Rev. Victor R. Yanitelli, SJ, Class of 1933
Prep Teacher (1941-1943)
President, Saint Peter’s College, Jersey City, NJ
Victor R. Yanitelli, SJ, was born on December 16, 1914 in New York City. He was the son of Italian immigrants Sabatino Yanitelli, a tailor, and Lena Martinelli Yanitelli, a homemaker. The Yanitellis eventually settled in the Bronx where they raised two sons, George and Victor, Classes of 1925 and 1933, as well as a niece, Mildred.
Living on East 188th Street, just two blocks from the campus, Victor arrived at the Prep in 1929. The period from the end of World War I through the late 1920s would mark the first time that students of Italian decent began to show up regularly on the Prep rosters, and the Yanitelli boys, who grew up speaking both English and Italian, were among them.
A “brilliant student” as dubbed by his classmates, “Chick” Yanitelli also distinguished himself during his four years at Hughes Hall as captain of the football squad, a deft third baseman, and a reliable and hardworking player on the basketball court. He was editor-in-chief of the Prep’s Athletic Councilman, president of the Edmund Campion Debating Society, vice president of the Senior Class, and president of the Sanctuary Society for two years.
He graduated the Prep in 1933, intending to remain at Fordham for college, though he decided instead to enter the Society of Jesus not long after graduation. He entered at Wernersville, Pennsylvania in September of 1933. Along the way, he received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown, summa cum laude, his master’s in 1942 and doctorate in 1945, both from Fordham University.
During his studies at Fordham, Yanitelli also taught at the Prep — French and German as well as second year Latin. Among his discipuli: a young Charles DaParma, future Prep classics teacher and fellow Hall of Honor inductee. Still a scholastic, Mr. Yanitelli, SJ also moderated the altar servers in the Sanctuary Society and was named in the 1943 Ramkin as “Favorite Senior Teacher.” Father was ordained at Woodstock, Maryland in 1948.
After ordination, Yanitelli studied for a year in Florence, Italy and returned to the United States to serve on the faculties of the University of Scranton and, for some 13 years, of Fordham University, where he was also the student personnel officer
He moved to St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1963 to assume the post of director of student personnel services. In 1965, he was appointed the eighteenth president of the college — the first of Italian descent — remaining in that office until 1978, continuing as chancellor until 1980.
During Father’s tenure, St. Peter’s College experienced the greatest growth in its history. Student enrollment nearly doubled, degree programs were expanded, three new buildings were constructed, and a second campus was opened in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Women were admitted to the day session for the first time in 1966, and lay people were invited to serve on the college’s board of trustees for the first time in 1973. In 1975, the college dedicated the Victor R. Yanitelli, SJ Recreational Life Center in his honor.
During his early St. Peter’s years, Yanitelli was at the forefront of the efforts to reform government and politics in Jersey City, and even considered running for office until Rev. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, the Superior General of the Jesuits, told him he could not be a candidate. Nonetheless, he was credited with having an impact on Jersey City, and was seen by many as an extraordinary positive force in that community.
He served as a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, having been nominated by Governor William Cahill in 1972 and reappointed by Governor Brendan Byrne in 1975. Over the course of his career, he also served on the boards of various Jersey City institutions, including Christ Hospital, the Board of Education, the Hudson County Planning Board, and the Boys Club. In addition, he was a member of the board of Fordham University, served as chairman of New Jersey Governor’s Advisory Council on Project Upward Bound and completed a three-year term on the National Advisory Council of Economic Opportunity.
Following his retirement from St. Peter’s College in 1980, Father Yanitelli became pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Church in Manhattan. In 1982, Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, appointed him episcopal vicar to assist in the administration of 35 parishes on the East Side and in East Harlem.
In January of 1993, Rev. Victor R. Yanitelli, SJ, the tailor’s son from East 188th Street, passed away at the age of 78. He was remembered as someone who never forgot a name and who was positive, optimistic and encouraging. Fellow Hall of Honor inductee Jim Kane remembers Yanitelli as the “best possible family priest and friend one could hope for.”
Victor Yanitelli, SJ eceived many accolades in his lifetime, including honorary degrees from Rutgers University and Monmouth College, the Winner’s Circle of Hudson County Award as Jersey City’s Man of the Year in 1966, the Columbian Foundation Annual Achievement Award, the Annual Brotherhood Award of the Bronx region of the National Council of Christians and Jews, and the Outstanding Citizens Award by the Hudson County Council of Jewish War Veterans. But even decades after his death, the tributes continued. In October 2008, the Father Victor R. Yanitelli, SJ Lodge, Order of the Sons of Italy in America was chartered at St. Peter’s, an honor certainly befitting a man who was proud to be an American, proud to have been a member of the Jersey City community and proud of his family heritage.
These many years later, the quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night that was selected to describe “Chick” Yanitelli by the 1933 yearbook staff remains timelessly appropriate:
True, learned and valiant.