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Beyond the Bicentennial Conference: The Promise of Vincentian Higher Education

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Continuing the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Vincentian missionaries to the United States, representatives from St. John’s University, DePaul University, and Niagara University came together to discuss the future of Vincentian higher education at a conference convened in New York City on November 11–12.

Entitled “Beyond the Bicentennial: The Promise of Vincentian Higher Education,” the meeting’s purpose was to explore the opportunities and challenges these institutions face in serving students in a rapidly changing world, while remaining faithful to their Catholic and Vincentian identities.

Opening the conference, His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, 10th Archbishop of New York, “thanked almighty God for the gift of the Vincentians.” Notably, the Cardinal attended St. Louis Preparatory Seminary, which is run by the order.

Topics explored included managing the expectations of a diverse student body, identifying and marketing the distinctiveness of a Vincentian and Catholic education, as well as concerns about accessibility, affordability, and attainment for underserved and underrepresented communities. Speakers included Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University; Rev. James J. Maher, C. M., President of Niagara University, and Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., President of DePaul University. Other key participants were Rev. Robert Maloney, C.M., 23rd Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission (1992–2004); Rev. Kevin Creagh, C.M., Ed.D., Vice President for Mission, Vice President for International Affairs, Niagara University; Rev. Edward Udovic, C.M., Ph.D., Senior Executive for University Mission, DePaul University; and Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., M.Div., Executive Vice President for University Mission, St. John’s University.

The Very Rev. Tomaz Mavric, C.M., the newly elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, also addressed the attendees. While thanking all for their contribution to the work of the Vincentians, he suggested, “It is not enough to teach job skills. Vincentian universities must prepare students to lead well-lived lives. The world needs more universities like St. John’s, DePaul, and Niagara to examine the causes of poverty and to work to implement solutions at the local, national, and international levels.”

In his homily at the closing Mass, the Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M., J.C.D., Bishop of Trenton, said, “Vincentian universities are inspired by the charism of St. Vincent de Paul. Everything he preached and did and touched was motivated by a love for the poor and those in need.”

During the conference, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, remarked on the importance of understanding the history and maintaining the values of a Vincentian education. “We all need to internalize the rich legacy of the Vincentian mission of education and service to the poor so that its impact will endure for the next 200 years or more.”