Our Story and Mission

Spirit Alive: The CSJ Institute for Faith Inquiry and Education, inaugurated in 2021, is a new educational initiative supported by the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Brentwood NY. The institute represents a broadening and extension of our commitment to education, beyond the traditional K-12 classroom, to engage all people seeking a deeper understanding of their faith, themselves, and their world.

The idea for this Institute was nurtured by many conversations in which concern was expressed about the need to provide adult believers and seekers with solid educational opportunities to enhance their faith and navigate an increasingly complex world. Spirit Alive is a response to that need. It is made possible thanks to the financial support of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and donations from those interested in supporting our programming.

Our mission is to provide programs that aim to:

– Increase the human desire to know God, the source of all being, so that by knowing and loving God, all persons can come to a more profound understanding of themselves and all of creation.

– Invite personal transformation

– Promote justice and peace, and invite involvement in transforming unjust structures.

– Provide a space for inquiry and discussion about complicated issues for which there are no easy black and white answers.

The Institute will deliver its programs both virtually and at select venues. For information about programming for fall 2021 see the Program Tab.

Director’s Welcome

My name is Maria Pascuzzi. I have been a member of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Brentwood, for over 50 years. During that time, I completed a License in Sacred Scripture (SSL) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome and a doctorate in Biblical Theology (STD) at the Gregorian University, Rome. When I returned from studies, I taught locally at two diocesan seminaries (Saint Joseph’s Dunwoodie, and Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY). Since then, I have held several academic and administrative appointments, have authored various books and articles on Sacred Scripture, and have been blessed with many opportunities to touch people’s lives through the ministry of teaching.

In my travels, and back home here on Long Island, I have consistently observed people’s hunger to understand and deepen their faith. As Spirit Alive evolves, and we grow our programming, it is my hope that what we offer will help you with your questions and afford some insights and information to nourish your faith journey.

Spirit Alive programs are open to everyone – no distinctions. All are welcome. All questions are welcome, though we don’t expect to have all the answers.

The Advisory Board

Spirit Alive is privileged to have the support and expertise of theologians, school administrators, pastors, parish ministers, and those who have dedicated their lives to spreading the Good News.

You can get to know this inspiring and dedicated group of people by clicking on the images and reading about them below.

S. Jean Amore

Sister Jean Amore, CSJ, Ed.D., is the Principal of Sacred Heart Academy, Hempstead NY. Previously, she was a Professor of Child Study, and later, an Administrator at Saint Joseph’s College NYC. In 2000, she was elected President of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Brentwood NY. After her completing her term as President, Jean then served as President of Sacred Heart Academy before assuming her current position.

Rev. Patrick Griffin CM

Fr. Patrick Griffin, CM, PhD, is currently the Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, at Saint John’s University, Queens, NY. Pat is a trained biblical scholar, and popular teacher and preacher. He has served in various administration positions both within his religious congregation and at Saint John’s University.

Sister Lauren Hanley, CSJ, MS, MA

Sister Lauren Hanley, CSJ, MS, MA, is currently the coordinator of spiritual formation and outreach to young families at Saint Frances de Chantal Parish, Wantagh. Previously, she was Director of the Office of Laity and Family for the Diocese of Rockville Centre. This office housed the Pastoral Formation Institute. The Institute offered a three-year formation for lay leaders which became a model for other programs across the US.  Lauren is a trained spiritual director and family counselor.

Deacon Ernest F. Hart

Deacon Ernest Hart, JD, is an ordained deacon serving at St. Mary Magdalene Church Springfield Gardens, Queen. Ernie is the current Chairperson of the Board of Martin de Porres Group and Family services which serves at risk youth. He is also the current Deputy Commissioner of Legal Matters for the NYPD. He serves as an adjunct professor of Criminal Justice at Queensborough Community College. Before that he served as a Justice of the NY State Supreme Court, and Judge of the NY City criminal court. He also served as the COO of Harlem Hospital.

Diane Vella, MA

Diane Vella, MA has served as a Lay Ecclesial Minister in the Diocese of Rockville Centre for almost 40 years. She holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Molloy College and an M.A. in Theology from Boston College. On the parish level, she has served as a Catechetical Leader, Pastoral Associate, and Liturgy Director; on the diocesan level she has served as Director of Adult Catechesis, and Coordinator of Curriculum for the diocesan Pastoral Formation Institute. She has served on numerous diocesan and ecumenical committees, given retreats and workshops throughout the NY metro area, and until recently, moonlighted as an Adjunct Instructor in Theology at Molloy College.

Thomas Petriano, PhD

Thomas Petriano, PhdD is currently Professor and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Saint Joseph’s College, NYC. He has worked there for 37 years. Tom is a passionate and gifted teacher who brings the world’s religions alive to his students. Most recently, he has co-developed a new minor in Mindfulness and Contemplative Living.

James Philipps, MA

James Philipps, MA has been teaching theology for about 35 years. In addition to teaching in Catholic High Schools, Jim has taught theology as an adjunct professor in both Saint John’s University and Molloy College. Jim was a facilitator in the Pastoral Formation Institute of the Diocese of Rockville Centre as well as an online facilitator for the Virtual Learning Community of Faith Formation (VLCFF) of the University of Dayton. Jim is the author of a number of books with Twenty Third Publications, written for catechists as well as the general Catholic reading public.

Rev. Robert J. Smith, STD

Fr. Robert J. Smith, STDcurrently serves as Pastor of Saint Hugh of Lincoln Church, Huntington Station, NY and Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Church, Wyandanch, NY where he ministers to multicultural congregations, one large and the other somewhat smaller.  Bob has a doctorate in Moral Theology. Before becoming a pastor, he was a faculty member at Immaculate Conception Seminary, Huntington NY. In addition to teaching, he also served as Academic Dean. He has served on various boards, among them the Board of Little Flower Children and Family Services.

Mary Ann Spicijarik

Maryanne Spicijarik graduated from Manhattan College with her Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry and Secondary Education. She subsequently earned her Master’s Degree in Biology and Secondary Education from Fordham University, and her Professional Diploma in Administration and Supervision from Queens College.
After her student teaching experience at Bronx High School of Science, she returned to teach at her alma mater, St, Francis Preparatory School, and was a member of the science department for 25 years. Mary Ann taught Biology, Chemistry, Physics, AP Biology and Science Research during her time at St. Francis and was appointed Chairperson of the Science Department in 2004.
Her most notable accomplishment during her science teaching career was the design and implementation of the school’s Science Research Program which yielded eleven straight years of Intel Science Talent Search semifinalists, and many accomplished graduates in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and math. Mary Ann was appointed the Principal of Fontbonne Hall in 2013 and is the first lay woman to lead the school. She lives in Queens with her husband and two dogs.

Sister Maryellen Kane, CSJ, MA

Sister Maryellen Kane is the current Executive Director of the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph. Prior to assuming this position in Jan. 2020, Maryellen served as Parish Life Coordinator at the St. Mary Magdalene Parish, Queens, NY for 15 years.
From 1994 to 2000, she was a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Brentwood, NY Leadership Team. During this time, she also served as a member of the National Board of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Additionally, she has served on the Advisory Board of the NY State Labor and Religion Coalition, National Advisory Board for New Ways Ministry, and the Governing Board of the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph. Maryellen also has extensive practical experience and training in Community Organizing.
In 1978, she co-founded Providence House Inc., houses of hospitality for homeless, abused, and formerly incarcerated women and their children. She lived as a core member in three different Providence Houses for 18 years. Her professional life began as a teacher in elementary schools in the Diocese of Brooklyn. Maryellen received her B.S. in Education from Brentwood College and an M.A. in Pastoral Ministry, with a concentration in Social Justice/ Social Ministry from Boston College.