A Tribute to Josefine M. Castan, Professor Emerita

“Where there is a will, there is a way,” said Josefine M.Castan, professor emerita of Spanish, in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Saint Peter’s College.  Castan had the will to initiate and succeed with every project she was tasked with, to give the Magis to everything she did, to respect and live the traditions of the Ratio Studiorum and cura personalis and to center it all on the students of Saint Peter’s College.

Devotee of the liberal arts, Professor Castan made a generous bequest to the College for use in this area, particularly for the Romance languages, before she passed on September 2, 2010.  Her gift will be used for new program development that builds on the College’s strengths in the liberal arts, languages and international relations.

Born in New York City, raised in Madrid and armed with family values rooted in Catholicism and a Fordham education steeped in the Jesuit tradition, Castan began her career teaching at the Academy of the Sacred Heart of Mary in New York City and in Fordham’s Graduate School. 

With offers from several colleges, she arrived at the all-male College on the Boulevard in 1960 where she became the institution’s first woman professor.  By February 1966, Executive Vice President Rev. Edmund Ryan, S.J., named her the first Dean of Women as Saint Peter’s introduced co-education in the day session with 120 young women enrolled.   When asked “Why girls?”Jo replied “Why not? … The introduction of women into our student body will make Saint Peter’s a more realistic reflection of society as it exists today.” 

Her original academic training was in music.  She studied at the Conservatory of Music and Arts in Madrid and graduated from the Liturgical School of Music.  An accomplished organist, she played the organ for 30 years at St. Anselm’s Church in the South Bronx. 

Her lifelong love of music led Castan to produce the Cuban opera, Cecilia Valdes, during the 1972 Centennial of Saint Peter’s College.  The cast consisted largely of Saint Peter’s students of Cuban heritage.  This was the first production of this program in the Eastern United States.

For her excellence in teaching, Professor Castan was the first woman to receive the Rev. George F. Johnson, S.J., Faculty Award in 1972. Champion of the students and knowledgeable about administration, she contributed her insights and vision to countless College committees. Student Affairs awarded her Honorary Cross Keys and she earned the designation of Bene Merenti for her 20 years of devoted service to the College.  On June 30, 1993, upon retirement, she was named professor emerita.
In addition, Castan was named a Danforth Associate of The Danforth Foundation for her dedication to humanizing the educational process.  In May of 2000, the Office of Student Affairs established the annual Professor Josefine Castan Award for Social Justice. 
Despite her many honors, Castan always had a great sense of humility and was a very private person.  You might hear about her work but rarely saw her name. Her leadership set the standard that persists today.
Castan left an indelible mark on her colleagues and students. Her enthusiasm for teaching and learning was contagious and her legacy will surely benefit future generations of students. 

This piece was authored by Eileen L. Poiani, Ph.D., special assistant to the president at Saint Peter’s College, as a tribute to her dear friend and mentor, Josefine Castan.

For information about supporting Saint Peter’s College through a bequest like Professor Castan’s, please contact Ana Cravo at (201) 761-6104 or