VCCS Archives

Vincentian Chair of Social Justice

Visions of Freedom: A Political Theology for Our Time

From the perspective of political theology, this lecture series explores competing and changing visions that have shaped our national life--visions of freedom, social life, and civic belonging, of religious and personal identity. Each lecture will be followed by discussion.

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

M. Shawn Copeland, Ph.D.

M. Shawn Copeland is Professor Emerita of Systematic Theology, the Department of Theology and the Program in African and African Diaspora Studies (AADS) at Boston College. Professor Copeland is recognized as one of the most important influences in North America in drawing attention to issues surrounding African American Catholics. An award-winning writer and renowned lecturer, Dr. Copeland will join us as the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice during the 2022-2023 academic year in which she will present four topics concerned with competing and changing visions in today’s society from both political and theological lenses.

For more information on Dr. Copeland, please read her full biography.

Lecture 1: Competing and Changing Visions of Freedom and Social Life

Date: Thursday, October 13
Time: 7-8:30 p.m.


After an introduction to political theology and a brief overview of the series, the first lecture probes the encounters between the Indigenous peoples and Settler Colonists, between the planter class and the enslaved peoples. Critical reflection on these encounters uncovers the basic competing visions of freedom and of social life that contribute to the making of our nation.

Watch Lecture 1 Recording

Lecture 2: Competing and Changing Visions of Civic Belonging

Date: November 21, 2022
Time: 1:50–3:30 p.m.
Location: D’Angelo Center, room 416


Dr. Copeland’s second lecture is entitled: “Competing and Changing Visions of Civic Belonging.” She will consider the questions of what it means to belong to a nation, a country? What is citizenship and what does it entail? Beginning with the Naturalization Act of 1790 that once restricted U.S. citizenship to “an alien, being a free white person, “ she will consider that Acts evolution through legal immigration acts and she will consider the emergence of the notion of ‘Americanization’ as a test and process of inclusion and exclusion, of granting advantage and disadvantage.

Watch Lecture 2 Recording

Watch Lecture 2 Q&A

Lecture 3: Who Is My Neighbor?

Date: Thursday, February 9, 2023
Time: 1:50–3:30 p.m.
Location: D’Angelo Center, Room 416
Note: This is an in-person event; it will not be live streamed


Given the ambiguities of U.S. history and taking account of the basic religious and humanistic ‘truths’ of our common human creatureliness and integral human equality, political theology challenges all people of good will to act in responsible and collaborative solidarity to protest and confront all assaults on the bodies, persons, lives, and dignity of human others–of the neighbor.

Watch Lecture 3 Recording

Recommended Resources

New York City Exhibitions

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

*New Rotation

Governors Island, New York

Readings Related to Lecture Three: Who Is My Neighbor?”

            Derrick Bell, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. New York:
Basic Books, 1992.

            Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial
Inequality in the United States 6th ed. (Lanham: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, 2022).

            Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015.
           --------. Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books,

            George M. Frederickson. Racism, A Short History. Princeton: Princeton University Press,

            Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997.

            Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, From the1960s to the
1990s 3rd ed. New York: Routledge, 2014.

            Iris Marion Young, Justice and Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University, 1990.
            --------. Responsibility for Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Lecture 4: Prophetic Faith and Social Freedom

Date: Thursday, March 30
Time: 7–8:30 p.m.
Location: D'Angelo Center Room 416


The representative democracy that is the United States has exterminated, removed, displaced, or relocated; eliminated and excluded; and interred; segregated, detained, and contained non-White populations within its expanding borders in pursuit of life and liberty, happiness and security, wealth and land, and sources of energy and favorable environmental conditions. Each time, religion, legal doctrine, and myth were used to rationalize and justify the decision and the resulting actions. The final lecture considers the role and function of religion in the US social matrix and specifically reminds Catholic Christianity of its prophetic responsibility to repudiate enmeshment in any form of socially constructed idolatry and to work intelligently, responsibly, vigorously, and lovingly with all people of good will for the common human good.

Watch Lecture 4 Recording

Readings Related to Lecture Four: Prophetic Faith and Social Freedom

            Edward K. Braxton, The Church and the Racial Divide: Reflections of an AfricanAmerican
Catholic Bishop. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2021.

            James Hal Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011.

            Cyprian Davis, The History of Black Catholics in the United States. New York: Crossroad,

            Katie Walker Grimes, Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice. Minneapolis: Fortress
Press, 2017.

            Vincent Lloyd and Andrew L. Prevot, ed. Anti-Blackness and Christian Ethics. Maryknoll,
NY: Orbis Books, 2017.

            Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books

            Peter C. Phan and Diana Hayes, ed., Many Faces, One Church: Cultural Diversity and the
American Catholic Experience. Oxford and Lanham, MD:Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.,

            George E. Tinker, Missionary Conquest:  The Gospel and Native American CulturalGenocide.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

"The Summons of Social Justice: Perspectives from Asian Christianity"

Peoples in Asia live our shared aspirations for justice and freedom in challenging situations of poverty and violence. In a series of talks, Fr. Daniel Franklin Pilario, CM, a Vincentian theologian from the Philippines, reflects on the sufferings and pains as well as on the resistance and the hopes for justice among the marginalized victims in Asia and other parts of our world. 

Rev. Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., Ph.D., S.T.D.

Rev. Daniel Franklin Pilario, C.M., Ph.D., S.T.D.

Fr. Pilario comes to St. John’s University as a Visiting Professor and the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice 2021–22. He earned his Ph.D. in Theology and Religious Studies and Sacra Theologia Doctor from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.

Before joining St. John’s University, he was Professor and Dean of St. Vincent School of Theology at Adamson University, Quezon City, Philippines. His dissertation was published as Back to the Rough Grounds of Praxis: Exploring Theological Method with Pierre Bourdieu (2005) and was awarded the best research in humanities. His recent publications and research focused on Asian theologies, justice and liberation, inculturation, political theology, Catholic Social teaching, human rights and ecology. 

Throughout his time at St. John’s University, Fr. Pilario will present a four-part lecture series that explores “The Summons of Social Justice: Perspectives from Asian Christianity.”

For more information on Father Pilario, please click here.

Lecture 1: “Senseless Killings and Populist Regimes: Cries for Justice, Stories of Hope

Date: Monday, October 18, 2021

Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took over the helm of power in 2016, his flagship program on the “War on Drugs” has killed more than 33,000 alleged drug addicts. The Vincentians have journeyed with the left-behind families, from the funeral of their loved ones to the everyday rebuilding of their lives. The harrowing experience of their widows and orphans is indescribable. But their stories of resistance point to unmistakable hope. What do we learn from them as Christians of our times?

Event flyer is available here (PDF)

Lecture 2: “Surviving the Pandemic: Solidarity at the Margins”

Date: Monday, December 6, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has wrought havoc in all countries, in all facets of life, in all levels of society. What does a pandemic look like in a poor Asian country with a corrupt system under a populist regime? How do its people survive this ongoing trauma when health institutions are overwhelmed, when vaccine supplies are not coming, when the people have no food and work? How do the poor lead us to imagine a different future?

Lecture 3: “Crucified Peoples: Rethinking the Cross in our Times””

Date: Thursday, March 10, 2022

Millions of people suffer worldwide due to unemployment, climate change, dislocation, war, and violence. Theologians call them “crucified people.” How can their unjust suffering be considered salvific? Can they also be considered martyrs? How do we rethink following Jesus on the cross? 

Video of Lecture 


Lecture 4: “After the End: Ecology and the Apocalypse”

Date: Monday, April 25, 2022

The present ecological crisis is most often framed through the prism of the apocalypse. From the dystopic Hollywood movies to the protests of Greta Thunberg, we are ushered to the impending “end the world.” Apocalypticism has twofold effects: it either paralyzes people or drives them to action. Based on the experiences of people at Ground Zero of typhoon Haiyan in the islands of the Philippines, and in the spirit of Pope Francis’ Laudato Si, this talk seeks to ask what elements of apocalyptic spirituality can help us in caring for our common home.

Video of Recording




“Women of Color in the Academy”

This Webex lecture series aims to explore the inequity and exclusion that women of color experience in the different streams of modern culture. Each presentation is followed by a discussion with participants. 

Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Ph.D. headshot
photo provided by Christophe Delory©

Lecture 4: Dr. Naa Oyo Kwate on “If Black lives don’t matter in real life, why would they on the page? Navigating racism in scientific research funding and publishing.” 

Date: Thursday, April 29, 2021
Time: 7–8:30 p.m. EST (Webex)

This virtual lecture series aims to explore the inequity and exclusion that women of color experience in the different streams of modern culture. Join us on April 29 when Dr. Naa Oyo Kwate, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Human Ecology at Rutgers University, presents “If Black lives don’t matter in real life, why would they on the page? Navigating racism in scientific research funding and publishing.”

Dr. Kwate’s talk will explore the challenges Black scientists—and women in particular—face in conducting health research. Drawing on personal experience and existing data, Dr. Kwate will discuss the impact of racism on the scientific enterprise. Her presentation will be followed by a discussion including questions from the audience. 

A graduate of St. John's University's doctoral Clinical Psychology program, Dr. Kwate's research focuses on race related stressors and resource inequalities for African Americans in urban contexts. She is the author of Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now, and an upcoming work in May 2021, The Street: A Photographic Field Guide to American Inequality.

About Dr. Naa Oyo Kwate

Naa Oyo A. Kwate, Ph.D. is Associate Professor at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, jointly appointed in the Department of Africana Studies and the Department of Human Ecology.  A psychologist by training, she is an interdisciplinary social scientist with wide ranging interests in racial inequality and African American health.  Her research has centered primarily on the ways in which urban built environments reflect and create racial inequalities in the United States, and how racism directly and indirectly affects African American health.  Much of her work has been in New York City, where she has studied topics including the disproportionate density of fast food in Black neighborhoods, the prevalence and effects of outdoor alcohol advertising, and experiences with racism and mental and physical health.  Kwate's research has been funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and by fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and others. She is the author of the short work, Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now, published by the University of Minnesota Press, and editor of the forthcoming The Street: A Photographic Field Guide to American Inequality, published by Rutgers University Press.

About the Panelists

Dr. Beverly Greene (Moderator)

Beverly Greene, Ph.D., ABPP is a Professor of Psychology at St. John’s University and a practicing clinical psychologist in New York City. A Fellow of the Academy of Clinical Psychology, the American Psychological Association and 7 of its divisions, she is Board Certified in Clinical Psychology (American Board of Professional Psychology) and licensed in psychology in New York and New Jersey.  Dr. Greene is the author of over 100 scholarly publications of which 12 have received national awards for making significant and distinguished contributions to the psychological literature. She is also the recipient of 40 national awards for distinguished contributions to scholarship, teaching/training, mentoring, leadership and service in organized psychology and advocacy in psychology in the public interest. Those contributions are in the form of longstanding pioneering professional contributions to the development of greater understandings of the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation and social marginalization in psychotherapy and the development of multiple identity/intersectional paradigms.  Her groundbreaking theoretical formulations have forcefully advocated for the deepening of competencies in working toward the greater integration of psychological theory, research, practice and social justice.  That work provides a public health framework for understanding and providing mental health services to many of society’s most marginalized members. 

Jennifer F. Kelly, Ph.D. (Panelist)

Jennifer F. Kelly, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and is board certified in clinical health psychology. She currently serves as the 2021 President of the American Psychological Association (APA). Dr. Kelly is the director of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine, with expertise in disorders that involve the relationship between physical and emotional conditions. She currently serves on the APA Board of Directors as recording secretary. She is past president of the Georgia Psychological Association and Div. 31, and past-chair of the Board of Professional Affairs and the Association for the Advancement of Psychology. Dr. Kelly has received numerous awards, including the 2012 Timothy B. Jeffrey Award for Outstanding Contributions to Clinical Health Psychology; 2011 APA State Leadership Award and 2011 APA Diversity Award; 2000 APA Karl F. Heiser Advocacy Award; 2000 Legislative Award by the Georgia Psychological Association; 2004 APA Practice Organization Federal Advocacy Award and 2006 Outstanding Psychologist Award from Div. 31. She has numerous publications, including articles in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Pain Digest, "Comprehensive Review Book for Pain Medicine" and "Practical Management of Pain."

Dr. Wendi Williams (Panelist)

Celebrated scholar, author, and educator, Dr. Wendi Williams has committed her life's work to educate teachers, institutions, policymakers, advocates, and the general public on the intersection of education and psychology. Her work threads the intersection of psychology and education with black women’s liberatory leadership practices by which to understand our everyday lived experiences.

An expert and thought leader on issues of race, gender, and class, her writing and work have been featured in and NowThis News and published in scholarly journals such as Women and Therapy, the Journal of School Counseling, and the Journal of Counseling Psychology. Dr. Williams is a skilled educator and thought-leader as she makes complex social phenomena accessible and applicable to a wide range of audiences, from lay-persons in community, corporate settings, and academic contexts. She is currently working on two books exploring women's work and leadership experiences: Black Women at Work and WE Matter!: Intersectional Anti-Racist Feminist Interventions with Black Girls and Women, and a co-edited book, A More Radical Elsewhere: Foundations, Understandings, and Practices for our Freedom

Dr. Williams is the Dean of the School of Education at Mills College in Oakland, CA, and the President of the Society for the Psychology of Women, Division 35 of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Kelly Brown Douglas headshot

Lecture 3: The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas on “A Journey of Faith: From Crucifying Death to Resurrection Hope

Date: Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Time: 7–8:30 p.m. EST (Webex)

This virtual lecture series aims to explore the inequity and exclusion that women of color experience in the different streams of modern culture. Join us on March 16 when The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary, presents “A Journey of Faith: From Crucifying Death to Resurrection Hope”. James Baldwin once observed that there comes a time in the life of every Black person in America when they must face the “shock” that “the flag to which you have pledged allegiance…has not pledged allegiance to you.” This lecture will reflect a testimonial of personal faith, as Dr. Douglas seeks to explore what it means to have faith in the God of Jesus Christ during a time of Black death and Black protest—a time when it seems as if Black Lives never will come to matter.

View Event Flyer (PDF)

About The Very Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas

The Very Reverend Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas was named Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Theology at Union in September 2017. She was named the Bill and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology in November 2019. She also serves as the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral and Theologian in Residence at Trinity Church Wall Street.

Prior to Union, Dean Douglas served as Professor of Religion at Goucher College where she held the Susan D. Morgan Professorship of Religion and is now Professor Emeritus. Before Goucher, she was Associate Professor of Theology at Howard University School of Divinity (1987-2001) and Assistant Professor of Religion at Edward Waters College (1986-1987).

Ordained as an Episcopal priest in 1983, Dean Douglas holds a master’s degree in theology and a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Union.

Dean Douglas is the author of many articles and five books, including Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective and Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Her academic work has focused on womanist theology, sexuality and the black church.

About the Panelists

Rolanda Ward, Ph.D. (Moderator) 

Dr. Rolanda L. Ward is an Associate Professor of Social Work and the inaugural faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equity, and Mission at Niagara University.  Dr. Ward is a macro-trained social worker who works in the community to address racial disparities, including equitable COVID-19 vaccine access as well as higher-education matriculation for BIPOC high school students. She is a former youth minister and loves helping young people articulate their faith practices.  

Nada M. Llewellyn, Esq (Panelist)

M. Llewellyn, Esq. serves as Chief Diversity Officer, Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Deputy General Counsel.  Ms. Llewellyn joined the Office of General Counsel as Associate General Counsel in June 2005, and was promoted to Deputy General Counsel in June 2014.  She assumed the roles of Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President for Human Resources in August 2016, and leadership of the Office of Equity and Inclusion in July 2018

Ms. Llewellyn, in collaboration with the President and Provost, is charged with the strategic leadership of institutional diversity and inclusion efforts.  As Chief Diversity Officer, she advises senior leadership and leads strategic equity planning efforts that advance the University’s mission and vision and collaborates with key University stakeholders to develop and deploy initiatives that contribute to the achievement of equity-related goals.  Together with the Dr. Manouchkathe Casssagnol, she chairs the university’s Equity and Inclusion Council. As Associate Vice President for Human Resources, her responsibilities include oversight for all employee benefits, compensation, payroll, student employment, training, and EEO/Title IX programs.

In her role as Deputy General Counsel, Ms. Llewellyn provides advice and counsel regarding University legal and compliance issues, serves as the lead attorney for all of the University’s material, corporate transactions and provides pertinent information and guidance on applicable law, compliance regimes and University policies and procedures.

Mrs. Llewellyn is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Michigan Law School.  She served as a member of the University of Michigan Law Review.  Prior to coming to St. John’s Mrs. Llewellyn was a corporate associate at the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, specializing in financing transactions and private investment funds.

Cydni Joubert, MA  (Panelist)

Cydni Joubert is a native of Dallas, Texas. She currently serves as the Resident Campus Minister of Retreats at St. John’s University where she is a double alumna. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Africana Studies and a master’s in Sociology with a concentration in Confronting Inequalities. In her current role, Ms. Joubert focuses on developing students’ faith through creating and implementing retreats to promote and expand safe spaces for college students as they transition into their next chapter of life through a spiritual and emotional journey. Her passions align at the intersection of building healthy faith identities and pursuing social equality.  

Minda Harts headshot

Lecture 2:
Minda Harts on “Catalyzing Equity: Securing a Seat at the Table”

Date: Thursday, February 4, 2021
Time: 7–8:30 p.m. EST (Webex)

On February 4, 2021 St. John's University welcomed Minda Harts, founder and C.E.O of The Memo, LLC., to engage in a discussion for the benefit of our University community based on her recent book, The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table (2019), Ms. Harts' talk and the discussion that followed provided a deeper understanding of strategies that women of color can implement to overcome barriers to success as she unpacks the politics, put names on the prejudices, and pushes personal promotion. Watch the video here.

About Minda Harts

Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an award-winning and best-selling author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table. Minda is a Professor of Public Service at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and hosts a live weekly podcast called Secure the Seat. In 2020, Minda was named the #1 Top Voice for Equity in the workplace by LinkedIn. She is an Aspen Ideas Festival Scholar and has been featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fast Company, The NY Times, and Time Magazine. Minda frequently speaks at companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Nike, and Bloomberg on topics such as Managing Diverse Teams, Courageous Leadership, and advancing women of color in the workplace.

About the Panelists

Joan Ball, Ph.D. (Moderator) 

Dr. Joan Ball is an Associate Professor of Marketing and Founder of the WOMB Service Design Lab, a participatory action research and service design consultancy based in New York. Joan's research, teaching and consulting has a strong focus on service design, consumer behavior and how best to create service systems and processes that result in business success, social impact and human wellbeing.  

Stephanie A. Shaw, Ed.D.

Dr. Stephanie Shaw received her doctorate in Instructional Leadership from St. John's University Department of Administrative and Instructional Leadership. She currently works as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Marketing Department of the Tobin College of Business and has taught courses in Marketing Strategy and Principles of Marketing. Dr. Shaw is also an Administrator in the Office of University Mission at St. John's University. 

As a result of Dr. Shaw's commitment to student engagement, retention, and mentoring, she volunteers as a mentor with nonnative English-speaking international students through the Conversation Partners Program and the ASPIRE Mentor Program at St. John's University. Dr. Shaw is also the liaison for the McNair Scholars Program at St. John's University, which is a graduate school preparation project for first-generation/income-eligible college students and individuals underrepresented in graduate education.   

Dr. Shaw has published in the International Journal of Business and Applied Sciences in her research area "Resilience as a Predictor of Variations in Freshmen Retention." Her research is also cited on the Resilience Center's website. She is a member of several organizations, including but not limited to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Advertising Federation (AAF). Dr. Shaw is an active member of the University's first bias response team, RESPECT, and the Tobin Equity & Inclusion Task Force. 

Ayana L. Ibarra

Ayanna Ibarra is a first-generation graduate of the Peter J. Tobin School of Business at St. John’s University with a B.S. in Marketing and is currently pursuing an M.B.A. with a dual concentration in Marketing Management and International Business. With a demonstrated history of working in marketing and a passion for travel, food, and wine she has begun a career in the wine industry and contributes to highlighting and uplifting underrepresented groups in the industry.

Headshot of Angela Saini

Lecture 1:
Angela Saini on “Race, Gender, Science, and Power”

Date: Monday, November 16, 2020
Time: 7–8:30 p.m. EST (Webex)

Racial categories feel tangible, but as we know from genetics, they are no more rooted in biology than they were hundreds of years ago when they were arbitrarily invented by European Enlightenment scientists who were affected by the politics of their time—a time in which women were also told they were intellectually inferior. Yet, scientific myths about human difference live on today in disturbing ways. Even well-intentioned scientists, through their lazy use of old-fashioned categories, inappropriately invoke these false ideas. How do we break them down? More importantly, how do we build a scientific community that challenges prejudices rather than perpetuates them?

See flyer (PDF) for more information. 

About Angela Saini

Angela Saini is an award-winning British science journalist and broadcaster. She presents science programs on the BBC, and her writings appear in New Scientist, The Sunday Times, National Geographic, and Wired. Her latest book, Superior: the Return of Race Science, was a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize and named a book of the year by The Telegraph, Nature, and Financial Times. Her previous book, Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong, has been translated into 13 languages. Ms. Saini has a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Oxford and was a fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For more information, visit

Ms. Saini discusses her latest book, Superior: the Return of Race Science

About the Panelists

Dr. Manouchkathe Cassagnol

Dr. Manouchkathe Cassagnol is a tenured Associate Clinical professor in the Clinical Health Professions Department, as well as, the Assistant Dean of Community Engagement, Equity and Belonging for the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She also serves as the Founding Director of the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion (ACEI). In conjunction with her faculty appointment, she is also a Clinical Specialist for Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy at Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC). Dr. Cassagnol received her Doctor of Pharmacy from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. She then completed American Society of Health Systems Pharmacist (ASHP)-accredited PGY-1 Pharmacy Practice and PGY-2 Internal Medicine Pharmacotherapy residencies at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. She later completed a Drug Interactions Editorial Fellowship at the Medical Letter Inc. Dr. Cassagnol is board certified as both as a Pharmacotherapy Specialist and Cardiology Pharmacist and was recently elected as a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA). Dr. Cassagnol frequently speaks on the topic of cardiovascular pharmacotherapy to both health professionals and community members. She has presented many abstracts both nationally and internationally and has published numerous papers in the area of cardiology. In addition to teaching and clinical services, she also helps to lead the University community in antiracist and other social justice initiatives, including directing the ACEI and co-chairing the University’s Equity and Inclusion Council to advance equity and justice, as well as, catalyze institutional transformation.

Dr. Elsen Jacob

Elsen Jacob is an Assistant Professor at St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She has a clinical practice site at The Mount Sinai Hospital, where she also serves as the Inpatient Pharmacy faculty for the Mount Sinai Family Medicine Residency and Pharmacy Residency programs. Dr. Jacob completed her Pharm.D. from St. John’s University and her Pharmacy Residency from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the epidemiology program at Columbia University. Her practice and research interests include health equity, drugs of abuse and misuse, transitions of care, geriatrics, anticoagulation, patient safety, and interprofessional education. She is a founding member of the Coalition for the Advancement of Pharmacy Practice (CAP), which seeks to improve health care access, enhance patient care, and reduce health care costs through collaboration with pharmacists. Dr. Jacob is passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion, and seeks to educate students on racism and its broad-ranging negative impact on individuals, communities, patient care, and health-care systems.

Dr. Paula Kay Lazrus

Paula Kay Lazrus is trained as an archaeologist with a focus on understanding where people settle in a landscape. As part of a large multi-disciplinary project investigating landuse, settlement, economics, and politics, Dr. Lazrus is exploring why people in Italy primarily settle in the foothills of the Aspromote, Calabria, Italy. This project requires her to conduct spatial analysis (GIS) on tax records and other archival documents from the early 1800s combined with archaeological data to investigate social, economic, and political dynamics in that same area.  Dr. Lazrus is an active member of the Reacting to the Past Consortium, an organization of faculty and administrators developing and utilizing immersive role playing games as pedagogy. She is on the Reacting Consortium Board and on the Editorial Board as well as an affiliate of the Institute for Core Studies, Environment Science Program, and the Sociology and Anthropology Departments at St. John’s University. Her work was presented at conferences and published works include studies on teaching with GIS, RTTP, and her archaeological research. Dr. Lazrus graduated with her doctoral degree in archaeology from Boston University.


Kevin Ryan, President and CEO, Covenant House International 

Headshot of Kevin Ryan

Kevin Ryan is a father, husband, child advocate, blogger and sometime runner. He arrived at Covenant House as a young lawyer in 1992 to provide legal aid to homeless youth and he now leads Covenant House International, one of the largest charities in the Americas dedicated to serving homeless youth, and ending child trafficking.

Founded in 1972, Covenant House’s work has been recognized with several of the world's most distinguished human rights awards, including the Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Award, the WOLA Human Rights Prize and the Olof Palme Peace Prize. Kevin describes Covenant House as a movement.

He and his Covenant House team have expanded the movement to 31 cities and 6 countries, most recently opening new Covenant Houses in Chicago, Asbury Park and Berkeley in 2017. Kevin is leading an aggressive expansion to end youth homelessness, which saw Covenant House reach 80,000 children and youth in 2017.

To support this expansion, Kevin and his team have built an international Sleep Out movement, involving thousands of participants across the United States and Canada who raise funds to house, feed and help homeless youth.

He championed groundbreaking research with Loyola University and the University of Pennsylvania, shaped by 911 interviews with homeless youth in 13 cities across Canada and the United States, which revealed in 2017 that 1 in 5 homeless youth has survived human trafficking.

Kevin previously served as the first public Child Advocate in New Jersey and the first commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, as well as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services. He drafted some of the State's most important laws for youth, including the New Jersey Homeless Youth Act and the Foster Care Scholars Act.

His first book, Almost Home, a collaboration with former New York Times reporter Tina Kelley, became a national best seller in the Fall of 2012. The book tells the stories of 6 teenagers as they faced homelessness, violence and heartbreak in search of a place to call home. In 2015, President Barack Obama appointed Kevin to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In 2018, Kevin joined President Trump in the Oval Office to witness the signing of new human trafficking legislation that Kevin and Covenant House had championed for many years.  

He is a graduate of Catholic University, Georgetown Law Center and NYU Law School. A former Skadden Fellow and Wasserstein Fellow at Harvard Law School, Kevin's numerous media appearances on behalf of children include the TODAY Show, CBS This Morning, CNN, MSNBC, EWTN, Good Morning America and two stints on 60 Minutes. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Clare. Together they have 6 Ryan children.

Lecture 1: From Homeless to Hope
Lecture 1: Q&A Session

Lecture 2: Stop the Trafficking: Home and Hope for Homeless Youth
Lecture 2: Q&A Session

Lecture 3: The Humanitarian Crisis Confronting Children in Central America
Lecture 3: Q&A Session

Lecture 4: Helping Homeless Youth Amidst COVID-19


Rev. William J. Barber II, D. Min.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber headshot

“It’s About Right and Wrong”

The Vincentian Center for Church and Society appointed Rev. William J. Barber II, D. Min. as the holder of the St. John’s University Chair of Social Justice 2018-19. St. John’s warmly welcomed the Rev. Dr. Barber and willingly opened its ears to his challenging and empowering moral message which emerges from his Christian foundation. Below are YouTube links to his past lectures:

Lecture 1: America, America, What's Going On?

Lecture 2: Reading the Signs of the Times: What does the November Election say about America?

Lecture 3: What's going on with the War Economy and Militarism?

Lecture 4: "With God Some Things Never Change" 

Vincentian Chair of Social Justice Lectures

Presented at the Vincentian Convocation during Founder's Week 

YearChair of Social Justice Presenters / Presentation Title

Rev. Joseph G. Fitzgerald, C.M., Ph.D., S.T.D. ‘01C, ‘09G
Executive Secretary of the National Coordination of Indigenous Ministry (CONAPI)
“Hope from the Margins: The Prophetic Witness of Indigenous Peoples”


Margaret M. Fitzpatrick, S.C., Ed.D., President, St. Thomas Aquinas College
and Member of the Board of Trustees, St. John’s University
“What Must Be Done?”


Most Reverend John O. Barres, S.T.D., J.C.L., D.D.,  Bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre


Reverend Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D.
“The Heart of Vincentian Higher Education”


The Most Reverend Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, CA


Reverend John Rybolt, C.M.
“Vincentian Social Justice”


Sr. Louise Sullivan, D. C., Ph.D. Professor Emerita,
Foreign Languages, Niagara University 
“The Vincentian Mission of Justice and Charity: a Seventeenth-Century Vision for the Twenty-First Century”  


Most Reverend David O’Connell, C.M. , Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey
Be Vincentian!”


Most Rev. Timothy M. Dolan, Ph.D., Archbishop of New York 
“Vincent de Paul, A Saint for Yesterday and Today”


Patricia P. de Nava, past president of AIC (Association Internationales des Chariteَs), Liaison from the Association of International Charity [AIC] to the Vincentian Family and Vincentian Commission for promoting Systemic Change
“Vincentian Family and Systemic Change”


The Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D., Bishop of Brooklyn, NY
Migration Today: A Social Justice Issue”


Dr. John Edward Sexton, Ph.D., J.D., President, New York University
Faith in/and the University”


Most Reverend Celestino Migliore, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
“The Church, the United Nations and Integral Development”


Very Rev. G. Gregory Gay, Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and Daughters of Charity
“A Passion for Justice”


S. Evelyne Franc, DC, Superioress General of the Daughters of Charity
“Toward a Civilization of Love and Justice”


Peter Steinfels, Ph.D., “The New York Times”
“Pacem in Terris: A Retrospective”


Very Rev. Thomas F. McKenna, CM, Provincial Superior, Eastern Province, Congregation of the Mission
“People of the Scarred Coin”


Rev. Bryan Massingale, St. Francis Seminary, WI
“Tribalism or Solidarity? The Challenge of the 21st Century” 


Dr. Dolores Leckey, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University
“A Spirituality for Jubilee Justice”


Rev. David Hollenbach, SJ, Professor Moral Theology,  Boston College
“The Common Good and Urban Poverty”


Most Reverend Howard Hubbard, Bishop  of Albany, NY
“Charity and Justice within the Gospel and the Church’s Social Teaching”


Dr. Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard Law
Social Justice and Human Rights”


Rev. Bryan Hehir, Harvard Divinity
“The Ministry of Human Rights and Catholic Higher Education”

1995Rev. Robert P. Maloney, CM, Superior General, Congregation of the Mission
“The Justice Challenge in a Vincentian University”


Biennial Poverty Conferences

Sr. Norma Pimentel, M.J., and Dohra Ahmad, Ph.D., presented "Migrants and Mission" at St. John’s 11th Biennial Poverty Conference on October 3, 2020. This conference focused on the experiences of migrants journeying to the United States. Sr. Norma works directly with the migrant community at the Texas-Mexico border in El Paso, TX. Her presentation was followed by a lecture from Dr. Ahmad, a St. John's faculty member and author who writes on the issue of immigration. The conference concluded with a conversation between presenters and attendees.

See flyer (PDF) for more information. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020
10 a.m.–12 p.m.

About Sister Norma Pimentel

Sister Norma Pimentel

Norma Pimentel is a sister with the Missionaries of Jesus and a licensed professional counselor. As Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, she oversees the charitable arm of the Diocese of Brownsville, providing oversight of the different ministries and programs in the areas of emergency assistance, housing assistance, counseling, and pregnancy care to all four counties in the Rio Grande Valley. 

Sister Norma chairs the local Emergency Food and Shelter Program that distributes federal funds to local agencies providing assistance to the area’s poor. She also leads efforts in the community that responds to emergency needs and provides relief in times of disaster and crisis. She was instrumental in organizing community resources to respond to the surge of Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States and setting up Humanitarian Respite Centers in McAllen and Brownsville, Texas in June 2014.  

These efforts brought Sister Norma recognition as a recipient of the 2015 Martin Luther King, Jr. “Keep the Dream Alive” Award from Catholic Charities USA and a nomination for “Texan of the Year”. In March, 2015, she spoke at the UN Headquarters in New York City at the invitation of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations. 

During the U.S. Papal visit, Sr. Norma met with Pope Francis in New York City and presented him with one of her original paintings, which depicted an immigrant mother and child. She was first introduced to Pope Francis in August 2015 via a “virtual town hall” arranged by ABC news, which later aired in a one-hour special edition of “20/20”. In December 2015, Our Sunday Visitor named Sister Norma as one of eight Catholics in the Year, “men and women, religious and lay — who made an indelible mark in 2015.”

About Dr. Dohra Ahmad

Dohra Ahmad Thumbnail

Dohra Ahmad is Professor of English at St. John’s University and has been teaching since 2004. She teaches classes on 20th  and 21st  century world literature. She is the author o f Landscapes of Hope: Anti-Colonial Utopianism in America, co-author (with Shondel Nero) of Vernaculars in the Classroom: Paradoxes, Pedagogy, Possibilities, and editor of  Rotten English: A Literary Anthology  (W. W. Norton, 2007) and  The Penguin Book of Migration Literature  (Penguin Classics, 2019). Her essays have appeared in ELH, the Yale Journal of CriticismSocial TextPedagogy, and the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.



Video of Migrants and Mission: St. John's University 11th Biennial Poverty Conference October 3, 2020

Video of Sr. Norma Pimentel Comforting Woman at Tex-Mex Border

Title: "The Evidence of Things Unsaid: The Silence about Racism in the Care for Creation" with Bryan Massingale 

Watch a recording of the conference speaker here.

St. Louise Lunch and Learn 2023

   Lunch and Learn: Celebrating St. Louise de Marillac
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   Sr. Bella Davila, D.C., “St. Louise: the Scenic Route”
   <strong>Date</strong>: March 15, 2023
   St. John’s University faculty, administrators, and staff dedicated their lunch hour to celebrating the life of St. Louise de Marillac on March 15. This year’s guest speaker was Sr. Bella Davila, D.C., an alumna of Niagara University. She became a <a href="">Daughter of Charity</a> in 2020 and her current ministry is serving as a Behavioral Health Coordinator at the not-for-profit human services organization <a href="">Face to Face</a> in Germantown, Philadelphia, PA. In this role, she facilitates support groups and advises and connects people to mental health services in the greater Philadelphia area. Face to Face primarily serves adults who experience homelessness, are at risk of being homeless, and/or have several hardships financially, mentally, and legally.
   Watch the lecture below.
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