St. Vincent de Paul was an educator and an evangelist who dedicated his life in service to the poor. He was also an accomplished fundraiser. It is this aspect of St. Vincent’s charism that ﬁve Niagara University alumni are emulating as they work to raise $5 million for the Vincentian Endowment Challenge.
Last year, Scott Fina, ’80, and Teresa Niedda, ’84, co-assistant directors of the Vincentian Solidarity Office, invited fellow Niagara alumni Joseph Lesenko, ’80, and Patrick Glemser, ’86, to join a committee that also included Father Sy Peterka, C.M., ’72 (who has successfully conducted annual appeals for the Vincentians in Africa over the past several years), and Father Miles Heinen, C.M., VSO executive director. The committee was charged with raising funds toward a $5 million challenge grant that will create patrimony (endowment) funds to support Vincentian vocations and ministries in several provinces and vice-provinces of the Vincentians in Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
“We were looking at alumni in the area who have been part of the Vincentian seminary system from the former St. Joseph’s Seminary in Princeton, N.J.,” explains Teresa. “We were also looking for someone who could reach out to the Catholic business community. Joe and Patrick both ﬁt the bill.”
The two former seminarians immediately agreed to help. “The numbers of Vincentian priests and brothers have been declining in the United States over the years, but the seminaries of the Vincentians in poorer provinces in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia are overﬂowing with applicants,” notes Joe. “This project will be key in helping to build an endowment to beneﬁt some of these poorer provinces of the Vincentians.”
The committee is working toward raising the matching funds by the end of 2015 through a variety of events (including a pre-Lenten Mass and dinner that Joe and his wife, Mary, sponsored at their home, and a 50-mile bike ride that Patrick and his wife, Maureen, used to raise both funds and awareness for the cause) and donor outreach efforts. “
“Through regular meetings and discussions, our group has expanded our way of thinking and our ideas on how to conduct outreach, and we are trying to identify those people who have a connection and know the Vincentian charism,” says Teresa. To that end, the committee members are undertaking a number of endeavors, including developing a brochure and supporting materials that explain the Vincentian Endowment Challenge.
Joe has been working to build a cadre of ambassadors who will help to support the project. “I have been reaching out to family, friends, relatives, neighbors, and Catholic business professionals who may have a prospective interest in supporting this meaningful work of the Vincentians,” he says.
And Patrick helped the committee to set up a FirstGiving site so that supporters may make their donations online. “FirstGiving offers tools and expertise to connect with friends and family and make fundraising less overwhelming — and even fun,” he says.
If successful, the project will support both the continuing efforts of Vincentian priests and brothers who are working with the poor, as well as the formation of Vincentian priests and brothers in these developing countries, where vocations are rapidly growing. Money will also be used in support of the Vincentian Lay Missionaries, the Vincentian Marian Youth, and the Association of the Miraculous Medal.
“I have been to some of the Vincentian provinces that will benefit from the project: Nigeria, Fortaleza (Brazil),and Hungary, specifically,” says Scott. “I have seen both the need and the promise of the Vincentians in these places. The Vincentian Endowment Challenge is a wonderful opportunity to help ﬁrm up the ﬁnancial future of the Vincentian fathers and brothers in places where they are growing but lack ﬁnancial resources.”
“St. Vincent de Paul was excellent at soliciting the help of other people to do what he said he wasn’t capable of doing alone, so that’s what we want to keep alive,” says Father Gregory Gay, ’76, superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, who oversees thousands of Vincentian priests and brothers working in 88 countries around the world. “To do that, we have to be more willing to tell our story, and it’s a good story to tell. I think these ﬁve alumni who have formed this committee are doing that. They know the story, they love the story, they want to tell the story, and they want to help support us so the story goes on.”
Find out more about the Vincentian Endowment Challenge here.
Front row (l-r): Patrick Glemser, ’86, Father Miles Heinen, and Teresa Niedda, ’84. Back row (l-r): Father Sy Peterka, ’72, and Joe Lesenko, ’80.