The St. Peter’s University men’s basketball team stunned the country by taking down some better rated teams and making it all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA. But the greater success in my opinion was seeing how the university is truly an urban school. All but one of the players were Black, as was the coach, Shaheen Holloway.
Notice how cohesively they played as a team and spoke in front of the cameras; no divas among them. The student body is 66 percent minority, still historically drawing from mainly urban Hudson County.
When I was a student there, most of the student body had graduated from Hudson County’s 14 Catholic schools and were Caucasian. Today there are only three Catholic high schools left in the county so recruiting public and charter school students is a must.
Past president Jesuit Rev. Daniel Degnan greatly expanded the dormitories in the 1990s so it could draw from a larger pool of students outside of New Jersey.
Today, April 3, is the 150th anniversary to the day that the New Jersey Legislature awarded Saint Peter’s College a license to open in the Paulus Hook section of Jersey City with a preparatory department, now known as St. Peter’s Prep. Cardinal Joseph Tobin will preside at a 1 p.m. Mass today at St. Aedan’s: The St. Peter’s University Church, now run by the Jesuits.
The college division lasted until 1918, during World War I when many students were drafted, and then closed until 1930 when it reopened on Newark Avenue. It moved to its present location at Montgomery Street and the Boulevard in 1936. The Prep remained open throughout but almost relocated to the suburbs in the late 1960s when the neighborhoods around it became rough. The Rev. Pedro Arrupe, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus at the time, put the kibosh on the move so it remained Downtown.
“The schools are still educating and turning out the kind of Jesuit students that give great pride to the schools,” said Michael Milano, my Prep ‘70 and College ‘74 classmate, and the most active member in the alumni associations at both schools. He served two terms at the president of the SPU alumni association. He retired as the chief administrative tech officer Bank of NY Mellon.
The one difference is the reduction in the number of Jesuits priests and brothers. In our time, there were about 100 total living in two communities uptown and Downtown; today there are about 15. Some students never encounter a Jesuit, and that is sad. But the Society of Jesus embarked on a mission to educate the faculties and staffs at both schools to embrace the Jesuit charism “to be men and women for others.”
Kenneth Moore grew up four blocks from the college on Gautier Avenue and graduated from Prep in ‘88 and the college in ‘91. He is now a university trustee and represents the best of both schools. He is COO of Jennison Associates in Manhattan with 391 employees managing $245.6 billion in assets.
“It’s a school for others from the administration down,” said Moore, who now lives in Morganville. He also recalled the schools’ historic “cura personalis,” which means ” care for the whole individual,” drawn from the Ignatian spirituality of the Jesuits’ founder, St. Ignatius Loyola.
One of Loyola’s successors, Arrupe, visited the Jesuit communities in Jersey City back in 1972 when the schools marked their centennial. My classmates and I were college sophomores. The Glee Clubs joined together to perform for Arrupe at St. Aloysius Church, a few blocks down from the college on West Side Avenue. Milano and I, along with another graduate of both schools, Gregory Arnold, participated. We sang Haydn’s “Te Deum Laudamus.”
“I can still sing the whole song,” said Arnold, who retired after 30 year as a cable executive, 14 of them with Comcast. He also recalled a major symposium that centennial, “From Swords Into Plowshares,” which examined the tragic course of the Vietnam War.
Back to today’s basketball players, many of whom are first-generation college students and, according to Moore, another sign of the school “being true to its mission.”
I was the first in my family to go to college and later as a part-time teacher of theology for 20 years at St. Peter’s was inspired to teach more non-Christian and minority students and impart the importance of a subject few heard of before.
I join with tens of thousands of alums at both schools proud of the Jesuit education we received, which, Milano said, “made us the men and women we are and successful in our careers.”
I was very impressed with basketball star Doug Edert, from Nutley, who shoots and moves like Steph Curry. He was so expressive and unabashedly joyful after each victory. Most people talk about what sports columnist Steve Politi called Edert’s “porn mustache,” which took on a life of its own.
I, however, liked what I will call “The Doug Dance.” He would take giant steps forward while pushing his chest outward and alternating his shoulders left and right. Let’s rename it “Peacock Proud.”
The Rev. Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.
Joseph Cardinal Tobin, Archbishop of Newark, will preside at the 150th Anniversary Mass of St. Peter’s Prep and St. Peter’s University at 1 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at St. Aedan’s: The Saint Peter’s University Church, 800 Bergen Ave., Jersey City.