Crowd Gathers to Share Love for Staten Island Campus

April 19, 2024

Several hundred alumni, faculty, leaders, and friends shared memories, tears, hugs, and laughter as they gathered on Sunday, April 14, to bid a fond farewell to the beloved St. John’s University campus on Staten Island, NY. The campus closes at the end of the Spring 2024 semester after more than a half century.

They came together as part of “Celebrating the Staten Island Campus Legacy” to commemorate the profound impact of the storied “Campus on the Hill” on so many lives among its more than 20,000 alumni.

The event opened with a Mass, reception, and luncheon before it culminated in a special program where current students, alumni, employees, and University leaders publicly bore witness to their deep connections to the 53-year-old campus.

“I know this is a bittersweet moment for all of us,” said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., University President, during his remarks to attendees gathered inside a large, white tent on the campus’s Great Lawn. “But there is a time for everything. It was the right time when St. John’s came here to Staten Island. This place flourished for so many years, and did so much good work here, which is what we celebrate today.”

“We have reached the point now where it’s time for a change,” Fr. Shanley added. “And that’s how God works. It was right when St. John’s came here—and now it is right for us to transition back to Queens, NY.”

To help ease the transition from the Staten Island campus to the Queens campus, the University established an endowed scholarship fund in 2023 to help support future students who call Staten Island home. The Staten Island Heritage Endowment Fund will assist future Staten Island students with financial need who study at St. John’s main campus in Queens. The awards will begin in the fall after the campus closes in the Grymes Hill neighborhood.

Two alumni shared with the crowd their reflections and memories of being part of student life on the Staten Island campus.

“I can’t characterize the St. John’s University Staten Island experience into a singular story because, the truth is, this campus belongs to so many people and has so many stories,” said Nicole Sutherland, a double major and member of the prestigious President’s Society who graduated this past January with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Arts. “My St. John’s story begins with a passion for making a difference and a profound sense of confusion.”

Nicole, a Staten Island resident, was initially committed to attending the Queens campus— until the pandemic outbreak convinced her she needed to attend college closer to home. “At the time, I felt so uncertain and confused,” she said. “I didn’t even have a major, or any sense of what I was doing. But it turns out that God was guiding me here, all along.”

“My professors, who are now my mentors, listened to my dreams as they evolved, and helped me to make them a reality,” she recalled. “I learned that if you articulate your dreams, you could be assured that the faculty, the administration, and your classmates would help you to achieve them.”

The audience also heard from Alfred “Fred” C. Cerullo III ’83NDC, ’86L. Notre Dame College in Staten Island became part of the University in 1971, thus creating St. John’s Staten Island campus. Mr. Cerullo is Chair of the St. John’s Staten Island Alumni Association and a member of The Loughlin Society, the University’s annual giving society. Mr. Cerullo is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Grand Central Partnership and a Commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission.

“It’s hard to imagine that this is the last time we will be together here,” Mr. Cerullo said. “Upon arriving at the Staten Island campus for the first time in 1979, I was amazed by its beauty, confused by its geography, and fearful of its mystery. But I was excited to make it feel like home for the next four years.”

“And like many of you here, home we made it,” he noted. “What we didn’t know then that it wasn’t merely for four years. It was for a lifetime. Lifelong relationships built on this campus have been transformative and life changing—and our lifelong relationships will always serve as the most solid and unbreakable of foundations in our lives.”

Many guests spent the afternoon recalling their college experiences and sharing their reactions to the legacy event. Dorothy Markianus Ilijic ’87CBA, ’90MBA became a college student for the first time at age 43, enrolling at the Staten Island campus as a finance major.

“This is wonderful. I had no idea there were so many graduates from this campus,” said Ms. Ilijic as she surveyed the large gathering of attendees.

Vincent “Vin” Iannelli ’73NDC said he built his entire life on the Staten Island campus. “My fraternity was here. My future wife was here. I have a lot of friends who were here,” said Mr. Iannelli, as he stood on the Great Lawn before heading to the luncheon. “It is also so beautiful on this campus. It encompasses 17 acres and most of it was covered in grass.”

“It’s very nice to be back and relive my old memories,” said Jennifer Marie Marrazzo ’14TCB, ’15MBA. “But I also feel incredible sadness because this campus was such a big part of my life.”

Mr. Cerullo expressed the depth of his gratitude this way: “How lucky we are to share this Staten Island campus story together. We will miss you, our friend—our Campus on the Hill.”