Celebrating Sixty Years of Service at St. John’s

September 17, 2019

During the six decades he has devoted to St. John’s University, John P. “Jack” Clarke, Esq. ’55CBA, ’57L , has successfully helmed a wide array of challenging roles, including as teacher of an estimated 10,000 business students; as principle fundraiser for the construction of three major buildings on the Queens, NY, campus; and as one of the first directors of the Office of Alumni Relations.

“Many people think I was the very first alumni director—which I was not,” said Mr. Clarke with a smile. But during his eight years in that job, he launched such initiatives as the creation of the Alumni News newspaper and oversaw high-profile fundraising efforts that led to the construction of the Main Queens Library at St. Augustine Hall, as well as Marillac and Newman Halls.

Tuesday, September 17, marks the 60th anniversary of the day Mr. Clarke returned to his alma mater, initially to teach part-time and assume the alumni relations director’s post, all while maintaining his full-time private law practice, which is now in its 62nd year. He specializes in trusts and estates, and has extensive experience in estate administration and probate and accounting litigation.

Mr. Clarke, who has worked under six University presidents and 15 deans, remains a vital part of St. John’s as Visiting Professor and Chair of the Department of Law. His office is in the Dean’s Suite within The Peter J. Tobin College of Business. A plant-filled, outdoor patio at the business school bears a plaque that reads “John P. Clarke Terrace,” one of many honors awarded him in recognition of his highly valued service to the University and generous philanthropy.

His bond with St. John’s was forged when he was a young man searching for a way to afford a college education. Both of his parents immigrated to the US from County Mayo, Ireland, settling in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, NY. Faced with difficult financial times for several years after the death of his father when he was nine, Mr. Clarke asked the University for financial assistance when he learned St. John’s was founded in order to help immigrants attain an education. St. John’s offered him a scholarship, which he eagerly accepted.

Asked what he most admires about St. John’s, Mr. Clarke said, “The Vincentian spirit of giving that is at the very core of St. John’s mission.”

“St. Vincent de Paul had an instinctive attraction to those who would understand and support his mission, and he would immediately have recognized John Clarke as a colleague and a friend,” said Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M., Executive Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “Jack’s faithful presence and cheerful commitment to St. John’s has been a blessing for the University and its community. From sports to spirituality, from classroom to conference room, Jack has provided us with a wisdom and compassion which rests at the heart of the Vincentian charism.”

Mr. Clarke especially treasures the strong connections and friendships he has nurtured over the years with his students.

“I regularly socialize with people I taught 50 years ago. I visit with them, I go out to dinner with them. I just saw a former student whom I taught in 1985, and I had a daughter of his in one of my classes last semester. And I recently saw his other daughter in the law school,” said Mr. Clarke.  

“I was at a golf outing a couple of weeks ago,” he added. “A fellow came up to me and said, ‘I had you as a teacher in 1968.’ Now, he is a retired lawyer!”

Mr. Clarke, who earned a business degree in 1955 from the then School of Commerce at St. John’s and his Juris Doctor degree in 1957 from St. John’s School of Law, became a full-time faculty member in 1967. He has lectured extensively in the area of estate planning and administration, as well as on Legal Ethics, and his students have been primarily accounting majors.

Providing an “ethical perspective” is key to his teaching philosophy, according to Mr. Clarke, as well as reminding his students of the University’s Vincentian mission to help those in need.

“No one is superior to anyone else,” said Mr. Clarke, who serves lunch as a volunteer at St. John’s Bread and Life, a nonprofit corporation that provides more than 1,000 meals daily to hungry New Yorkers.

He remains humbled for being recognized by the University with honors that include the St. John’s Spirit of Service Award, which he received in 2013. Mr. Clarke expressed his appreciation by establishing The Professor John P. Clarke Scholarship at Tobin College, expressly for students with academic potential who need financial aid. He also created The John P. Clarke Scholarship at St. John’s School of Law.

One of the significant changes he witnessed during his decades at St. John’s is a sharp increase in the rich diversity of the students, racially, culturally, and ethnically, according to Mr. Clarke. “I think this is great. When I started as a student at St. John’s, everybody was of Irish or Italian descent.”

He credits the enhanced diversity to the University’s decision 20 years ago to build on-campus residence halls. “We attract a very cosmopolitan clientele as a result,” he said.

Mr. Clarke views his favorite role—that of teacher—as his most important one at St. John’s.

“I always wanted to teach,” said the professor. “I think I have the ability to make complicated concepts simple to understand.”

“I like to inspire,” he added. “When I teach, I feel as if I am opening windows for my students.”