While she may have given them all a nudge, Frances Chionchio insists she hasn’t forced her children and grandchildren to go to St. Joseph’s College. “I said, ‘Try it.’ They wouldn’t have stayed if they didn’t like it,” said Mrs. Chionchio, a Brooklyn native who graduated from SJC in 1955 as Frances Marie Fumo.
I felt so comfortable in that school. I wanted my children to experience it.”
Five of Mrs. Chionchio’s children stayed, liked and graduated from SJC, along with three grandchildren, her sister Rita Fumo Sweeney ’58 and her daughter-in-law. It’s an SJC family legacy that continues to grow: Mrs. Chionchio’s grandson Jonathon expects in 2018 to become the family’s 12th SJC graduate.
“My grandma and I love to compare our experiences and involvement at St. Joseph’s,” said Mrs. Chionchio’s granddaughter Ginette Illuzzi, SJC Brooklyn’s 2014 valedictorian. “While so much has changed from when she was in school, we both agree that St. Joseph’s really shaped us into the women we are today.”
Ms. Illuzzi, a third-year medical student at New York College of Podiatric Medicine, graduated from SJC with her cousin Michelle Chionchio, who attends William & Mary Law School.
Ms. Illuzzi’s mother Gina Chionchio Illuzzi, a math teacher in Staten Island, is a 1983 graduate of SJC Brooklyn. Michelle Chionchio’s parents Francis “Frank” Chionchio ’86 (Frances Chionchio’s son) and Josephine Gallo Chionchio ’85 are also alums. Frank Chionchio is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon.
Like the family’s matriarch, the Illuzzis and the Chionchios now live in Staten Island.
“My mother and father stressed the importance of obtaining a good education,” said Laura Chionchio Orlando, a 1994 SJC Brooklyn graduate, sharing memories of growing up in Bay Ridge, prior to the family’s move to Staten Island.
“We were all encouraged to go to St. Joseph’s. My mom always felt that St. Joe’s gave you the foundational skills you needed to be well-rounded and served as a jumping board to many different careers,” added Mrs. Orlando, who lives with her family in Marlboro, N.J. and works as a learning disabilities teacher consultant in the public schools there.
Mrs. Chionchio said she felt at home at SJC in the 1950s. “There was an aura at the campus. I wanted my children to experience it,” she said.
The principles of the school – they sort of get under your skin and into your heart. And as my children and grandchildren attended St. Joseph’s, I saw the change in them.”
Mrs. Orlando said her older sisters Gerardette Chionchio Stancato ’79 and Lisa Chionchio Gallo ’81 brought her to visit the Clinton Hill campus before she was a teenager.
“Lisa introduced me to St. Joseph’s when I was 7,” she said. “Back then, you could bring a kid with you to class. Teachers would ask ‘Are you going to come to St. Joe’s some day?’”
Mrs. Stancato is a senior administrative law judge in New York and Mrs. Gallo is a special education teacher in Staten Island. Mrs. Gallo’s daughter Gabrielle graduated from SJC Brooklyn in May.
“We all agree St. Joseph’s made us feel like it was our home away from home,” Ginette Illuzzi said. “It is so incredible to see the growth and transformation the college has made from the time my grandmother was a student.”
Frances Chionchio couldn’t be prouder of the legacy she unknowingly began six decades ago.
I look at the progress of my children and grandchildren and I feel like they’ve gotten the best they can get from St. Joseph’s.”
This article originally appeared in the Centennial Edition of St. Joseph’s College Magazine, fall 2016.