Welcome to the inaugural issue of Living Vincentian Today, a new
publication celebrating St. John’s University’s ongoing commitment
to its mission as a Vincentian institution.
Future issues will appear regularly throughout the academic
year. We hope you find them an illuminating expression of our
dedication to the charism of St. Vincent de Paul.
If you have a story that captures the Vincentian experience at
St. John’s, please share it with us at www.stjohn.edu/livingvincentian.
When 22 St. John’s students went to New Orleans during Spring
Break 2006 to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, they were doing
exactly what the University teaches its students to do every day –
reaching out to those in need. The New Orleans “plunge” organized
by Fr. Tri Duong, C.M., Campus Ministry Director of Education and
Justice, incorporated all the elements of the University’s mission
as a Vincentian, Catholic and metropolitan institution.
During daily reflections, the student-volunteers discussed the
insights they were gaining into how giving truly is the road to
receiving. Shocked as they were by the dire conditions of the
mid-city area, they were overwhelmed by the generosity of the
people they were helping who, with virtually nothing remaining but
their hearts and spirits, insisted on cooking meals for the group
and treating them like family.
After a week of physically demanding service ripping out
decaying interiors and removing mold and bacteria and ravaged
furniture and other remnants of better times, the St. John’s
volunteers vowed to continue their good works during the summer.
They also determined to tell others back home about the dismal
conditions they found. “We were in shock at the state of things a
full seven months after the event,” says Fr. Tri. Surveying the
wreckage—a landscape filled with abandoned houses with closets
jutting out and car piled on car, he was reminded of the war-torn
streets in his native Saigon, Vietnam neighborhood during the final
months of war. “Like Saigon, what was once a boisterous community,
has shriveled. When we went to mass on Sunday in New Orleans, only
50 people attended where before there had been more than 500.”
Fr. Tri, who was ordained in 2005, started training for the
priesthood when he was 10-years old in Vietnam, but the government
closed the seminary. At St. John’s, his first assignment as a
Vincentian priest, he is focusing on drawing attention to instances
of poverty and other societal inequities. Through activities like
Habitat for Humanity, Hunger Awareness Month, soup kitchens, campus
sleepovers for the homeless, he stresses that poverty isn’t just a
third world phenomenon. “It’s right here, in New York City, New
Orleans and Philadelphia,” he says.
His next frontier: leading Campus Ministry’s first international
plunge to Panama for two weeks in May. Volunteers will live with
local Panamanian families, learning first-hand about the traditions
of another culture, and the trip will extend the University’s
mission as a Vincentian, Catholic and metropolitan institution
Looking back on the New Orleans experience, Fr. Tri says, “ I
was touched by how willing the students were to help others, by how
open and compassionate they were. I keep asking myself why were
they willing to do this, and the answer is because it’s our
obligation and our mission as part of the St. John’s
View the photo gallery.