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St. John’s Founding Mission Extolled by Institute Devoted to Protecting Immigrants

Thursday, October 11, 2018

St. John’s was recently honored by the Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) with the 2018 Lifetime Service Award for the University’s “outstanding and exemplary” Vincentian mission of educating and serving immigrant communities and for its steadfast support of CMS.  

The annual gala held on October 9 in Manhattan was a celebratory opportunity for CMS to honor scholars, leaders in the Church, institutions, and individuals in both the nonprofit and private sectors working toward the advancement of immigrants.

“The Center for Migration Studies has been protecting the rights of immigrants and conducting international migration research for more than 50 years,” said Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s. “St. John’s University is humbled to be recognized by this pioneering think tank for our unwavering commitment to the education of immigrants and their children.”  

CMS is dedicated to the study of international migration; the promotion of understanding between immigrants and receiving communities; and to public policies that safeguard the dignity and rights of migrants, refugees, and newcomers. CMS was established in 1964 and formally incorporated in 1969 by the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles, Scalabrinians, a community of Catholic priests, nuns, and lay people dedicated to serving migrants and refugees throughout the world.

One of the pillars of the Center’s mission is the maintenance of an extensive living archive with collections that cover the history of immigration in the United States—dating back to the Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. St. John’s students have supported this endeavor through the University’s unique Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) course work.

Beginning with the spring semester in 2013, Christine Angel, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Library and Information Science at St. John’s, began incorporating an AS-L component into her courses that connected students with the archives at CMS.   

“The primary focus of these service learning projects at the Center has been to allow our students to work with archives that house collections that may not be known to the general public,” said Dr. Angel. “As a result of this work, the Center has gained enhanced intellectual control over their collections while digitally preserving them. Together, we have provided a voice for the underserved and misrepresented in society—something that is deeply aligned with our Vincentian mission.”

Dr. Angel went on to note that the University owes a debt of gratitude to the leadership at CMS, including Donald M. Kerwin, Jr., J.D., Executive Director, and Mary Brown, Ph.D., a longtime archivist, who have graciously allowed St. John’s students access to their archives.

“When I learned that St. John’s University was to receive the Lifetime Service Award, I was not surprised,” said Christopher Anderson, a master’s student in the Library and Information Science program who worked on an AS-L project with CMS. “During my time as a student at St. John’s, I have continually been afforded real-world opportunities to serve others that I do not believe I would have found at another university.”

As part of the award presentation, several video tributes were played. The audience heard from other honorees, as well as Anita Gomez-Palacio ’65Ed, ’89PD, a member of the St. John’s Board of Trustees and retired Executive Director of Operations for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators in the City of New York.  

“My parents were immigrants and both succeeded because of organizations like the Center for Migration Studies,” said Ms. Anita Gomez-Palacio. “I know firsthand of St. John’s commitment to educating immigrants and their children—because I am one of them. The good work being done by both of these entities is worth celebrating.”

William L. Collins ’76C, ’12HON, Chair of the St. John’s Board of Trustees, and Chief Executive Officer of Brencourt Capital Management, was also featured in a video tribute. “Our mission coincides with the excellent work of the Center for Migration Studies,” said Mr. Collins. “How fitting that St. John’s University is receiving the Lifetime Service Award from this important organization, as the University has been transforming lives since our founding nearly 150 years ago.”