A positive force at St. Joseph’s College since 1981, Thomas Petriano, Ph.D., has long been fascinated
by the great questions of life: Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?
Through his passion for teaching, the chair of the College’s Department of Religious Studies explores with his students how religion addresses these questions.
“Religion is, at its heart, the human attempt to explore and to make visible — through religious stories, rituals, symbols — the deeper dimension of our human existence, which you might call spirit or spirituality,” Dr. Petriano said. “I’ve always had a passion for not only learning, but for helping others learn and discover. I feel I was born to teach.”
After deciding to become a college professor, he earned his Ph.D. in Theology from Fordham in 1997 and officially became a full-time faculty member at St. Joseph’s.
Seeing the Spark in a Student’s Eye
“My favorite thing about this job is certainly the students,” he said. “It’s seeing the spark in a student’s eyes when they come to a discovery about themselves, or when they discover an interest that they never knew they had before.”
During 37 years at St. Joseph’s, Dr. Petriano has developed several courses at SJC Brooklyn and SJC Long Island, including “Faith on Film,” “World Religions,” “Religions of Abraham,” “Islam” and “Buddhism.”
“If you really want to learn about something, you teach it,” Dr. Petriano said. “I find each religion has a beauty of its own as it seeks to explore and give language to life’s great questions.”
He also worked with Peter Lin, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, in developing the College’s newest minor, Mindfulness and Contemplative Living. Introduced last spring, the new minor includes interdisciplinary courses in psychology and religious studies, as well as some philosophy classes.
A Lifelong Learner
Dr. Petriano prides himself as a lifelong learner with many interests — “probably too many for a single lifetime,” he joked. When he’s not teaching, he can be found on the beach with his wife Karen, hiking in Vermont, bicycling, reading, spending time with his cats Angelina and Graziella, enjoying the arts, or even volunteering as a fireman, which he’s done for 30 years.
“I love that side interest. It’s a community service, and I think that’s really important,” he said. “We talk here at St. Joseph’s in our mission statement about social responsibility, service and about giving back to the community. Being a volunteer fireman is one way to do that.”
Dr. Petriano is also passionate about global service learning. Over a decade ago, he created the College’s Nicaragua Project, a program that sends faculty and students to Subtiava, Nicaragua.
“The experience has been transformational for our students,” said Dr. Petriano, who has traveled with students to Nicaragua at least eight times.
“I love having the opportunity to teach on both the Long Island and the Brooklyn campuses,” he continued. “I enjoy and have been enriched by the unique character of each campus. Long Island is known for its lighthouses; Brooklyn for its great bridge. St. Joseph’s has been a lighthouse and a bridge for me, and it’s my hope it can be the same for our students.”