St. John’s University taps ex-Providence head as new president

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St. John’s University tapped the Rev. Brian Shanley — the former long-time head of Providence College — to lead the New York Catholic institution amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I have long admired St. John’s commitment to the founding mission set forth by the Vincentian community to provide a Catholic education for first-generation students in a diverse and inclusive environment. I look forward to leading our community to remain committed to that mission amidst the unique challenges of the current times,” Shanley said.

Shanley, 62, a member of the Dominican order, will take over Feb. 1 for the beginning of the spring semester.

Shanley replaces Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, SJU’s first lay president in its 144-year-history, who announced his retirement in June after six years at the helm.

Like other colleges, St. John’s — the nation’s second largest Catholic University with 20,000 students and its main campus located in Queens — is grappling with a drop in enrollment because of the pandemic. About 60 percent of classes are conducted online and 40 percent in-person, a spokesman said.

“There are all kinds of challenges on the mental health front that we don’t hear,” Shanley told The Torch, SJU’s student newspaper, of the pandemic’s impact. “[Providence’s] success at remote learning [has] been mixed. A lot of students are really turned off by remote learning.”

Shanley, who was president of his alma mater Providence College for 15 years before stepping down in June, is known for regularly interacting with students.

He also intends to teach a course in philosophy.

The incoming president practices the Chinese martial art Xing Yi Quan and enjoys opera and golfing.

St. John’s and Providence compete against each other in sports in the Big East league. Shanley said he would root for SJU — but not necessarily against Providence when they play each other, he told the student paper .

“I’ve been at the Big East Tournament every year that I’ve been the President [at Providence], I love going,” he said of of the basketball tournament

“And there’s nothing like basketball in Madison Square Garden.”