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University Community Celebrates Historic Papal Visit to US

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Since his election as Pontiff, Pope Francis has said he wants a Church “for the poor,” and has showed the world, by word and example, how to live out the Gospels. He has modeled God’s love for all, particularly the disenfranchised, a message perfectly aligned with the Catholic and Vincentian Mission of St. John’s University.

“Pope Francis’s goal of uniting people, despite their differences, so everyone feels the power of Jesus’s love brings a special meaning to St. John’s University and the entire Vincentian community,” said Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., executive vice president for mission, who joined nine other Vincentian priests in concelebrating the Mass at Madison Square Garden (MSG) with Pope Francis on Friday. Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., president of St. John’s, and his wife Clavel, also attended the MSG Mass.

In his teachings, Pope Francis has promoted unity not just among fellow human beings, but with all living things on Earth, as evidenced in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’ (On Care for our Common Home).  Dr. Gempesaw joined hundreds of US college presidents in signing a statement of support to “work collaboratively to study, promote, and act on the ideals and vision of integral ecology laid out by Pope Francis.”

“It’s been a signature experience for our students—one that will last a lifetime for those who were able to participate in the many events of the Papal visit,” Dr. Gempesaw said. “Pope Francis’s message is that we all have a duty to do good. At St. John’s, our service-learning initiative models that message, and impresses upon our students to not only do good today, but throughout the year.”

His Holiness addressed climate change as part of his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations while in New York. Dr. Gempesaw, Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., executive director, and Christine Hammill-Cregan, associate director, of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society at St. John’s, were in attendance to hear Pope Francis’s message to world leaders on a wide range of important global and social issues. Several St. John’s faculty members were also present:Charles Clark, Ph.D., professor of economics and finance; Annalisa Sacca, Ph.D., professor of Italian; Kathryn Shaughnessy, associate professor and technology librarian; and Joan Tropnas, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the health services program. All are senior research fellows of the Vincentian Center.

“I couldn’t believe that I was sitting in the UN General Assembly watching the Pope’s address. His speech was incredible,” said Anthony Scianna '15C, '17G, an intern to the Holy See. “He talked about issues that would modernize the Church, and took a very progressive stance when talking about the changing times we face. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

St. John’s students and faculty watched a live stream of the U.N. address in St. Thomas More Church on the Queens campus, and the Kelleher Lounge on the Staten Island campus, on Friday morning.

Eighty-four students, faculty, and administrators also represented St. John’s at the “Fifth Avenue Welcome” on Thursday, as Pope Francis arrived in New York and made his way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for evening vespers which was attended by Dr. Gempesaw, his wife, and Fr. Tracey. Representatives from the St. John's community were also at John F. Kennedy International Airport as the Pope departed New York en route to Philadelphia on Saturday. St. John's students made a pilgrimage to Benjamin Franklin Parkway there where the University was featured as part of a welcome video that played prior to the Pope's Mass.

"We sat in the dirt waiting for the Mass to start but we didn’t care,” said Carmela Hopkins ‘17CPS. “The Pope spoke about the small gestures that we do for each other can really be a gift. He ended the Mass pointing at the crowd asking us to pray for him. We forget that he is a person who needs our prayers. It was a life changing experience for me.”

The Pontiff's visit to the United States and New York City coincides with St. John's Founder’s Week, an annual University celebration and reflection on how the life and works of St. Vincent de Paul continue to influence our community.  This year’s theme, “Look with Love, Move with Mercy,” reflects Pope Francis’s work and is most visibly demonstrated at St. John’s annual Service Day,  where members of the St. John’s family joined together to serve those most in need in our campus communities locally, nationally, and globally. 

Read St. John’s University’s faculty experts’ comments on the works and messages of Pope Francis »