John J. Degnan, chairman of the board of commissioners of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and member of the Saint Vincent College Board of Directors, will give the fiftieth annual Red Mass address at noon Friday, September 22 in the Archabbey Basilica. The Red Mass, sponsored by the Diocese of Greensburg and Saint Vincent Archabbey, College and Seminary, is celebrated throughout the United States to invoke God’s blessings upon the members of the bench, bar, legislature, law enforcement and governmental agencies—all protectors and administrators of the law. The Red Mass is attended by judges, lawyers, political leaders, and officials of all faiths who come together to ask God to bless, strengthen and enlighten them as servants of the Law so that, in cooperation and mutual trust, they may more effectively pursue justice and freedom for all.
Degnan has had a distinguished career as a lawyer, public servant, government official and corporate executive. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes Grammar School in West Orange and Saint Benedict’s Prep in Newark, and graduated from Saint Vincent College, magna cum laude, in 1966. He then attended Harvard Law School, where he received his degree in 1969.
From 1969 to 1971, he served as law secretary to Associate Justice John J. Francis of the state Supreme Court. He was associated with the Newark law firm of Clapp and Eisenberg from 1971 to 1974. He joined the administration of Governor Brendan Byrne as assistant counsel on November 4, 1974, and served as executive secretary to the governor from March 1976 through March 1977, when he became special counsel to the governor.
Byrne announced his appointment as attorney general—at 33, one of the youngest ever to serve in the position—on December 20, 1977. His tenure was highlighted by opening of the New Jersey State Police to women and deregulation of the liquor industry. In 1981, he resigned to make a run for governor in the Democratic primary.
After a brief stint in law, Degnan spent the next two decades at The Chubb Corporation, a worldwide property and casualty insurance company based in New Jersey. In 1990, he joined subsidiary Chubb & Son as senior vice president and general counsel. He was elected president of Chubb Corp. in 1996 and became president of Chubb & Son in 1998. In 2002, he became vice chairman and chief administrative officer of Chubb Corp., added the titles of chief ethics and legal compliance officer in 2005, and was promoted to chief operating officer in 2008. Having steered Chubb through a financial crisis, he retired as vice chairman and COO in 2010 and remains an adviser to CEO John Finnegan.
He has been married for 46 years to Mary Wade Degnan, a cousin of Michael Wade, C’66, and Peter Conforti, C’65. The Degnans have three children and five grandchildren and live in Chester, New Jersey, and Kiawah Island, South Carolina.