As part of the 2016 bicentennial of the arrival of the first Vincentian missionaries to the United States, leaders from the three Vincentian sponsored universities in the United States (Niagara University, St. John’s University and DePaul University) recently gathered in New York City for a two-day conference entitled: “Beyond the Bicentennial: The Promise of Vincentian Higher Education.”
The conference, held in midtown Manhattan, saw representatives from all sectors of the three universities – University Presidents, trustees, senior leaders, faculty, staff and administrators, come together to discuss critical issues facing all three Vincentian universities and their ongoing mission of providing a quality, Catholic and Vincentian education to an increasingly diverse student population in the 21st century.
At the conference, guest speakers, panel discussions and group conversations explored challenges and opportunities facing Catholic Higher Education both now and in the near future. Topics explored during the conference included managing changing students in and outside of the classroom, identifying and marketing the distinctiveness of a Vincentian and Catholic education, as well as concerns about accessibility, affordability and attainment for the under-served. The three Vincentian universities, while distinct, all have a shared mission of service to the poor with many of their students being first generation college attendees and many enrolled students coming from under-served and underrepresented communities.
The conference opened with greetings from His Eminence, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Tenth Archbishop of New York, who described himself as a beneficiary of a Vincentian education as he “thanked almighty God for the gift of the Vincentians.” Cardinal Dolan attended the Vincentian-run St. Louis Preparatory Seminary.
Also addressing the attendees of the conference was Very Rev. Tomaz Mavric, C.M., the newly elected Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, who leads the Vincentians worldwide and demonstrated a profound awareness of the importance and value of the role of Vincentian higher education.
“It is not enough to teach job skills but Vincentian Universities must prepare students to lead a well-lived life,” Rev. Mavric, C.M. said while thanking the attendees for their contribution to the work of the Vincentian order. “The world needs more Universities like Niagara, St. John’s and DePaul to examine the causes of poverty and to work to implement solutions at the local, national and international levels. May St. Vincent DePaul and God be your guides as our Vincentian mission continues.”
The conference concluded with the Eucharistic Celebration presided by Most Rev. David M. O’Connell, C.M, J.C.D., Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey.
“In the environment of Catholic higher education today, Vincentian universities are inspired by the charism of St. Vincent de Paul, who was not an educator as we are but still as a teacher and a pastor. Everything he preached and did and touched was motivated with a love for the poor and those in need,” Bishop O’Connell, C.M. said in his homily.
During the conference, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University remarked on the importance of understanding the history and maintaining the values of a Vincentian education.
“We all need to internalize the rich legacy of the Vincentian mission of education and service to the poor so that our service and impact will endure for the next 200 years or more.”
Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., President of Niagara University stated: “It was very inspirational to see the three Vincentian universities come together to begin to think, plan and work with a broad vision for the future of Vincentian higher education. Together we will guide our students, faculty, administrators, staff and campus communities through learning, faith, and service to answer the call of St. Vincent.”
Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., President of DePaul University observed: “I was moved by the deep commitment of everyone who gathered last weekend to see that St. Vincent’s work continues into the future,” said the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president of DePaul University. “It gave me great hope for the young people who present themselves to us each year, asking that we prepare them for the world ahead.”
As the event concluded, conference attendees agreed to continue the conversation while working collaboratively to further the important work of the Congregation of the Mission, which is realized each day on the campuses of Niagara, St. John’s and DePaul universities.