Sep 30

Celebrating Philanthropy – A Jesuit Legacy 4 Generations in the Making

Countryman/ O’Brien Family

Stuart Countryman ‘66 is a recipient of the Fr. Paul J. O’Brien Service Award, previous member of the Brebeuf Jesuit Alumni Board and Dad’s Club, and is in the Athletic Hall of Fame with his fellow 1965 football teammates.  Brad ‘88 and Peter ‘98 are previous Alumni Board members and Heather ‘91 (mother of Alice ‘22 and Andrew ‘25) is a current member of the Mothers Association Executive Board and past Bistro Chair. John ‘94 currently resides in Colorado, and Nick ‘96 (father of Lucas ‘25)  is excited to serve Brebeuf as a new parent.

When Alice O’Brien walked through the doors of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in 2019, a foundation of Jesuits were welcoming her home.  The first of many third generation Countryman Braves to come, Alice was continuing a tradition that her great grandmother, Betty Ann (Kosters) Countryman, had envisioned more than 60 years prior.

The Countryman legacy, a literal groundbreaking story, at Brebeuf Jesuit expands over four generations. Beginning, as few may know, in the late 1950’s while Dr. Frank Countryman was singing in the choir at St. Pius X Catholic Church. A prominent physician and professor of Psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine who consulted on multiple state and national committees, Frank and his wife, Betty Ann, were devout catholics, members of Immaculate Heart of Mary, and staunch advocates of education.  The two met after Betty Ann had graduated from Harvard University (Radcliffe College, cum laude) and was studying for her Master’s Degree in Nursing at the Yale University School of Nursing.  Frank had just graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale, and was studying at Yale School of Medicine.  They married in 1952 and dedicated their lives to educating and advocating for others.

When Fr. William Schmidt S.J., who had been staying at St. Pius X, approached the Countrymans to share his vision of building the first Catholic Jesuit school in the state of Indiana, Betty Ann joined in anticipation, knowing the elite educational opportunities that would be made available for so many young men (and later women). A member of Mensa, Betty Ann’s quick wit and intellect, experience and advocacy engaged foundational leaders and the critical support needed to charter this new endeavor.  Their own principal pledge in 1961 (a pledge equivalent to more than $900,000 today), solidified the development.  In August of 1961, Betty Ann helped break ground for Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, and in doing so, the Countryman legacy at Brebeuf was born.

Stuart Countryman stepped foot on Brebeuf’s campus shortly thereafter, joining the inaugural Class of 1966.  While he stepped in eagerly to play football – even boasting a Championship season in ‘65 – it was the relationships with faculty that made an indelible impression.  Among the Jesuits that Stuart recalls most, Fr. Jack (Mr. Coakley at the time) and Fr. Paul O’Brien were his stand outs.  It was their great questions, Ignatian reflections, and the challenge to rise that created a lasting connection beyond his Brebeuf years.  It was during his time here that he met his love, a young Alice Bowman who was attending Chatard. At a snowball fight shortly thereafter, Stuart whispered to a friend: “I’m going to marry that girl.”

It was never a question to Stuart and Alice where their five children would attend high school – faith, family and education were the foundation of everything.  They modeled the spirit of men and women for others, before it was even understood by their children.  Brebeuf offered the academic challenge they desired for them and a multicultural experience that was reflective of the greater puzzle for which they were a part. “We wanted our kids to be a part of the diversity of Brebeuf – there is a larger world out there and they are each a piece of it.”  Stuart would never miss an academic event, award or achievement – maybe a game if he had to work late – “but academics took you to the end.”

Nick ‘96 – a graduate of Notre Dame and Yale School of Medicine – remembers how formidable his time at Brebeuf was for his future.  “There was so much more that I learned that got me through the tough times; the relationships developed with faculty, the friendships I have today with classmates, and the spiritual retreats – which provided social and emotional growth – were so important.  They directed my choices in profound ways and still guide conversations that I have with my children and others. I’m grateful that Luke ‘25 will have that shared experience – the support network, the confidence to face tough challenges, and the people vested to help him be the best version of himself.”

Heather (Countryman) ‘91 O’Brien, a graduate of the Purdue School of Nursing, fondly remembers friends, classmates and teachers, especially those with whom she shared the Kairos experience. She also recalls the many masses held in her family’s home by members of the Society of Jesus, as well as the baptisms and weddings they officiated. “Brebeuf has always been an integral part of our lives. I remember doing homework while my mom stayed up late organizing a Brave tailgate or working on the ‘Gridiron Gazette,’ the first Braves Football team newsletter.”  She remembers conversations about Brebeuf with Matt when they were first dating. Matt, a graduate of Chatard, saw what a Jesuit education had done for the Countryman family. “The impact and results, they were all engaged with the world outside of themselves. Faith, family and education owned their experiences and vocations, Brebeuf was a significant part of that.” For Heather, the Brebeuf experience has only strengthened for each generation.  When the world pivoted more than a year ago, it became difficult for many students to remain steadfast in their studies. “As a parent, I see the real impact of those faculty relationships for Alice ‘23 and the growth that’s resulted from them. She feels connected to and valued by her teachers. They go above and beyond to live out the Brebeuf mission.”

As a former Alumni Board President, Peter ‘98, a graduate of Notre Dame, reflected on that first moment when his time at Brebeuf, and his ability to give back, came full circle.  “The Alumni Board presents the Echon Award to an outstanding faculty member each year.  On this occasion, I had the opportunity to present the award to Tim Kelaghan.  Mr. Kelaghan had been my math teacher for 3 years, I knew what an incredible impact he had on me, and the whole of our community.”  Peter’s time as part of the Alumni Board allowed him to recognize the influence of each and every teacher, and the adoration and dedication they brought to their individual subjects and students.

Stuart still remembers the groundbreaking at Brebeuf Jesuit where the Countryman legacy began.  Now, 60 years later, Alice O’Brien ‘23, Andrew O’Brien ‘25, and Luke Countryman ‘25 are leading a new generation.  “Giving back to the people who have been so influential to us, to the students who have yet to arrive, that is what we aim to do.  We can’t go through and just be a cheerleader, my admiration and promotion of Brebeuf is financial.”  As a current parent, Heather is continually giving back “to something that’s given us so much.  We do it how we can, when we can, and where we can to support the mission.”  “There are so many ways to be a part of the team, whether it’s a board or committee, participation during Giving Day, or as a member of the Magis Society; there are incredible opportunities to connect and get involved,” shared Peter.  To all the students beginning their time at Brebeuf, Stuart said his wife Alice would have the best advice, “get to know as many people as you can, you have way more in common than you realize.”  “And enjoy the journey,” Nick added.