University president Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. makes first official University appearance

Shanley leads socially distant mass in St. Thomas More Church day before he begins his presidency



The new University president stressed the importance of “listening and hearing” at his first mass on campus the day before he officially started in the role.

The Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. delivered the message during a socially distanced mass at St. Thomas More church Sunday, Jan. 31, that was live streamed to more than 200 viewers on the University website.

Shanley’s first mass came a day before he became the 18th president and the first clergy member to hold the role since October of 2014.

“I am delighted that the first thing I get to do as president…” Shanley told the congregation, “is preside at this Eucharist and to put ourselves, our entire community and particularly myself, into the hands of God.”

During his sermon, Shanley honed in on the “power” of both teaching and learning. 

“As we begin our academic year, I think it’s important for us to reflect on teaching, which is the fundamental activity of a university,” Shanley said. “And we should pray today for our teachers at St. John’s, that they might imitate Jesus in teaching with authority, in teaching with power that they might truly transform our students.”

“Another theme that runs through scripture today is listening and hearing,” Shanley continued, “And that’s the fundamental activity of a good student … One of the things that Jesus’ teaching arouses in the hearers is amazement. And that is what we hope for our students. That by listening, by dialoguing, they become amazed at the new things they are learning.” 

At the end of the Mass, Fr. Bernie Tracey, C.M, executive vice president for University Mission, spoke briefly, welcoming Shanley to both the University and New York City on behalf of the St. John’s community. 

“Father Shanley, we thank you for following that call to be president here at St. John’s University and that you find it in the providence of God,” Tracey said before presenting Shanley with two gifts – a medal with the images of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac on either side and a St. John’s golf bag. 

Following his election in November, Shanley told the Torch that, “All along the way, I have felt like God was leading me here, and that I’m supposed to be at St. John’s – and I feel like it’s a really good fit for me.”

“I really believe that the purpose of education is to learn how to learn,” Shanley said during mass. “It’s not the content, we’re gonna forget most of what we learn, but we need to be lifelong learners, we need to continue to evolve in our learning. A St. John’s education should equip us to be lifelong learners.”

“My hope for the semester is that we keep learning, we keep listening,” he continued.

Shanley comes to St. John’s after a 15-year tenure at Providence College in Rhode Island. He is of the Dominican order and is the first Dominican president of the University. 

He succeeds former University president Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, who penned a farewell letter to the University community on Jan. 27 thanking everyone for their “support and cooperation” during his tenure.