Cornacchia will retire as head of Saint Peter’s after 2023-24 school year

School’s longtime president (17 years) and staff member (more than four decades) has left indelible mark on university in Jersey City

Before he began speaking at the conference in Texas earlier this year, Saint Peter’s University President Eugene Cornacchia was less than confident that U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas would know him any better than the 15 other university presidents at the event.

When you’re the president of a small, urban university in Jersey City, you know your reach doesn’t extend much farther than the Hudson County or state lines.

Or so Cornacchia thought.

After just a few words, Mayorkas interrupted him.

“Are you from Saint Peter’s, the school whose Peacocks made the famous Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament?” Mayorkas said, waving his hands in the air in a celebratory gesture.

“The one and only,” Cornacchia said back, with more than a touch of revelry.

There’s nothing like working a lifetime to be an overnight sensation.

And Cornacchia will be the first to tell you: He doesn’t mind it a bit. The attention that the school received — attention that still is being felt today — has helped more people understand the great things that are going on at Saint Peter’s.

In the coming year, much of that attention should turn to Cornacchia. On Wednesday, he announced he will be retiring in 2024 after 17 years at the helm.

Cornacchia, the university’s first lay president and the longest-serving president in history, has had a distinguished tenure marked by transformative leadership, unwavering dedication and a fierce commitment to academic excellence and the Jesuit mission.

“As a new faculty member in 1981, I never could have imagined having the opportunity to lead this great institution as president,” he said. “Together, we have accomplished many of the goals I set out to achieve for the university, and I could not be more proud or more grateful for this incredible community.

“My love for Saint Peter’s will never waver.”

Cornacchia’s retirement comes after 42 years of dedicated service to Saint Peter’s, during which he guided the institution through a period of growth, innovation and unparalleled progress. Notable achievements include:

  • Strategic expansion of academic programs, resulting in a 50% increase in graduate students;
  • Initiation of the institution’s first doctoral programs and establishment of three of the four schools at the university, including the Frank J. Guarini School of Business, a School of Nursing and the Caulfield School of Education;
  • Achievement of university status;
  • Transformation of the university’s physical campus, including the construction of the Mac Mahon Student Center; Panepinto Hall, a new six-story residence hall; the creation of the Run Baby Run Arena; the addition of the Digital Research Commons in the Theresa and Edward O’Toole Library; and the creation of the STEM Empowerment Center; among many other projects;
  • Achievement of national recognition by U.S. News & World Report, the American Council on Education, Money magazine, Princeton Review Green Colleges, Carnegie Community Engagement Classification and Excelencia in Education, among others. Saint Peter’s has been consistently recognized for transformation and its excellence in social mobility;
  • Partnership with the Archdiocese of Newark to assume responsibility for St. Aedan’s Church, transitioning the parish church into a university church. St. Aedan’s: The Saint Peter’s University Church enables the university to provide appropriate worship and programmatic space to the Saint Peter’s family and its surrounding community;
  • Successful navigation of the university through the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on the health and safety of the community as well as the continuity of education.
  • Establishment of the university’s Campus Kitchen, which has recovered 151,093 pounds of food and delivered 131,458 meals throughout Hudson County since its inception in 2014, as well as the Ignite Institute for entrepreneurial empowerment in order to advance equity and social justice.

Of course, when it comes to higher ed, few things are as vital as fundraising.

Cornacchia has been a champion there, too.

The school has secured more than $25 million in federal grants during Cornacchia’s tenure. Its overall fundraising has been even better.

Cornacchia helped the school secure $64.7 million for Students at the Center: the Campaign for Saint Peter’s University (in 2014) — and more than $70 million (and counting) in the school’s current campaign, Peacocks Rise: the Campaign for Saint Peter’s University.

Kenneth Moore, chair of the Saint Peter’s board of trustees, said Cornacchia’s impact is incredible.

“Dr. Cornacchia has been a visionary leader who has made an indelible mark on the institution,” he said. “His collaborative leadership has brought Saint Peter’s to new heights and his accomplishments have been immeasurable.

“The board of trustees is deeply grateful for President Cornacchia’s dedication and service, and we are fortunate to have his leadership for another academic year.”

Moore said a comprehensive search for the 23rd president is underway.