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COVID-19 Education News

Bona president, Dennis DePerro lost to Covid


Dr. Dennis R. DePerro, 21st president of St. Bonaventure University, died March 1, as a result of complications from Covid-19. He was 62.

“Words simply can’t convey the level of devastation our campus community feels right now,” said Dr. Joseph Zimmer, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, who was named acting president late last month while DePerro was in recovery. “I know when people die it’s become cliché to say things like, ‘He was a great leader, but an even better human being,’ and yet, that’s the absolute truth with Dennis. We are heartbroken.”

Dr. Dennis DePerro

DePerro was admitted to a Syracuse hospital Dec. 29 after testing positive for the coronavirus on Christmas Eve. He had been placed on a ventilator in mid-January.

The university flag will fly at half-staff in his honor through the end of March.

“His humanity, his insight, his ability to listen to all sides, his sense of humor – all of that made him a great leader,” said Tom Missel, chief communications officer. “What I’ll miss more than anything was his uncanny ability to make you feel better even on your worst days. He had a unique gift.”

John Sheehan, chair of the university’s board of trustees, was on the board when DePerro was selected as president in November 2016.

“I know we believed when we hired Dennis that we made the right choice, but there’s no question he exceeded our wildest expectations,” Sheehan said. “To see the position he’s put us in, through his collaborative nature with trustees, administrators, faculty and students, will forever be a testament to his remarkable leadership.

DePerro assumed the presidency June 1, 2017. He implemented new enrollment and marketing strategies and championed new academic program development. Under his watch, the university’s online graduate initiative saw significant growth, up 329 percent in enrollment since fall 2017.

His vision to transform the university inspired him to form a number of campus-based presidential commissions to examine critical issues early, including a group devoted solely to mission integration, reflecting his passionate commitment to create a transformational experience for students rooted in the university’s Franciscan tradition. 

A Buffalo native and graduate of Bishop Timon High School, DePerro spent his entire 39-year career in college administration. 

Immediately following the news of DePerro’s death, tributes came flooding in remarking on his Franciscan character and dedication to education.

“On behalf of our clergy, diocesan leaders, parishes and educators, I wish to express our deepest condolences to the St. Bonaventure University community and the family of Dr. Dennis DePerro, on the occasion of his untimely passing. Again, we experience how this dreaded virus has robbed us of so many dedicated, talented and cherished members of our community. We hold Dr. DePerro and his family in our hearts with abiding gratitude for all that he made possible in his long and distinguished career. May his enduring contributions and memory be a blessing and source of comfort, even as we offer gratitude to God for allowing him to share generously with this community his deep faith, abundant talents and loyal friendship.” – Bishop Michael W. Fisher

“Our entire university community is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. Dennis DePerro. While on the surface our schools appear to be competitors, in reality we have collaborated with Dr. DePerro and St. Bonaventure to advance the mission of Catholic higher education in our region and across New York state. Through his incredible vision and engaging leadership, he positioned the university for success for years to come. I have a deep admiration for Dennis as a faith-filled leader, an exemplary educator, a wonderful colleague, and a dear friend. His death is a great loss for all of us. We will offer a special prayer for Dr. Dennis DePerro and his family at each one of our Masses in the Alumni Chapel at Niagara University for the remainder of this week, and Sunday, as well.” – Father James J. Maher, CM, president of Niagara University 

“Dr. DePerro was not only a great colleague and leader in higher education, but a great friend, who I have known for many years. Hilbert College joins the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph and our fellow Franciscan colleges and universities across the nation as we extend our deepest condolences to Dr. DePerro’s family, friends and the entire St. Bonaventure community. You are all in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. In solidarity with St. Bonaventure, we will fly our flag at half-staff and offer a Mass in his honor on Tuesday, March 9 at 11 a.m. in St. Clare Chapel on the Hilbert campus.” – Dr. Michael Brophy, president of Hilbert College

“The Bishop Timon-St. Jude High School community is extremely saddened by the passing of St. Bonaventure President Dennis R. DePerro, PhD. Dennis was a 1977 graduate of Bishop Timon. Dennis exemplified the foundations of Franciscan teachings that were instilled upon him at Timon and continued throughout his career culminating in being named the 21st president of St. Bonaventure in 2017. We are extremely proud of Dennis’ accomplishments and he and his family are in our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.” – Bishop Timon – St. Jude High School


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