Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Advancing the Vincentian Tradition through Strategic Service and Research

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Advancing the Vincentian Tradition through Strategic Service and Research

Article excerpt

This article chronicles the experience of a university seeking to rekindle its unique Catholic perspective. St. John's University was founded in 1870 in Brooklyn, New York, when the Roman Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn, Bishop John Loughlin, asked the Vincentian community (the religious community founded by St. Vincent de Paul) to open a college for men in order to provide educational access to the sons of immigrants. Later, women would be admitted to the college. At its inception, St. John's was understood to be an educational institution with a specific mission--providing access and opportunity for students seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families. For some 140 years, St. John's has strived to pursue its mission of providing an education of Catholic values with opportunities to provide service for the needy in a diverse metropolitan community, while affording programs of academic excellence befitting an institution of higher education.

With its largest campus located in Queens, New York, the university has enjoyed student populations of great ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Moreover, 40% of the freshmen classes are Pell Grant recipients, reflecting outreach to the economically disadvantaged. With additional sites in Staten Island, Manhattan, and Long Island, and international locations in Paris and Rome, the mission of St. John's encompassed a global perspective.

A Challenge and Plan Formulation

Many private religiously affiliated universities face a common challenge--the numerical diminishment of religious community members who sponsor the university as board members, university administration, and faculty. For a number of years, St. John's Board of Trustees and senior management team have been grappling with various ways to engage members of the university as agents to advance its Catholic and Vincentian mission. Accordingly, within the last decade, the university initiated an Office of Mission specifically designed to increase mission awareness and activity among employees.

The university has also struggled with an equally significant and evolving component of its mission to create focused impact on communities living in poverty. For St. John's, as a Vincentian university, this was long overdue. St. Vincent de Paul made it his aim to build bridges between educational and social service institutions and the world of the poor. At a meeting of the Vincentian community in Rome, Italy, Pope John Paul II (1986) urged Vincentians to recommit their lives and institutions to seek out the causes of poverty and develop both short- and long-term solutions. The university has taken this call to heart: "As a Catholic and Vincentian university, we will be known worldwide for addressing poverty and social justice" (St. John's University, 2001). In 2006, the Middle States Association Evaluation team challenged the university to consider a mandatory service learning experience for all its undergraduate students as a way to reinforce the Vincentian mission. The 2006-2008 Strategic Plan asked that students be provided with educational experiences that were highly Vincentian in nature while embracing service opportunities for needy metropolitan and global populations. The plan also called for the establishment of a mission-oriented agency or institute with its own staff, budget, facilities, and vision to provide community outreach while serving the six schools of the university. Other religiously affiliated institutions may find components of the plan and programs described in this paper to be beneficial as they expand their own service and research-based projects with community agencies serving the needy and disenfranchised.

Literature Review

The literature review focuses on the broad perspectives of (1) academic service learning; (2) faculty involvement; and (3) community partner outreach and community-based learning. Academic service learning connects course work with work or service that occurs in the community so that the learning experiences gained from service with a community agency integrates with classroom learning (Howard, 2003). …

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