St. John’s University to Celebrate Service and Scholarship at 26th Annual President’s Dinner

Photo of the President's Dinner
July 12, 2023

St. John’s University will hold its 26th Annual President’s Dinner on Monday, October 30, at the New York Hilton Midtown. St. John’s President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., will host the University’s premier fundraising event of the year, which begins with a reception at 6 p.m.

The annual President’s Dinner has brought together generations of alumni, as well as University benefactors, faculty, administrators, staff, members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, and other members of the extended St. John’s family—and most importantly, students—to raise funds for scholarships, especially for those students most in need. Over the last 25 years, the President’s Dinner has raised more than $51 million in scholarship support.

Since its inception in 1998, the President’s Dinner has been an annual celebration of what makes St. John’s University unique: the vibrant combination of scholarship and service. This special occasion is also the venue for the presentation of the highly regarded Spirit of Service Award to outstanding people and organizations that exemplify the Catholic and Vincentian values that are at the heart of St. John’s mission.

“St. John’s University makes a difference in the lives of the students that we serve by creating opportunities and providing a transformative Catholic and Vincentian education, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds,” said Fr. Shanley. “Funds raised at the President’s Dinner support students, and the Dinner provides a special opportunity to recognize several outstanding honorees for their inspirational service to St. John’s and the broader community.”

The Spirit of Service Award is bestowed to alumni and friends who embody the University’s Catholic and Vincentian values in their life and work. These select individuals serve as role models as they incorporate St. John’s values into their lives in a meaningful way. Many past Spirit of Service Award honorees will be in attendance as the University celebrates the 26th anniversary of the dinner.

This year’s honorees are

John R. Bender ’87CBA

John R. Bender currently serves as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Allied World Reinsurance Company and Cofounder and Chairman Emeritus of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. He started out working in the claims department of St. Paul Reinsurance as a Claims Assistant and was eventually recruited into underwriting. When St. Paul Companies spun off their reinsurance company into Platinum Underwriters, Mr. Bender was named Senior Vice President, Commercial Underwriting, and ultimately Chief Underwriting Officer. After nearly 20 years, Mr. Bender joined Allied World Reinsurance Company, where he is now President and Chief Executive Officer, Global Reinsurance.

While at a friend’s barbecue on July 3, 1999, Mr. Bender and friends Tim Kenny and Enda McDonnell devised a new and unique way to raise money for a good cause. Mr. Bender paired the idea of shaving heads with helping children fight cancer—and is now Chairman Emeritus and Cofounder of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. He has distinguished himself as the “Iron Man” of St. Baldrick’s, being the only person in St. Baldrick’s history to have been shorn every year.

Mr. Bender currently serves on the boards of the Polish Reinsurance Company, the Reinsurance Association of America, and the Brokers & Reinsurance Markets Association. He is also a member of the St. John’s Red White Club, whose members contribute gifts that have an immediate and tangible impact on University athletic programs.

Mary Jane Helenek ’82P, ’84GP, ’87MBA

Mary Jane Helenek, a member of St. John’s University’s Board of Governors, is a highly accomplished, entrepreneurial, pharmaceutical executive. She has a 30+ year successful track record of developing and launching pharmaceutical products, driving expansion, and leading highly profitable turnarounds through execution, discipline, and strong people management skills. Ms. Helenek earned her bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, cum laude; a master’s degree in institutional pharmacy administration; and a master of business administration degree from St. John’s University. She also earned a master’s degree in legal studies from Washington University in St. Louis, MO.

Currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Provepharm, Inc., the US organization of Provepharm Life Solutions, based in Marseille, France, Ms. Helenek is responsible for all aspects of the US operations, including clinical development, finance, and commercial operations. She attracts superior talent and develops high-performing teams, and is a forward-thinking COO who lays the foundation for long-term success.

Prior to joining Provepharm, Ms. Helenek was the President and Chief Executive Officer of American Regent, Inc. (formerly Luitpold Pharmaceuticals Inc.), a group company of Daiichi Sankyo Co., Ltd., where she grew annual revenue from less than $10 million to nearly one billion dollars. She delivered nearly $7.5 billion in revenue and over three billion dollars in profits during her tenure as CEO.

Prior to joining Luitpold, Ms. Helenek was a Clinical Pharmacist at Syosset Hospital, now part of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore LIJ hospital network), and worked as a pharmacist in various settings throughout Long Island. She is a member of numerous professional organizations, and is involved in many charitable and service endeavors. She is also an inventor, holding several US and international patents.

Michael X. Mattone ’91L

Michael X. Mattone serves as Chief Executive Officer of Mattone Investors, LLC, and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the firm, including overseeing acquisitions/sales, development, financing/capital activities, leasing, and management. In addition, Mr. Mattone is responsible for the creation and execution of the firm’s long-term goals and strategies, including geographic focus, portfolio leverage, and strategic institutional partnerships. He began his career as an associate attorney at Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP in the firm’s real estate department before joining the Mattone family business in 1993.

Mr. Mattone’s professional affiliations include the American Bankruptcy Institute, Catholic Lawyers Guild of Queens County, Columbian Lawyers Association, Institute of Real Estate Management, International Council of Shopping Centers, New York State Bar Association, Queens County Bar Association, The Retail Network, and the Young Mortgage Bankers Association.

He is involved in several charitable causes and serves on the board of several not-for-profits, including the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY; Jamaica Center Business Improvement District; NewYork-Presbyterian Queens Board; Queens Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Queens Economic Development Corporation; St. John’s University School of Law Alumni Association; and the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Sports Board. He is a charter member of the Legatus Long Island chapter and begins a three-year term as a Trustee of St. John’s University in September.

Mr. Mattone earned his B.A. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania (1987) and his J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law (1991), where he was a member of the Law Review.

Dr. Solly Walker ’57CBA, ’94HON (Posthumously)

Solly Walker was the first African American to play basketball at St. John’s and was inducted into St. John’s University’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 1993. Led by Coach Frank McGuire—who would be inducted in 1977 into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame—the St. John’s Men’s Basketball program was becoming a national contender when Dr. Walker joined in 1950.

Dr. Walker went on to have a standout career at St. John’s, and upon graduation was drafted by the New York Knicks. He declined the National Basketball Association’s offer and began a long career in the New York City educational system, working with children with special needs. He eventually became one of the first African American high school principals in New York when he was named Principal of P.S. 58 Manhattan High School (now P.S. 35). Dr. Walker retired in 1999.

Dr. Walker passed away at the age of 85—but his legacy lives forever in the St. John’s Athletics Department. As a tribute to the St. John’s legend, the Solly Walker Academic Support Services Fund was developed to enhance the academic profile of the University’s student-athletes.

For more information, visit St. John’s University President’s Dinner.