Five individuals were honored during Niagara University's annual Vincentian Heritage Convocation, held Thursday.
The event, which takes place during the university's celebration of Vincentian Heritage Week, recognizes the extraordinary contributions of university employees, alumni and community leaders.
•Peggy Choong, Ph.D., was presented with Niagara's Ozanam Medal, which is awarded to individuals who have improved the situation of the poor, and advanced the cause of social justice. Choong, a professor of marketing at NU, teaches courses on the principles of marketing, marketing research, integrated marketing communication and consumer behavior. She holds a master's in urban planning and a doctorate in marketing, both from the University at Buffalo. The Singapore native was integral in the university's establishment of a summer internship program at a school for impoverished children in Haiti, and has facilitated experiential student programs in overseas locales that include England, China and Vietnam. Choong also helped institute the "Niagara Reaches Out to the World" event at NU, which showcases the global philanthropic contributions of university alumni. Away from campus, Choong has dedicated her talents to several community organizations, which include the Greater Buffalo Youth Orchestra, Catholic Health, the Women's Leadership Institute and the Global Network of Niger.
•Gary P. Hall received the St. Vincent de Paul Medal as an outstanding Catholic lay person whose life embodies the ideals and values of St. Vincent. As president and CEO of Waste Technology Services, he has marshaled the expansion of the Lewiston-based business into a global provider of sustainable solutions for waste management and environmental stewardship. Hall co-founded HANCI's "Reading All Stars" intensive after-school program and hosts an annual WTS fundraiser that benefits the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Niagara Falls Boys & Girls Club. His longtime involvement with the Boys & Girls Club, for which he presently serves as a board member, led to an award being named in his honor. Hall has provided funding for two schools in Sierra Leone through the nonprofit, EduNations, and was the driving force behind the creation of the Niagara Community Center, 20,000-square-foot sports and education hub that opened this fall in Niagara Falls. Hall earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Buffalo State College.
•The Rev. John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D., received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for living an extraordinary life, consumed with St. Vincent de Paul's excitement and surety about the importance of community service. Rybolt is widely considered to be one of the world's foremost scholars on St. Vincent and the history and heritage of the Congregation of the Mission. After his ordination in 1967, he earned advanced degrees in ministry, theology and sacred scripture, including a Ph.D. in biblical studies from St. Louis University. Rybolt served as a delegate from the congregation's Midwest province to the international general assemblies in 1980, 1986, 1998 and 2004, and managed the archives of the province from 1980-89. Since 1979, Rybolt has been involved in the Vincentian Studies Institute, which he headed from 1982-91. Among his published works are "In the Footsteps of Vincent de Paul: A Guide to Vincentian France," and a six-volume history of the Congregation of the Mission. Rybolt was appointed to DePaul University's board of trustees in 1981, and has since been named a lifetime trustee. In 2003, he became DePaul's first-ever Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, a role that he currently fulfills while also conducting parish ministry in the Chicago area.
•Presented with the St. Louise de Marillac Award for Outstanding Service was Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, C.S.S.F., founder and executive director of the Response to Love Center in Buffalo. The Response to Love Center is a neighborhood outreach center that serves the disadvantaged by offering food, clothing, spiritual guidance, educational programs and more. A Felician Franciscan nun for more than 50 years, Johnice traveled to New York City in 2001 to assist with the recovery efforts following the 9/11 terrorist attack, and to Haiti in 2010 to help earthquake victims. Last fall, she joined Congressman Brian Higgins and the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, in Washington, D.C., to welcome Pope Francis to the U.S. Earlier this month, Johnice was at the Vatican to see Pope Francis declare Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint. Johnice earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Medaille College and a master's degree in moral and pastoral ministry from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
•Michael J. Skowronski was presented with the Vincentian Mission Award, which is given to members of the university community who seek to emulate the altruistic spirit of St. Vincent, the universal patron of charity. Skowronski originally joined the NU community in 1988 as coach of the swimming and diving team, and currently serves as corporate relations developer in the office of career services. Over the years, he has served as president of the Western New York Association of College Career Centers, for which he shepherded the creation of the popular "Jobsapalooza" program. Skowronski has been very involved on the Niagara campus, having previously co-chaired the committee to assist in the revitalization of Niagara Falls, and is an annual contributor to the university's "2 Good 2 Toss" and "Life After Sports" programs. The Buffalo State College graduate is in his second term on the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education and is active with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Rybolt offered the event's keynote address, titled "Vincent in America."
"We (must) commit ourselves to 'love what he loved, and practice what he taught,' phrases taken from the first prayer established for our Holy Founder shortly after his death," Rybolt remarked. "He made a huge impact then, and he continues to do so now through his daughters, his sons and his extended family throughout the world. That's where you come in."
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