Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > Dennis Gallagher

Dennis M. Gallagher

I was born and raised into a happy, cradle Catholic family in Riverhead, NY, on the east end of Long Island.  It was a great place to grow up with my four siblings which I’m the youngest.  Dad was a Podiatrist in town and Mom was his secretary.  This was definitely growing up in a small town atmosphere where you knew most people in town mostly through Dad’s connections.
Our Catholic faith was important to my parents so we all attended Catholic elementary and high school as my parents did as well.  I loved school and it was exciting growing up when all the changes in the Second Vatican Council were happening during my early elementary school years.  It was a solid education and good formation which definitely shaped my future.
After graduating from Mercy High School, I attended L.I.U.—C.W. Post College and graduated with a B.S. degree in Business Management.  I chose this major quite frankly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, and my Dad wanted me to gain skills to earn a living.  After college I worked in banking and retail management for 3 years.  At 25 years old, I realized I was being called to do something with my faith in a real active way.  My parish priest encouraged me to discern at the diocesan seminary in Huntington, NY, so for one year I was a seminarian.  Realizing I wasn’t called to be a sacramental minister as a priest, but still wanted to live in community and work for the church.  I left the seminary and one year later entered the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn.  I always had an affinity with St. Francis of Assisi in his simple lifestyle of prayer and working for the poor.  This was a wonderful six years of my life as it helped me establish a firm foundation in my faith, prayer and ministry in Catholic Education.  After six years I discerned that this community was not my life calling so I left the Franciscan Brothers after four years of temporary profession of vows.  I loved my ministry as a Catholic High School Religion and Business Education teacher so I continued within this ministry up to this day.  It has been a wonderful 28 years of ministry within Catholic education and on the higher education level both at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota and now at St. John’s University.  I have evolved in my ministry from a high school religion teacher into directing campus ministry, supervising a religion department and now working full time in higher education as a Director in Campus Ministry.  I feel like I have come home to St. John’s University in Queens as it was in Queens County where I began my education ministry 28 years earlier.
I have been formed within two distinct charisms of the Catholic Church as a Franciscan and as a Lasallian.  The Franciscan charism directly leads me to see God’s love within all of creation and by living simply to be better engaged in directly serving the needs of the poor.  The Lasallian charism of the De La Salle Christian Brothers with whom I ministered with for ten years is very similar to St. Vincent’s.  It is to live within the spirit of faith and zeal and trusting in God’s providence in service to the poor.  Education for St. John Baptist de La Salle was the social justice initiative that he focused upon helping the poor have a brighter future within French society.
I love ministering with students, colleagues and faculty at St. John’s University.  I am in my fourth year working in Campus Ministry.   It is the culmination of all my experiences of sharing my faith, and living it out in service to the poor.  What a privilege it is to share living my faith life with young adults who are eager for new experiences and learning more to understand and live out their growing faith.  St. John’s has afforded me to work with students on their Catholic journey through the R.C.I.A. program, retreats, liturgy, and spirituality experiences across the academic schools, Students Affairs and other departments.  St. John’s also has afforded me the opportunity to teach part time within the Theology department.
I had the good fortune to participate and complete the Vincentian Mission Certificate here at St. John’s.  Like my previous formation programs with the De La Salle Christian Brothers, it led me to seek more ways to utilize my servant leadership mindset.  Tom McKenna, C.M., sums it up best for me when he says; this Vincentian lifestyle is “to anyone who seeks balance between action and contemplation, organizing good works, and relying on divine providence, intelligent activity and trusting surrender.”
I am a Mission centered leader and I have been led into the right place within the spirit of Sts. Vincent and Louise, to continue to bring my faith, skills, and desire to serving where the needs arise.  Ministering within Campus Ministry allows me to work directly in the Mission focus of St. John’s and to bring others to discovering this compassionate mission as well.

Why St. John’s?

Back in the 1990’s, when I was living in Queens County, I came to Sunday mass at St. John’s University.  Here I came to meet the Vincentian priests and was drawn to their openness, hospitality and pertinent homilies.  I attended St. John’s not for a degree, but for six additional credits in Education.  I enjoyed my studies here at St. John’s like I had at Fordham University and St. Michael’s College where I earned my graduate degrees in Education and Theology.  When I saw the opportunity to be able to work at St. John’s I was eager to pursue the campus ministry position.  Coming back to St. John’s was like coming home for me.  The Vincentian spirit is very similar to my Franciscan and Lasallian roots so I knew this place was a good fit for me.
St. John’s is a place that is a valued resource within the Catholic Church in New York, a culturally diverse university which acts as a microcosm creating a global perspective for all those associated.  St. John’s not only allows me to grow professionally and personally but also to share what I can across the university.  Teaching within the Theology department, working in Campus Ministry within the Mission division of St. John’s has opened opportunities to work across the six schools at St. John’s to assist in how everyone can animate our Catholic, Vincentian and Metropolitan mission.  It has been so exciting.  I love working within the heart of the university which the Mission division allows me to do.  There is always a new opportunity, a new challenge, and new groups of students that I come into contact that makes this St. John’s experience such an enriching one.

Why VMI?

I see participating in the VMI program and the next step in engaging with the Vincentian mission on a much deeper level as an advocate for the poor.  I feel drawn to the vision of St. Vincent and to the practicality of St. Louise’s organization.  When St. Vincent describes love as “inventive,” I believe it is purposeful.  How can I organize my skills, talents and hopes for others where there can be a balance between charity and justice?  Charity is easy to engage in, but it leads me to think and try to find how I can be a voice to help find solutions for various causes of poverty.  St. Vincent has been stirring up in me how I can be a justice advocate for the hungry and homeless, two areas that remain as a strong need within New York City.  I feel like I sometimes live into the answers but my hope is that the VMI program can help form me to be that justice advocate for the poor, to help me live at the center of St. Vincent’s vision, to see the pain and hurt of another in need to inspire me to act for justice.  I am eager to learn what I can from this VMI experience to become a stronger, compassionate public advocate for the poor in New York City.  I believe this is the reason I’ve been invited to participate in the VMI program and to engage with others at St. John’s within this mission for the poor.