When Julia Doody first set foot on St. John’s University’s Queens, NY, campus four years ago, the self-described introvert had never experienced a leadership role, was uninterested in any particular faith, and the idea of volunteering for service work was not even a blip on her radar screen.
Now, after earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology on Sunday, May 31, during St. John’s Virtual Undergraduate Recognition Ceremony, Julia’s story is vastly different.
“I would recommend St. John’s a thousand times to any prospective student because of the person I have become during my time at the University,” said Julia, a resident of Northford, CT, and a student in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “St. John’s is so different in terms of its Vincentian mission and the dedication of its professors, as well as the many clubs, organizations, and leadership opportunities it offers. I could go on forever about how amazing I think St. John’s is and how it made me the person I am now.”
Julia evolved as a respected and effective leader through her roles on campus as a Rendu Service Experience Leader, guiding a group of first-year students to work with poor and marginalized people in New York City; as Vice President of the University’s Biology Students Organization; as Treasurer of the Phi Sigma Biological Sciences Honor Society; and as a Peer Mentor in the University’s EPIC (Establish Relationships, Promote Possibilities, Impact Direction, Confirm Next Steps) peer mentor program, where she provided first-year students with academic, social, and professional coaching.
During her time on campus, she felt increasingly drawn to the Catholic faith and eventually took part in St. John’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a program for prospective converts to Catholicism. Her cohort will be baptized into the Catholic Church this fall.
“This is particularly wonderful because I had no faith while I was growing up, so I knew nothing about it,” Julia said.
She also discovered something else that transformed her life and career choice as a physician assistant. “St. John’s helped me develop a genuine love of community service, something I had no idea I cared about,” she said.
Julia’s introduction to service came at the invitation of her roommate during her first year to participate in a Midnight Run, one of the most popular service activities at St. John’s. Students, faculty, administrators, and staff set out in University vans to distribute sandwiches, soup, coffee, toiletries, and clothing to homeless people throughout Manhattan. The volunteers interact directly with people experiencing homelessness, learning about their daily challenges and how they cope.
“This was something that was completely out of my comfort zone,” Julia said. “At the end of the night, we all got back in the van and the leader asked us, ‘Where did you see God tonight?’ That is when I felt a fullness within me—and I came to realize that fullness was God. It was really exciting because I did not know I had an emptiness within me that could be filled with God’s presence.”
More service opportunities for Julia followed, most notably through the University’s Plunge Program, where she participated in weeklong Vincentian service trips to Philadelphia, PA (2017), Macon, GA (2018), and Denver, CO (2019), to serve people living in homelessness and poverty. “Each time I did more service,” said Julia, “I felt I was deepening my connection to God.”
Julia plans to apply to graduate school to earn a Master of Science degree for Physician Assistant. She will also continue to work back home in Connecticut in several positions she currently holds in the medical field. These include her direct work with patients, some of whom are infected with the COVID-19 virus, as an Emergency Department Technical Associate at Yale New Haven Hospital, and as an Emergency Medical Technician for American Medical Response, Inc., which is based in New Haven.
In addition, Julia volunteers at Shelter One New Haven, a 50-bed facility that was specifically established to care for homeless people who test positive for COVID-19.
Her service work and embracement of St. John’s Vincentian mission to help those most in need inspire Julia to shape her future career toward championing the needs of vulnerable populations.
“I hope that I will be able to find a significant way to combine practicing medicine with serving patients who deal with poverty and homelessness,” she said. “I am very grateful to St. John’s for helping to guide me toward this path.”