A Chance Encounter Leads to a Meaningful Reunion for Daniel McCabe ‘74


What were the odds, especially in these pandemic times? Dan McCabe’s daughter, Elizabeth, was shopping in a local Connecticut store when she spotted a man wearing a St. John’s Law mask. She stopped him to mention that her father was a Law School graduate. When Elizabeth got home and told her dad about the encounter, he pulled out his yearbook and they quickly realized that the man behind the mask was Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa ’61, ‘87HON, associate judge (ret.) of the New York State Court of Appeals and former Dean of St. John’s Law.

That realization brought a flood of memories back to McCabe. It was 1971 and, as he entered St. John’s building on Brooklyn’s Schermerhorn Street for the very first time, the 1L carried an extraordinary burden. Just the day before, his father had died, leaving the 21-year-old an orphan who, along with his young wife, would now care for his three younger siblings. Feeling overwhelmed, McCabe went to the Law School’s main office, where he was ushered in to see then-Professor Bellacosa.

The exchange that followed was pivotal for McCabe, as he wrote to Judge Bellacosa after Elizabeth’s chance encounter in the store:

You were very understanding and empathetic. You told me that you and the staff would help me in any way possible. Since I was at school that day, I attended my classes. I know you spoke to all of my professors. Dean McNiece reached out to me after his class that day and told me how sorry he was about the death of my parents and that he would remember them in his prayers. I never forgot that, as I knew he meant it. He was a great teacher and man. Later on, I figured that you must have asked my Professors to take it easy on me and not call on me for a while. I kept up with my assignments, but months went by before I was called upon. 

With that support, McCabe went on to graduate from the Law School, pass the Connecticut bar, and serve as an Assistant Clerk of the Superior Court in Stamford for two years before starting in private practice. He still practices today, and recently hired a St. John’s Law student as a summer intern. He also looks forward to a reunion with Judge Bellacosa, who answered McCabe’s note with an invitation to get together and with this observation:

God does surely work in mysterious ways to evoke a story like this a half century old in this mystical happenstance of the chance meeting with your daughter at a store I do not frequent.  . . . Your story thrilled me that, thank goodness, several of us acted in the right empathetic St John’s Vincentian way.  . . I can’t adequately express in words how meaningful your surprise message caught me at this time of my life. I have often told my wife that when some of these stories have come back to me from former students, or law clerks or lawyers whom I have encountered over the years, I am amazed at their particularized recollections of actions or words of mine that I have long forgotten. 

But McCabe never forgot, and his gratitude after all these years is evident in the words he chose to close his message to Judge Bellacosa:

St. John’s Law School is a special place, because of people like you.