AAVC SpotlightPetero Sabune ’77
AAVC SpotlightPetero Sabune ’77
This year, the alumnae/i association, AAVC, turns 150. Throughout 2021, the College will be celebrating this anniversary by highlighting a few of Vassar’s most notable alumnae/i in architecture, arts, business, education, entertainment, healthcare, humanitarian efforts, law, social justice, and technology.
Priest-In-Charge, Episcopal Church of Saints John, Paul & Clement, Mount Vernon, NY
Choosing joy and spreading it to others
Throughout a wide-ranging career in the Episcopal priesthood, Rev. Canon Petero Sabune has tackled issues as global as the acceptance of women priests in Africa and as local as the food insecurity of his neighbors in Mount Vernon, NY.
Sabune graduated from the Union Theological Seminary and was ordained in 1981. Ever since, he has served in parishes in New York and New Jersey. As Dean of Trinity and St. Philip’s Cathedral in Newark, NJ, he became very involved with Episcopal Community Development, Inc., a nonprofit group focused on rebuilding low-income neighborhoods and providing affordable housing. In New York City, he was Vicar for Community Ministry at St. James’ Episcopal Church.
In 2003, Vassar awarded Sabune a Time Out Grant to investigate the 1976 disappearance and murder of his brother James in Uganda during the brutal regime of Idi Amin— a tragedy that reverberated through generations of his family and influenced his decision to enter the priesthood. “Being close to suffering actually restores your hope,” he said. “I’m not sure why that is. You wake up each day and say, ‘I’m as broken and as messy as everybody—but look, the sun is up. I’m alive today, I’m breathing today.’ You just feel so alive and so blessed, how can you not be helpful?”
Returning to the United States in 2004, Sabune became Chaplain at the maximum-security Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, NY. In 2010, he was named Africa Partnership Officer for The Episcopal Church, traveling throughout the continent with Bishop Katharine Schori—the first woman elected as a primate in the Anglican Communion—to strengthen the church’s relationships with its partners there.
Though technically retired, Sabune serves as Priest-In-Charge at the Episcopal Church of Saints John, Paul & Clement in Mount Vernon, NY. His awards include the Minorities in Criminal Justice Leadership Award, the NAACP Community Service Award, and the Caribbean American Families Community Service Award.
Sabune first came to Poughkeepsie from his native Uganda as an exchange student with the American Field Service Program in 1970. He attended Poughkeepsie High School and lived with a local family who had a boy his age. The two remained friends, and in 1973 they attended Pete Seeger’s Clearwater Festival together. “There were some Vassar students there and they said to me, ‘Apply to Vassar, hang out with us!’ So I applied and I got in, and the rest is history!” The former political science and English major remembers riding his bike from the Town Houses to Rockefeller Hall, and being completely enthralled by the breadth and depth of his liberal arts education. “Vassar gave you the incredible sense that you could do anything,” he said. “It’s such a global place, this little tiny college in Poughkeepsie. They sent me into orbit, and I’m still living off that feeling today.”
The busy father of four and grandfather of five has just finished writing the memoir that grew out of his Time Out Grant research, and hopes to see it published in the near future. At his church, he is focused on mission outreach, which includes distributing 2,000 meals each month; making sure immigrants in his community get the legal help they need pro bono; and supervising activities for youth, including socially distanced outings. He expects to continue demonstrating against racial injustice as he did during the summer, taking young people from his church to protests in honor of George Floyd throughout Westchester County. “I wanted them to see that this is our issue. It matters—your life matters,” he said. “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible. And of course, King held all of us accountable. And I use his quote all the time about hate: that hate cannot get rid of hate, only love can do that.”