60 Years Later, Graduate Makes “History”

Odran Branley

BA History

Photo by Debbie Egan-Chin.

In 1960, with two classes remaining to complete his bachelor’s degree in History from St. John’s University, Odran “Pat” Branley ‘20C dropped out because his responsibilities as a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department became too great to manage along with his school workload.  

“I always meant to return, but I needed a push,” he said.  

That push came 60 years later from a fraternity brother with whom he kept in touch over the years.

“I was so close to graduation that I think all of the fraternity brothers assumed I had graduated,” said Mr. Branley. “When I told them I hadn’t, they encouraged me to go back.”

One friend, Frank X. Rourke ‘69UC, even drove him to the Staten Island campus to make sure he didn’t get lost on his first day back. Mr. Branley calls Mr. Rourke his “handler.” “I certainly didn’t do this alone,” he said.

David Gachigo, Associate Dean of Student Affairs on the Staten Island campus, also assisted Mr. Branley with navigating the online components of course instruction, something that wasn’t part of his schoolwork in 1960, when he attended the former St. John’s campus on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn, NY.

Mr. Branley came to St. John’s as a first-time undergraduate on the G.I. Bill after serving four years in the United States Navy. He chose History as his major because he found it “exciting and interesting,” and because it offered him a way to better understand the experience of his parents, who came to the U.S. as immigrants from Ireland.

The final History course Mr. Branley completed in 2020 as what he calls a “senior senior,” was an “unexpected gift” for him. On the first day of “Europe: World War I, Hitler and Stalin,” taught by  Associate Professor John C. Rao, Ph.D., during the spring 2020 semester, Mr. Branley arrived in class before Dr. Rao and the other students thought he was there to teach. “They thought I was the professor!” he said. Once the class began, Mr. Branley found a special connection to the course content, having been born in 1931 and having lived through the “interwar” years between World Wars I and II, which were the focus of the course.  

“I am so glad I did this,” said Mr. Branley. “It has filled a void for me.”  

Education has always been a value for Mr. Branley, one he has instilled in his four children. “I told my children not to go college to prepare for employment,” he said, “go to college to enjoy your time off. I didn’t go to St. John’s to prepare for the workplace, I went to learn and get an education. Education allows you to find complete fulfillment in your leisure time and, most importantly, to understand what’s going on around you.”

Affirming his connection to St. John’s through many years, Mr. Branley gave his son the middle name “Vincent,” after St. Vincent de Paul.

In turn, St. John’s is proud to welcome Mr. Branley as a new member of the alumni family!