When Marian Ryan was a student at Emmanuel in the 1970s, she did not foresee that she would become a veteran prosecutor, let alone serve in her current role as District Attorney of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. Still, the Political Science and English double-major gained an appreciation for the impact of the public servant and of being in “a position where you can set policy and really affect people’s lives every day,” she says.
Today Ryan works to ensure the protection of 1.7 million people in 54 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. Since her election as Middlesex District Attorney in 2014—she was appointed D.A. the previous year—Ryan has burnished a reputation for the integrity of the 40,000 prosecutions her office conducts each year and for an array of crime prevention programs designed to keep people safe at home and in the workplace.
Beyond holding offenders accountable, Ryan and her team help many in the criminal justice system to connect to the resources they need to achieve positive change in their lives. “Behind all those numbers, there’s a person who is a member of somebody’s family,” Ryan says. “There is a dignity that they are entitled to.”
Before becoming D.A., Ryan spent more than three decades in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office (MDAO). “This is a wonderful office, with a great tradition and legacy of excellence,” she says. One of many rewarding aspects of her role, she says, is the opportunity it provides to “help grow good lawyers.”
Currently benefiting from Ryan’s guidance and example is Greg Galizio, a 2012 Emmanuel graduate who joined the MDAO in 2015 as an Assistant District Attorney. Ryan says that Galizio, like Emmanuel graduates of all eras, brings the advantages of a liberal arts education, including sharp thinking, speaking and writing skills, as well as “values that are very consistent with the values of this office.” Galizio, for his part, notes that Ryan “emphasizes the need for prosecutors to develop empathy in our work—particularly in her commitment to priorities such as combating domestic violence, preventing elder abuse and confronting the opioid crisis.”
A Somerville, Mass., native, Ryan discovered Emmanuel during a first-grade field trip to the College. “I just fell in love with the campus, and from that point I wanted to go to school there,” she says. Years later, she did just that, enrolling as a commuter student. Her advisor in the English Department, Sister Mary James Walsh, SND, was a steadfast source of inspiration. “She believed in always pushing you out of your comfort zone to do better work and try different things,” Ryan says. “That gives you a confidence and resiliency that translates into this job.”
One summer Ryan worked at Greater Boston Legal Services, which provides free legal assistance to individuals and community-based organizations. The experience inspired her to enroll in Boston College Law School after graduation. “We were representing people who really couldn’t afford any other kind of counsel,” she recalls. “I loved being able to give voice to what somebody else needed.”
Ryan, who attended her class’s 40th reunion last June, has remained actively connected to the College over the years. The Emmanuel community, she says, is as strong as it has ever been. “A big part of Emmanuel’s legacy and tradition is the concept of giving back, of being part of a larger community,” she says. “I find that even now, in the community initiatives I am involved in outside of work, the people I meet are very often from Emmanuel. It isn’t just my own experience with the importance of community involvement, but something that Emmanuel has very obviously imprinted on all of us.”