Students of Sisters of St. Joseph spend week at U.N.

WASHINGTON (CNS) ? More than 100 high school students from across the United States met in New York July 11-15 to tour the headquarters of the United Nations and learn more about the work and spirituality of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The “Love of God and Neighbor Without Distinction” conference at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn, N.Y., focused on the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph as a nongovernmental organization with consultative status to the United Nations.

In all, 115 students from 13 high schools sponsored or founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph, including 26 students from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Brighton and Fontbonne Academy in Milton, were there to learn about the charism and world mission of the Sisters of St. Joseph. The students toured U.N. headquarters July 13 and discussed how they could make international goals for justice and equality a part of their daily lives.

As a nongovernmental organization, the Sisters of St. Joseph advise the United Nations on issues involving economic and social development around the world. The congregation has members in more than 50 countries on six continents and is dedicated to education and social concerns.

Sister Susan Wilcox, campus minister at St. Joseph College, said the conference, which marked the first time high school students had been invited to observe the congregation’s work with the United Nations, affected the students more powerfully than she had expected.

“We had hoped ? in our best hopes ? that the high school students who came would have a very meaningful and fun experience that they could take back with them,” she said. “What we were surprised to get was the greatest experience of their lives.”

Sister Wilcox said the week’s events were meant to unite the students and bring their different high schools across the country together under the same goals.

The following morning, the group ate breakfast together and attended Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York before returning home.

The high school groups slept on the floor in classrooms on St. Joseph College’s campus, attended conferences and toured New York during the day. Sister Wilcox said the chaperones, who included both Sisters of St. Joseph and laypeople, were impressed by how prepared and generous the college students were.

Preliminary planning began in March 2006, with the registration of high school groups starting in February of this year and event scheduling taking place in May.

At the conference, the students discussed the U.N.’s eight Millennium Development Goals, which include lowering by half the number of people living in hunger around the world, providing universal primary education and reducing the child mortality rate by two-thirds. The goals were adopted by the United Nations in 2000, with a target completion date of 2015.

Commenting on the first day’s presentation, Stephanie Vasquez of Mount St. Joseph Academy said, “When I saw the picture of Earth from the moon, I realized how small we are and how we have to be so connected as neighbors locally, nationally, and globally. Any one of us who may ever have felt put down or small or lacking in confidence now realizes that we are amazing people and we can do anything.”