On January 31, 2014, the Law School Alumni Association held its annual luncheon at the New York Hilton. The room was filled with over 400 alumni, faculty, administrators, friends, and students, all joining to celebrate alma mater and to honor two exemplary St. John’s Law community members — former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly ’71, ‘98HON, and adoption attorney and adjunct professor Rachel R. Paras ‘04. Among the attendees reconnecting with classmates and colleagues were distinguished judges, public officials, and practitioners. The Law School was also honored to have St. John’s University President Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., S.T.D. and senior administrators Martha K. Hirst, M.U.P and Robert A. Mangione, Ed.D., R.Ph.
After welcoming the guests, Alumni Association President Nicholas M. Cannella ’75 presented the Recent Graduate Service Award to Rachel Paras for her outstanding service to the Law School. Among Ms. Paras’ many accomplishments as a practitioner, as an adjunct professor, and as a community leader, Mr. Cannella cited her recent “heroic pro bono effort” on behalf of a young man seeking to adopt his nephew, who was severely injured by a bomb blast in their home country. Accepting the award, Ms. Paras expressed her gratitude for the recognition by noting, “I myself am a direct recipient of the generosity and dedication to St. John’s of those who came before me. I can assure you that had I not received an academic scholarship to attend law school, law school would not have been a reality for me at all.”
Dean Michael A. Simons then addressed the attendees, sharing that “the news from the Law School is good.” Citing a rise in bar passage and employment rates for St. John’s Law graduates, he said the upward trajectory was due in part to the Law School’s redesigned Academic Success Program and a “proactive, individualized, and integrated approach to Career Development.” St. John’s Law has also responded proactively to the challenges and opportunities of the new legal market, Dean Simons said, by reducing J.D. enrollment by more than 15% in the past four years; by tripling enrollment in the three transnational LL.M. programs; and by greatly increasing financial aid and scholarship assistance to students. “In the past four years, the average student debt level at St. John’s Law has gone down,” he said, adding, “We’re one of the few law schools in the country and the only one in New York City to do that.”
These great strides are the result of a collaborative effort, noted Dean Simons, including “significant sacrifices and additional hard work by our wonderful faculty, and the commitment of our alumni who are being more supportive than ever.”Alumni generosity has been the bedrock of a recent campaign to create and augment endowed scholarships that help St. John’s Law attract top students and keep tuition affordable. Last summer, starting with a significant bequest and then adding generous gifts from a number of alumni and friends, the Law School built a fund of over $1.5 million. Soon after, John V. Brennan ‘63C, ‘66L, ‘93HON committed $1 million to the effort, and the Brennan Family Scholarship Matching Program was born. Dean Simons and Brian J. Woods, Executive Director of Development and Alumni Relations, then began quietly asking alumni to establish endowed scholarships with gifts of $50,000 or more.
“I expected it would take us about two years to reach our goal of $5 million, but your response has been nothing short of remarkable,” said Dean Simons. In just the past few months, almost 50 donors have participated in the Brennan match, generating gifts and pledges of over $6 million. Long-time supporters — like Joseph M. Mattone, Sr., who made a notable $500,000 commitment — were joined by a generation of new donors. “More than a dozen of the new scholarships have been established by alumni who graduated from the Law School after 1990,” Dean Simons noted. “A new generation of donors has come forward to build a new culture of giving. The activities of just the past few months will increase our scholarship endowment by 60%.”
St. John’s has a proud tradition of supporting those who work tirelessly to defend our community and our country. And Dean Simons shared with pride that several of the Law School’s endowed scholarships are earmarked for members of the NYPD, the FDNY, or the military. He then introduced the audience to three current St. John’s Law students who embody the Vincentian spirit of selfless service — Daniel Gallagher (Lieutenant, NYPD), Todd Morelli (Captain, U.S. Army Reserves), and Denis Sweeney (Lieutenant, FDNY).
Service to the greater good is also a hallmark of the life and career of Ray Kelly, who came to the dais next to receive the St. Thomas More Award for his outstanding moral leadership. Describing the honoree as well known for being a “powerful police commissioner, a combat veteran, a terrorism fighter, a well-dressed man, and a life-long cop,” Dean Simons said that many do not know that Mr. Kelly is also an ardent proponent of education. He enrolled in the police academy as a college graduate, a rarity at the time, and graduated first in his class. As he moved up the ranks at the NYPD, he earned three graduate degrees, including his law degree from St. John’s. Bringing his devotion to education to the NYPD, Mr. Kelly built the finest police academy in the nation, greatly expanding the diversity of the police force, and helped create a cadet corps that gives college scholarships to police recruits.
Dean Simons then announced that Mr. Kelly’s commitment to education and generosity of spirit will now be memorialized at St. John’s Law in the form of the Ray Kelly Scholarship, a $10,000 partial tuition scholarship earmarked by the NYPD for a St. John’s Law Student, and through the Ray Kelly Endowed Scholarship, a fund started by anonymous donors.
Accepting the award, Mr. Kelly said of his education at St. John’s Law: “I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It taught me discipline, it taught me about endurance, and also about prioritization.” Through his time St. John’s, he learned “how to tackle complex problems.” Turning to the legacy of St. Thomas More, Mr. Kelly observed: “All of us at St. John’s share the belief that there really is no greater purpose in life than to positively impact, and have a significant effect on, people’s lives [ ] and, most importantly, to achieve this within the framework of the ethical and moral groundings that are so much a part of a St. John’s education.”