Responding to Violence with Peacebuilding

Neighborhood communities. Elementary schools. Shopping malls. Concert venues. Busy business districts. Nightclubs. University campuses. The evidence has become resoundingly clear that violence affects all and may erupt unexpectedly at any time and in any place. The ripple effect of a shooting, such as that at Michigan State University, or in a Chicago neighborhood community, or anywhere, always ripples outward into the lives of countless others. It can have a lasting impact on generations of people. Grief and trauma rarely stop with the affected persons. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people, especially if they are not able to find and benefit from a supportive community of care.

College campus violence feels especially close to home for us. This latest incident at Michigan State closer still, perhaps because of its proximity as a neighboring state school. There are many relational ties to people there among those in our expansive university community of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The repeated nature of such violence, regardless of setting, elicits among us a broad range of reactions and feelings including grief, anger, anxiety, fear, compassion, and a desire to take action. As a community, we stand in solidarity with and support for all those closely impacted by the tragedy at Michigan State, especially our DePaul colleagues and friends. You are not alone.

Many acts of violence, like this most recent incident, are often pre-meditated and planned. So, then, must be our response—intentional, thoughtful, and persistent.

As we work to “Design DePaul,” what is the call to us both as individuals and a university community? How can we better organize our talent, our energy, and our resources to continue to address the root causes of violence and foster lasting solutions that will help to create a different future? Ultimately, how can we better build a community structured upon peace and non-violence that ensures our safety?

We scream aloud, or silently: Not again!!
Another incident of violence
and unnecessary loss of life.
It has become a slow, steady drumbeat
of hurt and pain
that goes on, and on,
wreaking dis-ease and emotional chaos.
More of our human brothers and sisters are now gone
before their time,
as their loved ones are left grieving and troubled,
and a world, at least for another flashing moment,
left again feeling angry, heart-broken… and helpless.

When will our “not again!!” become more of a firm resolve
and less so merely an impotent scream?
When might it finally take the form of
a lasting commitment that builds, works for, and creates
relationships and communities grounded in a peace
made evident and sustained
in persistent and thoughtful action…
cultivating love,
fostering hope,
teaching paradigm-shifting skills, and
modeling care for one another?

We grieve. We are troubled.
We are angry. We are tired.
We are afraid.
Violence hurts the fabric of our very being.

This is true – yet, so also
is the question it poses to us:
What are we building together?

May tomorrow’s society reveal
what we have done –
more than what we have failed to do.

How will you be a peacebuilder?

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Assoc VP, Mission and Ministry

A Related Note on Chicago Survivors:

Many in the DePaul community know the story of Chicago Survivors, a Chicago-based non-profit organization offering free, wrap-around support services to surviving family members of Chicago homicide victims. The organization was initiated by the mother of Frankie Valencia, a DePaul student leader who was shot and killed in 2009 and largely incubated through meetings held on DePaul’s campus. Joy McCormack, together with her family, founded the organization after not finding the support they needed to deal with the grief and loss they experienced after Frankie’s murder. Fortunately, but also sadly, the organization continues today to provide services to well over 500 families each year in the Chicago area. Many DePaul faculty and staff have supported and continue to support the organization through their volunteer engagement. DePaul interns have also played an important role in assisting in services that the organization provides to Chicago families. Chicago Survivors works toward a more compassionate and caring future based on the enduring belief that attending to the needs of those affected by violence can stop the cycle of violence.

Courage and Love for Community

We live in a time of challenges and change. The future is always unknown, but it seems clear that the future of higher education will have to be different in some ways from the present. We live in a time of dramatic polarization, when almost every event is viewed in completely contradictory ways. Navigating such times successfully requires many virtues, and among them are courage and love of community.

Several years ago, I went to an event with Rev. Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, and currently the Chair in Faith and Justice and the founding Director of the Georgetown University Center on Faith and Justice. He was speaking about one of his books, and I remember what he said when he was asked a really good question, one with which many of us probably often struggle. After hearing Wallis’s impassioned call to be active in the struggle against racism and for social justice, a questioner asked whether people of faith can lead a movement for social change when religious institutions have their own internal problems of injustice, and fewer people are identifying with organized religious movements. Wallis replied to this “What people on the street are drawn to is courage. If people of faith show courage, people will follow them.”

Courage is indeed something that is powerful and inspiring. It can often be enigmatic as well. Sometimes courage is associated with destructive acts of violence, but often such actions are in fact acts of cowardice. Change always requires courage. This is true whether we are talking about individual growth or social transformation. To be an international student traveling to a new land away from family and friends and seeking a college degree in a language that is not your native tongue requires enormous courage. To be a first-generation college student balancing work and study in a world in which you are sometimes not sure you belong requires magnificent courage. If one looks at the writings of many of those we honor as the greatest of social justice thinkers and orators, from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., to Malcolm X, we find that many of them were obsessed with courage. They knew that it was attractive, and they knew that it was necessary.

Recently (February 7) we celebrated the Feast Day of Blessed Rosalie Rendu, the great nineteenth-century Daughter of Charity. Sister Rosalie is often associated with courage because she lived during a time of great turmoil in France, of violent political revolutions and repeated cholera pandemics. She lived at a time when anticlericalism often ran rampant. Amid this, Sister Rosalie stuck to a principle of serving all in need of help and assistance, no matter their politics.[1] She observed a firm commitment to a preferential option for the poor but didn’t hesitate to embrace the rich or powerful when they could help in the service of those poor. Her courage and her commitment to what she believed won her respect and even love from many sides, something which is rare in polarized times.

We are nearing the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, the remarkable African American religious leader and human rights advocate.[2] Although Malcolm X later became a celebrated cultural and political figure and even received a commemorative United States postal stamp, during his life he was highly marginalized and often vilified. He was also someone who evolved and was open to change and growth. This requires as much if not more courage than simply speaking against one’s enemies, because it sometimes means speaking an uncomfortable word of truth to one’s friends and allies, or even sometimes to oneself. Malcolm X was able to maintain the love and credibility of the masses because they knew he was true to his principles and true to his love for them. As Ossie Davis said in his eulogy, he was “our own black shining prince!—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”[3]

The love of community is built through mutual care for each other. This is what inspires love and loyalty. The guiding reminder of Sister Rosalie’s advice to the Daughters of Charity was that they “must be like a milestone on a street corner where all those who pass by can rest and lay down their heavy burdens.”[4] When you are confident that someone loves you and then that person shows courage and commitment to principle, you will follow them. Courage is creative, it wins over hearts, it inspires hope. Love and courage feed each other and become contagious in community. Connection to the transcendent and connection to the immanent combine to form the leaders who are needed in times like ours.

We invite all of the DePaul community to join the Division of Mission and Ministry and UMMA, the United Muslims Moving Ahead for our Annual Fast-a-Thon, “Love of Community” which will be held February 14, 2023. Program starts at 5:00 p.m. We invite people to try fasting that day as one way of building connection to the transcendent, but whether you can fast or not, please join us for a meal together at sunset, around 5:30 pm. Registration is through DeHub.

Reflection Questions:

  • What connections do you have which give you courage?
  • What issues or situations do you feel call out for or require your courage?
  • What are ways we can build the type of community that makes us courageous in facing challenges and disagreement?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care

[1] Louise Sullivan, DC, Sister Rosalie Rendu, A Daughter of Charity on Fire with Love for the Poor (Chicago: Vincentian Studies Institute, 2006), 155. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌5/.

[2] Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City on February 21, 1965.

[3] Ossie Davis, “Eulogy for Malcom X,” Faith Temple Church of God In Christ, New York City, February 27, 1965, radio broadcast,

[4] Sister Rosalie attributed this maxim to her godfather, the Sulpician superior general Father Jacques Andre Emery.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day Five: Friday, February 10

Freeing Yourself

Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson.[i]

Vincent de Paul was very familiar with retreats. Not long after founding the Congregation of the Mission (better known to us as the Vincentians), he began to develop and lead retreats for those about to be ordained as priests, a responsibility he greatly honored and a singular ministry of the Vincentians that lasted long after his death.[ii] Vincent and his community recognized something almost 400 years ago that we still value today: the importance of setting time aside and creating space for learning and reflection that is apart from our ordinary lives. This is so we can free ourselves, as best we can, from worries and distractions, to be led by the spirit where we are intended to go.[iii] Despite the passage of time and the differences in delivery, this week’s online Busy Person’s Retreat has provided a similar opportunity for you that Vincent’s retreats provided to their participants.

Before our retreat draws to its close, we want to invite you to reflect one more time. To pause and consider: what will I take with me from this experience? What lesson have I learned? How has God (however I may conceive of God: the Spirit, the Universe, my Higher Power, or that pure, quiet voice within), been revealed to me through the Busy Person’s Retreat?

Perhaps, upon reflection, this week did not reveal to you the need for any sort of life-altering change. Maybe you felt God’s presence more quietly, implicitly. That is appropriate … and even to be expected. Vincent de Paul himself recognized that many things, including the workings of God, happen little by little and that beginning small is probably for the best.[iv]

What is true is that you had an impulse to participate in this Busy Person’s Retreat and you said yes to this impulse. In the future, you will have more opportunities, more invitations, for personal growth and spiritual renewal. Vincent de Paul would urge us to say yes to these opportunities. By doing so, we will become more and more able to hear and welcome the voice of God.


When you feel you’ve finished this Busy Person’s Retreat, reflections and all, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. End your experience with a moment of gratitude … gratitude for connecting, even briefly, with yourself and with something bigger than yourself. Sit with this feeling of gratitude for a few moments.

There are multiple opportunities within our DePaul community and beyond for you to continue to nurture your spiritual self. Sign up for the Division of Mission and Ministry’s e-newsletter to learn about programs and services for faculty and staff. Make a point of starting your week by reading our Mission Mondays in DePaul’s Newsline every Monday for more chances to reflect and connect with our mission.

Perhaps this Busy Person’s Retreat has motivated you to think about habits or behaviors that you would like to introduce into your life. Or, alternatively, you may have identified those that you wish to minimize. A helpful exercise to assist you in identifying both life-giving and draining activities is called Stop – Start – Continue. Take a look!

Reflection by: Tom Judge, J.D., Chaplain, Division of Mission and Ministry

[i] Conference 205, “Indifference (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 10),” May 15, 1659, CCD, 12:197. Available online at

[ii] For a brief summary of Vincent’s life, visit “St. Vincent de Paul, Apostle of Charity,” St. Vincent de Paul Church, accessed February 2, 2023,

[iii] As in the quote that opens my reflection: “Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s Will; let that be your lesson.” Conference 205, CCD, 12:197. Available online at

[iv] As Vincent once wrote, “God’s works are not done all at once, but little by little” (letter 2774, “To Jean Martin, Superior in Turin,” January 17, 1659, CCD, 7:454. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌32/). Vincent also said, “It is … fitting, therefore, for you to undertake this work [mission] in a humble way. Begin with something small and have great love for your own abjection. That is the spirit of Our Lord; that is how He acted, and that is also the means of attracting His graces (letter 1972, “To Jean Martin, Superior, in Turin,” December 10, 1655, CCD, 5:485. Available online:


Busy Person’s Retreat Day Four: Thursday, February 9

Who Brings Out the Best in You?

Our wellness and thriving are not isolated or solo tasks. Rather, our well-being has very much to do with the network of relationships within which we live and give preference to in our daily lives.

As we think about individual wellness, an important contribution to our thinking can come in the simple recognition that we are not monads. Our well-being and emotional health consist of far more than only our personal efforts to master our inner domain of thoughts, feelings, and decisions. It has far more to do with whether or not we fulfill our New Year’s resolutions.

Vincent de Paul once said, “What a blessing to be a member of a Community because each individual shares in the good that is done by all!”[i] And in fact, much evidence seems to point to the fact that our well-being may be far more about the people and communities within which we live our lives each day—that is, the network or “social matrix” of relationships that daily impact our environment and that support and enrich us … or not. We are undeniably social beings.[ii]

Therefore, today we move to consider the people in our life. Who are those in your social network currently? While this network might certainly include your online friends to some degree, the deeper question being asked is about who are those you physically see and interact with on a regular basis? What is the overall net effect of your current relationships? With whom would you love to spend more time? Are there relationships that are either life-giving or draining for you? If so, what makes them so? How might your current network of relationships, and the use of your time with them, change to fall more on that life-giving side of the equation?

Now may also be a moment to dive a little deeper to better understand the relational or social patterns that have been established in your life. How have your habits or tendencies impacted the way you spend your emotional time and energy? Do they indicate positive and healthy patterns, which contribute in good and meaningful ways to your overall wellness?

As always, with such probing, introspective questions about our life, we benefit from beginning with gentle acceptance. Many of us are our own worst critics. Moving into healthier relationships with others and building a life-giving social community involves also building a healthier relationship with ourselves. Developing the habit of practicing gentleness with ourselves in this process can go a long way to moving us in the right direction.

What is one step you can take today or this week to move toward establishing or building upon a positive and generative social network of friendship and support?


Reflection Exercise:

Complete the “Explore Your Purpose” activity entitled, “Reflecting on People and Relationships.”

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Mission a

[i] Conference 1, “Explanation of the Regulations,” 31 July 1634, CCD, 9:2. Available at https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/34/.

[ii] See also: David G. Myers, “The Funds, Friends, and Faith of Happy People,” American Psychologist 55:1 (2000): 56,; Ed Diener and Martin E. P. Seligman, “Very Happy People” Psychological Science 13:1 (2002): 81–84; Nicholas Epley, Mindwise: Why We Misunderstand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want (New York: Vintage, 2014); Nicholas Epley and Juliana Schroeder, “Mistakenly Seeking Solitude,” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143:5 (2014), 1980–1999,; and Erica J. Boothby, Margaret S. Clark, and John A. Bargh, “Shared Experiences are Amplified,” Psychological Science 25:12 (2014): 2209–16.



Busy Person’s Retreat Day Three: Wednesday, February 8

Don’t you remember … what I told you before, that someone who has learned a motet of music and then wishes to learn a second and a third finds it easier to learn the second than he did the first, and much easier to learn the third from the first or even the second? So, today, we have a little difficulty performing a certain act of virtue or religion; the second time we’ll have less, and the third even less than the second, and in this way, we become more and more perfect.[i]

Do your daily habits nurture wellness?

Today we are going to do a check-in on our daily habits, and hopefully empower ourselves to intentionally begin new ones.

We all have them—good, bad, neutral, and occasionally weird routines, repetitive actions, or reactive patterns that have left channels in our neural pathways, like grooves in a vinyl record. They are what help us navigate the busy-ness, sometimes cope with harm, and create productive, structuring order out of the chaos of life. To be human is to have habits! However, while not all habits are helpful, it is possible to change them with a little bit of intentional reflection, and a fair bit of hard work!

I’m sure that we can all easily identify one or two habits that we wish we didn’t have. For some of us, it’s our dependence (some might say addiction!) to our smartphones or electronic devices. Despite the occasional shaming alert from the devices themselves (“you’ve spent an average of 3 hours a day, up 10% from last week on your phone”), the lure of checking email, checking social media, playing games, diving into the rabbit hole of Wikipedia … it’s just too much to resist. For others, it might be the three cups of triple espresso shots in the morning, the four-season binge watch on the weekend, or the “just two glasses” of wine with dinner. And for a rare few of us, there are some habits that might seemingly be benign, but can in the end not lead to holistic wellness—like being addicted to working out, extreme dieting, and overcommitting socially.

There’s absolutely no shame in any of these! Shame sometimes has a way of negatively reinforcing bad habits, as we find comfort in them. However, a little bit of reflection into why we do these things and whether these habits deliver their intended purpose in our lives can help us reevaluate them. Take smartphones as an example. Why do some of us seem to have become symbiotically tethered to them, unable to function without their presence? Is it accessibility to email? To work? If it’s after normal work hours, do we really need to be connected? Or perhaps it is social media and news—we just need to know what is happening in the world right now. Admittedly, it’s a marvel that we have—in our hands—a magical device that has opened the past and the present to us. However, we can quickly get lost from the world right in front of us. Or, to quote Yoda from Empire Strikes Back, we will spend our lives looking away, “Never [our] mind on where [we are], hmm? What [we are] doing!”

Reflection Exercise:

Pick one habit you have. Ask yourself:

  1. What propels you to perform this habit on a daily basis?
  2. Why did you start doing it in the first place? What do you hope to get out of it? Is it life-giving? Do you feel more whole, or healthier after?
  3. Is there a better, healthier, more balanced action to replace it with? Try replacing the habit for a week. It will be difficult, but it’s only a week! You can do this!

Reflection by: Alexander Perry, former

[i] Conference 126, “Repetition of Prayer,” July 28, 1655, CCD, 11:197. Available online: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/37/.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day Two: Tuesday, February 7

“In Dreams Begins Responsibility”[i]

For the second day of our retreat, we move from discernment to hopes and dreams. We will come to more practical matters later, but for now let us open ourselves to visions of the future. Whether one is hoping to lead a community or just oneself to somewhere new, a vision of the hoped for destination is necessary. Ideally this vision should be of a place not quite like anything one has experienced before but still vivid enough to pull us toward it.

I invite you to clear your mind of distractions and of all the tasks and anxieties that are calling to you. Take some deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Close your eyes and try to feel some kind of calm.

Now, I invite you to read a few short passages about different experiences relating to this topic of dreams, of hopes, of visions. These can be used to describe different though perhaps related experiences. For example in Arabic the word ru’ya can be translated as “dream” or “vision.” When we speak of our highest hopes for the future, we often refer to them as “dreams.”

One of the most profound examples of such a dream or vision in our Vincentian tradition is the Lumière experience of Saint Louise de Marillac. During a time of great turmoil and doubt in her life and her soul, Louise was not only gifted with a calming certainty in her spirit but a vision of her future:

On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. I then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom He seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change.[ii]

This profound experience would serve as a comfort and guide to Louise for the rest of her life. Her description is taken from a piece of worn, many folded paper. She would apparently carry this around with her and take it out whenever she needed to be reminded, and on the back she had written the word lumière (French for light).

In the Muslim tradition, the following is narrated about the beginning of Prophet Muhammad’s[iii] prophetic experiences:

The beginning of the Revelation that came to the Messenger of Allaah was good dreams; he never saw a dream but it came true like bright daylight. Then seclusion was made dear to him, and he used to go to the cave of Hiraa’ and worship there, which means that he went and devoted himself to worship for a number of nights before coming back to his family to collect more provisions, then he would go back again. Then he would go back to Khadeejah to collect more provisions.[iv]

It was the regular practice of the Prophet to sit with his companions after the dawn prayers and ask them to share their dreams with him.[v] In a description brimming with many possible implications of meaning, the Prophet also was reported to have said, “The most truthful of dreams are seen shortly before dawn.”[vi]

In American cultural memory, one of the most powerful invocations of dreaming a vision for the future comes from what is known as the “I Have a Dream” speech of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Although we know the speech by that title, the phrase did not appear in King’s prepared text.[vii] In fact, what has become the most famous portion of the speech was improvised by King in response to a call from gospel legend Mahalia Jackson to “tell them about the dream, Martin!” She was calling on King to bring to that enormous stage his inspiring vision of the beloved community toward which he wanted the nation to strive.

Pope Francis speaks of a powerful vision of fraternity and social friendship across all the borders that divide us in his Encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti:

Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation … We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together … By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.[viii]

As we draw near to the end of today’s reflection and perhaps are feeling that painful anticipation of having to wake from a beautiful dream, let us close with a moving description of dreams and of peace and of comfort from Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead:

I went up to the church to watch the dawn come, because that peace does restore me better than sleep can do. It is as though there were a hoard of quiet in that room, as if any silence that ever entered that room stayed in it. I remember once as a child dreaming that my mother came into my bedroom and sat down in a chair in the corner and folded her hands in her lap and stayed there, very calm and still. It made me feel wonderfully safe, wonderfully happy. When I woke up, there she was, sitting in that chair. She smiled at me and said, “I was just enjoying the quiet.” I have that same feeling in the church, that I am dreaming what is true.[ix]


Questions for Reflection:

  1. As you hear these stories about other famous people and their dreams, what are the dreams or ideas that begin to emerge for you about your own life and what you feel drawn or called to explore?
  2. We may think of dreaming as something very solitary or focused on the individual. Is that the case in these examples? What are some of the ways in which dreaming can be communal as well as individual?
  3. From where do alternative visions of the future come? What do you need to be connected to in your own life or what practices do you engage in to nourish your dreams and visions and hopes? What do you think is the relationship between hopes and dreams and the creation of new realities?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, J.D., Assistant Dire

[i] Epigraph, attributed to “Old Play,” to W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities and Other Poems (London: Macmillan, 1916).

[ii] Document A.2, “Light,” Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, ed. and trans. Louise Sullivan, D.C. (New York: New City Press: 1991), 1.

[iii] Peace and blessings be upon him and upon all of the prophets of God.

[iv] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 3.

[v] Sahih al-Bukhari, hadith 7047.

[vi] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, hadith 2274.

[vii] Emily Crockett, “The Woman Who Inspired Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech,” Vox, updated January 16, 2017,

[viii] Available online at: Fratelli Tutti.

[ix] Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), 132–33.

Busy Person’s Retreat Day One: Monday, February 6

Vincent de Paul studies book

Today’s opening reflection to this year’s Busy Person’s Retreat invites us to consider “How can I stay spiritually healthy so I can discern what is essential in life?”

A rite of passage in making a good retreat must surely begin with slowing down and becoming aware of the present moment.

With this in mind, as you start the retreat this morning, I invite you to take a few slow deep breaths, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. As you do, seek to let go of any stressors that may be making a claim on your heart and mind right now. Try to let any anxieties go, and become aware of the present moment. Rest in the certainty that the present moment is enough.

I now invite you to carve out the next few minutes to rest in this space. Be still and know …

Let us begin.

Each one of us has a unique identity and place in the world. Indeed, it is humbling to think that no one who has ever existed on this planet is quite like us, and there will never be another person like us again!

My personal faith tradition is Catholic. My formation in this tradition has very much shaped the way in which I see the world. It is from this perspective that I write. I believe that God speaks to each of us in the depth of our hearts, through community and in the everyday, ordinary events of our lives.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the writings of Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian, who so eloquently echoed this cornerstone of my belief.

If God speaks anywhere, it is into our personal lives that he speaks. Someone we love dies, say. Some unforeseen act of kindness or cruelty touches the heart or makes the blood run cold. We fail a friend, or a friend fails us, and we are appalled at the capacity we all of us have for estranging the very people in our lives we need the most. Or maybe nothing extraordinary happens at all— just one day following another, helter-skelter, in the manner of days. We sleep and dream. We wake. We work. We remember and forget. We have fun and are depressed. And into the thick of it, or out of the thick of it, at moments of even the most humdrum of our days, God speaks. But what do I mean by saying that God speaks? He speaks not just through the sounds we hear, of course, but through events in all their complexity and variety, through the harmonies and disharmonies and counterpoint of all that happens.[i]

If we are to understand how to take better take care of ourselves and remain spiritually healthy, we need to know how to discern well and how to align our values and behaviors with healthy choices that support us choosing life. This will surely involve learning how to listen and to trust the voice deep within, paying attention to the wisdom of the community that supports us, and observing the rhythm of our days.

At first, this may sound easy, but how do we discern well amid the cacophony of dissonant and competing clatter that regulates our waking hours? Maybe some Vincentian wisdom can guide us along our discernment path.

Vincent de Paul’s process of discernment had three parts: an openness to God’s will, an evaluation of reasons for or against an action, and a consultation with wise persons.[ii]

For Vincent and Louise, it was in the concrete and sometimes messy circumstances of their lives that they so deeply experienced the presence of God. They found God very much alive in the midst of their relationships, especially with those who existed on the margins of seventeenth-century French society. The essence of their approach involved “living with a listening heart, paying daily attentiveness to God’s presence, and a daily discerning and decisioning.”[iii] Such a Vincentian approach has been described by scholar Vie Thorgren as “living with a discerning heart.”[iv] This discerning sensibility would also involve examining the pros and cons of a situation and deciding on a suitable response or outcome.

Yet, it is important to note that it was often only after events themselves had passed, in an intimate moment of prayer and contemplation, that their meaning became clear. Thus, for Vincent and Louise, carving out quiet, reflective moments was essential as it provided opportunities to interpret the events of their lives through the lens of their faith, and in dialogue with their lived experience.

The final integral part of Vincent and Louise’s discernment process involved seeking advice and sound counsel from others whose wisdom they respected. This stemmed from their deep belief and trust in the fact that God mediated God’s will through people.[v] Consequently, while receiving wise counsel, Vincent and Louise would seek to identify the word of God, which would then help guide and inform their decision-making and their quest for right and just action.

So, what might all of this mean for us today? A wise colleague in ministry once posited this question, “If you can’t say no to the people in your life, then what does your yes really mean?” This question has remained with me for many years.

And so, I will leave you with some questions of my own to ponder on this day of our opening retreat. What is the quality of the yeses in your life right now? Are you saying no when you need to? And how, with a listening heart, might you discern the difference?

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, M. Div., Director of Faculty and Staff Eng

[i] Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 1-2.

[ii] As observed in the abstract to Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., “Vincentian Discernment,” Vincentian Heritage 15:1 (1994). Available at:

[iii] O’Donnell, “Vincentian Discernment,” 15.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid., 8.

How Can Vincentian Discernment Anchor Us in Uncertain Times?

Each of you reading this today has a unique identity and place in the world. Indeed, it is humbling to think that no one quite like us has ever existed on this planet, and there will never be another person like you again!

If we want to understand how to take better take care of ourselves and remain spiritually healthy, we need to know how to discern well and how to align our values and behaviors with wise choices that support a balanced life. This will surely involve learning how to listen and to trust the voice deep within, paying attention to the wisdom of the community that supports us, and observing the rhythm of our days.

At first, this may sound like an easy task, but how do we discern well amid the cacophony of dissonant and competing clatter that regulates our waking hours? Maybe Vincentian wisdom can guide us along our discernment path.

Vincent de Paul’s process of discernment had three parts: an openness to God’s will, an evaluation of reasons for or against an action, and a consultation with wise persons.[1]

For Vincent and Louise, it was in the concrete and sometimes messy circumstances of their lives that they so deeply experienced the presence of God. God was very much alive to them in the midst of their relationships, especially with those who existed on the margins of seventeenth-century France. The essence of their approach to relationships involved “living with a listening heart, paying daily attentiveness to God’s presence, and a daily discerning and decisioning.”[2] Such a Vincentian approach has been described by scholar Vie Thorgren as “living with a discerning heart.”[3] This discerning sensibility also involved examining the pros and cons of a situation and deciding on a suitable response or course of action.

Yet, it is important to note that it was often only after events themselves had passed, in an intimate moment of prayer and contemplation, that their meaning became clear. Thus, for Vincent and Louise, carving out quiet, reflective moments was important as it provided opportunities to interpret the events of their lives through the lens of their faith and in dialogue with their lived experience.

Another integral aspect of their discernment process was to seek advice and sound counsel from people whose wisdom they respected. This stemmed from their deep belief and trust in the fact that God mediated God’s will through people.[4] Consequently, while receiving wise counsel, Vincent and Louise would seek to identify the word of God, which would then help guide and inform their decision-making and their quest for right and just action.

So, what might such a discernment process mean for us at DePaul today, when our context is so very different?

As we strive to remain spiritually grounded and holistically healthy, perhaps, it is as simple as merely considering some simple questions: What is the quality of the yeses in your life right now, and are these supporting your professional and personal growth? Are you saying no when you need to? Finally, how, with a listening heart, might you discern the difference?

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty/Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] As noted in the abstract to Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., “Vincentian Discernment,” Vincentian Heritage 15:1 (1994). Available at:

[2] O’Donnell, “Vincentian Discernment,” 15.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 8.

Gentleness in Our Relationships

Vincent de Paul with Francis de Sales, Jeanne de Chantal

“Kindness is the key to hearts.”[1]

—Saint Vincent de Paul

Last week (and every year on January 25), on the Catholic feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul, Vincentians around the globe celebrated what we have come to know as Foundation Day. Vincent de Paul remembered this day as the critical moment when his mission began, the day he gave a powerful sermon at the church in Folleville, France. The sermon came in large part from his lived experience of witnessing the great need among the rural poor for material and spiritual care, and most likely, after hearing the probing question of Madame de Gondi—“Vincent, what must be done?”

What I always find interesting and so very appropriate is the Catholic feast day that falls each year on the day before our Foundation Day, on January 24. This day is celebrated each year as the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, a spiritual giant and contemporary of Vincent de Paul. Francis clearly had a deep and transformational impact on Vincent and on the way that Vincent eventually came to understand and practice spirituality in the latter part of his life. “Vincent I,” the person Vincent was in the first part of his life, was by all reports what we might call an average and (at times) self-serving priest, who then transformed into “Vincent II,” the person who came to be regarded by many as a saint.[2] In addition to the pivotal events of 1617, which many have deemed as the turning point from “Vincent I” to “Vincent II,” it seems quite clear that Francis de Sales contributed significantly to shaping the spiritual framework of the transformation that took place in Vincent de Paul.

Saint Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva, was highly regarded and well known in Vincent’s time and he continues to be famous for his practical application of the spiritual life to everyday life and relationships. At the very least, Francis’s pragmatic spirituality clearly had a marked resemblance to what emerged as the spiritual vision of Vincent de Paul. This vision solidified after their face-to-face encounters in Paris beginning around November 1618. It was then that Francis came to Paris for a ten-month period on business. And, indeed, Francis’s influence is reflected by the particular ways in which Vincent continued to grow and express himself spiritually in the second half of his life.

Vincent helped to petition the pope for Francis’s beatification nearly forty years later. What seemed to impress Vincent—and most people—about Francis de Sales was his kind and gentle spirit. According to Vincent, the two “had the honor of enjoying [a] close friendship.”[3] Vincent is reported to have called Francis “a living gospel.”[4] Known for the now popular spiritual advice that “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar,” Francis preached the way of gentleness in relationships, recognizing that our everyday encounters with others are the consummate opportunity to practice love and to grow in virtue. Later, we see the emergence of Vincent’s emphasis on the virtue of “meekness,” which has been translated as becoming “approachable” by and for others. Vincent had previously noted that Francis “made himself accessible to all, without distinction—religious as well as secular and laypersons—who came to consult him …”[5] Additionally, Francis was known to have emphasized the importance of spiritual zeal and humility, which are virtues that Vincent eventually identified as foundational to his vision for the Congregation of the Mission.

Louise de Marillac was also someone who held Francis in high esteem. The quote from Vincent shared above about kindness occurred while he was speaking to the Daughters of Charity about the practice of mutual respect and gentleness in their interactions with others, particularly with those who are poor and whom we wish to serve. He suggested such virtues must be characteristic of all those seeking to practice this mission of charity and care for those in need.

Vincent de Paul was a unique person who initiated a great mission that we continue to live and benefit from today. We remember him now as a saint, as one to emulate. We look to his example for inspiration and guidance as we continue to carry forward his legacy and mission in our work at DePaul University.

And, at the same time, no human being grows into the fullness of their identity and vocation without others who support, inspire, and mentor them along the way. We, like Vincent, most commonly gain and sustain a vision for our own life through the relationships and vocational narratives that we have been blessed to encounter along the way.

Reflection Questions:

  • In what ways do kindness and gentleness resonate with you in relation to what you have come to know about living our Vincentian mission at DePaul? How might you integrate them more intentionally into your daily interactions?
  • Who are foundational spiritual influences in your own life?

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 27, “The Practice of Mutual Respect and Gentleness,” August 19, 1646, CCD, 9:207.

[2] Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., touches on this idea in Frances Ryan, D.C., John E. Rybolt, C.M., eds., Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1995), 15ff.

[3] Document 29, “Deposition at the Process of Beatification of Francis de Sales,” (April 17, 1628), CCD, 13a:81.

[4] James Dyar, “‘To listen like a Disciple’ (Is. 50:4),” Colloque 9 (1984), at We are Vincentians: The Vincentian Formation Network, Know More to Serve More (blog), July 12, 2016, Citation refers to the blog post.

[5] Document 29, “Deposition at the Process of Beatification of Francis de Sales,” (April 17, 1628), CCD, 13a:83.

Designing DePaul and Anchoring Ourselves in St Vincent’s Original Intuition

This week and every year on January 25, the Congregation of the Mission celebrates Foundation Day.

In my heart, our foundational story never grows old. In celebrations of this type, something stirs within me. I feel connected to our origins. I feel inspired to recalibrate my existence and set out for new adventures in serving others, especially those living in poverty and exclusion, and investing my best energy in the structural transformation of our many realities.

Saint Vincent always considered 1617 as the birthday of the mission. Even though his three principal foundations had distinct juridical birthdates—the Confraternities of Charity in 1617, the Congregation of the Mission in 1625, and the Daughters of Charity in 1633, Vincent consistently looked back at 1617 as the year when everything began. On that year, he had two powerful experiences, one in Folleville and the other in Châtillon. These became two life-changing experiences for him. It was on January 25, 1617, in Folleville where he preached a powerful and inspiring sermon about general confession. Vincent himself referred to this as the first sermon of the mission. Later that year in Châtillon, he passionately invited the community to support a poor family through acts of compassion and charity. Vincent witnessed the impact of his words in a solidarity chain (organized charity) that he helped to create to support this family fully recover from their many struggles.

Vincent de Paul was fired by passion to meet the integral (spiritual and material) needs of persons who were poor. With a talent for organizing others who shared his passion, in 1625 he began a group of priests and brothers, the Congregation of the Mission, for the integral attention to the poor and the formation of the clergy.

The original intuition of St Vincent de Paul is underway at DePaul University today

The identity of the Congregation of the Mission has evolved and adapted to different geographical and historic realities. It was in this process of constant evolution that the Congregation founded DePaul University in 1898, and therefore, this year we celebrate 125 years of our institutional foundation. DePaul’s history and identity are naturally and deeply linked to the values and convictions and even to the historic flaws of the Congregation of the Mission.

Our collective Vincentian mission and all the institutions grounded in it are not immobile and finished realities. They are projects that are open to the signs of the times and to the realities and challenges of the places where they are located. They are constantly transformed to become more credible and coherent, to keep alive the original spiritual intuition in the heart of Vincent de Paul, and thus to be a real contributor to the systemic change of our world today. DePaul will accomplish this change by supporting our students’ integral development so that they themselves can become agents of social transformation.[1]

Designing DePaul

Our new strategic planning process, Designing DePaul, begins this week on Thursday, January 26. This process takes place at a time when it seems that the fruit that needs to be gestated may be greater than our abilities to fully commit ourselves to the challenges of reality, to understand history, and to recreate ourselves, our structures, and our workplaces with courage. There are so many things that distract us, paralyze us, and disturb us. DePaul University is today like fragile clay in the hands of all who, loving it, are open to invest the best of their energy, ideas, and passion to envision its own recreation. This must become a time to honor and re-envision the legacy that has shaped where we are today and a time to find new ways to live our call to service (social and environmental justice), community (common good) and spirituality (connection and collaboration at all levels for a greater good).

The decisive thing for us is always to recreate our identity in the daily work and commitment of the Mission given the needs of the reality before us. The reinterpretation of our identity and mission, the new systemic and structural emphasis, the new focal points of attention, and the new curricular and pedagogical approaches must be done from the cultural and structural context of our time and at the heart of the transformation that Pope Francis has proposed to all Catholic Institutions.

I hope that Designing DePaul will be a great opportunity to redefine our most basic connections around our common mission and to heal our institutional fabric wherever and at any level in which it may be broken.  As President Manuel has said repeatedly, I hope that we will be bold enough to solve old structural problems and to achieve financial sustainability.

I hope that Designing DePaul will be an opportunity for us to collectively decide the meaning and institutional implication of our Catholic Identity in a multicultural, multi-faith and multi-convictional environment.

I hope that this new strategic plan will be the opportunity for DePaul University to finally advance in making the ecological leap and the ethical leap to commit our educational, structural and economic resources in a pedagogical and  institutional model that is fully committed to the sustainability of life, with special emphasis on all forms of life that are most vulnerable, and to commit to the Common Good, to ensure the sustainability of our planet and our common human existence.

May the remarkable freedom and innovation of Vincent de Paul be a real source of inspiration during our strategic planning that reinforces in us the urgent sense of community we need to build in our midst, the profound spiritual connection within a community that celebrates and deeply honors its rich and vast diversity, and our pledge to equity and sustainability.  At DePaul, we are committed to recognizing, respecting, and protecting the dignity of all so that everyone in our community, in their own individual identities, can say “I Am Somebody,” as the Rev. Jesse Jackson so famously said, without fear and without the risk of becoming a victim of any kind of violence.

Reflection Questions:

How are you planning to engage in Designing DePaul, our new strategic plan?

From your area of work and commitment, what do you think should be a couple of non-negotiables in DePaul’s new strategic plan?

Do not forget that the Office of the President is open to hear and to receive all your recommendations!

Reflection by:  Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., Vice President of Mission and Ministry

[1] Cf. “University Mission Statement,” Division of Mission & Ministry, DePaul University, adopted March 4, 2021,