Ceremony honors women

Several special women at St. John’s University were honored yesterday in
the University Center commons. The Women of Distinction Ceremony
allowed St. John’s to recognize outstanding females in our community.
Three years ago, the Women’s History Organization created the event to
celebrate womanhood and the individual accomplishments of
campus-oriented women.

A special “Blessing of Women” was held in Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel
before the awards ceremony. Songs, dance and prayer venerated not just
the women present, but all those in the world. Dorothy Day, a guest
speaker at the blessing, led the chapel in a prayer that asked God to
put strength in the hearts of all women. Candles were then lighted to
complete the procession.

The Women of Distinction Ceremony immediately followed the vigil.
People sat around tables adorned with flowers brought into the U.C.
Mary Reese, director of Campus Ministry on the Staten Island campus, led
the large group in an opening prayer. The keynote speaker of the event
was a St. John’s alumna, Phyllis Bell Lawson. She spoke not just of her
memories of college, but of the contributions that everyone can make to
their own community.

“Each of us is contributing,” she said, “and it does not always have to
be in a loud way.” Lawson addressed the challenges that the St. John’s
population has faced over the last century, and she equated them with
the problems we have today.

Also expressed was her faith in people and in God. “The shape of God’s
plan is the shape of your hand,” she said. “Don’t think about what you
can?t do, think of what God has given you in your own hand.”

Lawson was born and raised in Flushing. She attended St. John’s
University on full academic scholarship, received her BA in history and
Spanish and, in 1979, finished her master’s. Teaching is her profession
of choice. Among various other organizations, Lawson belongs to the
National Council of Negro Women, and she founded the St. John’s
University Black Alumni Association.

Both Reese and Lawson were awarded medals of honor. Award recognitions
also were presented to a faculty members. Two more types of honors were
given as well: the St. Louise de Marillac and Women of Distinction

St. Louise de Marillac founded the Sisters of Charity. Her life was
dedicated to helping the poor, disadvantaged and outcast. She
transformed St. Vincent de Paul’s vision into a working reality. Those
given the St. Louise de Marillac Award were Sister Patty Ann O’Brien,
Mary Tobin and Vivian Felice. They are acknowledged for responding to
others’ needs.

The Women of Distinction Award recognizes the recipient “for her
outstanding contributions to the university, her family, and community
life.” Among those honored were Dr. Joanne Heaney-Hunter, Helen
Marshall, Mary Pat Beirne, and Michele M. Crokus. The ceremony ended
with a tribute to all women who exhibit these traits.

March is Women’s History Month. The dedication and contributions of
women on this campus date back prior to 1913, when women were first
allowed to enroll at St. John’s, and it continues to grow today.