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Alumni Couples Return to Campus to Celebrate Their Love

Monday, February 12, 2018

Demonstrating their love for alma mater and each other, 136 alumni couples returned to St. John’s Queens, NY, campus on Saturday, February 10, for the University’s annual Blessing of the Couples Mass.

“What a blessing and gift from God you have received in finding each other at St. John’s,” said Rev. John J. Holliday, C.M., University Chaplain, who served as principal celebrant and homilist. “We are grateful and honored that you have continued your connection to the University.”

Traditionally held on a Saturday near Valentine's Day, the event recognizes alumni couples who met at St. John’s, married, and have maintained a strong relationship with the University.

“The Mass today, heightened by the Blessing of the Couples, reinforces the love, faith, and devotion that you share with each other, your families, and of course, your beloved St. John’s University,” said Conrado "Bobby" Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John's, in his remarks.

Inside St. Thomas More Church, the couples stood before family, friends, and members of the St. John’s community for the ceremony. Facing each other while holding hands, they pledged their continued loyalty for the rest of their lives. Each couple then stepped toward the altar for a special blessing.

At the conclusion of the Mass, the University presented three alumni couples with the Fidelitas Award, recognizing them for their devotion to each other and their loyalty to St. John’s University and its Vincentian mission.

“This is a special opportunity to reflect on your marriage, to reaffirm the vows you took on your wedding day, and to receive a special blessing,” said Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations, who served as master of ceremonies for the awards presentation. “It also allows St. John’s University the opportunity to recognize three alumni couples who, together, have demonstrated a deep commitment, dedication, and love for alma mater during their lives by presenting the Fidelitas Award.”

This year’s honorees were Eileen D. (’79CBA) and Thomas W. Alexanderson ’78CBA; Tara C. (’07MPS) and Francis “Frank” A. Cavanagh ’07L; and Barbara M. (’79C, ’81G) and Kevin J. Donnellan ’79C, ’81G.

Eileen and Tom Alexanderson first met on the basketball court—not as players or fans, but as members of St. John’s cheerleading team. “Eileen was a cheerleader,” explained Mr. Alexanderson, who was recruited from the rugby team to join the cheerleaders. Despite some teasing, he stayed with it. “We had front row seats to some of the best basketball games in St. John’s history.”

Their courtship continued after graduation, and they were married in 1982. Ultimately, they settled in Rockville Centre, NY, where they are active in serving the community and their parish.  

“We are honored and proud to receive the Fidelitas Award tonight,” said Mrs. Alexanderson. “The values that have inspired us to render strong service—Vincentian values—became ingrained in us right here at St. John’s. That is one more blessing to be grateful for.”

Honorees Tara and Frank Cavanagh were introduced by a mutual friend and quickly discovered they had much in common. “We both worked in Stony Brook during the day and commuted all the way to St. John’s for grad school at night,” said Mr. Cavanagh. “We were also both working-class kids, whose parents told them to go get the education that they never had. We hit it off right away.”

According to Mr. Cavanagh, the couple shares a strong bond with St. John’s that they do not feel with other academic institutions. “St. John’s is a family,” he said, “and we hope to be part of—and give back to—that family for many years to come.” 

Today, married for eight years, they live in East Northport, NY, and are expecting their first child in March. Despite the demands of their careers in public service, they are still involved with the University as well as many charitable organizations.

Barbara M. and Kevin J. Donnellan have been married for nearly 35 years and have been best friends for 40. That friendship began inside the classroom and blossomed in the cafeteria in Marillac Hall, where the two would meet with friends between classes. “We would talk for hours on end and found we had much in common,” Mrs. Donnellan recalled.

In addition to similar upbringings, they also shared political views. In 1978, they worked side-by-side in Geraldine Ferraro’s campaign office as she ran for Congress. “We became close friends with Gerry as a result of a St. John’s internship,” said Mrs. Donnellan. “At our wedding, she claimed credit for being the matchmaker.”

Today, the couple lives in Clifton, VA, where they continue to embrace the University’s Vincentian values. “This great school has a history and commitment to serving those in need,” Mr. Donnellan said. “That commitment was a part of who we were when we graduated and started our careers, and it has remained with us throughout our lives.”

After the ceremony, all couples and their guests were invited to a private dinner reception in the D’Angelo Center, hosted by Dr. Gempesaw and his wife, Clavel Albay Gempesaw, Ph.D.

For the alumni couples returning to campus, the experience brought back fond memories of their time at the University and how they first met.

Christine (’92C) and John Schwartz ’92C, married for 19 years, shared classes together as undergraduates, but did not date until after graduation. “We would see each other around campus, but he did not ask me out until months after commencement,” said Mrs. Schwartz.  

Despite that, Mr. Schwartz was confident at the time that their relationship would last a lifetime. “I knew on the first date that she was the one,” he recalled.

For Danielle (’01Pharm.D.) and Kevin Reiter ’00P, the Blessing of the Couples was an opportunity to reminisce about the past and see what is new on campus. “We met in a chemistry class in St. Albert Hall,” Mrs. Reiter said. “Being in that building really brings us back.”

The couple was married in 2003 and has only missed one Blessing of the Couples since. “We love the nostalgia of coming back to the University,” said Mr. Reiter.

Mark A. Andrews, Director of the Office of Alumni Relations, looks forward to the event each year, as it reinforces the role the University has played in the lives of so many. “I truly enjoy hearing the stories of how these alumni couples met—either as students, or later in life,” he said. “While each couple’s path is different, they all share a love for each other and for St. John’s.”

The evening concluded with student performances of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E”; “Latch,” by Sam Smith; and finally, St. John’s “Alma Mater.”

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