Third Annual Women’s Luncheon Celebrates Accomplished Alumnae

March 27, 2024

An air of joy, enthusiasm, and accomplishment permeated the third annual Celebrating the Women of St. John’s University Luncheon. Sponsored by The McCallen Society, the day honors the achievements of alumnae who are pioneers in their respective fields.

Held on March 23 at The Inn at New Hyde Park in New Hyde Park, NY, the event has grown exponentially over the last three years, with more than 300 attending. Five outstanding St. John’s University women were honored for their exceptional professional achievements, each spoke movingly about how instrumental St. John’s was in getting them off to a great start.

As he addressed the gathering, Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, said the luncheon was held for two important reasons. The first, he stressed, was recognition. 

“We see what you have accomplished. Too often in our history, both in the Church and in our country, women have not felt seen. Today, we see you. We lift you up for what you have done for St. John’s, for our country, and for our Church.”

“Seeing is not enough,” Fr. Shanley continued. “We’re also honoring, which is a kind of elevated seeing. We lift you up and we say that what you do is something we all need to look at, admire, and honor.”

He added, “It’s important for us as a University to lift people up and honor them. You have brought honor to St. John’s by your incredible accomplishments. Today, we lift you up as a community, and we listen to you. We don’t just see and honor you, we listen to your voices. I feel deeply honored to be the President of the University that produces women like you.”

This year’s honorees were

2024 Lifetime Achiever Recipient

Kathleen Meehan ’75Ed, ’79GEd
Senior Deputy Athletics Director (retired), St. John’s University

2024 Women’s Achiever Recipients

Jo Ann Kocher ’67Ed
Special Agent, US Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (retired)

Sue Ojageer ’08Pharm.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Clinical Pharmacist, PharmaSue

Augusta Sanfilippo ’85SVC, ’94MBA
Managing Director in Investment Banking

Shenneika S. Smith ’13CCPS
Assistant Coach, Women’s Basketball Team, St. John’s University

The keynote speaker at the event was Lynda Carter-Cook ’86C, SM(ASCP), a microbiologist and gourmet chocolatier. She is also a 12-year breast cancer survivor and noted that in the more than 30 years since she graduated from St. John’s, her journey has had its share of “ups, downs, and all arounds.”

The fight against breast cancer has been a defining experience for Ms. Carter-Cook. “This journey allowed me to reflect on my life and my purpose, and on ways I can give back.” Her career as a chocolatier began with a bake sale in 2012 that raised more than $2,000 for the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

“The values of inspiration, compassion, excellence, and hope have been a big part of my learning experience at St. John’s University,” she shared. “St. John’s was instrumental in helping me develop the mindset that I needed to succeed in compassion, love, and the willingness to offer help and hope to those in need.”

Ms. Kocher made history as the first female Special Agent in the ATF when she was appointed in June of 1972. “I knew the spotlight would be on me, and I would have to prove myself to be a capable agent.” She added, “I’ll always be grateful to St. John’s for a wonderful education.”

“From the moment I stepped foot on the St. John’s campus, I was filled with the core values of excellence, integrity, and service to others,” Dr. Ojageer recalled. “These principles have guided me throughout my career, shaping not only my professional endeavors but also my unwavering commitment to make a meaningful impact in the world.”

“What a wonderful platform to amplify the strong women of St. John’s,” Ms. Sanfilippo observed, “especially during Women’s History Month. It feels great to be recognized with this amazing set of women.”

“Being a woman of St. John’s means everything to me,” Ms. Smith stressed. “My professors, coaches, teammates, advisers, and administrators all contributed to shaping me into the woman I am today. In my current role as the Women’s Basketball coach, I’ve learned there’s no greater gift than the gift of giving one’s time and energy and helping people without expecting anything in return.”

“My involvement with St. John’s Athletics was never considered a job,” Ms. Meehan explained. “I loved what I did, and felt it was a blessing to work alongside wonderful people, and interact with our young athletes as they were growing up.” She added, “My job enabled me to interact with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of young people as they were experiencing their formative years. Seeing their growth and following their paths to success over the years—excelling professionally, raising families, and paying it forward—has been extremely rewarding.”

Senior Emily Encalada, a Marketing major and member of the President’s Society, was attending the event for the third time. “Every year it gets better and better,” she said. “I see more influential women who aren’t just examples of a great St. John’s education but of living the Vincentian mission and giving back to the community and young women like us.”