John J. “Jack” Rooney, ’46, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology who educated countless La Salle University students over parts of seven decades, died on Oct. 24. He was 99 years old.
Including his undergraduate studies, which bookended military service in the U.S. Navy, Rooney maintained an affiliation with La Salle for more than 75 years. Rooney enrolled in 1940 as a 17-year-old chemistry major who was unable to secure full-time employment in a factory that had a minimum hiring age of 18.
He arrived at La Salle and, seemingly, never left.
“In some ways,” he said to CBS3 Philadelphia in 2012, “it seems like yesterday.”
Rooney kept odd jobs during winter and summer breaks to finance his education at La Salle. Along the way, he served in the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet before returning to La Salle and graduating in 1946. His military service, he said, inspired his interest in psychology—a discipline he began studying at La Salle. Rooney taught chemistry at La Salle for a year and segued into its psychology department in 1948, while earning his master’s and doctoral degrees at Temple University.
“I did not think of teaching other places,” Rooney said in a 2009 interview. “I liked La Salle and I liked the people here.”
Born on March 19, 1923, Rooney grew up in North Philadelphia. He was the eldest of two sons. His childhood home, near 20th Street and Lehigh Avenue, stood in the shadows of Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium, home of the Athletics. His father, like other homeowners in the neighborhood, would charge a couple pennies to grant onlookers access to the rooftop to watch Athletics’ games from afar. As a result, Rooney maintained a lifelong love of baseball and, throughout his career, kept a red wooden plank on a bookshelf in his Wister Hall office. It was a shard from an old seat at the stadium.
Rooney held a variety of leadership positions at La Salle. He chaired the Department of Psychology twice in a span of 10 years, served as president of the Faculty Senate from 1972–76, and directed a variety of graduate-level psychology programs. He helped launch La Salle’s graduate program in pastoral counseling. A joint effort of the religion and psychology departments, the program was intended for students seeking education and training in counseling that was informed by a sensitive understanding of the faith orientation in people’s lives. A year later, in 1980, he helped develop concentrations in psychological counseling and marriage and family therapy. Rooney also played an integral role in the psychology department’s creation of a human services psychology graduate program.
“The Christian Brothers and the entire faculty (at La Salle), in general, have always been interested in the total development of students—not just intellectually, but socially, emotionally, and spiritually as well. I learned that through my own experience as a student at La Salle some years ago, and it is still true today.”
—John J. “Jack” Rooney, ’46, Ph.D.
He authored several books, including Bleachers In the Bedroom: the Swampoodle Irish and Connie Mack, which chronicled his passion for baseball. In 2009, Rooney received the John J. Finley, ’24, Award from La Salle University’s Alumni Association. The Finley Award is presented annually in recognition of outstanding service to La Salle or the Alumni Association.
As an undergraduate student, Rooney took the 54 trolley to Broad Street, the subway to Olney Avenue, and made it to campus either by foot or on a second trolley. Back then, La Salle had no campus parking lots or outside phones. There were no residence halls. One mimeograph machine served the entire campus and its library was housed in College Hall. What was then La Salle College was still several decades away from its transition to a co-educational institution.
Plenty has changed since then. La Salle’s mission has not.
“It’s the whole spirit of this place,” Rooney said in a 2002 interview for La Salle Magazine. “The Christian Brothers and the entire faculty, in general, have always been interested in the total development of students—not just intellectually, but socially, emotionally, and spiritually as well. I learned that through my own experience as a student at La Salle some years ago, and it is still true today.”
—Christopher A. Vito