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Erin breen sits cross-legged in a chair in the sunlight, working hard at her laptop.

Erin Breen '19


English, Theology

Outcome Opportunity:

Service Commitment, Research


Summer Scholars Program

A veteran of the Summer Scholars Program, Erin Breen '19 is writing a series of creative nonfiction essays that explore the intersection of spirituality and the literary.

As an English and theology major, she finds her faith comes into everything she does — but especially in writing. “Creative nonfiction writers — essayists, memoirists — seek to tell true stories that communicate the abstract in tangible ways that allow for better self-understanding,” says Erin, from Glenside, Pennsylvania. “Because of the individualism of spiritual development and the fluidity of this medium, the two disciplines blend and interconnect.”

To inspire her creative energy, Erin is reading a number of spiritual creative nonfiction authors, as well as experts outside the genre, to learn how writers utilize literary techniques to document their faith journeys.

“What are the universal elements of spirituality that can be explored in personal writing, in creative nonfiction, and what techniques and styles do so?” asks Erin, who is working under the mentorship of Jenny Spinner, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the Writing Center at SJU. Erin's project was born out of Spinner’s undergraduate English course in creative nonfiction. “Dr. Spinner’s class taught me how to write about the personal,” she continues. “Don’t bring anything to class if you’re not ready to make art out of it.”

This summer, Erin also strives to develop her own literary voice — in her literary essays, as well as in journalism.

She flexed her writing and reporting skills in South Africa with Saint Joseph’s summer journalism program. Under the supervision of Shenid Bhayroo, Ph.D., assistant professor of English, and Spinner, the cohort of 8 budding journalists researched, developed and reported on interesting stories throughout Johannesburg, Cape Town, Rosendal and Pilanesberg, and chronicled their storytelling in The Hawk. "A writer’s work can be so insular at times, especially the kind of spiritual writing that Erin is trying to accomplish in her essays," says Spinner. "The South Africa trip opened up a new space for her — for all of us — and allowed her to re-examine herself, her thinking, her writing, in a way that she would not have otherwise done."

Update | Erin's Next Chapter

In August 2019, Erin headed to Punta Gorda, Belize, where she works as a retreat coordinator and youth minister for a local parish as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.

Read some of Erin's stories: