St. Vincent de Paul considered the poor his “lords and masters.” He believed there was much to learn from them, and always emphasized that those who served the poor were accompanying them on a journey to find Christ and be evangelized.
The theme of St. John’s University’s annual Founder’s Week (held September 20-27), “One with the Poor—in Service Together—Be Vincentian,” called all members of the University community to take a collaborative role in making their local and global communities a better place with those they serve. As always, this celebration of the University’s Vincentian heritage combined lectures and prayerful reflections with tangible service opportunities, such as University Service Day.
“The focus of this year’s Founder’s Week emphasizes that the poor are not simply the recipients of our charity, but partners and collaborators in the work which affects them and other persons in need,” observed Rev. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Director, Vincentian Center for Church and Society.
“To recognize that the marginalized direct and participate in the actions which touch their lives acknowledges their dignity and effort. Those of us who share our resources do not simply give, but also receive the blessings from this service.”
During Service Day, held September 21, well over 1,500 students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni participated in a host of activities held on all St. John’s campuses and at service sites throughout the five boroughs and Long Island.
The day began with a Mass in St. Thomas More Church on the Queens, NY, campus and an informal breakfast where attendants were able to enjoy some fellowship before setting out for their appointed tasks. During his homily, Rev. John J. Holliday, C.M., University Chaplain, observed that everyone has unique gifts and talents that are meant to build up the body of Christ. “The Good News of God’s love for us is proclaimed every day, not only in words, but in offerings and actions of compassion and care, just like the work we will be doing today,” he offered.
On Service Day, Joel Ennin, a senior majoring in Toxicology was readying Taffner Field House for students who would prepare sandwiches for Rise Against Hunger, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger by 2030. Joel, who serves as Secretary of Tau Omega Chi, the student toxicology club, noted that putting a timeframe on this goal may not seem realistic, “but having that mindset prompts people to act more vigorously.”
Chloe Bergeron, a junior majoring in Communication Arts, was also working with Rise Against Hunger. “I wanted to volunteer with an organization that dealt with food insecurity,” she explained. “Rise brings the pillars of food, sustainability, and community together, and I thought it was a great mission to support.” Chloe added that she is an Ozanam Scholar and is heavily involved with Project Identity, a program run by St. John’s Bread and Life that assists clients in obtaining vital records to gain employment, housing, or government benefits.
Early Childhood major and Staten Island student Gabriella Federico helped make sandwiches for One Sandwich at a Time, an organization that has fed over 100,000 New Yorkers. “It has always broken my heart that people living only a couple of miles from me are suffering from food insecurity,” she observed. “Preparing meals for these people has inspired me to extend my service beyond this one day and showed me that we are all children of God.”
Rev. Tri Minh Duong, C.M., Campus Minister for Vincentian Service and Faith Formation, Staten Island campus, felt a sense of renewal during Service Day. “As I witnessed students from different organizations come together—laughing and enjoying each other’s company—I couldn’t stop thinking about who we are as a University community, our Vincentian tradition, and how these students would carry that tradition forward in their lives.”
He added, “University Service Day is an example of our unity as a community—what we stand for, and what we want the world to be.”
He added that no service “was too small, and its impact cannot be measured.”
Founder’s Week concluded with a special Mass celebrating the Solemnity of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Thomas More Church on September 27. During his homily, Rev. Bernard Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission, told the congregation that each member of the St. John’s family follows St. Vincent in their own unique way.
“We perform the service because that’s what it means to represent Christ,” Fr. Tracey stressed. “As we end this Founder’s Week celebration, we are called to reach out to those in need, to be one with the poor, and one with God.”