster but circumstances surrounding COVID prevented them from playing,” She said. “Even so, the next class that will be brought in for 2021 is going to be even better and I’m looking to get the team back into the playoffs.”

From Thanksgiving break until February, it will be up to the individual players themselves to maintain peak physical conditioning. Castricone said.

“(The players) need to be fit and touching the ball at least 4 days a week,” she said.

In terms of overlap, some student athletes participate in other sports such as volleyball and basketball which makes injuries and fatigue a concern, let alone COVID, for Castricone. To help, Castricone prepared a work out package which consists of weight training, endurance skills (sprints, tempo runs), and ball drills.

Castricone said the off-season improvements look promising.

And there’s one adage she believes sums up the situation: “Small improvements help in the long run.”

Professor John Culhane Began his Career in Service

Fifty years ago last month, Professor John Cullhane took a step in a series of many on a journey of service throughout his career. He joined the United States Army.

The decision for him was easy, Culhane said.

“It was the mid-sixties and I had taken a break from delivering newspapers,” Culhane said. “I read an article about the Vietcong. Afterwards, I went home and told my mom I wanted to join the Army and go to Vietnam”.

It was a calling rooted in his family history. His father served in the illustrious 82nd Airborne Division that parachuted behind enemy lines as the beaches of Normandy were being stormed, Culhane said.

America was ensnared in a “cold war” against communism. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that the spread of communism was like a row of dominoes: when one falls, they all fall, only the “dominoes” were real countries.  During his inaugural speech, President John Kennedy pledged American support to any country that wanted help in fighting communism. It also meant that millions of young Americans would be faced with the likelihood of military service either voluntary or involuntary.

The mid-sixties was a time when public support for the fight against communism in Vietnam was at its highest. In 1968, that support dwindled as Americans began to question what progress was being made all while daily television news footage showed disturbing images of U.S. and Vietnamese casualties. Footage of casualties in subsequent conflicts after Vietnam were mostly censored. 

 In late 1969, President Nixon announced combat troops would begin withdrawing from Vietnam and that the South Vietnamese would assume a larger role in fighting the communists. Despite the reduction in troop levels, the war effort still needed helicopter pilots.

“I had a nagging desire to fly,” Culhane said.

After nearly one year of flight training, Cullhane earned his army wings and deployed to Vietnam.

Cullhane explained that when he arrived in Vietnam, he was assigned to the First Air Cavalry “Air Cav” Division and flew on utility helicopters nicknamed Hueys.  The life of a helicopter pilot in Vietnam was dangerous and the pilots who flew them simply ran on adrenaline. Cullhane spent his days flying troops and supplies.

Culhane in Vietnam

Off duty, his evenings were filled with poker games and warm beer amongst his fellow flyers- all happy that they were one day closer to going home. When flying, his lunch usually consisted of canned ham slices and bread. Occasionally, a surprise in the form of a larger can would await him: a coffee tin packed full of cookies from home. Since the beginning of time, soldiers have always cherished mail and care packages from home.

“A lot of soldiers…me included, would get “Dear John” letters,” Culhane said.

They were break up letters from their girlfriends.

“Dating someone in the military was very unpopular at the time,” he said. “We didn’t have the support that we have now”.

Humor was one coping mechanism the flyers used which is why those letters were often posted in a common area for others to read, Culhane added.

 The high point during his combat experience occurred when Cullhane’s unit was tasked with flying South Vietnamese troops into Cambodia, he said.

Kept secret from the public, American strategists knew the enemy had been stockpiling weapons and supplies in the neighboring country but were not allowed to pursue them. When South Vietnamese soldiers were given the order to advance into the neighboring country, they needed a ride.

Cullhane described the first landing as “intense” and that “gunfire erupted from all over the bamboo covered jungle…so intense that one helicopter next to us turned onto its side and crashed.”

He and his unit would spend the next two months flying troops and supplies into Cambodia, Culhane said.

A few days after the missions into Cambodia started, the Kent State shooting took place in which Ohio National Guard soldiers shot into a group of protesters on campus. Four protesters were killed. College campuses across the country experienced intense anti-war demonstrations.

 Cullhane said it was the best and worst year of his life. Memories of Vietnam continue to this day, yet his most important lesson was learning to overcome the fear of death. It is a deep and personal experience which many veterans and others in dangerous professions have had to accept in order to carry out their duties, he said.

Professor Cullhane returned home to a country that distanced itself from these heroes yet he stayed on course to complete law school, become a Monroe County Assistant District Attorney, work high profile cases as an FBI agent, and finally to Hibbert.