Campus & Culture

Celebrating 125 Years of the Alumni Association

The volunteer-led organization connects alumni with the University and each other, carrying out a mission as relevant and revolutionary today as the day of its founding. 

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John Dura ’71 and his wife, Mary, joined alumni from the Class of 1970 and 1971 for Saint Joseph’s 50th reunion on Hawk Hill. The couple’s daughter, Emily, graduated in 2009.

by Kristen Ziegler

Seventy-five Hawks circled the Doyle Banquet Hall on a recent morning, reminiscing about their time at Saint Joseph’s University. Because of the pandemic, the Class of 1970 and 1971 joined together to make history, taking part in the largest induction of Golden Hawks ever performed. 

“The whole institution is so dramatically different,” says Frank Sharp ’67, Alumni Association president, who served as the event emcee that day. When these two classes were on campus, St. Joe’s had just admitted the first female students to the day program, 80% of students were commuters and campus only ran along the east side of City Avenue.

“But there is still a red thread that connects me to today’s graduates,” said Sharp. Underneath the physical changes remains an abiding commitment to Jesuit values, ethics and cura personalis, or care of the whole person. “Maybe even more so today,” he mused.

That red thread also stretches back to the Alumni Association’s founding 125 years ago.

An Auspicious Start

In Saint Joseph’s earliest days, the number of graduates was so small and scattered that no formal alumni organization existed. Seven young men came together on June 25, 1896, to form an Alumni Society, “to promote what most conduces to the exaltation of the individual, society and their beloved Alma Mater.” They named Joseph V. Crowne ’96 as the first president. 

Four members of the Class of 1896 being honored at the 1946 Commencement ceremony in regalia.
The remaining members of the Class of 1896 being honored at the 1946 Commencement ceremony, including original Alumni Society President Joseph V. Crowne.

Alumni organized lectures with notable speakers such as the Hon. Morgan J. O'Brien, the youngest New York Supreme Court justice at the time who was later knighted by the pope for his charitable works. They also planned a great feast in celebration of the University’s 50th anniversary in 1901. 

It wasn’t long before the then-college’s alumni came to regional attention. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the Alumni Society met to discuss how they could best serve their country. A large number of alumni and students enlisted through the first officer’s reserve training in Fort Niagara in New York. 

All told, 714 men of the College enlisted, 664 saw action and 14 perished. A local paper wrote that “Saint Joseph's, in proportion to its size, contributed more men to the effort than any other college or institution in the state.”

Changing times

As America settled down to post-war life, alumni had a renewed interest in Saint Joseph’s.

“Times have changed and, thanks be to God, we now have a very excellent, enthusiastic and vitally interested Alumni Association,” wrote Joseph Tully ’25 in The Hawk. “Alumni men … are backing Father Long [president] in the construction of that wonderful Fieldhouse.”

A plea also went out for alumni to assist the College with job placement for new graduates, beginning the Hawk alumni network we know today. 

The modern Alumni Association wasn’t far behind.

The 1946 Alumni Association gathered around a long table
The Alumni Association met in November 1946 to plan fundraising efforts for the construction of the alumni Fieldhouse, now Hagan Arena.

Connecting alumni to their friends

If you’ve attended any Alumni Association event over the past 60 years, you’ve probably had a hand firmly thrust in your direction by a wiry man with an infectious smile. “Dave Dorsey, Class of ’54,” he introduces himself. 

David A. Dorsey joined Saint Joseph’s alumni office in 1976 as its associate director after retiring from a 20-year career in the Air Force. “Back then it was ‘The College,’ just like they referred to ‘The Prep,’” Dorsey recalls.
 

“We only had 17,000 alumni when I came,” he says. The alumni office, led by Matthew J. Sullivan, S.J., had just completed a two-year initiative to catalogue every single one of them in its third-ever alumni directory. The project wasn’t without challenges.

On Saint Joseph’s Day 1974, St. Joe’s parted ways from basketball coach Jack McKinney; alumni weren’t happy with the decision. “When we started the annual phone-a-thon, almost immediately we ran into a buzzsaw of irritated alumni,” Dorsey recalls. 

The University scrapped the giving campaign and postponed the alumni directory, giving alumni time to voice their frustration and the alumni office time to secure more names before the directory finally was published in 1975.

“The College benefited greatly as a result of [having] more accurate records,” says Dorsey. “Before internet and email capability, the alumni directory, in my opinion, was critical to connecting alumni to their friends.”

Broadening Representation

A gifted friend-raiser, Dorsey spent 25 years in the alumni office organizing reunions and recruiting class representatives to serve on the Alumni Association board. But it wasn’t long before the board began having growing pains. 

“Initially the requirement was for four members per class,” Dorsey says. “It became cumbersome because we were up to 200 members.”

When Saint Joseph’s University welcomed Timothy Lannon, S.J., as president in 2003, he charged Alumni Association President Dick Kelly ’59 and Vice President Pat Mahoney ’76 with restructuring the Association.

“He had wonderful ideas for broadening the reach to alumni,” remembers Kelly.

Mahoney led committees from the 200-member board in rewriting the Association’s bylaws and changing how alumni were represented. While the Alumni Association had regional and affinity chapters dating back to the early 40s, her plan brought that representation to the forefront with 37 regional and affinity members on the National Alumni Board (NAB).

Five members of the real estate and construction alumni chapter pose for a photo standing shoulder to shoulder
Alumni at a real estate and construction chapter luncheon. Left to right: Nicholas Schaefer ’19, Brian McGroarty ’05, Elizabeth Convery ’05, Jack Darling ’19 and Spencer Russo ’19.

“It has achieved the effect that Fr. Lannon was looking for, making it more accessible to the alumni,” Kelly adds. 

“It was exciting. It still is exciting,” says Mahoney, who served as the Association’s next president. “It has been growing and becoming better and better ever since because it is a working board.”

Meeting alumni where they are

After winning the Ignatius Award in 2011, Sean Sanford ’97 found himself as one of those regional representatives, faithfully relaying feedback from his South Jersey constituents to the University – but he soon had a dilemma. 

“The Alumni Association was really organized around a very relationship-built model,” Sanford says. “It was a great group of people, but there wasn’t a very clear set of responsibilities. There are people like me who need a clear job to do.” His insight spurred the Alumni Association to create a strategic plan for how they could directly affect the lives of Saint Joseph’s students and alumni.

When Sanford assumed the presidency, the NAB began working to make the regional and affinity chapters into a true resource for alumni, fostering connections between alumni and the University.

“The Law Chapter is a great example of what those chapters can do,” says John M. Bradley, Esq., ’98, who became president in 2018. An established group of alumni leading the chapter have reinvigorated their offerings, with speakers and events focused on current legal issues and a commitment to connecting young alumni with opportunities in the profession.

“There are a thousand great resources out there,” says Sanford. “You just have to get them in the hands of the people who need them.” 

Under Bradley’s tenure, the Alumni Association expanded regional outreach to include pilot “Ambassador Cities” in places where there were not enough alumni to support a full chapter. The ambassador city program gives these enthusiastic alumni support and structure so they can engage with the University and host events in their area.

“We wanted to be able to offer people a constructive way to engage with the University and be part of the Alumni Association,” says Bradley. “It’s a great opportunity to demonstrate to people in regions where there are not as many St. Joe’s folk that we have not forgotten you. You are still part of us.”

Five female alumnae gather at the 2019 Hawkfest reunion
Alumnae gathered for the 2019 Hawkfest reunion.

 

Without those changes, Sharp may never have reconnected with the Alumni Association. “I’m sort of a latecomer to the active alumni role,” he chuckles. 

Sharp’s career had taken him on a grand tour of the nation, from New York to Miami, and then to Europe for another 15 years, leaving little time to connect with friends from Saint Joseph’s. One clear Sunday morning, he and wife met 10 other alumni couples for an alumni chapter-organized restaurant tour in their new home city of Washington, D.C. Sharp reconnected with folks a few years behind him at St. Joe’s and soon began getting more involved in his local chapter.

“It’s been a re-creation of social relationships through the Alumni Association that I would not otherwise have encountered,” Sharp says. “As I got deeper and deeper into it, it has become a very powerful thing for me personally.”

Never has that been more important than since the pandemic struck in March 2020.

Aligning with alumni’s greatest needs

On a July evening, alumni met up on Zoom to make mozzarella with a food kit from Caputo Brothers Creamery as host Michael P. McCann, Ph.D., ’87 waxed poetic on the organisms and processes behind the fermentation of the tasty cheese.

Alumna Ali Corso ’14 holds a plate of mozzarella cheese
Alumna Ali Corso ’14 participating in the Summer Food and Fermentation Science Series with Caputo Brothers Creamery.

 

“We were late to the party on virtual,” acknowledges Sharp, “but we are going to keep a stable of virtual events in the future.”

Through virtual board meetings and committee phone calls this past year, the Alumni Association’s leadership has kept an eye on the future. “We have launched a series of initiatives designed to cut across the chapters,” says Sharp.

Volunteers are leading committees on Jesuit outreach and service; diversity, equity and inclusion; and career development for established alumni.

Getting involved is as simple as calling the alumni office or attending an event. “Take a friend if you don’t feel comfortable the first time yourself,” says Mahoney.

“We are always looking for people who want to step in and reconnect with St. Joe’s as I did and experience the richness of engagement,” says Sharp. “Whether it is organizing a local event or serving on that committee.” 

Ultimately, agreed many of the Alumni Association’s former presidents, getting involved will enrich your life professionally and personally.

“The Alumni Association provides us with the opportunity … to challenge our way of thinking, and, if we are open to it, provide new ways of being in community with each other and make some small contribution to making a better world,” says Bradley.

 

Learn more about Saint Joseph’s University’s Alumni Association, including upcoming events, networking opportunities and how to stay engaged.