When I encounter students on campus following a semester break, I usually ask them two questions:
1. How was your break?
2. What did you do with your time off?
As you might expect, the responses I receive are often some variation of “I slept” or “I worked” or “I visited family and friends.” However, in this issue of the Eagle, you will read about the remarkable journey of 37 Niagara University students who served the poor during their time away from class.
They are remarkable young people — enjoy their story. They, like many Niagara students and alumni, embrace St. Vincent’s call to become remarkable people of service, while exercising Pope Francis’s compassionate call for mercy.
As Vincentian priests and brothers, we were formed in the belief that St. Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in the poor and suffering insomuch that the poor become our masters and we their servants. Vincentian spirituality, which frames our culture of learning, leadership and service at Niagara, is built upon this concept.
We, as followers of St. Vincent, are awakened to the worth of everyone around us — especially those who so often get pushed into the margins. We see their value as our brothers and sisters, and respond to it with deep respect. Action is, indeed, our entire task.
That message resonated deeply with the students who participated in our Brothers and Sisters In Christ program this past January. Ministering in the most forlorn sections of Camden, N.J., Philadelphia, Pa., and the Republic of Panama, these students eschewed the rest and relaxation typically associated with the semester break to toil in anonymity alongside the marginalized.
Jacey Diez, ’16, spent 11 days working with at-risk students in Camden. It was the second time Jacey volunteered to educate children in New Jersey and her sixth B.A.S.I.C. mission overall, having previously participated in service experiences in Buffalo, Philadelphia, Panama and Greensboro, N.C. She said that the opportunity to teach in poverty-stricken communities provides her with a content feeling of purpose and fulfillment, along with a renewed sense of faith.
While Jacey was immersed in service learning in the Garden State, Rachel Bailey, ’17, was stationed approximately 2,100 miles south, extending our Vincentian outreach to the Republic of Panama. As remarkable as it is that Rachel (and nine other students) lent a hand in nursing homes and orphanages in some of Panama’s poorest indigenous communities, what’s truly inspiring is that Rachel took on these tasks only 15 days after returning home from Nicaragua. It was there that she and five other members of our Bienvenidos Spanish and Hispanic culture club helped build a home for an impoverished family in the mountain town of El Sauce.
At Niagara, we seek to form modern-day embodiments of St. Vincent and it’s quite clear that we have done so with these two young women — as well as the 35 other students who were part of January’s B.A.S.I.C. experience. I stated during my inauguration that Niagara University will fortify a two-way bridge to the world of the poor. This is work that began long before my presidency and will continue long after.
The selflessness of people like Jacey, Rachel and many of you reading this is what will ultimately allow us to make strides toward that goal. We must continue to be inventive with the times, realizing that true charity does not consist of distributing alms, but in helping the poor regain their dignity and independence.
We do this at Niagara University by preparing our graduates, through research, academia and service, to combat human suffering in various ways. As I write this, our accounting students are helping low-income residents prepare their tax returns for free, management majors are developing business plans for the Niagara Area Habitat for Humanity and our Institute of Applied Learning is being held up as a national model for the innovative manner in which it partners with local P-12 schools.
These types of initiatives make a measurable and lasting impact on the lives of people living in poverty, and they also help our students accrue the types of hands-on experiences that make them attractive to employers after they graduate. It’s the epitome of a win-win situation.
Our plan is to further leverage NU’s wonderful treasures of teaching, research and service to assist those in need, inviting them to be part of our community and thereby enhancing all of our lives. Regionally, we will do this driven by a strategy to support growth in the areas of health and the life sciences, aided by our state-of-theart integrated science center and cutting-edge nursing simulation lab. Through the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, we will help Western New York fulfill its enormous promise as a global tourism destination. And through programs like Brothers and Sisters In Christ and those offered by the Levesque Institute, we will have boots on the ground, individuals working as a singular Vincentian body to make a lasting positive impact on those living on the margins.
I am interested in hearing your ideas on how Niagara University can do more to fulfill the mission of St. Vincent de Paul. Should you have any thoughts on this topic, or anything else, please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.