For Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017, and new Alumni Association president, Catholic University permeates every aspect of his life.
Pierno has been an undergraduate and graduate student, alumnus, employee — he worked for several years in the Division of University Advancement — CatholicU Sweetheart, and now president of the Alumni Association. The only University roles he hasn’t played are faculty member and parent, although “the parent thing is in the works,” he joked.
“I believe that people are put in place at certain times for a reason. I believe I can help. And it will be one of the greatest honors of my life to be called a past president of the Alumni Association.”— Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017
Pierno grew up in Queens, N.Y., and attended St. Francis Prep, the largest non-diocesan Catholic high school in the country. But when he started researching colleges and universities, he knew where he wanted to be, just not the institution that was right for him.
“I wanted to go to the District [of Columbia], because I was one of those politics nerds,” he said with a grin, adding he was already “familiar with the Georges — Georgetown and George Washington — and American,” but didn’t really know Catholic University existed until he started his college search. During a tour, however, he became enamored with campus and realized the University was where he wanted to be.
“The environment, what we heard on the tour, the culture… It was the culture and community that sealed the deal. It was a place where being Catholic was familiar,” Pierno said of his first impressions. “The campus environment made me feel like I was going in the right direction.”
He declared politics as his major, but his first semester was a little rocky. Pierno has an early birthday, so he was only 17 when he arrived, and turned 18 on campus. “I was homesick,” Pierno admitted. He wondered if he made the right call in choosing Catholic University.
As he settled in, though, Pierno made friends, joined clubs, and co-hosted a program on the WCUA FM radio station. He was also elected as class representative in the spring semester of his first year. It’s one of his favorite memories, and a photo taken at the time captures his joy at being voted into the position. In it, he is surrounded by friends holding “Pierno for Delegate” signs, a huge grin on his face. He said none of that would have been possible without the friends he made and the relationships that developed because he was encouraged to come out of his comfort zone.
“It’s representative of how much I changed my freshman year. It gave me a path to success, even to today,” he said.
Pierno wants to focus on building relationships during his tenure as president.
By his senior year, Pierno said he “had opportunities to lead, learn, educate others, serve, and grow in my faith. I owe all of that to my experience at Catholic University. The person I was when I walked across the Basilica steps at graduation was a totally different person than I was when I showed up at my dorm freshman year.”
It’s a message he shares with incoming students and their parents. “I tell them, ‘If you allow Catholic University to change your life, it will.’ The word community is thrown out a lot, but you have to let that change happen — accept that you want the University to come in and seep into your bones. The friends you make will be your groomsmen, your bridesmaids, your child’s godparents.”
He said almost all of those roles in his and his wife Krissy’s lives — she is also a Catholic University graduate, B.A. 2014 — are connected somehow to Catholic University. The priest who celebrated their wedding, Rev. Frank Donio, S.A.C., B.A. 1989, M.A. 1993, D.Min. 2012, who remains chaplain of the University chapter of the Knights of Columbus. (Fr. Frank has also served as president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors.)
“He’s still a big part of our family’s life. We named our son, Vincent, after the founder of his religious order. He encouraged me to come onto the Alumni Board of Directors (BOD) and has been our dear friend and mentor.”
“I love being busy, and I love being involved with Catholic University. I’m at the point in my life where I’m so energized, and I’m not so far removed from being a student that I can still speak to the experience.”— Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017
So far, his favorite Catholic University role has been that of student.
“Everything about my life today stems from those four years. But the easiest role is being an alumnus; you don’t have to worry about writing papers. And now you’re a champion for the University as a whole. The focus is on giving back and on the ways you can help change the lives of people when I’m gone and make sure that the University continues to thrive and prosper.”
In addition to his role as Alumni Association president, Pierno works as operations manager for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, a national organization that represents leaders of Catholic religious institutes for men in the United States. He’s also in charge of the 3,000 Knights of Columbus in D.C.
“I love being busy, and I love being involved with Catholic University. I’m at the point in my life where I’m so energized, and I’m not so far removed from being a student that I can still speak to the experience.”
“We’re here to provide help through our time, talent, and treasure. [...] It’s about building the pride of the institution. It starts with us. We can be champions of this place.”— Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017
Pierno wants to focus on building relationships during his tenure as president.
“I hope I will help strengthen the bond between alumni, staff, and the entire campus community, so alumni from the Class of 1972, when they’re on campus, are still feeling the same way they did as a student. It’s about taking the experiences and connecting it back. You may not agree with everything the University does now, but the essence of the University hasn’t changed. How can we be connected and support the University as alumni?
“We all have a strong affinity to the things we did when we were on campus. And, at the end of the day, we still met our best friends, or our spouse while writing for The Tower, playing field hockey, planning a community event, or attending 9 p.m. Mass — things that couldn’t have happened without Catholic University. How can we expand on those shared experiences so we are all connected? My goal is to try and drive that as a board.”
“I’m not just representing the 42 people on the board. I’m representing 90,000 alumni.”— Chris Pierno, B.A. 2011, M.S.M. 2017
Pierno sees himself as one of a group of committed volunteers who want to be change agents for the University. And his role, as president, is one of service to the entire alumni population.
“I’m not just representing the 42 people on the board. I’m representing 90,000 alumni.
“And I want to help elevate the board. I know we’re not the Board of Trustees; we’re not supposed to be. And we don’t have a fiduciary responsibility, but we can make suggestions and create new possibilities. We’re here to provide help through our time, talent, and treasure. We need to be at registration tables, give at all levels, help students get jobs. We give all alumni a public face, and it’s about building the pride of the institution. It starts with us. We can be champions of this place.”
As a student, when Pierno pictured himself as a Catholic University graduate, did he imagine himself serving on the BOD?
“Is it bad for me to say yes?” he asked with a laugh. “I did picture it. What is the pinnacle of being involved as an alumnus? Being on the board, and then getting to the top. Did I think it would happen as quickly as it did? No.
“But as the University goes through Light the Way: The Campaign for Catholic University, it’s going through a transformational period. I believe that people are put in place at certain times for a reason. I believe I can help. And it will be one of the greatest honors of my life to be called a past president of the Alumni Association.”