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Annual Founder’s Week Celebration Spotlights Vincentian Education

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

After three years, she’s still hooked. Anarita Lynch ’17C traveled once again to nearby Bethpage State Park to join in the Friends of the Poor Walk, on Saturday, September 24. The fundraising event was one of many activities that drew students to St. John’s annual University Service Day.

“This is what I like best about Founder’s Week,” said Anarita, referring to St. John’s annual celebration of its Catholic and Vincentian heritage. “University Service Day is a great way to set aside time from our busy lives, to give back.”

Along with service, St. John’s 22nd annual Founder’s Week (September 19–27) offered the University community a full range of presentations, lectures, and other activities exploring the work of St. Vincent de Paul and his influence on the University’s mission. The theme was “Vincentian Education: Illuminating Minds, Creating Opportunities, Serving the World.”

The Legacy Continues

This year, the popular event also marked the Vincentians’ 200th anniversary in the United States. The order, also known as the Congregation of the Mission, established St. John’s University in 1870.

The cornerstone of Founder’s Week was the annual Vincentian Convocation, held on September 22 in St. Thomas More Church at the Queens campus. Each year, the event honors people and organizations whose lives and work mirror the University’s mission.

“As I listened to the citations describing the remarkable accomplishments of our honorees today, it is very clear they are a special group of individuals and organizations who exemplify the legacy of St. Vincent de Paul,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, in his Convocation address.

The following awards were presented and one honorary degree conferred:

  • Vincentian Mission Award: David L. Gregory, J.S.D., Dorothy Day Professor of Law and Executive Director, Center of Labor and Employment Law, St. John’s School of Law
  • Caritas Medal: Barrier Free Living, an organization assisting those with disabilities.  
  • St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Medal: Marie C. Fouché ’11G, Ladies of Charity International Representative to the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative Commission and Ladies of Charity at St. John’s University
  • St. Vincent de Paul Medal: Stephen Hernon ’07GEd
  • Frédéric Ozanam Award: Don Bosco Workers, Inc.
  • President’s Medal: Rev. Stephen M. Bicsko, C.M.
  • Conferral of the Degree of Doctor of Pedagogy: Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., Ed.D., President, DePaul University

Educating with Heart

During the Convocation, Fr. Holtschneider delivered the Vincentian Chair of Social Justice lecture, “The Heart of Vincentian Higher Education.” Professors at St. John’s “shape an education that is rigorous, that prepares students for life’s larger questions through theology, philosophy, the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. In short: the liberal arts.” 

But students gain something more. “You’re educating these young people to have good hearts,” said Fr. Holtschneider. “Every university may have some version of service, but at St. John’s, it’s a pervasive, defining characteristic.” He added that 44 percent of the University’s students are from backgrounds often underrepresented in higher education, while 43 percent of last year’s freshmen were economically disadvantaged.

“Founder’s Week is a superb learning opportunity for our students, and all those who teach in the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul,” said Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director of St. John’s Vincentian Center for Church and Society. “Vincent’s example still shapes lives, just as it has for generations. Our emphasis on ‘Education’ this year underscores the hope that current students represent for our country’s future—and the way Vincentian values equip young people to help improve our society.”

Exploring this theme, Rev. John E. Rybolt, C.M., Historian of the Congregation of the Mission and Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence at DePaul University, hosted the Founder’s Week discussion “Why Are Vincentians in Education?” The event took place at the Administrators and Staff Luncheon in the D’Angelo Center.

Inspiring Messages

At St. John’s Staten Island campus, Founder's Week activities included a presentation on how poverty shaped the way many Americans eat today. On September 26, Robert Fanuzzi, Ph.D., Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of English, conducted an International Food Seminar entitled “Poverty Cuisine." Students sampled ethnic dishes while learning how popular staples like pasta sarde and fried chicken began as convenient sources of nourishment for poor communities in Sicily and the American South.

Founder’s Week was “inspirational,” said student Jennie Soffing ’21Pharm.D. “It really shows us why a St. John’s education is about making a difference in the world,” she observed. “Founder’s Week gets right to the heart of the matter—it all started with St. Vincent de Paul. That’s why helping others is such a big part of what we learn at St. John’s.”