“I was Saint Mary’s even before I went to Saint Mary’s,” said AnnaMaria Cardinalli ’97, the daughter of two alums. The singer and guitarist came to SMC to study performing arts but also took away “a very strong sense of Catholic social justice,” she said.

“I remember taking a liberation theology class at Saint Mary’s. I got in such fights with the professor over it because we held different perspectives, but it was a really great learning experience. And it was some of that thinking that led me to do a lot of the work that is happening now.”

Cardinalli went on to earn a Ph.D. in theology at the University of Notre Dame and later joined the Human Terrain System (HTS), a military intelligence team of academics who travel with military units to help them learn more about the locals. She was sent to Afghanistan.

Even in the Afghan desert, music was part of her life. She went out into the desert to practice, going out as far as the Porta-Potties to avoid bothering others.

“There’s no way to separate who I am as a singer, a guitarist and a performing artist from any of the other work I do. I think singing and art are an essential link to our common humanity.”

Now back in the U.S., she is preparing to publish a book about her experience in Afghanistan, with the profits benefitting two charities close to her heart: the Jam for Vets Project, helping veterans with post-traumatic stress heal through music; and the Polaris Project, fighting human trafficking, one of the problems she studied in Afghanistan.

In addition to her academic and social justice work, Cardinalli continues her music career, including an upcoming performance as La Zia Principessa, the lead in Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) by Giacomo Puccini.

“Getting to do really exciting things in the world is basically founded on some of my experiences at Saint Mary’s,” she said. “How wonderful is that to be able to say? That Saint Mary’s is that influential in the life of one student like me, and I can only imagine in the lives of how many other people.”

Sara LaFassett

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