St. Joseph’s University, New York celebrated the official opening of its $17 million Student Center on Friday with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by hundreds of University community members, and public officials representing Patchogue, Brookhaven Town and Suffolk County.
A touching event filled with inspiring speeches from St. Joseph’s President Donald R. Boomgaarden, Ph.D.; Student Government Association President Maddy Frascogna; Board of Trustees Chair Christopher Carroll ’88, Esq.; and others was held inside the cafeteria of the new 33,200-square-foot centerpiece of the University’s Long Island Campus.
It was followed by a ceremonious ribbon cutting outside the building’s main, glass door entrance — with Dr. Boomgaarden and Chairman Carroll jointly holding a giant pair of scissors while flanked by a crowd of supporters that included a number of Sisters of St. Joseph.
Dr. Boomgaarden noted that the Student Center is a continuation of the University’s effort to fulfill the goals of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who founded St. Joseph’s in 1916.
“Their mission and our mission are so closely entwined. We want to take people where they’re at and show them unconditional love — and we also want to help to transform them and to help them dream the same dreams that God dreams for them,” said Dr. Boomgaarden, president of SJNY since 2017.
“So when you look at this structure, it is the living embodiment of that ideal — a community that is focused on something great: on the transformation of the world around us to something better,” he continued. “The students who are going to gather in this building — not (just) this year, or next year, but for decades — are going to be transformed by this institution.”
Frascogna agreed, noting in her presentation that student clubs and activities have been looking forward to taking full advantage of what the new Student Center has to offer.
“I’ve watched and admired the entire building process, from the giant dirt piles to the support beams to this very moment,” said Frascogna, a junior majoring in math with a concentration in adolescence education, while minoring in computer science. “Every day came new excitement about the possibilities and opportunities to come within the new walls.”
Frascogna of Medford shared with the assembled crowd that she has known she wanted to attend St. Joseph’s since she was in kindergarten.
“As an educator and a coach, my dad always spoke highly of his players and students who attended St. Joseph’s. These were my role models who planted the seed that St. Joe’s would one day be my school too,” said the Patchogue-Medford High School graduate. “Since kindergarten, every time that we would drive by the campus, I’d point and say ‘Look, Mom. That’s my school.’
“I can’t imagine what younger me would’ve thought if she saw a giant, beautiful new building being built on the current campus,” she added.
The official opening of the Student Center came two years after construction began and 107 years (and four days) after the official opening of the institution in Brooklyn. When the Long Island Campus opened in 1979, it was housed in just one building, a former high school.
Carroll, a 1988 graduate of the Long Island Campus, remembers the days before the additions of the Callahan Library, the Business Technology Center and the Danzi Athletic Center. The opening of the Student Center has filled him with a tremendous sense of pride, he said.
A student when St. Joseph’s held a groundbreaking ceremony for the library, Carroll compared the excitement back then to the jubilation of today.
“I remember thinking that ‘This is kind of a special moment, but it’s library.’ There were books, the Dewey Decimal System, and a whole bunch of other stuff. But it was not this,” Carroll said referring to the Student Center.
“This is a place of community. This is a place of gathering. And when you think of St. Joseph’s University, you think of the community. That’s what makes us special,” Carroll continued. “That’s what makes us different. (Now, we) have a place like this, where we can build on that community, build on that spirt (and) continue to grow what we are, which is a really special place of really special people.”
Nestled in the heart of the vibrant campus in Patchogue, the Student Center offers a diverse range of spaces to enhance the University experience of its students. The state-of-the-art building features a spacious dining facility; the Marian and Ray Russo Student Life Suite; an art gallery; the Sisters of St. Joseph Chapel; a bustling gaming lounge and esports room; the Kroog Center for Veterans; Ridgewood Savings Bank computer lab; large classrooms; and a variety of other versatile spaces for events and student clubs and associations.
The naming of the Marian and Ray Russo Student Life Suite was kept a secret until just a few moments before the ceremony. Marian Russo, the former longtime director of student life on campus, received a special surprise and was brought to tears when she climbed the staircase and saw she and her late husband’s names on a wall above the entrance to the student life wing.
“Oh, no you didn’t. Are you kidding me?” she said softly through tears, before sharing an embrace with Carroll.
A few seconds later, she hugged her daughter, and told her, “Dad would have been so proud.”
“Look at this scene … this sea of some of the most precious people in the world,” Marian Russo said, viewing her friends and colleagues who had gathered for the surprise unveiling.
Before the ceremony, dozens of visitors and University community members had the opportunity to tour the building.
Former longtime St. Joseph’s President S. Elizabeth A. Hill ’64, CSJ, J.D., described the Student Center as “peaceful” and “beautiful.”
“This is a place where students will come together and bring life, initiative and creativity — and go forth from here to bring new life to the world,” said the institution’s sixth president, adding that the chapel is “spectacular.”
Mary Ann Cashin, CSJ, a longtime assistant professor and of child study at St. Joseph’s, was in awe of the center’s many features.
“When you look at the campus, this building looks like it was meant to be here — perhaps like it was always here,” she said, standing on the second floor outside the Sisters of St. Joseph Chapel.
“And of course, we’re right here by the chapel, which is not only welcoming but a contemplative spot where students can come and be quiet, and see the natural world through these beautiful windows.”
“I’m so happy to see how the University has grown,” Matthew Barbis, a Board of Trustee member who graduated from the institution in 1994, said while looking around the building. “When I started here, it was just one building. Now, the students have a place they can call their own. It brings their college experience to a new height.”
The Barbis Student Government Association Office in the Student Center is named for Barbis and his wife Renee Barbis ’11.
“It’s wonderful just to see how everything has turned out and to see how many people are here to support it,” Renee Barbis said.