102-Year-Old’s Inspiring Connection to SJNY

Frances Ianora ’40 vividly remembers why she chose to attend St. Joseph’s

By Paulina Melin

A current picture of Frances Ianora
At 102 years young, St. Joseph’s alumna Frances Ianora vividly and fondly recalls the passion that her high school history teacher Mary Camper McGinnis ’25, an early St. Joseph’s alumna herself, had for the institution.

It was that ardor that led Ms. Ianora ’40 and two classmates to enroll at St. Joseph’s.

“Sometimes, it takes just one person to transform a life, and that person came as my history teacher in high school,” she said.

A fast learner, Ms. Ianora was 15 when she graduated from high school and became the first woman in her family to attend college.

The first class she attended was freshmen philosophy with former St. Joseph’s President Monsignor William T. Dillon, J.D., LL.D., who she described as an impressive and powerful presence. She recalls the first thing he asked of students was to seat themselves alphabetically backwards.

After much shuffling and shifting, the class was seated. Msgr. Dillon then asked if anyone thought to work outside the box. Did anyone think to do it their own way, instead of following his exact words?

“That was his point,” she said. “You’re so used to being told what to do and to be obedient that you miss out on using your own brain power.”

Francis Ianora graduating in the 40's in St Josephs
After graduating from St. Joseph’s, Ms. Ianora pursued her dream of teaching in elementary school. She earned a master’s degree in special education, married, adopted two children and moved to Emerson, New Jersey, where she still resides.
“Sometimes, it takes just one person to transform a life, and that person came as my history teacher in high school.”
Her opportunity to teach came when her daughter’s school principal offered her a faculty position. She taught for nearly three decades. These days, she volunteers as manager of the ESL program at the Emerson Public Library and continues to lead the Great Books Discussion Group.

For her 100th birthday on Jan. 23, 2021, the Borough of Emerson celebrated the occasion with a drive-by parade full of old friends, community members and even the fire department.