From St. John’s University – The Vincentian Spirit Amongst Educators
St. John’s University prides itself on being Vincentian, a way of life based on the teachings of Saint Vincent de Paul. This Vincentian spirit permeates every part of life at St. John’s, whether noticeable or not. As such, students and faculty alike cannot help but embrace the Vincentian Mission. For members of the School of Education the Vincentian spirit can be essential for enriching their classroom environment and teaching methods, as well as their own lives.
To understand both how and why this is, it is important to understand more about what it means to “be Vincentian.” When questioned, students and faculty gave varied responses, but each one mentioned the drive to help others or to give back what they were lucky enough to have in their own lives. Professor Roberta Van Buskirk went further, stating, “To be part of the Vincentian mission means I strive in my work and my home life to always be open to the diversity of the world and to show a preferential option for the poor and marginalized people of the world.”
What is interesting about Professor Van Buskirk’s answer is her phrasing, “the poor and marginalized.” While this brings some fairly common and obvious images to mind, such as someone who is homeless and is discriminated against for circumstances he/she cannot help, it can be taken as more than that. There are more ways that people can be poor than just in material or monetary possession. A person can be poor in knowledge, experience, hope, self-esteem, etc. They can also be marginalized by their own families or teachers, who believe them unimportant or incapable. Sometimes people are poor and marginalized in both the conventional ways that come to mind first, as well as other ways. It is important to remember this as future educators because students come from all different walks of life and have a diverse experiences and life-styles. This means that they also have a variety of needs, which as a teacher, it is important to be aware of and to try to address in the most beneficial way possible.
Another part of the Vincentian spirit, which plays into this, was mentioned by Sara Rhodes, a student here at St. John’s. She said, “Being Vincentian means to put the best interest of the community at the forefront.” As teachers, our classes are essentially small communities, our schools and the students and faculty who make them up larger communities, and the surrounding town or city an even bigger community than that. Therefore, the Vincentian spirit is not confined to just one place. It is not the duty of a teacher to care for his or her students only while they are physically present in a classroom, but also while they are not.
Beyond just helping students and members of our larger communities, the Vincentian mission calls us to instill this spirit in others. Professor Van Buskirk gave an example of how this can be done in a school setting. She said, “I almost always have a service project in my classes because I see no purpose in knowing ‘things’ about God if we don’t know how to put it to use in the world.” In this way, Professor Van Buskirk enables her students to experience for themselves the service to which the Vincentian spirit calls all of us.
The benefits and effects of such experiences cannot be underestimated. Professor Gary Wong is living proof of that. When questioned, he said, “I decided to become a teacher because I was given an opportunity as a freshman to work in America Reads, America Counts. With my experience, I was able to work in a school as a teacher’s assistant with ESL students. Through these interactions, for a time period of two months, they went from speaking little to no English, to willing to take a chance to speak English.To see how time well spent in a short amount of time could make a difference really pushed me to wanting to become a teacher.” This illustrates not only how service can show how to serve, but also inspires how it inspires participants to give back even more.
Yet, Professor Wong’s experiences also hint towards another aspect of service, and therefore the Vincentian spirit. When describing his service, it can be seen how he was able to take on leadership role while helping his students. Although the service Professor Wong described has a clear connection to the classroom, it is important to remember that any type of service will help us if we wish to be future teachers. Besides helping to develop social skills, service tends to promote leadership abilities. For example, Sara Rhodes explained how she has been involved in Girl Scouts her whole life. She said, “Through scouting, I have been involved in community service, including holding toy drives or art supplies for under-privileged children and serving as a role model for the younger girl members… By being involved in your community through service, you learn about people. In my teaching methods, I try to bring the leadership I learned through Girl Scouts and my knowledge of the community to instruct and lead my students.”
Therefore, while Vincentian spirit promotes helping others, it also helps those who participate in it. For those who want to be future teachers, these benefits are even more important and useful. Not only does living a Vincentian life promote skills that are necessary for the classroom, it also gives a new and deeper perspective on what students need and how said needs can be meet. With teachers, students, and the community at large benefiting from this mission of service and community, it is important for us as individuals to foster and share this spirit everywhere we go, just as St. John’s has promoted and nurtured this spirit in us.
Written by: Kathryn Beleckas