Sometimes that “something” that has grabbed hold of you won’t let go. Dennis M. Gallagher writes,
These past three and a half years have been one where I’m grateful to feel more immersed within the Vincentian mission and where I now feel part of the SJU community with those who think and feel like I do, putting my faith into action, out in the open. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Sts. Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Rosalie Rendu, Frederick Ozanam and Catherine Laboure within the V.M.C. (Vincentian Mission Certificate) and now the V.M.I. (Vincentian Mission Institute) programs (programs offered by St. John’s to their community Ed.). They have reminded me that in the company you keep, who and what I value is at the forefront of my daily faith life.
I came into this experience having been formed as a Franciscan brother, Secular Franciscan and as a Lasallian Associate through two forms of Franciscan formation and as a graduate of the Buttimer Institute of Lasallian Studies. My experiences of living and working with the Franciscan Brothers and the De La Salle Christian Brothers, prepared me for this new Vincentian challenge as God has led me into this St. John’s community. What a joy it is to be among a community of like minded V.M.C. and V.M.I. colleagues who are a community of service for the poor, and I’m one amongst them. It has made me, this non-graduate of St. John’s, feel not only included but accepted into this community. Thank you Lucy Pesce and Fr. John for leading me down this path of service, justice questions, and of course the joy of laughing along the way.
I started my V.M.C. journey by simply stating my very formal goal, “to better understand the Vincentian charism and its applications so I can better plan, invite, and engage the St. John’s community with the broader community where we live and work.” What I initially was drawn to is this Vincentian charism from the words of Fr. Thomas McKenna, C.M., “to anyone who seeks balance between action and contemplation, organizing good works, and relying on divine providence, intelligent activity and trusting surrender.” This description of being Vincentian by McKenna was exactly where I was when I started my ministry at St. John’s.
I ended my V.M.C. experience by taking a public stance for the poor, by making this deliberate posting on Facebook to reach out to my 559 friends. I don’t post on my Facebook page very often. In December 2014, I began my posting, “What are you giving to Christ this Christmas? Would you join me in making a Christmas gift to the Midnight Run Fundraiser at St. John’s University?
Having already embraced the philosophy of a servant leader, I felt drawn to the Vincentian spirituality since I came to St. John’s. It builds upon my Franciscan and Lasallian spiritual foundation as a sort of trinity framework, a way to see God in front of me, especially within the eyes of my neighbor and the poor. But also I keep asking myself, does my neighbor see the face of Christ within me?
I feel drawn to the vision of St. Vincent but to practicality of St. Louise’s organization. It speaks to me with my campus ministry servant leader mindset. At the end of each day I now purposefully ask myself, how has God’s love been active within me today? Where did I see God provide? How have I engaged with “inventive love” to organize for the needs of others?
The two social issues that I cannot understand are hunger and homelessness. These two very basic needs I never had to worry about. I have been most fortunate. But through my experience of serving at St. Nick’s shelter, St. Francis Xavier Welcome Table, St. John’s Bread and Life, and the Midnight Runs, it has caused me to stop, to think and it scares me a bit.
I remember on one midnight run right after Hurricane Sandy, meeting a young family from Hoboken, who got washed out of their apartment, had nowhere to go but to the streets of NYC. This husband, wife and little girl still held onto their joyful optimism. After quickly providing them with what they needed, and warm coffee and snacks, they were delighted that we wanted to know their story, socialize with them as they graciously shared in our hospitality. They were offering us the hospitality of their home, as this street was their home for the night, and were delighted we could see them for who they were, a loving family together, taking one day at a time.
What really hit to the core of my heart are all the homeless, elderly, and even children I meet serving a good hot meal at St. Francis Xavier’s Welcome Table in Manhattan. Their directness can be daunting, but their graciousness is overwhelming. They thank me, but I’m just the middle man, and it makes me realize, they see Christ’s light within this loving action.
When St. Vincent describes love as “inventive,” I believe it is purposeful. How can I organize my skills, talents and hopes for others where there can be a balance between charity and justice? I’ve always intellectually believed in the social justice imperative to keep one foot in charity and one foot in justice. Charity is easy to engage in but it leads me to think and try to find how I can be the voice to answer the questions that those for whom I serve ask, but have no means to find a solution. I believe through organization of a community, St. Vincent stirs me to seek answers to the justice questions, but with the help of those with me in the St. John’s community. The very nature of our V.M.C. 7 cohort graduation project, to raise $8,000.00 for the Midnight Runs, shows that this inventive love has changed all of our lives. I realize I need to remain active in charity, to keep seeking answers for justice.
My justice questions right now are simply, why are people hungry in our city? Why is food so expensive for so many in our city? Why is it that most people are a few paychecks away from being homeless? What do we value in our society: people, greed, consumerism, or advocacy? I am living into these answers. I realize that from this VMC experience I needed to find a way to center myself into a “justice mindset” and to find the principles that will help me to do so.
In my mediating with Fr. Robert Maloney C.M.’s book, “Turn Everything to Love: A Rule of Life for Lay Members of the Vincentian Family,” the small chapter on “Speaking the Truth” has gotten me started to focus on developing a justice-mindset to be an advocate for the needs of those who are hungry and homeless. Fr. Maloney presents this challenge in speaking the truth:
• speak the truth, especially when the truth is uncomfortable or embarrassing;
• witness to the truth, so that your life matches your words;
• search for the truth humbly as a wayfarer rather than thinking that you possess it as an owner;
• practice the truth through works of justice, charity and peace;
• strive for single-minded truth, or purity of intention;
• live truthfully as a servant, having modest possessions, dressing simply, and sharing readily what you have;
• express the truth clearly, using simple transparent language, especially when teaching others.
I see the next journey of my Vincentian influenced life to become involved with a community to be an advocate for those who are hungry and homeless. I am at my best creatively, when I have a community to work within who has the enthusiasm to work for this cause. I’d like to get involved with others here at St. John’s where we can direct our efforts in an organized manner to be effective. I will continue to volunteer through St. Francis Xavier Welcome Table and through the Midnight Runs, for I believe it is so important to know and be in relationship with those for whom you want to advocate. The V.M.I. program of which I’m now involved is helping me learn and experience the role of an advocate of which I feel called to do. There for the grace of God goes I, why have I been so lucky, well fed with a comfortable place to live?
Fr. Patrick Griffin, C.M. inspired me when he described the compassion we all feel as this, “at the heart of compassion is to experience the hurt of another.” My understanding of why my lifestyle is one of charity and justice comes down to this; to experience the pain of others inspires me to act for justice.
Dennis M. Gallagher is Director of Liturgy & Faith Formation in the Department of Campus Ministry at St. John’s University, Jamaica, NY. Without a doubt, #DennisisVincent