September 20-27, 2022
“Arise each morning with new courage to serve God and the sick well”- St. Louise De Marillac, Spiritual Writings 225
Event Time: 12:30–1:30 p.m.Event Location: Queens CampusRegistration required: RSVP for the September 20 Walking Tour here Contact: Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission
[email protected] or 718-990-3004
Ever wonder about the story behind some of the statues on campus? Not sure about the meaning of certain St. John's Mission symbols (like the shells or the D'Angelo Center torch) or why they’re so important? Looking for a chance to slow down, catch your breath, and get some fresh air while learning more about our Catholic and Vincentian Mission? Join us as we spend some time taking a closer look at the statues, symbols and inscriptions around our Queens Campus, and reflect on how they help to bring our Mission to life.
Event Time: All Day Registration required: Free, Meals and Transportation IncludedContact: Victoria O’Keefe, Residence Campus Minister for Social Justice
Event Time Session 1: 11:45 a.m.–12:45 p.m.Event Time Session 2: 1– 2 p.m.Registration required: RSVP for the luncheon here by Monday, September 12Location: D’Angelo Center, Room 128Speaker: Rev. Aidan Rooney, C.M., M.Div., M.Th. ’78 NDC, Executive Vice President for MissionContact: Vincentian Center for Church and Society
718-990-1612; [email protected]
Location: Rome CampusEvent Time: 7:30 pmContact: Massimiliano Tomassini, AVP, Europe Programs, [email protected]
Event Time: 12:30 –1:30 p.m.Event Location: Queens CampusRegistration required: RSVP for the September 22 Walking Tour here Contact: Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission
[email protected] or 718-990-3004
Event Time: 1:50–3:15 p.m.Location: Kiernan Suite, SI
Contact: Fr. Tri Duong
718-390-4305; [email protected]
Event Time: 4 p.m. Location: St. Thomas More Church, Queens Campus Keynote Speaker: Jennie Weiss Block, OP
Senior Advisor on Health and Policy at Partners In HealthContact: Office of University Events
The Vincentian Convocation will posthumously honor Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D. and recipients of the Vincentian Mission Award, St. Vincent DePaul Medal, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal, and the Frederic Ozanam Award.
Vincentian Social Justice Lecture
Thursday, September 23, 2022
St. John’s University
Jennie Weiss Block, OP
President Shanley, Provost Moller, Fr. Griffin, Fr. Rooney, Members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished honorees, and members of the Vincentian and Daughters of Charity communities, and especially the St. John’s students, I am honored to be here today to give the Vincentian Social Justice Lecture, and I am grateful to St. John’s University for honoring the life and work of my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Paul Farmer. I bring you greetings and gratitude from all of my colleagues at Partners In Health and Harvard Medical School, and I am very pleased that Paul’s brother, Jeff Farmer is here with us, representing the Farmer family.
The title for my lecture today is “In the Company of the Poor: St. Vincent de Paul and Paul Farmer.” I borrowed this title from a book I edited entitled, “In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez.” In the introduction to the book which I was privileged to write, I made the observation that although Dr. Farmer and Fr. Gustavo were from two entirely different worlds, they were of one mind. I think the same can be said about St. Vincent de Paul and Paul Farmer. Although they were of entirely different worlds, indeed, they lived centuries apart, they, too, were of one mind and had much in common, especially an uncommon dedication to the poor. Both of these good men loved God with their whole heart and mind and loved their neighbors as themselves and have modeled for us endless compassion, and a zeal for service to others.
I am a Dominican, so I have mostly studied Dominican saints, but I have had the occasion to learn a little bit more about St. Vincent DePaul in the last year as the Vincentians have a shared space agreement with the Dominicans in St. Louis at Aquinas Institute of Theology, where I serve as a consultant and on the Board of Trustees. I know St. Vincent de Paul was a Frenchman, born in 1581 and died at eighty years old in 1660. I know he was the founder of, not one but two religious orders; the Vincentians, sometimes referred to as the Congregation of the Mission, and the Daughters of Charity. I know St. Vincent de Paul is the patron saint of charitable organizations and the patron of the fantastic international group, the Societies of St. Vincent de Paul, a lay organization inspired by Gospel values where its members work together to serve those in need.
In preparation for this talk, I turned to some hagiographical sources to find out a little more about St. Vincent de Paul, and my research led me to find out that not only where Paul Farmer and St. Vincent DePaul of one mind; they also had several very specific things in common. Three things I discovered really caught my attention. First, In the Oxford book of Saints, it says that throughout his life, St. Vincent de Paul “combined his apostolate among the rich and fashionable with utter devotion to the poor and oppressed.” Exactly the same thing can be said of Paul Farmer – he straddled the worlds of the rich and powerful – at top universities, at the United Nations and in the halls of Congress and even the White House while at the same time, making his true home amongst some of the poorest and sickest people around the world.
Second, it seems that Vincent de Paul and Paul Farmer were both masterful at getting others to join in their work and get behind the causes they championed as can been seen in the two religious orders St. Vincent de Paul founded and the international global health equity movement that Dr. Farmer built.
Third, both of these men were pragmatic innovators; - they saw problems and addressed them directly; creating new models in ministry and the delivery of health care in settings of dire poverty, always with the goal of making sure that care for the poor people they served was more humane and effective.
And finally, what really struck me is that both St. Vincent de Paul and Paul Farmer had these extraordinary ministries to prisoners. St. Vincent de Paul’s ministry to French criminals on the galleys is an amazing story that I cannot do justice to in this short lecture. In an essay written by Vincentian father, John Rybolt, he describes how Vincent could not recount the suffering of these prisoners without becoming “bathed in tears,” and how he would stop at nothing until he removed prisoners from the inhuman confinement in the dungeons of Paris. In an undated letter, St. Vincent de Paul wrote this about the prisoners to whom he was ministering: “I kissed their chains, showed compassion for their distress, and expressed sorrow for their misfortune.”
Paul Farmer’s prison ministry around the globe included many years when he was one of only a few physicians that would bravely enter the dangerous Haitian prisons during the Duvalier dictatorship. He treated patients in Russian prisons where outbreaks of tuberculous ran rampant in crowded conditions, and in prisons in post-genocide Rwanda where he compassionately tended patients who were perpetrators of unspeakable crimes during the 100-day rampage where a million people were brutally murdered.
I am going to tell a little story here to illustrate this commitment to prisoners that Paul Farmer shared with St. Vincent de Paul. One of my theology professors, the late Robert Schreiter, told us to always a tell a story – he said, people will surely forget the theory and most likely forget you, but they might remember the meaning in the story.
One Christmas morning, Paul Farmer called me from his mother’s house in Orlando to ask me for the exact wording and citation from Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus is asked, “Lord, when was it we saw you sick and in prison?” He needed the citation for an article he was writing entitled “Christmas in a Haitian Prison” that was subsequently published in the Miami Herald a few days later. The purpose of his editorial was to tell the world about the situation of a seriously ill political prisoner in Haiti, Fr. Gerard Jean-Juste. Fr. Gerry was a much-loved prominent leader in Haiti and advocate for the poor for over three decades. Often referred to as the Martin Luther King of the Haitian community, Fr. Gerry was also a highly political and controversial figure, who ruffled lots of feathers and was often in hot water with political and church leaders.
I first heard of the plight of Fr. Gerry a few weeks before Paul’s call on Christmas day. Paul was worried about him as he had heard his health was declining and he told me he was planning to go to the jail and examine him on his upcoming visit to Haiti. I began to be copied on a series of rapid-fire emails and getting calls explaining the exact plans for the visit to prison to see Fr. Gerry. It became clear to me from the information in the emails that even attempting to visit the prison, much less examine and draw blood from Fr. Gerry was a dangerous mission and Paul was getting significant resistance from friends and colleagues. On the morning of December 22nd, Paul called me at 6am to ask for my support and help. I was a little taken aback, because I really wasn’t sure if I was equipped for this task – but I later came to understand that this was how Paul rolled -- and well, and anyway, how do you say no to someone who takes the Gospel so seriously?
The plan was for Paul to visit and examine Fr. Gerry in jail on his way back to Miami. He was to leave Cange in rural Haiti, at 4am for the five-hour drive to PAP arriving at the jail by 9am. The day before the visit, he had spent several hours on the phone with the jail trying to arrange the visit and was not even sure if they were going to let him in much less examine Fr. Gerry for Paul himself was viewed as a highly political figure in Haiti. Just thinking about what could go wrong kept me up most of the night – especially after I asked Paul who was in charge should there be any major problems, and he quickly responded, “that would be you.”
Amnesty International had adopted Fr. Gerry as a prisoner of conscience and various human rights groups called for his release. There were demonstrations in Haiti and the US and hundreds of people had written letters demanding his release and there was lots of press coverage -- but to no avail. The demand for his release from prison where he was being held without charges was one thing, but the reports of his deteriorating health gave the situation a new urgency.
Paul called on his way to the airport as he was leaving the prison. He was able to examine Fr. Gerry and surreptitiously draw two vials of blood while the other prisoners distracted the guards. He told me Fr. Gerry insisted upon praying and singing and cheerfully introduced him to some of his jailors.
Paul then asked, “Do you think you can find a doctor to help with the diagnosis? I was only able to draw two vials and time is of the essence as the blood will not hold up for long.” It was late on a Friday afternoon, two days before Christmas – not the best to be seeking immediate medical assistance. Paul was entering the US with contraband blood belonging to a highly political figure, not to mention other matters like patient confidentiality and the need for a series of very expensive medical tests. We called on the help of a family friend, a brilliant hematologist at the University of Miami. It was after dark when we arrived at the lab as things were shutting down for the holiday, but the kindly Dr. Ahn said he would run the tests himself and promised to get back to us shortly. Two hours later, when our families were gathered for a holiday dinner at my house, Dr. Ahn called and gave Paul a diagnosis – acute chronic lymphocytic leukemia. With proper treatment, Fr. Gerry had a good prognosis…however, if the treatment was delayed, the possibility of this type of cancer aggressively progressing was of real concern.
Paul then asked if I could try to help figure out how to get Fr. Gerry out of jail as the rallying cry of the activists was not gathering traction. To make a long story short, we somehow figured out how to get to then Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice to beg for her assistance, and a week later, Fr. Gerry’s was released and traveled to Miami to receive the treatment he needed at our great public hospital, Jackson Memorial.
Fr. Gerry’s medical outcomes were good – he tolerated the chemotherapy well and bravely. He did well for many years, until he died at the age of 62 from complications from a respiratory illness. Until the day he died, Fr. Gerry always spoke of how grateful he was that Dr. Paul took the risk to visit him in prison.
What does it mean to try to be holy in this day and age? How can the lives of St. Vincent DePaul and Paul Farmer inform our own lives as we seek to follow in their footsteps? Clearly, those being honored today have gotten a head start on the path to justice and holiness, and I congratulate each of you and thank you for your service and faithfulness to the Gospel.
I sometimes like to tell my students that the good news and, in some cases, the bad news, is that God knows what is in our hearts. History has shown us what was in St. Vincent de Paul’s heart -- his life and good works has borne great fruit over the centuries. I was Paul Farmer’s spiritual director and so I know what was in his heart, and I believe that his life and work will continue to bear great fruit in the years to come. Paul, as you may know, was a prolific writer, and he always liked it when I told him that St. Dominic said that “your desk is your prayer bench.” However, in my research, I came across a quote from St. Vincent de Paul that would have made Paul so happy because St. Vincent de Paul said, “When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.” If this is indeed true, Paul Farmer spent his entire adult life in prayer.
Next Tuesday, September 27th, is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul. Women and men the world over – including the Vincentians, the Daughters of Charity, and all the institutions and all the individuals that St. Vincent De Paul continues to inspire -- will celebrate his Feast Day by giving praise and thanks for his holy life, and his enduring legacy. It gives me great comfort to think of these two holy men, who had so much in common, who both worked untiringly to bring about the Kingdom of God in their own time and place, now share life together in the Communion of Saints. May they continue to bless us and guide us.
Paul Farmer, pray for us. St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.
It is an honor to be here today. Thank you.
Caritas Medal recipient: Dr. Jovita M. Crasta, given for service of the poor in the NY Metropolitan area.
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal recipient: Dr. Geraldine Downey, given to an outstanding Catholic laywoman who has embodied in her life the values and vision of Mother Seton.
Frederic Ozanam Award recipient: Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, given to an organization demonstrates success and creativity in integrating quality service with effective, efficacious, and respectful concern for the poor or needy.
St. Vincent de Paul Medal: Luis J. Nicho, Esq., given to an outstanding Catholic layman who has embodied in his life the ideals and values of St. Vincent de Paul.
Location: Rome CampusEvent Time: 7:45 pmContact: Massimiliano Tomassini, AVP, Europe Programs, [email protected]
Event Time: 9 a.m.–1 p.m.Event Location: University Center, HR Training Room (Suite D)Registration required: Register for in-person training on UIS > Employee Tab > Employee Workshops > HR Employee TrainingContact: Lucy Pesce, Executive Director for Mission
[email protected] or 718-990-3004
Interested in getting more connected to our Mission? Want to know more about our “St. John’s Story?” Wonder about the meaning of some of those Catholic and Vincentian statues on campus? Join us and find out!
For: Students, faculty, staff, administrators, alumniTime: All dayRegistration: RSVP for University Service Day here or scan QR code at rightContact: Vincentian Institute for Social Action
[email protected] or 718-990-2680
Event Time: Opening Ceremony 8:30 amLocation: Student Center Cafeteria, SI CampusContact: Fr. Tri Duong, C.M.
[email protected] or 718-390-4305
Event Time: 9:30 a.m.Location: St. Thomas More Church, Queens CampusRegistration required: Please click here to register
Location: Rome CampusEvent Time: 6:30 pmContact: Massimiliano Tomassini, AVP, Europe Programs, [email protected]
For: Faculty on all campusesTime: 12:15–1:15 p.m.Location: D’Angelo Center, Room 416BSpeaker: Max Freeman, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor, Dept. Communication Sciences and Disorders
St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Registration required:RSVP for Faculty Research Luncheon here by Friday, September 16Contact: Vincentian Center for Church and Society
718-990-1612; [email protected]
Faculty Mission Award Certificates will be awarded.
*In addition, the Faculty Research Consortium (FRC) will be presented to Shruti Deshpande, Ph.D., Assistant Professor (St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) and April J. Rogers, MD, MPH, MBA, Assistant Professor (Collins College of Professional Studies)
For: Faculty, administrators, staff and students Time: 12:15 p.m.Location: St. Thomas More Church (Queens)Contact: Dennis Gallagher
[email protected] or 718-990-2125
Event Date: September 27, 2022Time: 12:15 p.m.Location: Gymnasium, Staten Island Campus Contact: Fr. Tri M. Duong, C.M. Director, Campus Ministry, SI
[email protected], 718-390-4473
Join us for our inaugural University Giving Day! There will be multiple giving opportunities to choose from, including designations from your school or college. In honor of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, donate now to give to a campaign that means the most to you!