On our campus at St. John’s University, Vincentians walk everywhere, says Victoria O’Keefe.
Religious can be found leading prayer on the athletic courts and fields, teaching in the front of classrooms, and working in the campus ministry office.
Students are performing service, reflecting, and praying together at all hours of the day, every day of the week, whether through Holy Hour, weekly service programs or at our 5:30 pm student Mass.
What they all share in common is the call to live the mission of Vincent de Paul.
As an undergraduate, I was afforded many opportunities to come to know and love this mission and call it my own. Student opportunities such as V.I.T.A.L. (Vincentian Initiative To Advance Leadership), living in the Vincent & Louise House (student resident community committed to service and simplicity), service PLUNGES (in which we plunge into communities in need) and weekend retreats, all allowed me to further know and love the Vincentian charism.
Before I knew details about the life of St. Vincent de Paul, I always had a great love of travel; one of the reasons why I decided to attend St. John’s University was because of the many opportunities to study and serve abroad. No doubt, I was fortunate enough to attain many of these wonderful opportunities and to see the world and its needs. Travel has been the greatest teacher for me. As an Ozanam Scholar, I was able to walk in the footsteps of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Blessed Rosalie Rendu, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and St. Catherine of Labouré on the Vincentian Heritage Tour of Paris. To stand in the church where St. Vincent had a conversion moment and then the chapel where the Blessed Mother confided in St. Catherine of Labouré, was indescribable. These precious moments still affect me. Also remarkable, were the many Vincentians throughout France who guided us and shared stories of the mission and their own lives.
As an Ozanam Scholar, I was lucky enough to attend the first Consortium of Vincentian Scholars for Social Justice’s Student Symposium, held at Niagara University. Here, students from Niagara University, DePaul University and St. John’s University gathered to share and learn about the social justice efforts we created and were working towards, on our respective campuses, all rooted in Vincentian Service.
My junior year, I was able to be a part of the Denver Service Plunge. Our plunge group served the city through various organizations, and also got to meet the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. We enjoyed a night of dinner and reflection with them, thinking more about our own discernment processes. The Lord was at work, as He always is. This was the start of my discernment process and where I would apply myself after graduating, whether it be to a year of service, further schooling, or work at a development agency.
Upon graduation, I traveled to Rome, Italy to begin my graduate studies. I would serve as a Campus Ministry Graduate Assistant for Weekly Service while working towards a Master of Arts in Global Development and Social Justice, continuing service and education at St. John’s University.
During these two years, I continued to be formed and challenged by the mission. I was leading service and reflection for weekly service opportunities, helped lead the Freshman Rendu Service Plunge and Panama Plunge, and was supported by both Campus Ministry and the Daughters of Charity in Bayside, NY to travel to the National Catholic Sister’s Week at St. Catherine University, Minnesota. All of these experiences helped my discernment process along, and afforded me unique opportunities to learn and serve.
Young, recent graduates can be found spread across departments and administrative offices, now working for, and giving back to, the university they love.
Vincentians look out for one another. They are found all over the United States, and throughout the globe, yet still maintain a tight knit community feel. Each time I check up on the Vincentian Digest or FamVin, I am amazed at how many names and individuals I recognize! This is the reality for students and affiliates of Vincentian institutions, to be in contact with so many great scholars, ministers and workers of the poor. How fortunate we are!
One example of collaboration across borders and vocation is the Arte Ngäbe project implemented at St. John’s University. For the past ten years, St. John’s has sent a PLUNGE group to Panama. I helped lead the group that went last May, 2015. Students travel down to Panama, to learn more about the Vincentian mission there, live with host families for a week, and visit other parts of the country.
One part of this amazing experience is visiting the mission in Soloy, Panama. The Vincentians have been working amongst the indigenous Ngäbe in Panama for more than half a century, first in the Bocas del Toro Province, and since the early 1980’s in the Soloy Mission (Fr. Joe Fitzgerald, C.M.). Here, we are introduced to the Parroquia San Vincente de Paul and not only, learn, but also experience, their rich culture. Part of this culture, are the beautiful crafts and goods produced there. These goods are natural, harvested from the Ngäbe mountains, and hand made by skilled Ngäbe artisans. Guided by Fair Trade principles, the coalition called Däte Bonkrabe Ngäbere (Beautiful Ngäbe Art) sells their goods as a means of income to improve quality of life in the community.
One social justice oriented student group at St. John’s, called the CRS (Catholic Relief Services) Ambassadors, has been selling Arte Ngäbe, at their weekly Fair Trade Friday table. Each Friday, the student group sells an array of fair trade goods from various vendors, one now being our partners in the Vincentian Community of Soloy. They have been successful in selling many Ngäbe bracelets, bags, and other goods to the university community; profits will be sent back to the community at the end of the year. This is one of many beautiful examples of religious, indigenous and students working together in solidarity although miles apart. That is the Vincentian Mission alive today.
Upon my graduation, I took the summer to discern where I was being called next. I was surprised to find that I now wanted to work in Campus Ministry. I saw the need for students to have someone to confide in, pray with, and open opportunities to them. I was fortunate enough to receive all these things at St. John’s and now wanted to offer that in return to others. I began to look for positions at Catholic colleges and universities. In the fall, I returned to St. John’s for the PLUNGE reunion. The day allowed each PLUNGE, that served the academic year prior, to gather by group to reminisce individually, then all PLUNGES came together to celebrate Mass, and following Mass was a dinner for all to share their experiences with one another. It was here, I found out that the Resident Campus Minister for Social Justice position was open. After much thought and prayer, I decided to apply and fortunately was chosen. Now I work with Resident Assistants in offering opportunity for prayer and spiritual awareness in the residence halls, have led a service PLUNGE to Philadelphia this past January, have helped lead a Women’s Retreat, moderate the CRS Ambassadors and VITAL 3 class, and work with and towards social justice efforts campus wide. I am beyond blessed to continue to work in such a wonderful, faith filled, globally aware environment, surrounded by Vincentians everywhere. #IamVincent in the midst of thousands!
Victoria O’Keefe is Residence Minister for Social Justice at St. John’s University. For more information about Däte Bonkrabe Ngäbere (Beautiful Ngäbe Art) visit their website: