Diocesan News

St. John’s University Honors Bishop Brennan With a Second Academic Degree

Bishop Robert Brennan is honored with a second academic degree from St. John’s University in Queens, NY.

By Michael Rizzo

JAMAICA — One of the 1,891 recipients of academic degrees at St. John’s University’s Queens campus commencement on May 19 was an alumnus who got his first diploma there in 1984. The graduate then was Robert Brennan, who is now Bishop Robert Brennan upon whom the university conferred a Doctor of Sacred Theology degree these 40 years later.

“Grateful” and “appreciative” were the words Bishop Brennan used to describe his feelings when he was informed that St. John’s chose to honor him. His undergraduate commencement from the university was on May 20, 1984, when he received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and computer science. The 2024 tribute is the first honorary degree the bishop has ever received.

“It means the world to me that my first one comes from St. John’s,” he said in an interview before the commencement began. “St. John’s is an especially meaningful place as part of my life experience.”

The bishop remembered his 1984 graduation taking place inside of the school’s Alumni Hall, now called Carnesecca Arena. The 2024 commencement was held outdoors under partly sunny skies with temperatures in the 70s.

“I thought my graduation then was big, but I look at the number of the people here now. Wow,” he said.

“It’s the highest honor we can bestow,” St. John’s provost and vice president for academic affairs Simon Møller said before the event. “We honor people who are aligned with the mission of St. John’s to serve our own community and the broader community.”

“It is great to honor his legacy and connection to St. John’s,” he added about Bishop Brennan.

Joan DeBello, chair of the Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science Department in St. John’s Collins College of Professional Studies, and the day’s grand marshal, was thrilled at the bishop being honored.

Bishop Robert Brennan is honored with a second academic degree from St. John’s University in Queens, NY.

“He graduated from the same program I graduated from,” the parishioner of St. Luke’s in Whitestone said. “I’m happy, inspired, and emotional that he’s being honored. It’s a distinction that shows how graduating from a Vincentian school guided him in his vocation.” 

In remarks during the commencement, and before bestowing the honorary degree on the bishop, Møller spoke of how Bishop Brennan shared his pastoral gifts with the university, including coming to St. John’s to celebrate his first Sunday Mass after his investiture as the bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn. 

He then spoke about the impact of St. John’s on Bishop Brennan’s life when he described that he “came here believing he wanted to be a priest, and left here knowing he wanted to be one.” 

In asking Bishop Brennan before the commencement if he had a message for the day’s graduates, that connected with his being honored, he said that their years at a Catholic institution should “remind them of who we are, created and loved by God, with intellectual curiosity, to use God’s gifts to us and live generous lives.”

The other honorary degrees conferred at the Sunday ceremony were a Doctor of Laws upon NYPD Police Commissioner Edward Caban, St. John’s Class of 1989, and a Doctor of Humane Letters upon keynote speaker Jim Ziolkowski, CEO of buildOn, a Connecticut-based nonprofit that helps build schools in poverty-stricken areas around the world.

Before the ceremony, Commissioner Caban called it “amazing” that he was being recognized with his doctorate and said it made him look back at his career and the opportunities he was given. He said it was an honor to be with Bishop Brennan, whose brother is an NYPD sergeant and who has had other family members in law enforcement.

“He pushes for the NYPD,” the commissioner said of Bishop Brennan. “He’s a spiritual leader who helps us get through the tough times we face.”

In his keynote, Ziolkowski told graduates he found inspiration to persevere in his charitable works from Gospel verses that reminded him that fear is useless, that God works through everyone working together as one, and that the light of God can overcome any darkness.

Bishop Brennan has previously been honored by St. John’s University with the school’s Pietas and President’s Medals.