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High School Students Immerse Themselves in Vincentian Service

Monday, September 11, 2017

Catholic high school students from New York City and Long Island learned what it means to be a Vincentian this summer through a week-long St. John’s University program combining classroom theory and real-world service.

Based at the University’s Queens campus, “Faith and Service in the City:  A Vincentian Leadership Institute for High School Students,” offered young people an opportunity to deepen their faith while assisting those less fortunate. Funded by a grant from Lilly Endowment Inc., the initiative allowed the sophomores and juniors to participate in a variety of service activities, experience New York City, and explore the tenets of Catholic social teaching.

Several faculty members and administrators from the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s lent their expertise to the program, under the direction of Joann Heaney-Hunter, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology.

Dr. Heaney-Hunter stressed that mixing theory with practice was an essential part of the program. Students often spent mornings in the classroom receiving a theology lesson and afternoons engaged in service at a site in New York City. “We wanted them to explore what it means to be a Christian leader and understand their baptismal vocation,” she observed.

Activities featured visits to the 9/11 Museum, the Tenement Museum, and St. Peter’s Church in lower Manhattan, as well as serving meals at St. John’s Bread and Life and preparing and delivering sandwiches to the homeless during a Midnight Run. Lessons included reflections from Luke’s Gospel, lives of New York City saints, and Catholic social teaching, among several others.

“When I first heard about the program, I knew this was something I wanted to do,” observed Nicholas Wunsch, a student in the undergraduate Catholic Scholars Program at St. John’s who served as a summer staff member. Another Catholic Scholar, Tim Sullivan, considered being on the staff a great opportunity to hone his leadership skills. “As much as I’m helping them grow,” he observed, “they’re helping me grow.”

“I did this because I wanted to deepen my connection to God,” said Adam Daouphars, a rising junior at St. Peter’s Boys High School on Staten Island. “I want a deeper understanding of my faith, and this program has really helped that.”

Elizabeth Solferino, a rising junior at Kellenberg Memorial High School, said this was a chance to take her faith “into the real world.” St. John’s, she added, “has been very welcoming.”

Sophomore Natalie Wilson, from Newfield High School in Selden, NY, spoke of her special connection to St. John’s: both her parents are alumni. “I’ve been coming with them for years for sporting events like basketball and soccer,” she said. “Now I’ve experienced the University’s spiritual side. I definitely can see myself here.”

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