St. John’s University students are consistently exposed to what it means to be Vincentian—to walk in the footsteps of St. Vincent de Paul and his followers, and serve others in his name.
Established nearly 20 years ago, the Vincentian Initiative to Advance Leadership (VITAL) gives students a more immersive experience, aiming to enhance and develop personal and spiritual values, deepen a commitment to service, and develop leadership skills in the Vincentian tradition.
On April 15, the newest VITAL class was commissioned during a special virtual ceremony. Nineteen seniors graduated from the program, which requires students to participate in at least six VITAL events per year. These events may include panel discussions or mentoring meals and/or service opportunities. They join the ranks of more than 460 program graduates.
“As I reflect on the past year, I think of the students who have committed themselves to living a life rooted in prayer and in the care of others, determined to understand more fully their purpose in this world—sharing their gifts and talents so that others may prosper,” said Angela Seegel, Ed.D., Director of Vincentian Service, Leadership, and Social Justice, in the Office of Campus Ministry.
She added, “It is always at this time of year, when a new group is commissioned, that I am so grateful for who they are, for breathing life into my work—but most importantly, for creating a world where love, prayer, and joy can be experienced.”
Each year, the program focuses on the charism of an important figure in the Vincentian story. Year one is dedicated to Blessed Rosalie Rendu, year two focuses on Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, year three on St. Louise de Marillac, and year four concludes with St. Vincent de Paul.
As students progress, they are asked to deepen their commitment to Vincentian leadership and translate their faith into action. The hope is that they will integrate what they have learned and act as beacons for other individuals who want to serve those in need. Any St. John’s student is eligible to enter the VITAL program, but none are accepted past the fall semester of junior year.
“Learning about leadership through a Vincentian lens was illuminating,” observed English major Theresa M. Vogel. “My favorite year was probably year two when we learned about Frédéric Ozanam. We were asked to think about how to cultivate the virtues we treasure most. Mine were reverence, humor, and loyalty—with God’s help, I feel like I have grown so much in them.”
She added, “I grew so much in my faith, and I did not do it alone. VITAL became a community where I could share things I would not typically share with friends. I think others thought the same thing. We all set aside time to be together for that hour or two each week to share a meal and develop ourselves into leaders.” Theresa is hoping to pursue a career dedicated to serving others.
Ms. Seegel noted that since moving to remote learning, every VITAL team has continued to meet virtually with their moderator through the months of March and April, maintaining continuity in curriculum and community with one another.
“These last four years of VITAL have meant so much to me,” stressed Adolescent Education major Caitlin C. Neier. “I had the opportunity to grow alongside classmates who share the passion of working toward a more just and kinder world.” Caitlin is also President of the St. John’s University chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
She added, “The greatest lesson I have learned from VITAL is the importance of upholding the dignity of every single person we encounter in our lives. VITAL has taught me that once you see the injustices of the world, you cannot unsee them. Instead, you now have the responsibility to do what you can to work toward solving those injustices and be present with those who are most vulnerable in society.” Caitlin is pursuing her master’s degree in Education at St. John’s and will be a graduate assistant in the Office of Campus Ministry beginning next semester.
“VITAL has honestly been a mind-opening experience for me,” noted Physics major Christopher Valdes. “It taught me how to bring God into my everyday life, inspiring me to spread goodness. God gives me so many opportunities; this program helped me realize my calling to help others.”
“VITAL has given me the opportunity to take part in self-reflection by allowing me to get away from the hustle and bustle of schoolwork,” noted Pharmacy major Stephanie D’Elia. “Every meeting involved thought-provoking questions which helped me learn more about myself. I will be entering a profession that is all about service. VITAL has taught me how to integrate my faith and leadership skills into everyday life.”