(L-R) Cary Fields, Professor Marc O. DeGirolami, and Dean Michael A. Simons
On October 2, 2019, faculty, students, alumni, administrators, family, and friends came together to celebrate the installation of Marc O. DeGirolami as St. John’s inaugural Cary Fields ‘86HON Professor of Law.
The new professorship is named for Cary Fields, a successful real estate entrepreneur, generous philanthropist, and devoted family man whose deep connection to St. John’s University and St. John’s Law has its roots in his longtime relationship with his friend and business partner, the late Jerome Belson '48L, '80HON.
“It was through Jerry that Cary got introduced to St. John’s and, by 1986, he was so much a part of the family that he had received an honorary degree,” said Dean Michael A. Simons at the ceremony. “Cary became a diehard St. John’s basketball fan, but he was also drawn to the Vincentians. As a Jewish kid from the hardscrabble streets of Mount Vernon, Cary appreciated the Vincentian mission, and he always admired the St. John’s and Vincentian way of ‘doing the right thing.’”
In that spirit, in 2011, Fields and his wife, Kathy, established a major scholarship fund at the Law School in honor of the late Maxine Belson '98HON, Jerry Belson’s wife of 56 years. Now, the Fields’ generous gift will endow the first fully-funded professorship at St. John’s Law in almost 25 years. Marc DeGirolami, who Dean Simons described as the “complete package: scholar, teacher, and servant,” well deserves the honor of being named the first Fields Professor.
Since arriving at St. John’s in 2009, Professor DeGirolami has served the Law School as a dedicated educator and as Associate Dean for Faculty Scholarship and Associate Academic Dean. His scholarly work on wide ranging topics and themes includes his book, The Tragedy of Religious Freedom, from Harvard University Press; 12 articles and book chapters in just the last five years; placements in top law reviews; commentary and mentions in major media outlets; and the Law and Religion Forum blog and Legal Spirits podcast, which he produces as Co-Director of St. John’s Center for Law and Religion with the Center’s Director, Professor Mark L. Movsesian.
Taking the podium at the installation ceremony, Professor Movsesian talked about his colleague and dear friend as “a tireless, thoughtful, and influential scholar.” Whether helping to direct the Tradition Project—a three-year endeavor that brought together scholars, jurists, and commentators to discuss the continuing value of tradition in law, politics, and culture—or focusing on one of several concurrent writing projects, Professor Movsesian said, three interrelated themes characterize Professor DeGirolami’s work: a commitment to old-fashioned legal scholarship; a focus on concrete particularities, rather than abstractions; and a recognition of law’s inevitable complexity and pluralism.
“One does not encounter this approach very much in the legal academy today, but it is Marc’s own—and he has employed it with great skill,” Professor Movsesian observed, adding, “We are accustomed to think of the great scholar as the person who comes up with something no one has thought of before: a new theory, a new explanation, a new prescription that will change the law in exciting ways. But, like the actor in that old French film says, novelty is as old as the hills. In looking to the virtues of tradition, Marc has discovered something new and overlooked in the legal academy, something that will add to our knowledge and understanding of how law works, and should work.”
To complement this view of Professor DeGirolami’s scholarship, Jordan Hummel ’13 offered the celebrants a snapshot of him as a beloved and admired teacher and mentor. Tracing her path from an unsure 1L in Professor DeGirolami’s Criminal Law class, to her time as one of the first Center for Law and Religion Student Fellows, and on to her current work as a prosecutor, Hummel said, “Seldom does a day go by that I don’t think about what he taught me.”
Those lessons included never losing sight of the humanity in the law, being an ethical practitioner, and enjoying life outside of work. Through office hours and weekly Q&A sessions over tea, Hummel shared, Professor DeGirolami always put his students first, helped them find their way, and cheered their successes. In closing, she said to him, “Thank you for teaching us not only to be wonderful lawyers, but to be wonderful people, too.”
With tremendous gratitude for the Fields’ generosity in establishing the new professorship, for his family, for his students, and for the entire St. John’s Law community, Professor DeGirolami accepted the honor with this reflection on his vocation: “Just as the soil needs cultivators of the soil, the mind needs teachers. And my students—students like Jordan Hummel and our Center’s fellows today, and so many others—have shown me that the ongoing cultivation and enrichment of the mind is possible in law school in America—right here at St. John’s.”