On Sept. 4, 1979, St. Joseph’s College’s new campus in Patchogue, Long Island, rolled out the “red carpet” — in the form of an evening picnic — to 400 students at its “Let’s Get Acquainted” day. Classes kicked off the next morning.
It was a charming and quaint beginning for the campus, which turned 40 years old this past Wednesday. In the campus’ early years, classes were confined to what is now O’Connor Hall, which also housed a small convent. Just months before opening, St. Joseph’s had purchased the former site of Seton Hall High School to accommodate the College’s growing enrollment at a space it had rented in Brentwood since 1971. To succeed at its new home, the campus took a team approach. Custodians and professors helped with clerical and reception work. Students helped paint and decorate the hallways.
Over the decades, the campus — now called SJC Long Island — experienced enormous growth. Enrollment skyrocketed to over 4,000, while the campus added an athletic center, library, business technology building, wellness center, small playhouse and outdoor field complex. To commemorate the campus’ 40th anniversary, we gathered reflections from SJC community members who were there when it all started.
Sisters on Staff
Marie Wells Patterson accepted a job at St. Joseph’s College 40 years ago under three conditions.
“There needs to be more pay, it has to be full time and my sister comes with me,” Ms. Wells Patterson said. “Joseph Santonasti, the plant director then, said to me, ‘I like a woman who tells me exactly what she wants. You’re hired.’”
The rest is history. Ms. Wells Patterson, 70, has been a custodial worker at SJC Long Island’s Patchogue campus since the day it opened in the fall of 1979, working alongside her kid sister Linda Wells, 64, the whole time.
“I don’t think I’d want to be anywhere else right now — or then,” said Ms. Wells Patterson, who during the campus’ growing years pitched in at the receptionist desk and performed clerical and horticultural work across campus.
Linda Wells remembers the days when St. Joseph’s Sisters lived on campus, and enjoys when they come back to visit. “They still call me ‘little Linda,’” she said.
Sister Pat Manning
SJC Long Island has Sister Pat Manning to thank for the stained glass window in the chapel. She reclaimed the colorful pane from St. Anne’s convent in Brentwood, before it closed in the 1980s.
The establishment of a studio arts major on campus in 2016 also had a lot to do with S. Pat, a former longtime chair of the art department who retires this summer after nearly 40 years at the Patchogue site.
So much has changed since S. Pat began teaching — and living — at the College in 1980. Back then, O’Connor Hall housed a small convent, where S. Pat slept in a bedroom that now serves as an office to a modern languages professor.
“Things have changed a lot, but the same feeling of commitment and belonging to St. Joseph’s College is still very present among faculty, students and staff. There’s still that rapport,” S. Pat said. “The students coming in now are just as anxious to become part of St. Joseph’s.”
Linda De Motta ’83
Linda De Motta remembers taking a “yacht” out onto the Patchogue Lake with her friends after working at the library during the summers while they were students at St. Joseph’s College.
“The first yacht was a plastic rowboat, the second yacht was an inflatable raft that we once transported — carefully — on the roof of my car,” said Ms. De Motta. “Somehow, I got the nickname Mikey, which had something to do with the nutty pranks we used to pull. The name stuck for a very long time, and every so often, someone still calls me by that name — makes me laugh!”
Maureen Del Monico ’83
It was in the cafeteria playing foosball that Maureen Del Monico met the man she would marry. More than 30 years later, her and husband Dean’s children Justin and Brittany both hold bachelor’s degrees from SJC Long Island, with Brittany returning for a master’s degree.
And now as an assistant professor of child study, Mrs. Del Monico still remembers how different the campus used to look.
“Looking at the College now compared to how it was when I was a student is like night and day,” said Mrs. Del Monico, who’s been teaching at the College for nearly 15 years. “I remember the library used to be in the basement of O’Connor. There were foosball and pool tables in the cafeteria. And an alcoholic bar! But with all the changes, it still has the same welcoming feel.”
William Bengston, Ph.D.
Set up chairs for graduation. Help pull the bleachers out in the gym. Organize a student party on campus.
They’re not the typical tasks of a sociology professor. But William Bengston, Ph.D., professor of sociology and coordinator of the human relations program, remembers doing each of them in the early days of the Patchogue campus.
“It was a scramble when the place opened. It was adventure-like,” said Dr. Bengston, who taught at the Suffolk Branch Campus in Brentwood and was part of the first faculty group in Patchogue in 1979. “Everybody was kind of in ‘wing it’ mode. Everybody pitched in. You never gave it a second thought not to.”
Timeline: Building Success
1979 — A New Home
SJC in April purchases a 27-acre lakeside property in Patchogue, which includes the former Seton Hall High School, and starts classes for 400 students within five months.
1985 — On Stage
The Clare Rose Playhouse, a major teaching facility for SJC Long Island’s theater courses, opens.
1989 — Hit the Books
Callahan Library opens across the quad from the campus’ main building, O’Connor Hall.
1997 — Work Hard, Play Hard
The College opens the 48,250-square-foot John A. Danzi Athletic Center to students, faculty and staff.
2002 — Moving Forward
The 33,000-square-foot Business Technology Center, with state-of-the-art computer labs, video conference rooms and faculty offices, opens.
2012 — Athletic Complex
Four years after acquiring nearly 25 acres of property a mile east from campus along Sunrise Highway, the College unveils its new Outdoor Field Complex — now home to the Golden Eagles men’s and women’s soccer, tennis, track and field, women’s lacrosse, softball and baseball teams.
2015 — Wellness Center
The Center for Wellness opens, providing students with emotional, social and psychological support.