Students from nine schools gathered for Vincentian Day at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station (NJ) on September 27, the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, to engage in hands-on ministry to serve the poor, and to honor the saint whose vision continues to inspire others to a life of charity.
General Superior Maureen Shaughnessy, S.C. welcome the 400 participants to Holy Family Chapel to begin the day with prayer. Sister Maureen reminded the students they are a vital part of over two million people worldwide in the Vincentian Family who serve the poor, marginalized, hungry and homeless. That Family consists of 160 branches of religious communities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul chapters, and Ladies of Charity.
“St. Vincent’s life taught us to be people of service,” said Sister Maureen. She quoted Saint Vincent who said, “Go to the poor and you will find God.”
Taking up posts in various meeting rooms, students prepared breakfast bags and sandwiches for soup kitchens, tucked school supplies in back packs for needy children, assembled “no-sew” blankets for distribution to people in homeless shelters, turned donated tee shirts into shopping bags, and filled backpack “Sam Bags” with personal items for the homeless. Sisters of Charity and Seton Associates helped to organize the ministry stations and guide the students in their efforts.
Eighth graders at Saint Vincent Martyr School in Madison felt Vincentian Day helped them to live what they are learning in school. Mattson Palmer saw it “as a chance to help the unfortunate,” and Brandon Sommer added “this day helps to give back to our community, to those in need.” John McCabe said ministry is “living the Gospel, particularly St. Matthew.”
He added “I’m an altar server so charity is definitely a part of my life.” Oscar Cuzzocrea credits Vincentian Day as “an opportunity to live our faith.” Oscar finds inspiration in the New Testament and said his favorite Gospel story is The Prodigal Son. “God gives everyone a second chance,” he said, “and that Gospel has been helpful to me all my life.”
Seventh graders at Assumption School in Morristown Emma Potian and Logan Sodono agreed that ministry “is a real nice thing to do,” while Olivia Minoia said, “helping out makes you feel good,” and Emma Mainardi added “helping the poor is more important than anything I’ve done all day.”
Senior Chyann Gaynor of Saint Vincent Academy in Newark said “it’s important to give back. What you take for granted at home sometimes are things others just don’t have in their homes – like this blanket I am making.” Saint Vincent Academy Junior Britney Edionseri said she made blankets last Thanksgiving as a community service project. “We gave the blankets to children in the hospital and the kids loved them. It’s nice to be here to make blankets again.”
Javon Barron, an eighth grader at Saint Joseph School in Jersey City said he liked learning more about Saint Vincent. Javon helped others place needed school supplies in backpacks for students without them. He said, “Instead of doing things for myself, it is better to be helping people in need.” Classmate Bryan Ndiaye agreed. “There are kids who cannot afford all these school supplies. Helping them makes me feel better and less selfish.”
Kristine Keliher, another eighth grader at Saint Joseph School, said “I feel bad there are kinds who can’t get school supplies. I am happy to help. “Classmate Ariana Larin saw her ministry as a way of life. She said: “By helping someone, you’re following a good path. I plan to stay on it.”
Sylvia Onserio and Anyia Ahmad of Sacred Heart School, Jersey City helped fill bags with breakfast items for a local soup kitchen. Each bag contained fruit cup, cereal box, granola bar, juice and milk. Sylvia said: “There are lots of hungry people. I hope they like the food in the bags.” Anyia said: “I felt really happy to put that food in the bags for people who don’t have much. I would like to continue to do this.” Anyia thought she might continue a food ministry at her school.
Students at Saint Elizabeth University made 500 sandwiches for area soup kitchens, and students at the Academy of Saint Elizabeth made blankets for people in homeless shelters.
Father Terence Moran, director of Peace, Justice and Ecological Spirituality for the congregation, led a session on political activism for women of Josephine’s Place, a ministry n Elizabeth that serves immigrant women.
Participants represented Saint Elizabeth University and the Academy of Saint Elizabeth in Convent Station, Saint Vincent Academy of Newark, Mother Seton Regional High School of Clark, De Paul High School of Wayne, Sacred Heart Elementary School and Saint Joseph Elementary School of Jersey City, Assumption Elementary School of Morristown, Saint Vincent Martyr Elementary School of Madison, and Josephine’s Place of Elizabeth, all in New Jersey.
Saint Joseph University Medical Center of Paterson, Trinitas Regional Medical Center of Elizabeth, and Maris Stella Retreat and Conference Center of Harvey Cedars contributed canned food for distribution to Catholic Charities and to St. Joseph Social Services in Elizabeth. Bon Secors Charity Health System of Suffern, NY underwrote some of the day’s activities.
Sister Maryanne Tracey, S.C. and Shannon Hoffman, co-directors of Vocation and Mission Engagement for the Sisters of Charity, organized Vincentian Day to foster awareness of Saint Vincent de Paul, the mission of the Sisters of Charity, and to motivate others to a lifetime attitude of generosity.
“We wanted to spread the good work of Saint Vincent through prayer and example,” said Sister Maryanne. “We especially sought to set the hearts of young people on fire with a passion to stretch out their hands to lift up those in need.”