Quinnipiac University

Quinnipiac clergy provide humanitarian relief in Ukraine

By Ephemia Nicolakis '23, MS '24 March 30, 2022

Vehicle in Ukraine with flag in background.

For the better part of five hours, Father Jordan Lenaghan, OP, executive director of the Office of Religious Life, sat in a gas station parking lot in Ukraine. It was dark. It was cold. But it was hardly lonely.

Nearly 5,000 miles away, Quinnipiac students used their phones to video chat with Father Jordan. They asked if he was OK? They wondered what it was like there?

It was curiosity and compassion on full display, a uniquely teachable moment. The questions kept coming. So did the glow of young minds eager to talk about — and think about — a war on the other side of the world.

"I kept thinking all the time, they're learning," Father Jordan said Wednesday night at the Student Center Piazza during a forum titled, "Global Engagement and Citizenship in Challenging Times."

"They're posing the questions, and I'm turing the phone around so they can see the situation," he said. "Right there, I was able to turn the headline around because they could experience it immediately. That was really quite invaluable."

Father Jordan and Father Joachim Kenney, OP, staff chaplain for Catholic Life, spent 10 days in Ukraine and Poland. The trip was part of international relief efforts and the mission of the Knights of Columbus, which led them to Ukraine to better understand the current needs of the refugees.

The opportunities for global engagement and cultural humility were all around, even in a gas station parking lot. If only for a moment, a war took a backseat to educating the leaders of tomorrow.

“We experienced the air raid sirens on the first day [of the trip]," Father Jordan said. "It was common for the people living there; it was surreal to me hearing this alarm blare."

“Father Joachim and I knew from the start that we couldn’t solve this problem, but we could see the situation firsthand, encounter the people caught up in this tragedy and testify to what we have witnessed,” Father Jordan said.

Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs Khalilah Brown-Dean, a professor of political science and award-winning scholar, opened the global engagement forum with remarks about President Judy Olian and her commitment to equity and inclusion around the world.

"It means something when a university has a leader who is committed to global engagement," Brown-Dean said, "because it means that it values every member of our community doing this work in various aspects in classrooms, in courtrooms and across the world." 

Father Jordan and Father Joachim arrived in Poland within 72 hours of their trip being approved by the university at the start of Spring Break in March.

“When we arrived in Poland, the opportunity arose for Father Joachim and I to travel to Lviv in Western Ukraine,” Father Jordan said. “There is a small community of our religious order there and they were able to provide hospitality.”

Before arriving in a semi-truck containing humanitarian aid, Father Joachim and Father Jordan had to prove they were not Russian spies, they explained. 

“Because the Russian military is targeting humanitarian relief efforts, getting aid by truck into places actively under siege is impossible,” Father Jordan said. “However, small cars can make it through to bring assistance. So, Father Joachim and I spent some time helping to break down large pallets of food and pack them into small boxes that private cars could transport.”

As their work continued, they spent time interviewing and speaking to individuals in Lviv.

“We spoke with a wide variety of people: clergy, police officers, Ukrainian government relief workers, a group of people running a shelter in a Latin Catholic parish and a group of undergraduate students attending the Greek Catholic University,” Father Jordan said.

Father Jordan said he hopes to have a video conference call between Quinnipiac students and their Ukrainian counterparts. Don Sawyer, vice president for equity, inclusion and leadership development, sees incredible value in such exchanges.

"As an institution of higher education, we have a responsibility to create these intentional opportunities for students to discuss and engage on these very difficult, challenging topics," Sawyer said.

Sarah Driscoll, director of international student services, agreed.

"We know that on-the-ground learning and exposure to different ideas and cultures is really important," she said. "There are certainly ways that we begin to equip our students with the tools to engage in these difficult conversations and ... to really be engaged citizens and informed citizens, so they understand what happens here at Quinnipiac resonates around the world."

Once Father Jordan and Father Joachim concluded their time in Ukraine, they left the country on foot with a group of refugees, walking the last mile to the border. They were able to experience firsthand the exhaustion of those fleeing the country.

“During the last stage of the crossing, a tired elderly man asked me to push the wheelchair of an old woman. When I took the handles of the chair, I leaned over to the woman, smiled and said to her in Russian: ‘Good day, babushka, I’m a priest. Hold on,’” Father Jordan said. 

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