At its third annual Esse Non Videri Gala Awards Dinner on Nov. 3, St. Joseph’s University, New York paid tribute to six outstanding alumni who are excelling in leadership and business.
Accomplished leaders from Long Island, New York City and Connecticut were honored during the event, which raised nearly $250,000 for student scholarships at the University. Held at the Garden City Hotel in Garden City, the event provided a golden opportunity to celebrate some of the St. Joseph’s most talented and passionate alumni.
Among the honorees were Times Square Alliance President Tom Harris ’91, who received the Lifetime of Leading Award, and Retha Fernandez, a strategic engagement manager at Long Island National Grid Ventures and Community Offshore Wind who was given the Leadership in Purpose and Social Impact Award.
The President’s Award for Distinguished Alumni was bestowed upon Elyse Deublein Harney ’52, co-founder of Harney & Sons Fine Teas and founder of Elyse Harney Real Estate.
“We celebrated their remarkable achievements, their commitment to their greater good, and their inspiring leadership,” St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D., said. “These heroes truly live by our motto, Esse non videri — ‘To be, not to seem.’”
Rory Shaffer-Walsh, the University’s vice president for Institutional Advancement, added: “The depth and scope of impact by our honorees is truly astonishing and we couldn’t be more thrilled to celebrate their accomplishments.”
To further honor Harney, her family surprised her with the announcement that they had established a generous scholarship in her name. Additionally, the event included a silent auction that allowed participants to bid virtually on exciting experiences, designer products and unique memorabilia.
News 12 reporter Caroline Flynn served as the emcee at the fundraising event, which was attended by alumni, faculty, staff, students, friends and guests. The audience also heard from two student speakers: Charles Grahofke from the Long Island Campus and Shoshana Providence from the Brooklyn Campus. Both have received scholarships at the University.
Brooklyn Alumni Board President Ayana Henry-Kone ’07, MBA ’09 served as the chair of the Gala Awards Committee, while SJNY Board of Trustees member Leonard Stekol chaired the Gala Event Committee.
A look at the honorees …
PRESIDENT’S AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI
Elyse Deublein Harney ’52
Co-founder of Harney & Sons Fine Teas and Founder of Elyse Harney Real Estate
A dedicated alumna of St. Joseph’s University, Elyse Harning has left an indelible mark on the world of real estate. In 1987, she founded Elyse Harney Real Estate with a clear mission: to offer unparalleled service and expertise to clients buying or selling property. Her firm stands committed to hard work, integrity and an unwavering dedication to client satisfaction.
Mrs. Harney’s passion for real estate was ignited during her summers in the picturesque Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, where she fell in love with the region’s natural beauty, historic homes and vibrant community. Inspired by this deep connection, she had a vision of creating a boutique real estate firm that delivered exceptional results through personalized service.
Beyond her stellar career in real estate, she and her husband co-founded Harney & Sons Tea in 1983, a company that their sons now manage.
“You have to be able to work harder, go the extra mile, take disappointment with grace, and truly you have to want the good for the other — and they have to know that,” Mrs. Harney said. “St. Joseph’s gave me the example for that kind of leadership.”
LEADERSHIP IN PURPOSE AND SOCIAL IMPACT
Retha Fernandez ’16. SHRM-SCP
Strategic Engagement Manager with Long Island National Grid Ventures, Community Offshore Wind
A dedicated professional, and community champion, Retha Fernandez, has driven change at National Grid Ventures and Community Offshore Wind as their strategic engagement manager since March 2023. Ms. Fernandez plays a pivotal role in shaping workforce and economic development strategies, ensuring the success of projects that deliver clean energy to local communities.
Her impressive journey includes serving as the chief diversity and inclusion officer for Suffolk County government, where she spearheaded diversity and inclusion initiatives. Across her two decades of experience in the private sector — including Fortune 500 executive leadership roles — Ms. Fernandez has consistently excelled in customer service, technology strategy and relationship management.
Embracing a life dedicated to personal growth, community betterment and positive change, Ms. Fernandez has received numerous citations and advisory roles in various organizations across New York State. She actively contributes to community service, youth development and advocacy in leadership positions at such groups as Jack & Jill of America, Inc., Suffolk County Chapter; the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Suffolk County Chapter; and the Eastern Shore (New York) Chapter of the Links, Inc.
An academic achiever, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from St. Joseph’s University, earning Summa Cum Laude honors. She’s also a Chopra Center certified meditation instructor, firmly believing in the power of meditation to foster love and compassion, and drive social change. She resides in Babylon with her husband of 16 years and their teenage son.
“I attended St.Joseph’s as an adult, as a working mother of a preschooler, trying to climb the corporate ladder,” she said. “And going through college — managing all of the things that I had to manage — helped me to build resilience muscle. And I believe that resilience is a characteristic of great leaders.”
LIFETIME IN LEADING
Tom Harris ’91, MPA
President of Times Square Alliance in New York City
As president of the Times Square Alliance, Mr. Harris’ visionary leadership has turned the world’s most iconic intersection into a thriving hub of culture and commerce. For over 15 years, he’s been the captain of this bustling ship — managing a staff of more than 120 employees and ensuring everything from public safety to sanitation runs like clockwork.
Before helming the Alliance, Mr. Harris served 23 years with the New York City Police Department, climbing the ranks from patrolman to inspector. By the time he retired from the force, he was in command of three precincts in Brooklyn.
“Impacting the community has always been important to me,” he said. “St. Joseph’s gave me a second and third chance to succeed. They gave me the benefit of the doubt, and I’ve always tried to give others the benefit of the doubt. They also taught me perseverance and stick-to-itiveness.”
Mr. Harris earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from St. Joseph’s. He is also a distinguished alumnus of the CORO Neighborhood Leadership Program. He extends his passion for the city by serving on the Board of Trustees for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, the Board of Directors for NYC & Company, and the Board of Directors for the Broadway Association.
LEADERSHIP IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Catrina Rhatigan ’04, MA
Deputy Inspector with the Nassau County Police Department
Catrina Rhatigan’s distinguished career in law enforcement began with the New York City Police Department in 2004, the same year that she earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science from St. Joseph’s University. She took on crucial roles within the Midtown South Street narcotics unit and Major Case narcotics in Brooklyn, before joining the Nassau County Police Department in 2008.
She continued to take on diverse assignments, including gang unit, narcotics, county-wide crime and detective squads, while climbing the ranks within the suburban police force. Now a deputy inspector with the police department, she also serves as deputy commanding officer of Nassau’s Sixth Precinct.
As a proud mother of three children, Ms. Rhatigan has demonstrated her ability to balance her personal and professional life. Additionally, she has continued her pursuit of knowledge, earning a master’s in criminal justice management in 2008 and currently pursuing a doctorate in homeland security.
Adding to her impressive achievements, Ms. Rhatigan in 2020 participated in the exclusive police executive training program at the FBI National Academy.
“Impacting the community is very important to me, because if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem,” she said. “Everybody should be immersing themselves in the community and making sure that there’s fairness and equality for everyone.”
Gianna Gulli Elliot ’15, Esq.
Associate Attorney at Marsh Law Firm
Gianna Gulli Elliot’s journey from a diligent student at St. Joseph’s University to her current role as an associate attorney at the Marsh Law Firm PLLC is a testament to her unwavering commitment to justice.
Ms. Gulli Elliot passionately represents survivors of sexual abuse and discrimination, driven by the goal of holding both institutions and individuals accountable for their actions. Her time as a prosecutor at the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where she handled complex cases ranging from domestic violence to sexual misconduct, armed her with the skills and determination to make a difference in the lives of people in need, she said.
She has become a fierce advocate for survivors of childhood sexual assault, child pornography, campus sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse. It was during her time at St. Joseph’s University — where she earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with cum laude honors — that Gianna’s path began to take shape. Her internship at a domestic violence agency and her work as a court advocate for L.I. Against Domestic Violence opened her eyes to the power of advocacy and sparked her journey toward law school.
The transformative education and mentorship she received at St. Joseph’s played a pivotal role in guiding her toward her current mission, she said.
“What fuels me in this field are my clients. Giving them a voice and advocating for them, and helping them seek justice and be able to gain closure for everything that they’ve been through,” Ms. Gull Elliot said. “St. Joseph’s motto, ‘To be, not to seem,’ has motivated me personally throughout my life, as well as during my career.”
Kyle Harnig ’21
Co-founder and Owner of DK’s Barbershop
A young entrepreneur and educator, Kyle Harnig earned a bachelor’s in history adolescent education at St. Joseph’s University in 2021. During college, Mr. Harnig demonstrated his remarkable entrepreneurial spirit by opening DKs Barbershop in June 2020. He continues to be the owner and operator of this thriving venture.
Furthermore, he has embarked on a teaching career, serving as the barbering career technical education teacher at Wyandanch High School. He said his time at SJNY paved the way for his multifaceted success, and he remains immensely grateful for the opportunities it provided.
“When you open a business, the first thing you have to be is a leader. You have to be that person who takes charge — to be someone who’s able to motivate people around you,” said Mr. Harnig of Riverhead.
“St. Joe’s is such a great environment, and it really taught me how to communicate with other people. Being a barber, it’s really a lot about communication, making connections with people. It’s really how you get people in your chair.”