University Honors Exceptional Graduates at Alumni Convocation

May 24, 2012

It has been said that honor is the reward of virtue, and both qualities were in evidence as St. John’s University recognized the outstanding achievements of 18 notable alumni at the Annual Alumni Convocation in St. Thomas More Church.

Each of the alumni honored has achieved notable success in his or her profession, has embodied the University’s Vincentian mission of rendering service to others and has maintained a strong connection to St. John’s.

This year’s honorees and their awards included:

Alumni Outstanding Achievement Award
Vincent P. Colman ’82CBA
Thomas P. J. Duffy ’87CBA
James Gentilcore ’62CBA
Joseph R. Gentile ’87CBA, ’92MBA
Margaret M. Keane ’81C, ’87MBA

Heritage Circle
Natale P. Calamis ’72SVC
John P. McConville ’62L
Sr. Catherine Mezzacapo, C.S.J. ’52Ed, ’56G
Frank J. Pannizzo ’59UC, ’62L

Pietas Medal
Rev. Elmer Bauer III, C.M. ’02MBA
Barbara Ellen Black, D.P.S. ’62G
Michael J. McInerney ’72NDC
Patricia Connell Shea ’62Ed
Sr. Mary Jean Tague, D.C. ’62P
James A Tomlinson ’82SVC, ’91MBA

Medal of Honor
Nickolas Davatzes ’62C, ’64G, ’95HON

Honorary Degrees
Christopher W. Ruddy ’87C, ’12HON Doctor of Letters, honoris causa
Hon. Robert L. Turner ’62C, ’12HON Doctor of Laws, honoris causa

In addition to their actual awards, each honoree was presented with a personalized citation which detailed the highlights of their impressive careers and personal accomplishments.

“The value of a St. John’s diploma, the value of a St. John’s education, sits before us,” noted St. John’s University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M. “Our honorees not only go out into the world to be successful, they go out seeking to make a difference.”

Medal of Honor recipient Nickolas Davatzes is an outstanding example of why he was selected to receive the highest award that the University confers upon a graduate. Currently Chief Executive Officer Emeritus at A&E Television Networks, he has achieved unprecedented success and made a lasting impact on the television industry while maintaining an impressive commitment to philanthropy and community service. Although he has received numerous local, national and international awards over the years, the Medal of Honor was particularly meaningful to him.

“This award is important to me because it represents the culmination of the kinds of activities that I’ve been involved in at St. John’s and at other organizations,” he said. “Getting it from a Vincentian institution is really special because of the Vincentians’ commitment to service, which is something that my wife and I believe in. I think that the principle of leading a good Christian life by rendering service to others was developed for me here at St. John’s. And then, of course, St. John’s gave me the basis of my career.”

When Congressman Robert L. Turner was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, his extensive career as a business executive led to his appointment to three of the most important Congressional committees, the House Committee on Homeland Security, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He is grateful for the opportunity to put the values that he learned at St. John’s into action on a national scope.

“I credit St. John’s with a good deal of my fundamental thinking and thinking process that has stayed with me for the past 50 years,” he said. “I attribute that to the core education, the scholastic philosophy and the unique values that have always been a part of St. John’s. Those values are synonymous with this University, and I think that they’re more important now than ever before. They’re a part of whatever I hope to accomplish in Washington.”

Although he never plans on calling himself “Doctor”, Christopher Ruddy acknowledged that his emotions shifted from surprised to humbled to proud when he learned that he had been chosen to receive an honorary doctoral degree from the University that has always meant so much to him. His career as a respected journalist and media executive have afforded him a unique insight into the importance of service to others in today’s world.

“The Vincentian values that were such a part of St. John’s when I was a student and are still a part of it today are probably more valid now than ever,” he said. “A commitment to service has not gone away, in fact, it’s become more important. And I think that the financial crisis, which is the most severe crisis that we’ve had since the Great Depression, has brought home the idea that we have to get back to basics, which is helping our fellow man. St. John’s is a great institution, and it’s had a great impact and meaning on my life. This award is a great honor for me.”

By the time Patricia Connell Shea graduated from The School of Education in 1962, she had already developed the commitment to reaching out to others that would become the defining characteristic of her personal and professional life. She began doing service work in Mexico while still a student, and in 1986 founded MOMMAS House, a home for unwed mothers and their children. She was happy that her award would help to shed additional light on the work that has always been so important to her.

“I was very surprised when I found out that I was receiving this award,” she admitted, “and then I realized that it’s really more about the work that I do than it is about me. MOMMAS House is a home for mothers and babies who have no place else to live. It gives them a chance to get their lives in order and get on with them and become independent. Over the years, it’s been a salvation for many homeless mothers and children. While I was at St. John’s as a student, a lot of the activities that I was involved with concerned doing service work within the community. The seeds of volunteering in my life were planted and took root at St. John’s, and I truly believe that the University helped me to become the person that I am today.”