St. John’s University Celebrates Love and Fidelity of Alumni Couples

February 19, 2020

Alumni couples married less than six months—and more than six decades—recently returned to alma mater to reaffirm their love for each other and for St. John’s University.

The annual Blessing of the Couples Mass and ceremony, held on February 15 in St. Thomas More Church on the Queens, NY, campus, serves as an opportunity for St. John’s to not only recognize a special group of alumni couples with the Fidelitas Award, but to also celebrate  many love stories that began at the University. More than 140 people attended the event, which is always celebrated close to Valentine’s Day.

“The Blessing of the Couples event reinforces the faith, love, and devotion that our honorees share with each other, their families, and St. John’s University,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s. “Someone once said that a successful marriage means falling in love many, many times, but always with the same person.” Dr. Gempesaw made a point of saying the award was well deserved for all of the honoree couples present.

“This evening allows alma mater to celebrate the enduring love that exists between alumni who met at St. John’s and later married and maintain a connection to the University,” observed Christian P. Vaupel, Ed.D., Vice President for Advancement and University Relations.

“Whether you are newlyweds, or you were married decades ago, 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 designed to remind you of the sanctity and holiness of marriage.”

“When you first meet and start dating, it sort of comes easily,” observed Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M. ’70C, Executive Vice President for Mission, principal celebrant and homilist at Mass. “You get swept up in that love. You do things spontaneously as you get to know one another.”

However, he noted, that love eventually evolves into something deeper. “You realize it is also about commitment. It is about allowing God’s grace to take hold of your lives.” Fr. Tracey observed that while the love couples share brings them together, that love is strengthened by years of facing life’s challenges and struggles together.

During his homily, Fr. Tracey took time to ask alumni couples how long they have been married, and briefly tell their St. John’s love stories.

Honorees this year included

  • Catherine Dow (’77P, ’89GP) and Kenneth Dow, J.D. ’87L
  • Rita Smith Hirschfield (’70Ed) and Robert K. Hirschfield ’70C, ’75GEd
  • Margaret M. Mirro (’86SVC, ’96SVC) and Daniel M. Mirro ’86SVC, ’96SVC

Mrs. Dow related that her connection to St. John’s began long before she was a student when her widowed mother got a job there. Years later, she would commute to the University with her mother. She and her husband did not meet on campus, but rather when they were both employed at local pharmacies. “We would find a reason to talk to each other almost daily. The frequency of those calls increased quickly, and we eventually began dating.”

“St. John’s was instrumental in supporting us in times of need, providing us with opportunities and lifelong friendships,” Mr. Dow recalled. “For that, we are eternally grateful. We wish to recognize our families, friends, and colleagues who provide the love and support that contribute to our success as individuals, as a couple, as parents, and as professionals.”

Mr. Hirschfield reflected on how the University’s Vincentian mission impacted their lives. “Coming from a Vincentian university, it is all about service: serving the needy and the underprivileged. To a large degree, we have done that for our entire married lives.” The Hirschfields have established opportunities for young people, both in education and athletics.

Mr. Hirschfield credits his wife for his success and winning attitude.

“I owe St. John’s so much,” Mrs. Hirschfield added, recalling that in addition to meeting her husband, the University opened many doors for her professionally.

Mr. Mirro was greatly moved by this honor, but admitted that public speaking makes him nervous. “Dr. Gempesaw told me to say, ‘This honor is well deserved,’” he joked.

Speaking on behalf of his wife, he said, “We love St. John’s.” He noted that Mrs. Mirro worked there for nearly two decades. As an employee of Curtis Elevator, he often fielded service calls at St. John’s, which allowed them to often enjoy lunch together.

In addition to being graduates who attended St. John’s as adults, the Mirros have two children who earned degrees at the University. Two of their other children, Carmela and Rocco, passed away far too young, and they have established scholarships in their names for deserving students. 

Jack Flynn ’98C, ’05GEd, Director of Student Conduct and Advisor for Student Government, Inc., and his wife Christine Curcio ’00C, ’04GEd, attend the Blessing of the Couples event as often as possible since their marriage in 2009. The couple met as graduate students, and with persistence on Mr. Flynn’s part, a friendship eventually blossomed into romance and they were married in St. Thomas More Church.  

“St. John’s is meaningful to us because it is where our story begins,” Mr. Flynn explained. “It is nice to come back to the church where our lives officially started and celebrate with others who have similar experiences.”

Deacon Rachid Murad ’94SVC, who assisted at Mass, and his wife Ianthe Dunn-Murad, Sc.D. ’95C, ’97G met and became friends at St. John’s, but started dating after graduation. Dr. Murad, who is the Clinical Program Coordinator for the Long Island Audiology Consortium, said, “We bring our children here for events because the University is our home.”

Dcn. Murad also serves at Incarnation Parish in Queens Village. “An event like this is important because marriage is the core of all of the sacraments,” he stressed. “It is essential that we get faithful people here because it is a form of evangelization for all couples.”