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St. Bonaventure University

St. Bonaventure President Dr. Dennis R. DePerro passes away after battle with COVID-19

Mar 01, 2021 |

Dr. DePerro in Hickey Dining Hall with students

Dr. DePerro’s funeral Mass will be streamed live here on YouTube at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 6.

Read tributes to Dr. DePerro from education, religious and political leaders 

View his obituary

Dr. Dennis R. DePerro, 21st president of St. Bonaventure University, died Monday (March 1, 2021) 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 Dr. 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. 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. I loved that man with all my heart. I know there are thousands of people who would say the same thing.”
 
John Sheehan, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, was on the Board when Dr. DePerro was selected as president in November of 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.
 
“The immense grief we all feel extends beyond the campus community,” Sheehan added. “Our alumni adored Dennis, and the relationships he forged at every college he’s worked run deep, especially at Le Moyne where I know his loss will be deeply felt. Please keep his wife, Sherry, their sons Andrew and Matthew, and the entire DePerro family in your prayers. The university will do everything it can to support them.”
 
Dr. DePerro assumed the presidency June 1, 2017, and in less than four years oversaw the university welcoming the three largest incoming freshman classes in the last 11 years.
 
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% in enrollment since fall 2017.
 
He made great progress to tear down silos, encourage collaboration and open the lines of communication with faculty, students, staff and alumni.
 
He launched a comprehensive capital campaign to build “A Bolder Bonaventure,” stewarding transformative gifts to help the university’s new School of Health Professions become a reality.
 
His vision to transform the university inspired him to form a number of campus-based presidential commissions to examine critical issues early on in his presidency, 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. The university hired a vice president for mission integration in 2019.
 
In 2020, he reconstituted the Presidential Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is already making inroads to improve DEI efforts across campus.
 
Prior to his appointment at St. Bonaventure, Dr. DePerro served as vice president for enrollment management at Le Moyne College in Syracuse for 18 years before becoming the inaugural dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies in 2013. His experience developing health care programs at Le Moyne helped guide SBU’s efforts to bolster its new School of Health Professions.
 
He also served as a professor of management in the Madden School of Business at LeMoyne.
 
A Buffalo native and graduate of Bishop Timon High School, Dr. DePerro spent his entire 39-year career in college administration; for eight years (1982-1990) in admissions and alumni relations at his alma mater Canisius College, and for five years (1990-1995) as dean of admission and financial aid at Marietta College in Ohio before going to Le Moyne in 1995.
 
During his 18 years as vice president for enrollment, Le Moyne’s undergraduate enrollment grew from 1,680 to 2,400, while graduate enrollment rose from 390 to 650 over the same period.
 
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About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. In 2020, St. Bonaventure was named the #2 regional university value in New York and #3 in the North by U.S. News and World Report.