Niagara Gazette

November 3, 2012

GLYNN: Ex-NU president under fire at St. John's

Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — That quip about a priest driving the Cadillac with the stained-glassed windows is not all that unrealistic, if you believe the story unraveling at St. John's University in New York City.

At the center of the controversy is Cecilia Chang, the disgraced former dean of the Institute of Asian Studies at St. John's. She has been on trial for allegedly embezzling from the university and forcing students on scholarship to work as her personal servants.

Embroiled in this high-profile campus scandal at the nation's largest Catholic university is the Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., the president of St. John's. Harrington was president of Niagara University from 1984 until 1989 when he assumed the downstate post in Queens.

During the recent federal trial in New York City, Harrington testified that he had limited interaction with Chang — meeting with her two or three times a year — and he had indeed  addressed her handling of the university finances. The priest said he did accompany Chang and other St. John's staff members to Asia. He also told the court that they stayed at five-star hotels and received gifts from potential donors. 

Harrington said: "I wasn't real comfortable, being who I am" with the perks and only accepted them on Chang's recommendations. He was told it was important to stay at that hotel because it would impact on the image of St. John's as a first-class university. "I didn't fight that," he told the prosecutors.

Why was it  important that Harrington accept the gifts? "If you did not take them, it was a sign of a lack of respect," the priest said Chang told him. Apparently Chang's gift-giving was frequent, according to a report in the Torch, the award-winning St. John's campus newspaper.

It wasn't long after Harrington left Monteagle Ridge and arrived at his new assignment that he met Chang for the first time. It was disclosed in court that she presented him with a gift-wrapped box filled with money. 'It was 100 dollar bills and I just didn't feel real comfortable with that now," the priest said. When he returned the gift to Chang, she became upset, somewhat emotional and even appeared embarrassed, he recalled.

Harrington said he kept declining her monetary gifts until she lableled them as money to be given to the poor. He told the court that he then accepted those contributions as a priest and distributed them accordingly.


OUT OF TOUCH: Why in the world did Mayor Michael Bloomberg insist that the New York Marathon go on as scheduled while much of that city was virtually paralyzed from Hurricane Sandy? Fortunately, wiser minds prevailed Friday and the event was cancelled. 

Bloomberg's insensitive and bullheaded actions left countless marathon runners holding the bag. Instead of cancelling it days ago, he let the decision hang until many of the would-be race entrants (a number from Western New York) had gone to tremendous expense to reach the Big Apple. One young man from Europe said Saturday he had invested nearly $6,000 to make the trip.


IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Niagara Falls native Tom ("Sully") Sullivan, an artist, sailor and adventurer, who has divided his time in recent years between Youngstown and Ireland, has an exhibit of his works at the Dana Tillou Fine Arts Gallery, 417 Franklin St., Buffalo. It includes impressive scenes such "Working Waterfront, Buffalo"; "Steamer, Lower Niagara, Lewiston," part of the storied fleet that operated across Lake Ontario to Toronto; and numerous scenes from Maine, where Sully has spent many days. The exhibit will be open Wednesday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday (the closing day) 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


NO TURKEY: Many Youngstown area residents will be disappointed this Election Day because the popular turkey dinner will not be available at the First Presbyterian Church. In recent years the event was drawing upwards of 400 people. A spokesman said it simply became just too much work for the dedicated volunteers. 


END OF THE LINE: Simon's Restaurant on Bridge Street, Niagara Falls, Ont., a short walk from the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, is up for sale. Pat Simon, 82, and his wife, Rose, have owned and operated the popular spot for more than 50 years. The Niagara Falls, Ont., Review reported Saturday that the Simons are also selling their home behind the restaurant. The asking price for both properties: $299,900.

Simon is the brother of the late John V. Simon of Lewiston, a longtime attorney in Niagara County.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246