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Fairfield University’s Rev. John M. Conlisk Irish Scholarship is heaven sent
| October 28, 2013


FAIRFIELD—Bernadette Liston was sitting at her computer in County Limerick, Ireland when she opened an email that has proved pivotal.

The Rev. John M. Conlisk Irish Scholarship at Fairfield was founded 22 years ago by a group of Irish Americans led by Fairfield University trustee Kevin M. Conlisk '66. The scholarship is named for Mr. Conlisk's late brother, a 1954 Fairfield Prep graduate who served the Diocese of Bridgeport.

The twenty-three-year-old learned in May that she had been awarded the Rev. John M. Conlisk Irish Scholarship to attend Fairfield University’s Dolan School of Business, worth about $55,000. It is given annually to a graduate student from Ireland to help their career prospects, and it covers all tuition, housing and medical insurance expenses for the time it takes to earn a master’s degree. With Ireland’s unemployment rate hovering around 13 percent, the opportunity came just as Liston found herself at somewhat of a crossroads.

“Massive decisions would have faced me if I hadn’t come to Fairfield–find a job in Ireland’s unsteady economy, apply for graduate programs in Ireland or immigrate to find work in countries like Australia or Dubai like so many other Irish young people,”  said Liston.

She got the great news after finishing up her eight-hour shift at a supermarket. “After work that night, I sat around the kitchen table with my family conversing about our day,” said Liston, who goes by the nickname ‘Bernie.’ “I read the email from Fairfield University, and I could not believe my eyes. It felt like I had won the lottery. It was a feeling of complete excitement. I knew my hard work had paid off.”

The Rev. John M. Conlisk Irish Scholarship at Fairfield was founded 22 years ago when the Irish economy was struggling. A group of Irish Americans led by Fairfield University trustee Kevin M. Conlisk '66 believed a scholarship would give an Irish student an opportunity to make business contacts. The scholarship is named for Mr. Conlisk's late brother, a 1954 Fairfield Prep graduate who served the Diocese of Bridgeport.

Fr. Conlisk, a native of New York City, was ordained by Bishop Walter Curtis in 1962 and served in a number of posts for the diocese including Director of Family Life and co-director of religious education in the diocesan Christian Formation Ministry.  He became pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Georgetown in 1977 and was named the first pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Redding in 1981. He died in July 1990 was serving as pastor of St. Jerome Church in Norwalk.

Many of the founding scholarship committee members are first or second generation Irish Americans, and established it to help a deserving young Irishman.

Liston was born and raised in County Limerick, located 200 miles from Dublin.

She earned a business degree from the University of Limerick’s Kemmy Business School. The middle child of three children, her father Tom passed away when she was just fourteen and her mother Kathleen lives in Limerick, the fourth largest city in the nation.

Applying for the scholarship was an easy decision. “Fairfield University has developed a reputation for educational excellence,” she noted, adding, “The Jesuit community is held in such a high regard, and Jesuit education is a valuable asset.”

It’s not difficult to see why she’s found herself at the Dolan School of Business: A top student, she completed an internship in Ireland’s Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, and is the recipient of a Gold President’s Volunteering Award from her alma mater.

“Knowledge is a powerful tool in the business world,” said Liston, who is now enrolled in the MBA program with a concentration in accounting. She hopes to begin her career in America, working for one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms.

“Each scholar I have worked with has seen this opportunity as a life-changer,” saidMark Ligas, Ph.D., associate dean and director of graduate programs at the Dolan School. Rev. Conlisk scholars bring so much to the classroom. In addition to sharing an international perspective in class discussions, especially with regard to the European Union, they offer “a fresh perspective on an individual's expectations of what our graduate programs should or could do to develop a successful and marketable graduate,” noted Dr. Ligas.

Liston is happy diving into the opportunities faculty has presented her: she’s a member of the Student Monetary Investment Fund and is taking part in the upcoming PwC Accounting Competition and the Deloitte FanTAXtic Competition. Outside of academics, Liston has volunteered for Campus Ministry activities and plans to learn some new moves by way of theLatin Dancing and Ballroom Dancing clubs.

Moreover, she’s already found a second home at Fairfield.  “My housemates are both Chinese–one is a graduate student and the other a teaching assistant,” Liston noted. “I love learning about their culture and language. They are like family to me.”

The Conlisk family has also extended a big welcome to Liston, providing her with “an invaluable opportunity.” “I feel blessed to be here,” she said. “I know I have someone looking down from above.”