Campus Ministry hosted its second biannual Mission Day earlier this month at the Sisters of St. Joseph property in Brentwood, giving students, faculty and staff a chance to live the University’s mission while immersing themselves in all five of its pillars: integrity, intellectual rigor, spiritual depth, social responsibility and service.
Students toured the Sisters of St. Joseph property in Brentwood while learning about their sustainability efforts, dined with some of the Sisters at lunch, and shared spiritual reflection while gaining a deeper understanding of the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph.
“Whether you’ve met a Sister of St. Joseph directly, you have gotten to know them through being on campus,” Cristian Murphy ’14, director of Campus Ministry at the Long Island Campus, said at the special Founders Day edition of the Oct. 15 event.
“The walls speak at St. Joseph’s, and if you listen to them closely, you can really hear the history and feel the education of the Sisters, which is such a wonderful thing,” Murphy continued. “We are full of gratitude for them, today and always.”
And while the University does offer a whispering glimpse at the community of women who founded the institution back in 1916, being on their property in Brentwood offers a louder, more vibrant story.
Connecting with the Sisters’ Sustainability Efforts
Throughout the event, landscape ecologist Amanda Furcall explained the importance of the Sisters’ work to protect, grow and nurture the land there.
“It is so amazing working with the Sisters and being able to take part in caring for this land,” said Furcall, who has worked at the 212-acre property in Brentwood since 2019. “The goal of the Sustainability Department here is to make the campus sustainable, but also to serve as a learning opportunity for people.”
Signs across the Brentwood campus explain different sustainability initiatives, showing things at all different scales that organizations big and small (from large businesses to individual households) can implement into their own properties — such as a rain garden to help improve both the quantity and quality of rain absorption in the soil, which eventually makes its way to our tap water.
Some of the sustainability work taking place at the Brentwood campus includes preserving 40 acres of woodlands where wildlife and native plants thrive; maintaining five acres of solar panels for reusable, non-polluting energy; managing 28 acres of working farmland strictly for organic fruits and vegetables; and developing a new industrial-sized constructed wetland that help filter out and improve water quality — the first of its kind on Long Island, which, since its installation last year, has helped remove 95% of their nitrogen from their waste water.
Connecting with the Sisters’ Mission and History
Founded in 1650 in the small village of Le Puy in France by a young priest and a group of women touched by the Spirit of God, the Sisters of St. Joseph shared a vision of union with God and the dear neighbor, which they sought to achieve through prayer, service and love.
In honor of Founders Day, the Mission Day event featured lunch in a makeshift Le Puy set up at the Brentwood property, where the students, faculty and staff gathered to hear about the history of the Sisters.
“The Sisters of St. Joseph were a contemplative group of young women,” said S. Marie Mackey ’84, CSJ, former director of Campus Ministry at the Brooklyn Campus who now teaches in the religious studies department and works for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph as the director of young adult ministry.
“They’ve always been an active community,” S. Marie continued. “They were one of the first three communities that attempted to live a religious life outside of the cloister.”
For that, they faced persecution during the French Revolution, with six or seven Sisters being beheaded by the guillotine. One of the Sisters, Jeanne Fontbonne, was also set to be killed, but she was spared when the public accuser of the French Revolution fell. She was approached later by a local bishop who asked her to re-found the Sisters of St. Joseph, which she did in Lyon, France, in 1808.
When the Sisters first made it to the United States in the 1836, they continued living their mission of loving the dear neighbor without distinction by teaching deaf children and Native Americans. They eventually founded nine colleges and universities in the United States, including St. Joseph’s University, New York.
“When they arrived, this was a Protestant country, and there was a lot of hatred toward Catholics, so there was risk even coming here,” S. Marie said. “Sometimes, we like to have a nice story where everything works out, but it’s all about being gutsy; it’s all about one step after another. Our mission is still alive, and it’s being handed down to you.
“You are the mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph, as well,” she continued. “And so I want you to think about what kind of gutsy steps might you need to take in your own life and in your own career, standing up for people who — because maybe economically, educationally or ethnically — they are not in the majority and need your voice to stand up for them.”