Hard work and sheer joy toward a vincentian campus culture
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Hard Work and Sheer Joy: Toward a Vincentian Campus Culture . G . Gregory Gay, C.M. Superior General Congregation of the Mission Niagara University, 3 April 2014. About Us: Congregation of the Mission. O ver 3000 priests and brothers from 55 provinces and regions

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Hard Work and Sheer Joy: Toward a Vincentian Campus Culture

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Hard Work and Sheer Joy: Toward a Vincentian Campus Culture

G. Gregory Gay, C.M.

Superior General

Congregation of the Mission

Niagara University,

3 April 2014

About Us: Congregation of the Mission

  • Over 3000 priests and brothers

  • from 55 provinces and regions

  • located in 85 countries

  • on all continents, except Antarctica


New mission in Tierra del Fuego, South America

A Catholic, Vincentian education…

  • Draws one out of the secure setting of classroom and campus to enter the world of the poor and the margins

  • When doing this, one may experience:

    • Disorientation

    • Confrontation

    • Formation

    • Transformation

Week of service in Philadelphia

Changed by my Niagara experience

  • Here at Niagara, I myself went through the phases of disorientation, confrontation, and formation...

  • But it is the transformative power of the Vincentian charism that has stayed with me

What makes an education “Vincentian”?

  • How is a Catholic and Vincentian education different from the secular, altruistic models?

  • Start with the man for whom it is named: Saint Vincent de Paul

A man in search of an education

  • St. Vincent sought an education by disguising it as a vocation to the priesthood

  • Priesthood seemed to offer both a better life for himself, and a stable income to assist his parents



I know…Priest!

On the surface…

  • Vincent was bright, articulate, wrote well

  • He had degrees from the University of Toulouse and the Sorbonne

  • He was detail-oriented and good with with finances

  • He mingled with people of influence

  • He travelled all through Europe

  • He became chaplain to a wealthy family in Paris, and lived on their estate

Life was good!

But deep down…

  • Something was missing... Vincent felt an inner emptiness, a “hole in his soul.”

  • His impressive education, keen intellect, comfortable lifestyle, and the status of “priest” were not enough.

Changed by experiences with the poor

  • How could Vincent change the direction of his life?

  • Not by thinking or reasoning, but by two experiences with the poor… two random encounters that shook Vincent to his core!

1. A dying man wanted to go to Confession

  • A dying man on the De Gondi estate, where St. Vincent worked, pleaded for someone to hear his confession

  • “If not for Vincent’s pastoral care, I would have died in mortal sin.”

  • Vincent pitied the un-churched man, and suddenly realized that there were tens of thousands just like him

2. A sick family needed food & medicine

  • Fr. Vincent pleaded for help for a family, from the pulpit before Mass

  • His parishioners would bring food, but so much at one time that it would just spoil or be wasted

  • He saw that efforts of charity were not sustainable unless they were coordinated

God touched Vincent’s heart to re-direct his abilities to organize and motivate others.

Vincent’s next steps

  • To seek formation, both human and divine

  • To ally himself with a renowned spiritual director

  • To seek out like-minded people for support

  • Most of all, he allowed God to reawaken him, finding Christ in Scriptures, Eucharist, & prayer

“Education that makes a difference”

What is that difference?

Niagara University is a manifestation and continuation of the vision of Saint Vincent de Paul.

Developing a “Vincentian campus culture”

Niagara’s History:

158 years with the Vincentian priests and brothers-- a seminary that evolved into a university

  • the sterling example of laity faculty, staff, and administration who lived the Vincentian charism and passed it on.

  • the lives and achievements of NU alumni

Bishop Stephen V. Ryan, C.M., provincial

superior of the American Vincentians,

second bishop of Buffalo

Developing a “Vincentian campus culture”

Niagara: Today

  • Imbued with faith in God, and a reverence for the dignity of all persons

  • provides opportunities to serve the poor and marginalized as Jesus did

  • a community of scholars seeking truth, committed to excellence

  • a welcoming, worshipping community, whose members act honestly and with integrity

A lifelong impact

  • Students come and go every four years, but Niagara’s enduring values are a way of life

  • A Vincentian campus culture makes it possible to “be good, do good, and be a force for good” (Fr. Thomas Judge, C.M.)

Common statement on Vincentian sponsorship of Universities

Five major Vincentian universitiesapproved a Sponsorship Statement:

“Vincentian sponsorship is a rich concept referring to the many ways that the mutual relationship between Vincentians and their institutes of higher education contribute to building up of the Kingdom of God.”

This is what St. Vincent believed, taught, and put into practice: all our efforts must have their origin and end in God, who guides and gives us strength.

Four key points in developing a Vincentian campus culture


Vincentian colleges and universities should admit and promote the development of the poor.

Students should be imbued with sensitivity for the poor.

Four key points in developing a Vincentian campus culture


They should be places where Catholic moral, intellectual, and social traditions are taught in their great richness to the next generation, seeking to nourish the gift of faith.

Four key points in developing a Vincentian campus culture


They should always serve the poor by providing access to higher education for poor and marginalized students, and direct the expertise of their faculty and the energy of their students to the service of the poor.

Four key points in developing a Vincentian campus culture


They should develop a distinctive Vincentian theology of service, and include reflection and dialogue on the encounter with Christ in the experience of service

A need for access and witness

  • Access to education is the only hope to lift the poor out of a destructive and generational poverty

  • Niagara took the lead in providing scholarships, grants and financial assistance to give the poor access to education

  • But we must do more

A need for access and witness

  • Niagara University has a great presence in WNY / East Coast

  • Vincentian witness of students and faculty for the poor has had a profound, lasting impact

  • We take time to reflect on our experiences of encountering Christ in the poor

Highland Community Greenfields Project

The witness of Pope Francis

Pope Francis has captivated many across the globe with his warmth, simplicity, and advocacy for the poor

In his homilies, the Holy Father coined a phrase: “the globalization of indifference”

Transformed by service

  • When one first enters into the world of the poor: disorientation, confrontation, formation, and ultimately, transformation

  • This may seem unsettling or even threatening

  • But God’s grace does wonders, breaks down barriers, helps us to affirm our common humanity, and put aside differences of race, class, gender, and religion

Thanksgiving meal for refugees

at Journey's End

St. Vincent de Paul developed a spirituality of service, based on seeing Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ. Despite his many activities, Vincent was first and foremost a “mystic of charity.”

You and I may never reach the same level of achievement, selfless service, or mysticism of Vincent. But we can try, can’t we? Niagara is where this wonderful ‘labor of love’ can begin, grow, and lead us more deeply into the beauty and mystery of learning to serve the poor in Christ.

“I slept peacefully, and dreamt that life was sheer joy.

I awoke suddenly, and discovered that life was hard work.

I served my neighbor faithfully, and behold!

Hard work became sheer joy.”

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