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St. John’s University celebrates street co-naming honoring 152-year legacy

St. John's
St. John’s University held a recent street co-naming ceremony at the intersection of Utopia Parkway and Union Turnpike honoring the school’s 152-year legacy. (Photo courtesy of SJU)

The southwest corner of the intersection of Union Turnpike and Utopia Parkway in Hillcrest has been co-named St. John’s Way, just steps away from the campus, paying homage to the enduring legacy of the 152-year-old Catholic and Vincentian University.

The dedication ceremony, held on May 2, was originally planned as part of the school’s 150th anniversary celebration but was repeatedly delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The founding Vincentian mission of St. John’s was to provide quality Catholic education to immigrants and their children,” SJU President Reverend Brian J. Shanley said. “Our continuing mission is to be a place of upward mobility and life-changing education — and that will always be the St. John’s Way.”

He explained the origin of the word “utopia,” coined by St. Thomas More, and how the pursuit of education examines how humanity can improve.

“We stand at the intersection of Utopia and Union,” Shanley said. “Where St. John’s meets the community is right here on this corner, so these three names — St. John’s, Utopia and Union — mark the mission of St. John’s. We are not meant to stay here. We are meant to emerge thinking about utopias and helping them to become realized in our community.”

St. John's
Photo courtesy of SJU

Founded in 1870 in Brooklyn, St. John’s first established a foothold in Queens when it purchased the Hillcrest Golf Course and some adjacent lot of land in 1936 for $510,000. Delays in development around the onset of World War II kept the property operating as a golf course until New Year’s Eve, 1953. Construction on the first building on the Queens campus began in 1954 and classes began a year later.

Brian Brown, the executive director of university relations, acted as master of ceremonies.

“We started this conversation in advance of our 150th anniversary, and after a lengthy process, here we are today,” Browne said. “Perhaps it’s fitting that we have been waiting for a sign to be installed because for a long time, between the purchase of the old Hillcrest Golf Course and the opening of our Queens campus in the mid-1950s, a sign outside the property read, ‘Future Home of St. John’s University.’ We’ve come so far since that very first sign.”

Councilman James Gennaro spearheaded the co-naming initiative in the City Council in cooperation with SJU and Community Board 8. Gennaro joined the ceremony and spoke of his family connection that he has to the school, including his mother, brother and his late first wife, who was employed in the Office of Alumni Relations. He called St. John’s “a beacon of the community and the country,” and a place for people of all faiths who strive to use their God-given talents along lines of excellence.

“It is my hope that when people walk by this new street sign that it will serve as a reminder of the many contributions of St. John’s University to the local community, to Queens and to the world,” Gennaro said. “St. John’s University has more than 193,000 living alumni, and now has campuses around the world. I am so proud that SJU’s flagship campus is right here in Queens, the ‘World’s Borough.’”

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