Achievement to Implementation

Achievement to Implementation

Fr. Tom Mckenna, in his biweekly reflection on, reflects on situations we have all experienced… feeling a pull to take the next step yet feeling helpless to actually take that step.

Certain stories might well be styled “echoing” because they reverberate with the inner story a person tells about herself. Gospel stories have a way of setting off this kind of echo, striking chords people recognize inside their own experience. “Oh yes, I’ve been there.”

An incident in John’s 20th chapter sounds such a note in many believers. And that is the pull to move forward but not being able to do so, the feel of an inner prod to take a further step and yet feeling helpless make it.

This is the predicament of the post Resurrection disciples who are locked behind doors for fear of what the authorities might do. Other believers have arrived with testimony that Jesus is alive, not just come back but radiant with a new kind of life. They recognize also that his teachings and actions have come out of the tomb with him and are indeed the truth and the life.  Hearing this, the disciples in the room still can’t unlock their locks and move out, can’t take that next step.

That’s their predicament when suddenly Jesus comes through the barred doors.  He wishes them peace, shows them his wounds, and then does the crucial thing – he breathes on them. This breath is his (God’s) own Spirit, the breath that blew over the waters of creation, that dried up the Red Sea, that brought vitality back to the dry bones on the desert floor. This is the new and overflowing life that streamed out from his side and that is now flooding into this room. It enables the disciples to move from what they know they ought to do to what they now can do — be sent out proclaiming that their Lord is alive and his Way is everlasting life.

You might say this is a story about people being strengthened to cross the gap between the achievement and its implementation.  Christ has died, Christ is risen: that’s the achievement. But living as if that Christ is alive and active in our world: this is the implementation, the enablement of what has already happened.

This is a story that echoes inside our own. It’s the initial plot line of recognizing the pull to step more out onto Jesus’ Way, but hesitating to venture beyond those locked doors. But there’s the second thread in the story, the one where a person felt the breath of Jesus’ Spirit blowing through a wavering heart and then moved forward. It’s that remembrance of crossing the gap between what I knew I should do and then doing it.

If you can bring up the memory of such a movement in yourself, you’re back in that fear-filled room on the first day of the week — but no longer imprisoned by your fear. You stepped out because you let the Lord breathe his Spirit into you and so carry you across that wide chasm between realization and follow-up, between the achievement already accomplished and the implementation needing to be done.

If there is a patron saint of implementation, it is our own St. Vincent. Always suspicious of pure ideas untethered to concrete effects, he looks to the world of action to validate the ideas and follow through on their possibilities. He not only experiences the breath of the Spirit blowing through but also moves with that inspiration to put flesh on the “achievement” of Risen Life. His story echoes what happened in that room, the story of people who have heard and then been empowered to bring the Good News to the world. Might this be our story too?

What Is the Vincentian Family’s Best kept Secret?

Best kept secrets

Who can forget the “treasure map” of  Robert Louis Stenson’s Treasure Island? There are certainly lots of best-kept secrets. They range from the secret ingredient in Coco-Cola to how to fold the Hapsburg Napkin pictured below. And who can forget the “treasure map” of Treasure Island?

The “Hapsburg Napkin” – Do you know how to fold this?

The way napkins are folded at Austrian state events is a closely guarded secret that only two people know who pass it on to someone else before they die.

Closer to home… for many years we have referred to the Church’s Social Teaching as its best-kept secret.

Sssh! The Vincentian Family is not without its best-kept secrets.

Many people were surprised that the Eastern Province Miraculous Medal Facebook page has 3 million followers.

Here is another major secret.

Rather than read about it in words just look at the following treasure map. Click on the picture to open the map to this treasure trove of readily accessible insights about what makes Vincentians tick.

A picture worth a thousand links

Just click on the graphic to access this treasure map! (Please be sure to bookmark it or you may not be able to find it again!)

Click on the graphic to be taken into the cave of treasures!

Vincentian Impact In Brooklyn Officially Recognized

The President of the Borough of Brooklyn New York officially recognized and thanked the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers of the Eastern Province for impacting the communities of the Borough of Brooklyn.

Whereas, on behalf of all Brooklynites, I salute the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers of the Eastern Province for serving a myriad of ministries along the eastern United States coast, from Maine to Panama, for 170 years; I applaud the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers of the Eastern Province for impacting our communities through education in New York City, as well as for their work with immigrants and the care of the poor and marginalized of society, including their many charitable ministries in the name of  St. Vincent de Paul, especially in Brooklyn; I commend the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers of the Eastern Province for making a positive impact on the lives of others; and I thank everyone for all that you have done to touch and improve the lives of many, helping to move out communities forward as One Brooklyn.

The official citation took place on the occasion of the Vincentian community receiving the Paul O’Dwyer Award. The award was presented by Brian O’Dwyer, son of the late Paul O’Dwyer. Brian O’Dwyer will be serving as Grand Marshall of the 2019 St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The award, given to people who have exemplified outstanding service, faith, and integrity in New York. The celebration ceremony was hosted in Borough Hall by the Irish-American Heritage Committee and the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President.

Fr. Joseph Foley, CM, who hails from County Sligo, Ireland accepted the award in the names of Fr. Stephen Grozio, CM the current Provincial.. He’s a great promoter of Irish Culture—with an affinity for Irish literature and traditional Irish music. Fr. Foley has also acted as the United Nations Representative for the international community of Vincentians.

Fr. Foley exhibiting his classic Irish wit

Learn more about one of the major ministries celebrated in this award.

Following the spirit of their founder, St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentians are engaged in many forms of ministry to the poor, marginalized, and abandoned throughout the state of New York—and well beyond its borders. From serving diverse communities of faith—Latin American, Vietnamese, and even the indigenous Ngäbe in the Panamanian forest—to championing the needs of the underserved, the Vincentians of the Eastern Province have been sharing the good news of Christ, living amongst and serving the poor, for more than 170 years.


What’s in a Name?

In a reflection that first appeared on FamVin, Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, reflects on the importance of our names. He takes it a bit further in asking a question about our respect for the names of those we serve.

Recently, I participated in a day of reflection. The speaker spoke about the meaning and expressions of love.  She told about a class of children who were asked to describe how they knew that they were loved.  One of the children said that she could tell that she was loved by the way that the other said her name.  If I remember nothing else from the day, I will remember that story.  I know its truth.  I feel the way in which it pulls me deeper into myself even as it demands that I look outwards towards others.

There were seven children in my family—five boys and two girls.  Growing up, those not familiar with my family would frequently confuse our names.  I could be Michael, Johnny, Timmy or Danny as well as Patrick—thankfully, I was rarely Eileen or Kathleen.  I confess to some annoyance when someone got my name wrong. I liked it when people remembered me as me.  I recall how my name was spoken in many different tones and in various circumstances, but I remember best of all the way in which someone who truly knew me uttered it with love.  This other wanted my attention and urged me to draw closer.

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has a number of memorable lines.  One that stays with me flows from the lips of Juliet as she describes her love, Romeo. Though they are from warring families, Juliet proclaims: “What’s in a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Though I understand the meaning of the statement in context, I also want to argue with it. A name is a precious and personal possession.  It describes the other as a unique being and invites a reflection on all that makes the other an individual.

In the Old Testament, God reveals the Holy Name YHWH to the people Israel.  This title describes and calls upon the Almighty.  Out of reverence, the Jewish people did not say this name aloud.  In the New Testament, the community comes to recognize the name of Jesus as sacred.  Remember Paul’s Phillipian Hymn:

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  (Phil 2:9-11)

Clearly a name is important as we address our God as well as our brothers and sisters.  When we speak the name of another, we can express our love, respect and reverence for that child of God or we can have a host of less worthy intent.  That realization draws me to be more attentive to the way in which I use people’s names—how I address them and how I speak about them.  I would like people to know my love for them by the care with which I use their name.

When I bring these thoughts into our Vincentian world, one idea stands out:  we need to know the poor by name.  The marginalized among us cannot simply be the featureless other, but a human being whom God created in the divine image and likeness.  Our Maker has associated the divine self with them in a particular way. When I name the poor, I reflect that awareness and love.

“Mary did not know it was Jesus.” John 20:15

How often do we not see Jesus right before our eyes? “Mary did not know it was Jesus.” John 20:15

Mary did not expect to see Jesus among the living

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping…she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus…She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”

We know the story. But how could Mary not have recognized Jesus? One very strong possibility of why she did not recognize Jesus was that, in her grief, she did not expect him among the living.

Vincent did not expect to see Jesus among the living

For the first third of his life, it seems Vincent de Paul did not expect to see Jesus among the living. He was focused on the details of his life. Certainly, he believed in Jesus. But was it the Jesus he read about in the pages of the Gospel? Or was it the Jesus in the person the people he met?

We know that he came to see Jesus in every person he met.

Do we expect to see Jesus among the living?

Recently, Fr. Tomas Mavric, President of the Vincentian Family, urged the followers of Vincent to engage in Fatih sharing during our Lenten Pilgrimage to the Heart.
It seems quite providential that the team at cmeast asked 40 ordinary people some weeks ago to share their experience of seeing Christ among the living.

Enter into these very brief experiences of sharing their faith and share your faith in your circle of friends and family. They offer many examples of seeing Jesus in your life.

Click to subscribe to this very brief videos

A Vincentian Seminarian looks back… and forward!

“Get ready to walk on paths along you never thought you would walk.” A Vincentian Seminarian looks back… and forward! 

On Sunday, February 17 at the 5:30 Sunday student Mass at St. Thomas More Church on the campus of St. John’s University, Vincentian seminarian Jose Alex Palacios share the following reflection after communion on his vocational journey.


A journey begins

I am Jose Alexander Palacios, a Vincentian seminarian and a senior at St. John’s University in New York City. I want to share my journey in discerning a vocation to the priesthood with you. As I reflect on a journey of following Christ. I concluded that if you start following Christ Jesus, get ready to walk on paths along you never thought you would walk.

I am from El Salvador, and grew up in a family that was fervent in living Catholic faith. It is, for me, a joy to remember my childhood, as during those years I received so much love and taught Christian values that these have marked my life. However, in my adolescence, things began to change. My interest in the faith declined. I stopped participating in the life of my Church community, although, I continued going to Sunday Mass. I began to think going to church was for older people and in time, I put aside the enthusiasm I had for the things of God.

Unfamiliar roads… and a familiar one

When I was seventeen years old, I came to this country for a better life. My goal was to work for five years, make money to help my family, and return to El Salvador. Once I came here, I worked hard.  The first two years in the USA were challenging for me. I did not know anything about American life. It was a shock to me, coming from a communal view of life and family and living in a highly individualistic way of life. So after living with the support of a family in El Salvador, I was alone in a country very different from mine.  I experienced for the first time what loneliness is like. I felt I had lost almost everything; the only thing that I had left was my faith.

A few months later my arrival, I returned to practice my faith with a great desire. I attended Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Roslyn, NY. Shortly after, I became involved in the Hispanic community and remained active for seven years.  It was during those years I felt a desire to know more about my faith. I also I wanted to meet a good woman, get married, and start a family.

It was then that I started reading encyclicals such as The Splendor of Truth, Faith and Reason, and The Theology of the Body, all the works of Pope St. John Paul II.  In his various works, John Paul wrote about vocations and different states of life. I began to read, in detail, about the vocation of marriage and holy orders. I was so happy because it was exactly what I was looking for; I wanted to know more about God, the human person, and to discover God’s plan for me.


From that time on, I began questioning myself about my vocation; wondering what state of life, God was calling me to live. At the same time, my relationship with Jesus was growing. I realized the importance of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. From that, I began to feel an appreciation for a vocation to religious life. At the same time, I denied that possibility as I thought that it was only an idea without any basis. I felt unfit for such calling. When my friends at the parish saw my enthusiasm and involvement in the church, they began to tell me “you should consider the vocation to the priesthood.”  They said they saw in me potential to be a good religious. However, I just laughed and told them that type of vocation was not for me; all I wanted was to serve God and be a good Christian.

What held me back was that I felt unqualified and unworthy for such calling; however, the curiosity to know more about priesthood did not go away. Yet, I chose to say and do nothing. Time passed and I started dating a girl. Everything was going well but a curiosity for the priesthood was still there. I felt divided and only then did I decide to speak about my situation with a priest.

The priest explained to me the different types of religious orders and asked me if I had an interest in any particular one.  I told him that I did not know.  As far as I could recall in those prior years of my life, I had never thought of or even considered the idea of becoming a priest. Because of that, I was skeptical about my thoughts.

An invitation

In 2013, a young man whom I used to see at the parish youth group, entered the Vincentian Formation House near St. John’s University to discern his vocation. A month after he entered, he visited the youth group at St. Mary’s and invited me to attend a vocation discernment meeting at the Vincentian House.  Because of his invitation and because of my curiosity I went to the meeting.

To bring you up to date, in 2014 I entered the Vincentian formation program to discern my vocation with the Vincentians. Despite my up and downs, I can honestly say the last five years with the Vincentian Community have been the best years of my life. For that, I am so thankful to God and my brother seminarians and Vincentian formators who have supported me all these years.


Today I continue in my discernment to see even more clearly if God is calling me to this way of life.  In May, I will graduate from St. John’s with a B.A. in philosophy. My next step is to enter a program of spiritual formation, called the Internal Seminary (also ‘novitiate’. It focuses on the Vincentian vocation of following Christ bringing God’s love to the poor. If this way of life and calling continues to ring true to me, I will move on to a four-year program to study theology and continue my formation for Vincentian priesthood, with a goal of ordination in the spring, 2024.

In conclusion, I want to invite you, if you have curiosity, questions, or desires to know more about the vocation to religious life, to put those thoughts in God’s hands and give yourself a chance to discern what the plan of God for you is. And do not forget, if you start fallowing Jesus; get ready to walk on paths along which you never thought you would walk.

Thank you and please keep my brother Vincentian seminarians and me in your prayers.

Vincentian Education Changed a CEO’s life… and is Changing Our World

The experience of Vincentian Education helped Brian Crimmins, CEO of Changing Our World, discover that he was seeking not just to make a living but to enable others to make their way in life. It is a story that carries echos of Vincent who changed his life goal… and changed the lives of countless of others.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities

Mr. Brian Crimmins, an accomplished SJU alumnus, is the Chief Executive Officer of Changing our World, a leading philanthropic fund-raising consulting firm. He generously shares his own story of how his parents’ values and the Vincentian charism at St. John’s University moved him from a goal for a career in sports management to leadership in philanthropic fund-raising in the human services sector of non-profit organizations. Brian has much experience assisting non-profits develop strategic plans and fund-raising for their stability and growth. His ideas are in line with how Vincent de Paul assisted groups delivering service to the poor, encouraging them to do so with competence, consistency, and compassion.

Here is Brian’s story.

At Changing our World, I found myself in a  very collaborative environment. We were not only responding to the changes around us, but actually driving change. Ten  years later, I  was named its Chief Executive Officer. I have worked alongside some of the most influential people in the philanthropic sector and served clients in the faith-based, education, human service, healthcare, and the corporate sectors….

Looking back, I never thought working as a graduate assistant in the Office of Institutional Advancement at St. John’s would have such an impact on my future. I didn’t realize at first that what my parents were saying and doing as I grew up—namely the importance of the Vincentian mission—would ring true in my life in such a profound and lasting  manner, day in and day out. It is this — a Vincentian education in the way of service that gave me the foundation to succeed. To this very day, it guides and helps  me  grow  personally and professionally. This, in turn, helps my clients make a difference in the world. It is all this, that I am grateful for.

Read the full story…An Alumnus Learns and Serves

Changing Our World is part of Omnicom, a Fortune 200 company, consisting of world-class public relations, communications, marketing, branding, digital, research and advertising experts. It is a full-service fundraising consulting group, working with our nonprofit clients to strengthen revenue strategies, develop innovative partnerships and grow to meet changing needs.

PS I consider myself privileged to have known Brian and his late father during my years teaching at St.John’s University.

Mary Knew the Ordinariness of Life

Recently I was called on to preach the Monday Miraculous Medal Novena. The topic assigned was Mary and the Poor. My first inclination was to focus on her amazing Magnificat.  As I prepared my reflections I remembered that Mary knew the ordinariness of life. Yes, she is the mother of Jesus. But we can not forget that she was a mother in the historical circumstances of her day. She was poor and because of that her faith and yeses are all the more a model for us today.

Mary lived an ordinary life and responded with extraordinary faith! (Image from FreeBibleImages)

Mary and the Poor – Let’s not forget Mary WAS poor

I am often in the sanctuary of the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. Lately, I find myself distracted by the 20-foot paintings of Mary at the Annunciation and the Birth of Jesus above the tabernacle wall and the amazing replica of the Pieta when I look to my left.

In the two huge paintings nothing is out of place. Mary looks completely at peace. There are no wrinkles in her robes. Even the shepherds/peasants seem dressed up.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mary lived a simple life of relative ease and had everything under control

When I turn to the Pieta, I see a mother who has not aged in thirty years! I wonder whether she might have had an “immaculate complexion”… But she is clearly in pain at the suffering and death of her son.

In both directions, Mary is frozen in time, a time sometime in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance.  Or, more to my point today, she seems to be outside time and the messiness of life. Is that why such paintings are used on Christmas cards?

It then dawned on me that the artist pictured Mary in the circumstance of his imagination rather than the circumstances of a young Jewish teenager 2000 years ago.

Then it hit me. She was herself poor! She faced what so many of us face in life, she was a real person.

The scriptures give us some wonderful insights into her spirituality, but it is only recently that we have we gotten a sense of the historical Mary, the Mary who lived in poverty… just as so many do in the world today.

The circumstances of her life

She belonged to the peasant class. Their life was grinding, with a triple tax burden: to Rome, to Herod the Great and to the temple.

She was probably about 13 or so but she certainly did not have a cell phone or someone to drive her to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

She was a peasant. We forget she walked the hill country of Judea by herself while pregnant, gave birth in a stable using a feeding trough as a crib, as today poor refugees use cardboard boxes and other homemade artifacts as makeshift beds for newborn infants.

When she made a four- or five-day journey on foot to Jerusalem once a year or so, she slept in the open country like other pilgrims. At home she struggled to make do.

She was a mother who lived through the ordinary trials of raising a young boy. (Yes, Jesus was once a young boy who had to grow… in wisdom, age and grace!)

Her mother’s heart may have been bursting with pride that he was drawing people to follow him as he preached the good news of the kingdom to her friends and neighbors. But her mother’s heart broke as she watched him plotted against by the church of her day, unjustly accused, beaten mercilessly … and nailed to a cross.

What did she feel when she saw a confused bunch of men hiding in an upper room while trying to make sense of their disappointment?

All of these forgotten truths about Mary do not show up in most artists imagination.

As I prayed about her real life, I realized more clearly than ever her amazing faith!

She was not a daughter of privilege in her life. I can see clearly now that she knew the messiness and stress of life… she was human, one of us.

She was an ordinary teenager who God looked on in very her ordinariness and choose to be the mother of Jesus. Just as her Son, she had to grow in wisdom, age and grace.

She was not unlike so many women in thousands of villages as they exist today in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Her daily life and labor were hard. With Joseph, she raised Jesus in oppressive circumstances, struggling to pay the taxes by which the rich became richer at the expense of the poor. As with the vast majority of people in world history, most of Mary’s difficult life went unrecorded.

Knowing all this I feel closer to her.

What was different about her? What was different about her was that when God called in the ordinariness of life, she answered with deep faith… not knowing what it would mean and how much her mother’s heart would be broken.

She was one of us. She lived in messy times, she did not understand but she trusted in her God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.

Looking beyond the Christmas card Mary allows me to see more clearly that she is not only the mother of Jesus but why the church constantly reminds us she is a model of faith for today in the messiness of our lives.

Mary and the Poor. Let’s remember that Mary was poor… like us… and models for us responses to God’s call in the ordinariness of our lives.

Mary was faithful in the midst of the ordinariness and confusion of her life.

She said yes in her confusion at the Annunciation… and countless other yeses in the midst of her life.

That both comfortsand challenges me in the ordinariness and confusion of my life.

(For a more in-depth expression of these ideas, visit an article written by former Superior General Robert Maloney, CM in America Magazine. “The Historical Mary”)


Landing the Kingdom

“Landing the Kingdom” (Mk 4:26-34) us the title of Fr. Tom McKenna’s bi-weekly reflection on FamVin. He offers a challenge to name and recognize the imprint of grace in the reality of our lives.

Jesus’ words and parables show a deep love for reality all around him. A careful observer, he puts much of this world into his proclamation, painting his Good News with colors from the daily lives of his hearers. To convey the irresistibility of his Father’s Kingdom, he images the hidden seed sprouting under the ground. To highlight its tiny beginnings, he draws on the minuscule mustard kernel which grows into the largest plant in the garden. With imagination and creativity, he opens his listener’s eyes to the New Era already breaking into their old one.


Vincent de Paul shows much the same instinct. More than one person has commented on the broad range of metaphors from everyday life salted through his writings. In an article on freedom, Fr. Robert Maloney details Vincent’s image-conscious approach, delivering his message through familiar objects such as silk thread, trees and carriage horses. In another place, Fr. John Rybolt catalogs the menagerie of animals Vincent drew upon to illustrate his points — all the way from barnyard cows, sheep, dogs and cats over to the more exotic whales and lions. Like his master, Vincent wanted people to find the divine presence inside the boundaries of everyday experience.


A recent book about preaching was titled Naming Grace. It depicts the homilist’s primary task as sifting through the events of modern-day life and then picking out places in it where grace has made its imprint. In line with Jesus’ and Vincent’s approach, this counteracts a tendency to distance the Holy Spirit from life as we know it.  The Kingdom of God is in our midst, all three insist, and naming its movements as they circle through present-day experience furthers this claim. The homilist with eyes to see spots that presence stirring in the world and sets it inside topography hearers can recognize.

Immersed in life on the margins and expecting to find the face of The Lord in it, members of Vincent’s family resonate with this real-world approach. Not bound by the written page, the gospel they enact takes on flesh in the ordinary round. Messengers who tie links between it and everyday living bring color and impact to its power. With such imagination, we follow behind The Lord and indeed behind Vincent — whose creativity “extends to infinity.”