Seton Hall University alumnus Jim O’Brien of the Class of 1982 and his wife, Judy O’Brien, are donating $1 million to the South Orange campus renovation of the school’s University Center — the hub of campus activity.
The O’Briens have historically steered their philanthropy towards scholarships and programs rather than capital projects, but they eventually came to see the advantage of having attractive and useful buildings on campus.
Housing the main cafeteria, theater, event space, student government and student services offices, this student-focused building has not seen renovations of this scale since it was built in 1962.
“The O’Briens have been longstanding supporters of Seton Hall, for which we are sincerely grateful,” noted University President Joseph Nyre. “Jim faithfully served on our board of regents for 10 years. He has consistently been engaged, in particular with the students and programming of the Stillman School of Business. The O’Briens deeply care about our students and the success of the university, and we are honored that they have made a lead gift to help transform the student experience.”
Other alumni and supporters have been generously donating funds to help the university achieve its $40 million-plus vision of enhancing the student experience.
In the past, the O’Briens made a significant gift towards the construction of Bethany Hall, the admissions building to the west of the main gate of the South Orange campus, and have now turned to the outdated, aesthetically challenged University Center. Jim O’Brien was also a part of the President’s Advisory Group and became more involved with the business school, contributing to the construction of a new trading room, helping to set up the Stillman Exchange newspaper, organizing the annual Jim and Judy O’Brien Capital Markets Colloquium, and ultimately joining the board of regents.
O’Brien said: “You have Bethany Hall, an attractive new building, when you come into the campus. Then, you have the beautiful library in the distance. You approach the campus green and see the iconic Presidents Hall and chapel, the stately Mooney Hall. Then you have this unattractive thing next to it. That’s where students are supposed to be spending a lot of their time.”
So, when the renovations were decided upon, he was fully behind the project.
With over 48,000 square feet of renovations and additions, the University Center will feature greater accessibility, an open, light-filled interior design, more communal spaces, outdoor amenities for students, high-tech educational resources, dining enhancements and more options for retreating and decompressing for better mental health.
In return for the O’Briens’ generosity, the university will name the newly renovated theater lobby (which will also function as an art gallery, student lounge and reception area) in memory of Jim’s late brother Pat O’Brien, and his widow, Cathy O’Brien, who graduated as valedictorian in 1992 and tutored several student-athletes in math and finance. Their son Kevin, Class of 2017, was a finance and business management student and starter on the varsity golf team. Pat O’Brien suffered from a terminal illness and died in February 2021.