Vincentian Mission Certificate Cohort Reflects on Germantown Visit

January 22, 2024

At the end of 2023, members of St. John’s University’s Vincentian Mission Certificate (VMC) cohort traveled to the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA, where the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission (also known as the Vincentians) is located, to tour various holy sites and social service agencies—but more importantly, to witness the beating heart of the Vincentian community on the East Coast.

VMC is a 16-month program wherein members of the St. John’s community learn about the history and highlights of the Vincentian and Catholic identity, based on the life and teachings of St. Vincent de Paul. They participate in small group reflection sessions and complete 50 hours of service that helps each member identify causes and populations around which they are most passionate. The hope is that graduates will continue integrating service and advocacy into their daily lives.

The day-long trip included visits to St. Vincent de Paul Parish (historically staffed by Vincentian priests); the Basilica Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous MedalFace to Face, a multiservice organization providing service to homeless and low-income clients, and DePaul House, a transitional housing facility for homeless men actively seeking employment. Cohort members were accompanied by Sr. Patricia Evanick, D.C. ’97GEd and Lucy A. Pesce, Executive Director for Mission Initiatives.

“During our Germantown trip we experience the Vincentian Family in a most profound way, seeing the ministries and all the people who share their gifts with others to raise people up,” said Sr. Evanick. “I love being able to share this experience with our VMC employees. It always grounds me.”

“My Germantown experience left me with a deep sense of hope,” recalled MaryAnna Schaefer, Director, Annual Giving, Office of Advancement. “While we witnessed the many struggles of a community, we also witnessed a great love within the community for one another as they help the most vulnerable move forward with great dignity and respect. There are so many really deeply good people in our world who are present 24/7 doing a myriad of small things together with care and love. It was uplifting.”

Mary Calabro, Executive Assistant, Department of Campus Facilities and Services, was sad to see that only one Catholic church remained in the area, but was uplifted by the size and scope of services provided by the Vincentians to the community’s most vulnerable populations. “Seeing people helping others with such kindness and compassion, was, to me, hospitality squared. Face to Face was a safe place where people in the neighborhood can go to get a hot meal, a listening ear, and even legal help. What touched me most was that everyone who walked in the door was so comfortable and everyone serving the guests was so gracious, kind, concerned, and available.”

“What a journey,” stressed Yonette V. O’Neal ’19MBA, Staff Accountant, Office of Business Affairs. “I came away from Germantown a changed person who sees a bigger picture. Ms. O’Neal was particularly moved by an employee of DePaul House who was formerly addicted to drugs and now helping others curb their addictions. “Today, she is sober and wants to serve others in similar circumstances. She shared a lot with me and I was so touched. Hers was a great life lesson.”

Dana N. Livingston ’22C, ’22G, Director, Vincentian Service and Social Justice, Vincentian Institute for Social Action, traveled to Germantown as a student, but wasn’t able to visit St. Vincent’s at that time. 

“It was my most memorable experience during our recent trip to Germantown. Growing up Catholic, it was not easy to feel included or represented in my faith due to my identity as an Afro-Latina woman. How could I aspire to holiness, to sainthood, when it seemed holiness was contingent upon the Whiteness I did not possess? Seeing people of color on the walls of this church and hearing all of the justice work that has come out of that parish overwhelmed me with emotion and was the highlight of my entire VMC 13 experience.”

Ethel L. Liang, Executive Assistant, Office of University Mission, agreed with Ms. Livingston’s assessment of St. Vincent’s. “I loved how they transformed the church to reflect the community,” she said. “The art that depicted Jesus as Black really showed the community that they were being seen, included, and welcomed. I think this is a beautiful example of inclusion and respect for the parishioners.” 

She added that the trip to the DePaul House was “a very humbling experience. It showed me that the question, ‘What must be done?’ must be asked continually, and that our journey of service must continue.”

“When I think of Germantown I think of hope and transformation, both of people and structures,” explained Irma N. Gevero, Senior Accountant, Office of Business Affairs. “Over time, the church interior was damaged by water, but people helped renovate and restore it to a beautiful state.”

She added, “Like the restoration of the church, so many lives have been renewed and transformed at DePaul House. The couple I met at DePaul House, whose lives were broken and destroyed by drugs, have transformed their lives into something beautiful with the help of people around them. It`s people helping people to bring hope and transformation. With these two stories of hope and transformation, I realized that things go wrong in life, but with caring and compassionate people around you, just like the teaching of St. Vincent de Paul, things will turn into something amazing and beautiful.”

Nadia Laya, Associate Director of Budgets and Planning, Office of Business Affairs, stressed that although the visit was brief, she got a great sense of the abundance of services offered to the community. “There were many stories that touched me personally, one being a husband and wife working in the DePaul House and how they navigated the poverty that surrounds them,” she explained. “Through all the trials and tribulations, their love and commitment to each other and their children helped them overcome their hardships.”

For Latoya Rice, Public Safety Officer, the visit to Germantown was life changing. “It gave me a roadmap for how I can show up and meet the needs of others in every area of my life,” she said. “I’m grateful to Sr. Pat and Lucy for taking me on this journey.”