Often at DePaul we hear, see, and use references to our institution’s Vincentian heritage and mission. The word “Vincentian” is a direct link to our patron St. Vincent de Paul and our founding religious community, the Congregation of the Mission (also called “Vincentians”). The DePaul community is quite serious about its Vincentian mission even if there are different and nuanced understandings of what it means in theory and practice. At times, praise is given to people for acting or making decisions in a “Vincentian” way, perhaps because they extended or distinguished themselves in service to others. In other instances, critical judgment is passed on some actions or policies for being “not very Vincentian,” or not reflecting our cherished mission and identity.
Because this Vincentian mission is central to our identity and purpose as an institution and to how we understand and go about our work the question “What is Vincentian?” is a particularly important and relevant one.
In one way, it is and should be an ever-evolving conversation as circumstances change. In another there are certain foundational elements to “Vincentian” that are consistent over time. In order to continue the conversation, I suggest two central ideas below for what “Vincentian” means. But, I’m interested in what others think. So – what do you understand to be key aspects of being Vincentian and to living out this Vincentian mission? What does it mean or ought it to mean for us to be a Vincentian university? What distinguishes us from other non-Vincentian institutions?
Attention to the Needs of Those Who Live in Poverty
“[G]o first to all the poor and help them; if you can do other things, fine!” St. Vincent de Paul (V.10, no. 86)
The first idea I would contribute to the conversation is this: to be Vincentian as a person or as an institution means that a constitutive dimension of who we are must be about alleviating the suffering and addressing the needs of those who live in poverty. If there is anything characteristic of Vincent de Paul’s theology and life’s work, it was an attention to “the poor.” Therefore, if there is anything characteristic of a Vincentian person or institution, it must include a self-understanding and a commitment to social responsibility, particularly to addressing the needs of those who suffer or are marginalized by our society. With this in mind, our lives or our success are not measured by self-advancement alone but ultimately by what we do to help others and the human community as a whole to advance, with particular attention given to people who are disadvantaged or underprivileged by the structural realities of our society.
Whether one is an accountant, a nurse, a journalist, a scientist, a computer programmer, a musician, a teacher, an actor — or whatever profession or discipline one pursues — to be Vincentian means that we understand that the resources, skills, talents and opportunities with which we have been blessed find their full expression only when they are invested not just for our own benefit but also for the good and well-being of others, particularly to alleviate the suffering of the poor and outcast.
Attention to Providence
“[W]isdom consists in following Providence step by step.” St. Vincent de Paul (V. 2, no. 720)
The second major component that I would contribute to any notion of what it means to be “Vincentian” is attention to what Vincent often called “Providence,” or to the movement and action of God in our daily life and experiences. Any reading of Vincent and his life reveals that Vincent’s worldview was grounded in a sense of God at work, leading him, guiding him, re-directing him, and moving him to action. Much of his attention was focused on discerning how and in what ways Providence was at work in his daily life, experiences, and human encounters. He understood himself and his followers in their day to day work to be part of a much larger mission and project, that of God’s mission on earth.
With this emphasis on paying attention to Providence , being “Vincentian” means that we understand ourselves to be part of a bigger movement that transcends and exceeds the limits of our own life and person. It begs in us the question: “What is the larger project or mission of which you and your daily life and work are a part?” Or, put another way, “To what end is your life and work directed?”
These are two elements that I believe are essential to any understanding of what it means to be a “Vincentian,” whether as an individual or as an institution. There are clearly others… what do you think? Share your thoughts and ideas so that we can together paint a fuller picture of what “Vincentian” means for us in today’s day and age and here at DePaul.
Mark Laboe serves as DePaul’s Associate Vice President for University Ministry
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