As it echoed this year’s Founder’s Week theme, “Be Vincentian, Be a Listener,” the annual Vincentian Convocation celebrated individuals and organizations who hear and respond to the needs of the homeless, the sick, the trafficked, the innocent, and the poor.
The Convocation, held on September 26 at St. Thomas More Church on the Queens, NY, campus, is the capstone celebration for Founder’s Week. It is a meaningful time at St. John’s as the University community focuses on the life and legacy of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, culminating in his feast day on September 27.
In his welcoming remarks to attendants and honorees, Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P., President of St. John’s, said he was considering what it means to be effective listeners in the Vincentian tradition. “At the first level, our listening has to be to the voice of God and the word of God,” he stressed.
Fr. Shanley said this quality was at the heart of St. Vincent’s life and work. St. Vincent listened intently to the people with whom he collaborated, particularly lay people and women, Fr. Shanley explained.
“His keen ear for their insights, which often went beyond his, is an important example for all of us,” he said. “We work together and must learn to listen to the people we work with, value their perspectives, and incorporate them into the work that we do.”
Ultimately, listening to the people whom we minister to is key, Fr. Shanley concluded, “because it is their experience we minister to. If we don’t listen to them and their own articulated needs, we might be giving them what we think they want, but not what they really want and truly need.”
The following awards were presented.
During the Convocation, the annual Vincentian Chair of Social Justice lecture, “Listening to the Voices of the Youth Facing Homelessness,” was delivered by Mr. Ryan. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed everything we need to know about life, he observed.
“We need each other,” he explained. “The absence of social connection in 2020 and 2021 may be why so many of us struggled. At each step of human development, evolution decided that the best way for us to flourish is to make us more social.”
Heroes are the ordinary people who love selflessly with courage, Mr. Ryan said. “I think of my colleagues from Covenant House all across the United States, Canada, and Latin America who walked the streets each weeknight before and during the pandemic, meeting young people in alleyways or squats or park benches or under boardwalks, bringing them critical PPE [personal protective equipment], water, food, blankets, and sanitary products. They met youth who had aged out of foster care, youth whose parents had died or disappeared, and youth who were told to shelter at home who had no home at all.”
Mr. Ryan reminded his audience that St. John’s has welcomed many formerly homeless young people; several once lived at Covenant House. “The University has been a bridge for kids from lives of despair to lives of hope and opportunity. The St. John’s faculty who have mentored and coached these flourishing young lives, as well as the alumni who have hired and trained them, are with their lives holding up that bridge.”
Remembering the pandemic simply as a time when many died tragically doesn’t do justice to the everyday heroism Mr. Ryan witnessed, both at Covenant House and in his local community. “We must remember and tell the story of how the world endured, and how hundreds of millions recovered, because helpers, healers, advocates, activists, and first responders everywhere loved heroically.”
More than ever, Mr. Ryan offered, the world needs heroes and the Vincentian brand of heroic love. “No matter how small you think your act of love is, I promise it will not feel small to the ones you reach.”