Remembering the Vincentian mission

The thirteenth annual St. John’s University Founder’s Week begins Thursday with the Founder’s Week Mass in St. Thomas More Church, running through Feb. 1.

The week, first held in 1995, was designed to “promote and celebrate the University’s Vincentian heritage,” and to commemorate St. Vincent de Paul’s founding of the Congregation of the Mission in 1625, according to Mary Ann Dantuono, associate director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, which helped to organize the events of the week. This year’s theme for Founder’s Week is “Respect + Compassion = Solidarity.”

“Founder’s Week is unique in that the University has committed itself to asking everyone for one week to look at who we are as Vincentians,” Dantuono explained. “The Vincentian mission means not only being an excellent university, but also having a global view. That’s part of what St. Vincent de Paul had in his time, back in 17th century France.”

She said that to accomplish the goal of celebrating the Vincentian ideals, the University has planned a number of events throughout the week for students, faculty and administrators.

“We target various events to various groups,” Dantuono said.
Following the opening Mass, celebrated by University president Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M., will be the presentation of the annual “recognition awards.” The day will also include a lecture on social justice by John E. Sexton, president of New York University and the beginning of a week-long toiletries drive for the homeless of New York City entitled “In Solidarity with the Homeless.”

Saturday will include most of the service opportunities associated with the week. “Many campus groups are organizing [their own] service days,” Dantuono said. Habitat for Humanity, the Students for Life, Water for Life and the St. Vincent de Paul Society all are sponsoring service events.

One of the most heavily promoted events of the week comes on Jan. 31 with “Forgiveness and Reconciliation: A Path to Global Solidarity,” in which author Immacul√©e Ilibagiza will speak about her life as a refugee in Rwanda during the Rwandan Holocaust.

“We are so pleased and proud that Immacul√©e is going to be here on campus,” Dantuono said. She explained that Ilibagiza will likely tell the story of how she lost five of seven members of her family before fleeing Rwanda and talk about her book Left to Tell.

“She’s coming to tell her story and to hopefully engage most of us in seeing how forgiveness and understanding is really related to solidarity,” Dantuono said, “which is what Founder’s Week is all about.”

She added that one quote from Ilibagiza’s book held special meaning for her. “She wrote that ‘What happened in Rwanda happened to all of us,'” Dantuono said. “That’s solidarity.”
Over 30 people have been working on the planning of Founder’s Week since last Spring, Dantuono said, adding that the theme for this year is further expanded by a quote taken from the St. John’s University Mission Statement: “In the Vincentian tradition, we seek to foster a world view and to further efforts toward global harmony and development, by creating an atmosphere in which all may imbibe and embody the spirit of compassionate concern for others so characteristic of Vincent de Paul.”

Dantuono said that this year will see more events as part of Founder’s Week than any before, resulting in the need to create separate calendars for each campus and two for the Queens campus. She also remarked that there will be “a lot more student generated activities” this year.

“I think Founder’s Week is a great opportunity for everyone at St. John’s to dig a little deeper and to see what it means to be a Vincentian University,” Dantuono said.