By Macarena Michelli
He’s worked as a seafarer traveling the seas around Russia, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. He has visited more than 20 countries. Most people would consider this a dream come true — to be able to travel around the world — but to Patrick Tracy, this was his life. Who would guess that this man would now be St. Joseph’s Director of Campus Ministry?
Tracy started working at St. Joseph’s only six years ago, but has been leaving quite a footprint behind on campus life, his students and the community as a whole. Some people may know Pat Tracy as the big white-bearded man that walks around campus saying hello to everyone.Others may recognize him as the man that dresses up as Santa Claus during the holidays.
Tracy is currently the Director of Campus Ministry and moderator for S.T.A.R.S. and Habitat for Humanity. As moderator for these clubs, he is most excited about his upcoming annual project, alternative spring break, an event that involves 30 students traveling to help a community in need.
“We regularly have the alternative spring break available to students who wish to volunteer,” said Tracy. “This year we’re going to Oklahoma. We will be working in poor communities that are regularly doing storm relief. We are going to be building ramps and sheds.”
While Tracy did not create this trip himself, he has helped it to grow and succeed over the years. “Alternative spring break started out as a school tradition, and was part of my job when I came here,” said Tracy. “And we continued it on and expand upon it. By now we do a winter and a spring alternative break every year. This winter we went to Washington, D.C. We volunteered in soup kitchens and thrift shops in the inner city
Even though students are eager to go and make a difference in these communities, they first have to attend training to ensure everyone knows what they’re doing. “Besides training students on proper use of tools,” said Tracy, “I lead and assist students on off-campus activities. I do hands-on leadership and training for multiple community service tasks.”
Tracy is involved in a lot of on- and off-campus service activities, including Special Olympics and Make a Difference Day. He also takes part in organizing volunteer days to the local soup kitchen three times a month with his students.
With his spirited personality and vast knowledge of the real world, Tracy has had a significant impact on his students’ lives and their learning experiences throughout his time at St. Joseph’s College.
One student said, “Patrick Tracy is the best teacher I have had at St. Joe’s. I learned a lot from taking his class, not only factual, but for the real world.”
Another student said, “He’s such a big-hearted guy, very laid-back. Last semester, he asked me to play piano for All Saints Day Mass. I had never done anything like that before, but he was really glad and grateful to let me play for him.”
“His passion for what he does is clearly evident in his teaching,” said a third student. “I came into this class with zero interest in religion and definitely thought that religion was something I didn’t care about. This class really opened my eyes to Catholicism and that it really isn’t what I thought at all.”
Tracy is most proud of the influence he has had on his students. He says, “I teach to learn. I learn something every time I teach something, and that is the most valuable thing about being a teacher. I get to make an impact on young lives, which is something I didn’t have before I was a teacher.”
Tracy decided to go back to college at the age of 40. He then completed three degrees in theology at St. John’s University. After graduation, he became a research assistant at the school for four years and then became their director of campus ministry for another four years.
“I had had my own measure of success in the fields I had chosen,” he says. “But it always bothered me that I had never finished school. I had had my success, but I was also being called to make more of a difference in the world.”
Tracy led a much different lifestyle in the first half of his life. Before he was a minister, he worked on a ship and sailed the seas of Indonesia, Singapore and Russia. He’s had conversations with the grandson of Ghandi. Along with being a seafarer, he was a butcher and a bartender.
“Many years ago I owned a restaurant,” said Tracy. “I managed a big, busy Irish restaurant in Brooklyn. I was always willing to do any job that I came across. At one point, I had six jobs in six months. I bartended, did carpentry, I taught theology as an adjunct. Before that I taught high school and college.”
His busy lifestyle eventually came to an end when he decided that had to settle down and stick to one full-time job instead of many different ones. Before coming to St. Joseph’s College, he was the hospice chaplain and volunteer coordinator at St. Vincent’s Hospital.
“That’s when I came across the job offer to work at this college,” said Tracy. “I heard that St. Joseph’s was hiring a new director of campus ministry, so I inquired, and as soon as I started here I knew that I wanted to stay. I had found my place that I could make a difference.”
Tracy’s outgoing personality can be attributed to his childhood. His life started in Flatbush, New York, the heart of Brooklyn. He was one of eight children. Most people would find it difficult to grow up with eight siblings, but Patrick loved it. “Growing up with such a big family was great, someone was always around,” he said.
He was surrounded by happiness and friends. “Brooklyn was great to grow up in the 60s and 70s,” said Tracy. “We had a lot of freedom and we were allowed to do so much on our own. We had much more freedom than kids have these days. It was a totally different world back then. Things were inexpensive. I could work at a deli or do a paper route for a day and could then afford to go to a concert.”
Tracy spoke fondly of his neighborhood, which sounded so different from the Brooklyn we know of today. He felt that it was a very safe neighborhood, one where teenagers could take the train to go wherever they wanted, without much restriction.
“It was a very interactive neighborhood — a lot of people knew each other,” said Tracy. “We had a lot of sports going on and a lot of socializing back in my day.”
When asked about his goals in life as a child, Tracy says, “Growing up I knew I wanted to be independent, not only financially but mentally. I wanted to be able to travel the world and have fun in life. Luckily, I was able to do that.”
His life experiences definitely reflected his childhood aspirations. You can say Patrick Tracy is a jack of all trades. Being a bartender, butcher and even a carpenter taught him many things about life.
“My passion for love, peace and social justice are what motivate me most to do what I do,” said Tracy. “I am proud of my accomplishments in life and even more so the second half of my life where I became involved in community outreach programs.”