John J. Vrionis, Class of 1964
Aviator, US Navy
John Vrionis was born in New Rochelle, New York in March of 1946, the son of and Mary Kelly Vrionis and George Vrionis, Sr. His mother, who had grown up in New Jersey, sold real estate. And as for John’s father, George, he had arrived in this country as a child from Constantinople — today Istanbul — with his hard-working, Greek-speaking family that wasted no time in building their American dream. George earned a living as an insurance salesman.
Growing up in Larchmont, New York with his sister Mary Ann and brother George, Jr., John Vrionis was a member of St. Augustine’s Parish where he attended grammar school, was an altar server, and played basketball. In an event foreshadowing his later athletic success, he broke a twenty-year-old swimming record at the Larchmont Yacht Club at only nine years of age. Later that year, his athleticism was again a topic of town conversation when he pitched his Little League team to a championship title.
John’s mother was emphatic about his getting a Jesuit education, and so in 1960, John Vrionis began his daily commute on the New Haven Line to the Rose Hill Campus.
“This was going to be a tough place” — John’s recollection of his early encounters with fellow Hall of Honor member Fr. Arthur Shea, SJ. And by Vrionis’ estimation, no less daunting were the long Latin vocabulary lists that Fr. Thomas Crowley, SJ would assign for homework each night. Yet despite his early trepidation, the naturally charismatic fourteen-year-old quickly adapted to Prep life, even finding himself elected president of his freshmen class. As John recounts, that election included some of most memorable and valuable lessons of his Hughes Hall years, taught by faulty member and alum, Robert Wagner, Class of 1954. Mr. Wagner was the one who had put John forward as a candidate for class president that first year, and in Vrionis’ own words, “he taught me how to be a leader in the process,”
An athletic standout almost from his first day at the Prep, John played on two varsity squads: basketball and football. His coach on the gridiron: fellow Hall of Honor member “Sammy” Ososki. Whatever the field, court or venue, in addition to the sheer elegance of ability, Vrionis was admired and respected for tenacity and fearlessness and was an inspiration to all around him.
During his last football season at the Prep, John was named to the Catholic Football Conference All Star Team, the CHSAA All-City Team and the All-City Prep School Team, among others.
As a leader on the basketball team, Vrionis also played many memorable games on the hardwood, including one against Power Memorial Academy, a national high school powerhouse whose star, Lew Alcindor, would later be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. John played center in that game, and, as noted by his biographer and classmate, William Perry, “jump balls between Alcindor and Vrionis brought smiles even to the faces of the referees.” Power prevailed, but won by only 5 points. Ram fans gave their team a standing ovation when they left the floor that night. John recall’s the Prep’s performance in that game with pride, just as he does an 18-12 win against St. Agnes, in which he scored all three touchdowns and was carried off the field on his teammates’ shoulders.
John accepted a full football scholarship to Holy Cross, where he was a letter-winner on both the football and men’s lacrosse teams while completing a demanding major in economics. In John’s own words: “Fordham Prep taught me how to study, and I appreciated it when I arrived at Holy Cross. The preparation paid off.”
Playing for the Crusaders, he caught 39 career passes for 570 yards and seven touchdowns. He was key in some of Holy Cross’ most memorable victories of the day, including a win against Boston College in 1966 and against Yale in 1967 — the Bulldogs’ only loss of that season. During his senior year, John led the team with 511 receiving yards and 42 points scored.
On the lacrosse field, Vrionis led the Holy Cross team in scoring as an upperclassman, with 49 points on 36 goals and 13 assists. He scored eight goals against Worcester Polytechnic Institute on April 13, 1968 to set a school single-game record that would remain unbroken even at the time of his 2013 induction into the Prep Hall of Honor. John was selected to play in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association North-South College All-Star Game.
Also during his senior year at Holy Cross, John met his future wife, Lorraine “Lori” Brady. They were married on December 28, 1968.
After his time in Worcester, John joined the US Navy with the goal of becoming a pilot. While in flight training, he played football for the Pensacola Goshawks. One of his Goshawk teammates: future NFL Hall of Famer, Lieutenant Roger Staubach.
During his more than 4 years of active duty and 3 years as a reservist, Vrionis piloted several types of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. While the USS Forrestal was stationed in the Mediterranean, John, piloting a helicopter, rescued a downed pilot and his crew after their plane had crashed after launching from the carrier.
After his years of service, John would go on to earn an MBA from Providence College in 1976. He pursued a career in sales at companies including Coral of Chicago, Masonite Corporation and Hauserman, Inc. Meanwhile Lori would pursue a career as a math instructor, in the classroom, as a private tutor, and come the 21st century, as the creator of an online interactive math homework tutoring site.
In 2010, John James Vrionis was inducted into the Holy Cross Varsity Club Hall of Fame for his achievements in both football and lacrosse.
The Vrionises have two daughters, Kristin and Lisa, and a son, John, Jr., as well as eight grandchildren. John says that he and Lori made it a priority to pass on to their children the spiritual foundations that were set into them by their parents and that were strengthened and solidified at Fordham Prep and Holy Cross, and that it has had a profound impact it on the life of their family.
John and Lori Vrionis now live in Roswell, Georgia. Although he has struggled with various health ailments for years, John has been a volunteer at the local VA Hospital and Samaritan House in Atlanta, where he helps indigent men and women find paying jobs. And though he volunteers far from any football field, basketball court or lacrosse venue, his tenacity and fearlessness are still respected and admired, and he remains an inspiration to all those around him.