Several special women at St. John’s University were honored yesterday inthe University Center commons. The Women of Distinction Ceremonyallowed St. John’s to recognize outstanding females in our community.Three years ago, the Women’s History Organization created the event tocelebrate womanhood and the individual accomplishments ofcampus-oriented women.
A special “Blessing of Women” was held in Our Lady of Lourdes Chapelbefore the awards ceremony. Songs, dance and prayer venerated not justthe women present, but all those in the world. Dorothy Day, a guestspeaker at the blessing, led the chapel in a prayer that asked God toput strength in the hearts of all women. Candles were then lighted tocomplete 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, ledthe large group in an opening prayer. The keynote speaker of the eventwas a St. John’s alumna, Phyllis Bell Lawson. She spoke not just of hermemories of college, but of the contributions that everyone can make totheir own community.
“Each of us is contributing,” she said, “and it does not always have tobe in a loud way.” Lawson addressed the challenges that the St. John’spopulation has faced over the last century, and she equated them withthe problems we have today.
Also expressed was her faith in people and in God. “The shape of God’splan is the shape of your hand,” she said. “Don’t think about what youcan?t do, think of what God has given you in your own hand.”
Lawson was born and raised in Flushing. She attended St. John’sUniversity on full academic scholarship, received her BA in history andSpanish and, in 1979, finished her master’s. Teaching is her professionof choice. Among various other organizations, Lawson belongs to theNational Council of Negro Women, and she founded the St. John’sUniversity Black Alumni Association.
Both Reese and Lawson were awarded medals of honor. Award recognitionsalso were presented to a faculty members. Two more types of honors weregiven as well: the St. Louise de Marillac and Women of DistinctionAwards.
St. Louise de Marillac founded the Sisters of Charity. Her life wasdedicated to helping the poor, disadvantaged and outcast. Shetransformed St. Vincent de Paul’s vision into a working reality. Thosegiven the St. Louise de Marillac Award were Sister Patty Ann O’Brien,Mary Tobin and Vivian Felice. They are acknowledged for responding toothers’ needs.
The Women of Distinction Award recognizes the recipient “for heroutstanding contributions to the university, her family, and communitylife.” Among those honored were Dr. Joanne Heaney-Hunter, HelenMarshall, Mary Pat Beirne, and Michele M. Crokus. The ceremony endedwith a tribute to all women who exhibit these traits.
March is Women’s History Month. The dedication and contributions ofwomen on this campus date back prior to 1913, when women were firstallowed to enroll at St. John’s, and it continues to grow today.