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Bishop John O. Barres Delivers Annual Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Lecture

From left to right: Rev. Bauer; Ms. Pistone; Bishop Barres; Dr. Gempasaw; Ms. Pompa; Ms. Yen; Mr. Wood; Sr. Griffith
From left to right: Rev. Bauer; Ms. Pistone; Bishop Barres; Dr. Gempasaw; Ms. Pompa; Ms. Yen; Mr. Wood; Sr. Griffith
Friday, September 22, 2017

St. John’s University launched its 23rd Founder’s Week celebration by welcoming Most Reverend John O. Barres, S.T.D., J.C.L., D.D.,  Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, to the annual Vincentian Convocation on September 21. The Convocation honors the men, women, and organizations whose lives and missions echo the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul as they strive to help those less fortunate.

Founder’s Week (September 20–27) offers the St. John’s community a variety of opportunities to reflect upon the University’s Vincentian heritage. Activities include direct service to the poor through University Service Day as well as special programs focusing on the lives and work of those who walked in Vincent’s footsteps, such as St. Louise de Marillac, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  

Bishop Barres delivered the annual Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Lecture at the Convocation, which took place in St. Thomas More Church on the Queens campus.

President Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., thanked each of the honorees for their individual service. “Our honorees have touched so many lives, and it is a privilege for St. John’s University to recognize their contributions to society,” Dr. Gempesaw said. 

The following awards were presented, and one honorary degree was conferred:

  • Vincentian Mission Award: Ching-Wen Rosa Yen ’03GEd, ’12G, Director of Multicultural Affairs, Division of Student Affairs, St. John’s University
  • Caritas Medal: Mercy Haven, Inc., a nonprofit agency that provides housing for those living with mental illness; accepted by Sr. Patricia Griffith, LMSW, D.Min., Cofounder and Executive Director
  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal: Michele R. Pistone ’89L, Director, Clinic for Asylum, Refugee, and Emergency Services (CARES), and Professor of Law, Charles Widger School of Law, Villanova University
  • St. Vincent de Paul Medal: David Wood, PA-C, Physician Assistant, Project Renewal
  • Frédéric Ozanam Award: The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings college students together with incarcerated students for a semester-long course held at a jail or other correctional facility; accepted by Lori Pompa, Founder and Executive Director, The Inside-Out Center, Temple University
  • Gold Medal: Most Rev. John O. Barres, S.T.D., J.C.L., D.D., Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre
  • Conferral of the Degree of Doctor of Commercial Science: Rev. Elmer Bauer III, C.M. ’02MBA, Provincial Treasurer, Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, and Member, Board of Trustees, St. John’s University

Referring to Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which outlined the identity and mission of Catholic colleges and universities, Bishop Barres observed, “We give thanks to the Vincentian community and St. John’s University for living this Ex Corde Ecclesiae charge, for ‘welcoming the stranger’ from the very beginning of its existence, and for the prophetic courage ‘to speak uncomfortable truths to promote the authentic good of society.’”

Bishop Barres spoke of the relationship between Catholic Sacramental Theology and Catholic Social Justice, emphasizing the importance of the Sacrament of Penance. He observed, “The transforming conversion experienced in the Sacrament of Penance can also help us as Catholics to be a societal fulcrum—to be Catholic American leaders in welcoming the stranger.”

“The heart of our founder, St. Vincent de Paul, was always turned toward the marginalized,” observed Rev. Patrick Griffin, C.M., Executive Director for the Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “That is reflected in the theme for this 400th Anniversary Year, ‘Welcoming the Stranger.’”

He added, “Our Vincentian Convocation has captured the soul of Vincent by holding up the example of men and women who express both charity and compassion in their ministries to the strangers among us. Vincent would have been happy to be gathered with us for our Convocation.”

Quoting St. Vincent de Paul, Dr. Gempesaw noted, “‘Our Lord’s work is accomplished not so much with a multitude of workers, as by the fidelity of the small number who he calls.’ He has called upon these very special individuals and organizations which we honor here today, and they have responded in their very own, extraordinary ways.”

At a reception following the Convocation, Dr. Gempesaw presented Bishop Barres (a former college basketball player at Princeton University), with some special birthday gifts, including tickets to a St. John’s Men’s Basketball game and a basketball autographed by retired Coach Lou Carnesecca and current Men’s Basketball Coach Chris Mullin, both members of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Bishop Barres remarked, “I look forward to many years of apostolic friendship and partnership with St. John’s University and the Vincentian Community.”