Academic journal article Review of Business

Advancing the Vincentian Tradition through Strategic Service and Research

Academic journal article Review of Business

Advancing the Vincentian Tradition through Strategic Service and Research

Article excerpt

Executive Summary:

This article reveals how St. John's University implemented mission-focused programs to advance its unique Catholic perspective, that of the Vincentian tradition to serve the poor and remedy social inequities. Heeding the 1986 call of Pope John Paul II to Vincentian institutions, all levels of the university--from incoming freshmen to the board of trustees--have embraced the Pope's message to serve the poor and needy.

Major program initiatives have included:

* an expanded and enriched academic service-learning (ASL) program with a Discover New York service component for all incoming freshmen;

* the creation of a Vincentian Institute for Social Action to coordinate student and faculty service and research efforts with community partners;

* the establishment of a 4-year undergraduate Ozanam Scholar Program to engage students in extensive service and research under faculty mentorship;

* sustainable collaborations with community partners whose mission focus is compatible with the Vincentian perspective; and

* a dedicated effort to measure program impact through outcomes-based quantitative and qualitative research methodologies.

Religiously affiliated institutions may find program components and organizational strategies to be beneficial in their own work in serving the poor, needy, and disenfranchised.


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 encompasses 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. …

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