Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., Ph.D., is the University Distinguished Professor of Theology at Fordham University. The Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, native joined the religious order of the Sisters of St. Joseph after high school. A former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, she has written 12 books and many essays about the mystery of God, Jesus Christ, science and religion, creation and ecology, Mary and the saints, and issues related to justice for women.
Q. Please talk about the importance placed on education in your upbringing and what inspired you to pursue higher education.
A. Without being talked about explicitly, education was important in our house. As kids, we were not allowed to stay home from school unless we had a fever; homework had to be done before we went out to play. My maternal grandfather graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Class of 1912; my mom graduated as a math major from Hunter College, Class of 1939. My dad went for a time to St. John’s University in Queens; he dropped out to support his parents during the Depression, but kept up with his college friends. College was in the air.
Q. How were you drawn to be involved with St. Joseph’s College?
A. While teaching high school in the 1970s, I got my first taste of college teaching when I taught for five years as an adjunct lecturer of religious studies. This was when the College held its first courses in Suffolk, in a building on the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood. One evening, S. Virginia Thérèse Callahan, who had been the college’s academic dean, invited me to join her for a drive to Patchogue. There was a high school there [Seton Hall], about to be sold. Might it be a good idea if the College bought it and located the Suffolk campus there? Being young and naive, I thought it was an unrealistic idea. Too much money, too far from the Brooklyn campus. Today, Callahan Library is named after that visionary woman, and I drive onto campus with a well-deserved feeling of humility and delight.
A. Dr. Boomgaarden has a collaborative style of leadership. He is not threatened by the competence of others, as can be seen in the excellent administrators he has appointed. He genuinely values the viewpoints of others … Plus, he enjoys students — and even plays the violin!
Q. Please share your thoughts on the growth of SJC in recent decades.
A. New academic and professional programs for students, increased faculty grants and publications, the Hill Center in Brooklyn and the athletic fields in Patchogue, and so much more: in a slow, solid manner, the second century is carrying forward the good growth trajectory of the first.