Leo Caiafa, Jr. was a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then ran an automotive shop in Amarillo, Texas, for more than 40 years. He died in 2013, leaving an extended family that includes a great-niece, Julianne Szemko ’19 (Ronkonkoma, N.Y.), who is studying psychology at Providence College.
A deep and meaningful relationship has developed from that modest connection, leading to a $1 million donation from Mr. Caiafa’s estate to establish the Lucille and Leo Caiafa, Jr. Center for Psychological Sciences, which will be part of the expanded and renovated Providence College Science Complex.
The Caiafa gift is the first major donation to the multi-phase science center project, which began in June and will take four years to complete. It will modernize the complex and unite its three buildings — Albertus Magnus Hall, which opened in 1948 as the third building on campus; Hickey Hall, a laboratory building that opened in 1962; and Sowa Hall, a faculty office building that opened in 1989.
A 37,000-square-foot, four-story, light-filled addition will serve as the new main entrance. The completed complex will include 61,885 square feet of modernized laboratory space; three new technology-rich classrooms, one with 48 seats and two with 26 seats; a rooftop observatory that will double as an outdoor classroom; a computer modeling and computational lab; a microscopy suite; a student commons to encourage collaboration and conversation; and a detached greenhouse.
The project also will include a shared administrative suite for the department chairs in psychology, chemistry, biology, and engineering-physics-systems.
The Caiafa gift came about as his family took note of the experience Szemko is having as a psychology major and a student in the Liberal Arts Honors Program. Her mother, Angela SanFilippo Szemko, and her grandmother, Christina SanFilippo, who is Mr. Caiafa’s sister and the executor of his estate, decided that PC should be the beneficiary of a portion of the estate designated for higher-education institutions.
“My uncle was a big proponent of Julianne going to college and always encouraged her to save for her education,” said Szemko. “We wanted to do something close to where we live so that we could see the benefits. Because Providence College is a Catholic college, and such a great school, and doing so much wonderful new rebuilding to become a top-tier college, we felt it would be a great use of my uncle’s funds.”
“We are grateful for this generous gift, which will provide support for this important, refurbished academic facility,” said Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. ’80, the College’s president. “The science complex, like our new humanities and business facilities, will help our faculty and students thrive in their scholarly pursuits. These infrastructure improvements, which are critical to teaching, learning, and discovery, are enabled by support from our friends. We are delighted that Mr. Caiafa’s legacy, and that of his family, will live on through the impact of this gift.”