Taking the Long View

Photo Illustration by Jeff Carrion / DePaul University

For the last several years, a group of dedicated managers has been meeting regularly to discuss how DePaul’s Vincentian mission can guide and inform our management practice. A central objective of the committee has been to consider ways in which we might invite DePaul managers to come together on a regular basis to network, share resources, build community, and support one another. Such discussions bore fruit this past May with the inaugural Vincentian Managers’ Forum that was attended by approximately seventy DePaul managers. The committee is now in the process of planning further forums when DePaul mangers will be invited to meet with their peers once again to connect with one another and reflect on the relationship between their work and our common Vincentian mission.

Having served as a manager at DePaul for twenty-five years, it has often occurred to me that a foundational pillar of Vincentian management is to help new staff reflect on what it means to be part of an unfolding Vincentian legacy and to situate themselves within the arc of DePaul’s history. This is especially important whenever we are confronted with challenging chapters in our DePaul story, such as navigating the recent budget deficit. What might the lessons of the past teach us about facing the hurdles of the present?

In contemplating this question, I consulted DePaul’s own record of our rich history, which was written to commemorate our centennial.[1] This collection of essays traces DePaul’s journey from “the tiny parish-based St. Vincent’s College on the north side of Chicago”[2] through many fits and starts, to the culmination of DePaul as the large, multifaceted institution of higher learning that we would recognize today. Through my research, I was astonished that amid the many successes and times of triumph in our history, there were also certain defining moments of adversity that threatened our very survival. However, as I read about these times and learned more about their circumstances, it became apparent that no matter how daunting the path ahead may have seemed, DePaul always managed to traverse these treacherous waters. It may have meant treading water for a while, but usually the university has not only survived but flourished.

It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view. When we do, echoes of old may tell us what we need to hear.

One such echo emanates from the early 1900s when DePaul was still in its infancy. During this period, “the financial panic of 1907 shrank both DePaul’s enrollment and its reputation among its creditors.”[3] As a result, by 1909, our “foundling university (now) found itself bankrupt.”[4] Clearly, this was not the end of the story though. During the next few years, DePaul managed to procure sufficient resources to continue its expansion and academic innovation. Indeed, just a decade later, the university was poised for solid growth.

Many years later, during the period of 1947–1948, another seeming insurmountable obstacle would arise when DePaul almost lost its accreditation as ruled by the North Central Association. This was due to a combination of factors such as DePaul’s “financial instability, its small number of faculty with doctoral degrees, its low per-student expenditures, and its inadequate library.”[5]

To rectify such gaps, a fundraising campaign was launched in 1952 which effectively bridged these shortfalls. Specifically, a significant number of PhD faculty were hired, and the library budget was increased. The crisis abated, and DePaul earned its accreditation.

I would hazard to guess that not many working here today would know of any of these struggles in our history. Yet such defining moments have helped shape contemporary DePaul. Indeed, the way in which DePaul weathered these crises and the innovation that brought us through these storms may have much to teach us still.

In reflecting on the peaks and valleys of our DePaul journey, it may serve us well to return to this small piece of wisdom that Vincent shared with his confreres long before the university’s naissance: “Never … be surprised at current difficulties, no more than at a passing breeze, because with a little patience we shall see them disappear. Time changes everything.”[6]

Reflection questions:

  1. What has been a time in your personal or professional life when seeds of hope from the past have helped show you the way forward?
  2. When was the last time you stepped back and took the long view? What pearls of wisdom did this action reveal to you?

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

[1] Albert Erlebacher et al., “DePaul University Centennial Essays and Images” (Chicago: DePaul University, 1998). Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/20.

[2] Ibid., v.

[3] Ibid., 53.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 15.

[6] Letter 1075, “To Louis Rivet, Superior, in Saintes,” 15 November 1648, CCD, 3:382. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/28/.

St. Vincent’s Extraordinary Pragmatism

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul from whom we derive our name, vision, mission, and identity.

St. Vincent was a visionary. He understood the realities of his time and saw new possibilities for his world within the massive socio-economic and religious chaos of 17th century French society. As he searched for meaning and direction in his own life, he found purpose and direction that always guided his vision and extraordinary pragmatism.

The practical ways of St. Vincent de Paul focused entirely on societal and church transformation by establishing communities dedicated to serving and healing those most in need. The work of St. Vincent de Paul, of some 400 years ago, focused on a new, transformed society, and this should resonate with us today, as we try to respond to our current and chaotic times.

Designing DePaul, our opportunity to shape our own society, allows us to be in touch with the inner soul of DePaul University. During this time of institutional conversation, we acknowledge the values in which we are founded and our collective dreams. We commit to being an educational institution that contributes to social mobility, breaking the cycle of poverty, designing for equity, responding to the challenges of artificial intelligence and technological development, caring for and protecting our planet, and educating leaders capable of generating a societal model where hate and violence have no place.

As you carry out your work, research, and studies this year, please consider the following four elements, which summarize the essence of St. Vincent de Paul as we embrace his heritage today:

  • Focus on a mission-centered horizon. This necessitates understanding your unique contributions to DePaul, firmly grasping the realities of the current situation and institutional needs, and yet also dreaming of what could be and leveraging ethical imagination to move beyond the world we know to what it could become.
  • Create people-centered approaches to all you do as we drive forward the initiatives within Designing DePaul. The wellbeing, the joy, and the fulfillment of individuals in a healthy environment will organically lead to a vibrant organization and better outcomes for those we serve.
  • Amplify a sense of co-responsibility, solidarity, and collaboration at all levels as the goals of St. Vincent de Paul. Our individual work and studies are all a part of an institutional fabric. They are interconnected in explicit and implicit ways because we all serve the same purpose, the same common good, and the same mission.
  • Develop strategies that are implementation-oriented, that respond effectively to real issues based on lived experience, and that systemically address solutions following the model of St. Vincent and the very spirit of our students. At DePaul our students demand that we not only ask the Vincentian question of “what must be done?” but that we also develop our response by understanding the current situation and data-based needs, by adopting a willingness to innovate and break out of old ways of thinking, and by changing our assumptions as we get new information.

And as we say, “Happy Feast Day,” let us also embrace the spirit of St. Vincent in everything we do, and also say to each other, “DePaul – be pragmatic, in a Vincentian way.”

Robert L. Manuel
President

Fr. Guillermo (Memo) Campuzano, C.M.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry

Seeing the Dignity of Every Person

Please continue to serve … with gentleness, respect, and cordiality, always seeing God in them.”  — Louise De Marillac[1]

One of the things I got to do over the summer was offer a few words of welcome and a prayer for incoming students at the Premiere DePaul orientation. I once heard a colleague observe that just as youth is wasted on the young, orientation is wasted on the new people. Without enough context to know what is important and hit with so much information in a short amount of time, it is not always clear how much information is retained. Having said this, I think orientations are wonderful. Being a part of them always awakens the hopefulness in me. While I may not remember the information from my orientation (to be fair it was over 30 years ago now) I still remember moments and emotions from it.

Perhaps that is why Premiere hits me differently. There are times when the thousands of students are numbers to be managed, event attendees to plan for, or, as the first day of class, when they are minds to be engaged. When I look out at Premiere at these students and their families, I just see hundreds of hearts: nervous, excited, playing it cool, bored, unsure, lost, confident, or triumphant. Like young plants, they seem so fragile yet so full of potential. It really calls out my desire to nurture, support, and protect them. I’m ready to be amazed by who they will become.

We are very familiar with the expression that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.[2] One contention here is that beauty is a subjective perception more than an objective reality. Our understanding of this can vary from simply acknowledging that people will differ on what they find beautiful to a suggestion that how we look will affect what we see. Irish poet and spiritual writer John O’Donohue suggests that “if our style of looking becomes beautiful, then beauty will become visible and shine forth for us.”[3]

O’Donohue goes on to say that beauty in fact is “present secretly already in everything” but one needs to beautify one’s gaze to see it. O’Donohue expands on this concept in his work Anam Cara, where he argues that our “style of vision” affects everything we see. To the fearful eye, everything is threatening, to the greedy eye everything can be possessed, to the resentful eye everything is begrudged and so on.

When we talk to students about our Vincentian mission and the legacy of Vincent and Louise, we focus on their honoring of human dignity. There are many profound implications to recognizing human dignity in all those whom we encounter. For Vincent and Louise there was no more profound way to express this in their Catholic Christian conviction that they saw the Divine in those whom they encountered. That was the style of vision they brought to their mission. This is captured in the advice in Louise’s letter to Sister Jeanne-Francois, who in difficult, lonely circumstances was serving the sick poor and orphans left as a consequence of civil war in seventeenth-century France. For some of us, this incarnational theology remains resonant today.

For others, we may find very different ways of capturing the dignity of every member of our community, as I did when I saw the students and families in front of me at Premiere as “hearts” and remembered how I felt when I was in the place they are now. Whatever ways in which you are moved to this recognition, my advice is to make it concrete as opposed to abstract. As we shape the vision with which we see each other, we will surely transform the ways in which we act toward one another and bring forth the beauty that is present all around us.

Reflection Questions:

  • How do I make the dignity of others in the DePaul community concrete for me?
  • How do the ways I see things affect what I see around me?
  • What are practices that shape my style of vision?

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

[1] Letter 361, “To My Very Dear Sister Jeanne-Francoise,” (June 1653), Spiritual Writings, 421. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/.

[2] This wording comes from the 1878 novel Molly Bawn by Margaret Hungerford, but phrases with similar meanings go back very far and can be found in the writings of many including Shakespeare and David Hume.

[3] Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (New York: Harper Collins, 2004), 19.

A Joyful Community

“I will always welcome joyfully any opportunity that comes my way to be of service to you.” [1]

We have moved through many challenges over the last several months, including a number of difficult losses. Now, a new academic year is upon us. What must be done to rebuild and sustain a communal life at DePaul in which it is easier to be joyful and to flourish together? What would this entail in our shared workplace and in the education we seek to offer?

In many settings at DePaul, when speaking about our Vincentian mission, I have shared the maxim that we teach who we are. That is, beyond the content, skills, and knowledge that we share, students learn by observing and interacting with us as human beings. We are always teaching through the kind of people we are and the way we relate to one another, for better or for ill. Would not the joyful person, and the joyful community, then, be teaching something important and of educational significance, whether that be in or outside of the classroom?

Human beings are undeniably social creatures who benefit from living within a community of people that helps to bring out the best in them. This is true of employees in the workplace, and it is true of students within a university. DePaul University employs over 3,000 people in addition to our more than 20,000 students. We are akin to a small town. The experience that people have within our community has a ripple effect, which in turn outwardly affects thousands of other families, communities, and future generations to follow. If those who work and study here have a fundamental experience of joy and flourishing within our DePaul community, we are making a deeply significant contribution to the world.

What constitutes joy and how can we cultivate it? A professor of mine once distinguished joy from happiness by describing happiness as something in the “foreground” of our experience, which may come and go, while describing joy as a more constant state that exists in the “background” of our experience, a constant and creative source of life despite the ups and the downs of our everyday reality. With this understanding, being joyful does not mean the absence of difficulties or challenges, nor the absence of a whole range of emotions, but rather, a way of being that is fundamentally oriented toward hope and a positive vision of life. Joy is a virtue that is cultivated by practicing it over and over with clear intention and with the support of others. We become what we do repeatedly over time. In short, we become joyful by practicing joy and living in ways that foster joy.

Many choose to work and study at DePaul because of our clear sense of a social mission that transcends our individual work or discipline. Together, we are about something beyond our individual roles. Regardless of our discipline, background, or area of work or study, many appreciate being part of a community with a mission to positively impact society and to make life better for others, particularly for those who are marginalized. We gather around our Vincentian mission in large part because it helps to hold these aspirations as a community and keep them as a motivation for what we do each day. Ultimately, like Vincent de Paul, we find a reliable and sustainable source of joy in being of service to each other and to a common good that enables all to flourish.

Reflection Questions:

  • What do you need to do personally to cultivate a joyful way of being, working, or studying?
  • How might you foster a more joyful workplace or classroom?
  • What do you understand to be the place of joy in the vocation of education?

Reflection by:   Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Letter 1230a, “To Monsieur Horcholle, in Neufchatel,” 28 June 1650, CCD, 4:41.

 

DEPAUL UNIVERSITY Class of 2023: A Final Invitation Before You Depart from Us

The following reflection is directed to DePaul University’s 2023 Graduates.

Most of the days of our lives pass by without leaving a trace. They accumulate in that nameless tomb that is unconsciousness. But there are a few days that we always remember because they mark moments that summarize long experiences, meaningful achievements, or even dramatic losses and sorrow. These few days define us. They are part of us even when we are not remembering them. It almost goes without saying that we are made of memories. I can anticipate that your graduation in June 2023, which most of you will remember forever, is going to be one of those days.

This day will always accompany you. It represents an important rite of passage, yet another representation of the inner liminality of your existence. Graduation day is a beginning and an end. A lot has happened, much more is to happen, more than you could and can ever imagine.

DePaul Class of 2023, during these last few years you have learned several things, some essential, some simply useful, and some unrelated to what you will need in life to find fulfillment and joy. You have made some friends for life, maybe even found first love, or perhaps love forever. You have met some people and events that inspired you, who changed your way of seeing the world, and who helped you find a life purpose that today seems like a destiny. We won’t ever forget that all of you even went through a global pandemic together!

In the past years, you have experienced epiphanies that are now leading your way into a future that we hope you are less afraid of than before. The constant experiences of perplexity, doubt, or simple frustration at the complexity of the world are also there in your growing experience, and they, too, slowly shed light onto the mystery of your life.

You’ve led the rhythm and intensity of your integral development over the past few years, and you’ve been inspired and supported by your families, friends, professors, and even the new people you met during university activities. The sum of all these relationships and interactions has probably been the most impactful dimension of your own epiphany at DePaul University.

I personally hope that in those nights of profound solitude, in moments of intense tension and academic anxiety, in relational, intercultural, interfaith, multiconvictional conflicts at the heart of this fascinating and diverse community, you grew closer to finding yourself. Never forget the moments of tears, fear, anxiety, and even anguish, the moments in which you were exposed to your own vulnerability, nor the moments of laughter, joy, innocence, inner peace, love, solidarity, and compassion—all those moments in which you became more aware than ever of your gift, your potential, your passion, your real purpose in life.

We all hope that after these past years at DePaul, in the Vincentian spirit, you came to understand more clearly the beauty and the challenges we all experience living in diverse communities of thought, faith, and action. I hope that you have learned that ethics belong to the order of relational practice and not simply of theory.

Before you go from our midst, I would like to invite the Class of 2023 to incorporate forever in your ethical imagination, if you have not yet, a Vincentian principle that will help you to be fully human in your thought, faith, and action: the principle of compassion that guided the lives of Vincent and Louise and that was the real engine of their individual and common imagination.

In the past years most of you probably have become aware, as Vincent did when he was young, of the unbearable levels of suffering throughout world history, the scandalous levels of violence and inequity, the progressive and dangerous growth of polarization, and the endless loneliness of millions and millions of people who carry the very heavy weight of injustice, discrimination, misunderstanding, and bitterness.

My friends, in your hearts there is written a human ethos that makes you want to include all those people—who, deep down, are each one of us—in the collective ethos of a humanity that is undeniably walking toward transforming change, real civilization, and a common home where there is radical hospitality. That space where tears can be cried without shame, or kindly wiped away.

The compassion I am talking about is not having pity for others, a feeling that reduces them to a condition of helplessness, without inner energy to stand upright. Compassion means being together in a shared passion. This ethos of compassion gives us the capacity to suffer with others, to rejoice with them, to walk with them together, elbow to elbow. Compassion was for Saint Vincent an ethical and spiritual path.

In your life, how are you be able to free yourself from suffering, loneliness, and fear?

In the Buddhist world tradition, they might respond to this question saying, “through compassion, infinite compassion,” and people from many worldviews could agree. In the Vincentian, Christian world we believe the same and invite others to do so as well, from wherever they stand.

To find your compassionate soul, as you graduate from DePaul University, have the courage to detach yourself from the apparent inner need of possessing things and people. Only in this way will you be able to transition by finding the most profound aspiration of our human existence, which is in communion. This communion always respects otherness and difference. Please be a light in this contradictory age, connect with others to exercise the human ethos of solidarity in all circumstances, let compassion guide your life … be an ethical person in all your words, faith, convictions, and actions. Thank you from all of us to all of you for the grace you share with us when you let us into the beautiful mystery of your lives. Congratulations Class of 2023. Never forget that you belong here at DePaul!

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

 

Designing a DePaul with Heart

In the coming weeks, our DePaul community will continue to engage in the current strategic design process and consider the short and long-term future of our beloved institution. This is likely to include seeing, hearing about, and sharing together in many challenging conversations as we manage the implications of the recent announcement about the budget challenges and the headwinds the university is facing.

At this time in our history, it is as important as ever to center our thinking and collective conversations about budgets, departments, programs, and services around our DePaul University mission. In the light of this mission and amid our current budgetary tensions and constraints, as well as our aspirational hopes and dreams, we are challenged to thoughtfully discern and intentionally decide what is and will remain fundamental to who we are and who we believe we are called to become as a Catholic, Vincentian institution of higher education. This call is perhaps never more important than in times of political and economic adversity. What must be done? We must integrate conscious attention to equity, sustainability and community into our design and decision-making processes.

We share these thoughts as an interdisciplinary group of faculty members across all ten colleges who have spent the last year as part of the pilot Vincentian Pedagogy Project. Together, we have collectively learned, reflected upon, and discussed the ways in which our Vincentian mission might inform and inspire our practice of teaching.

We have concluded that how we enact mission in our classrooms needs to remain central to our collective conversations. While there are some things that we cannot control at the university, the work of teaching and learning is uniquely ours. What we do in the classroom, how we think about educational outcomes, and how we shape educational processes with our students lie at the heart of who we are and what we do as an institution of higher learning. Our pedagogical commitments are a concrete reflection of how we understand and practice our Vincentian mission.

In the pedagogy group’s shared reflections over the past year, we have become more conscious of how our teaching most commonly reflects what we value and how systems produce the outcomes that they have been designed to produce. Therefore, we believe it is particularly important for us to ask: what is the institutional and educational vision toward which we are working? Who do we, as educators, need to become if we are to achieve this vision? What must we do in the classroom and in our work with students to achieve this vision?

How we think about the education we deliver matters. Becoming more conscious and intentional about the way our systems and educational processes are structured—both visibly and invisibly, whether consciously or unconsciously—is an essential part of the process of effective design and shapes how decisions are made. If our mission is to have integrity, the means must reflect the end that we seek. In other words, our pedagogy must reflect the educational outcomes to which we aspire.

After four lengthy and in-depth conversations together this academic year, our shared wisdom about what a Vincentian pedagogy entails has moved us to the common recognition that most fundamentally our teaching is and must remain motivated by a mission far bigger than our own individual disciplines. As people inspired by the intuition and spirit of Vincent de Paul, we advocate for delivering an education not only focused on developing professional competence, but also the formation of people with hearts for those in need. We must develop their skill and capacity to work collaboratively with a wide diversity of others toward a more just, equitable and sustainable society and planet. In short, we teach with and for social and environmental thriving.

Significantly, recent major international conversations about education, such as those led by the Catholic Church and the United Nations, have moved more and more toward a focus on equity and sustainability as central to the work of education. They suggest that through education we build together the future of our humanity. This means cultivating a spirit of community, solidarity, compassion, and care for one another and a deep appreciation for the dignity of all people, particularly those who are marginalized and abandoned.

An important part of what is needed to achieve such a vision of education both globally and locally is nurturing the habit of living and learning in a communal context. In the current age, therefore, our pedagogy must involve inviting the wisdom, perspective, and participation of those we seek to teach, as well as fostering critical self-reflection and self-examination in our students. Doing so involves a certain degree of vulnerability, including the willingness and ability of teachers to model what they teach. This involves being self-aware and reflecting on the ways in which our beliefs and practices, our use of power, and the responsibilities entrusted to us either help or hurt movement toward our stated educational vision and goals.

What does all of this have to do with the current institutional context?

First, we hope that the decisions of members across the university community, including those of our institutional leaders, will be guided by clearly stated mission-related values. Transparent communication about the vision and direction in which we are seeking to move benefits all. A high level of self-awareness and self-scrutiny is needed if we are to hold true to our values and not replicate the harms so prevalent in the patterns present in our broader society. Again, the means must reflect the ends to which we aspire.

Second, sound decisions most often involve the collective wisdom of the broader community. When we move and decide independently of consideration for the larger whole, the community to which we belong and seek to serve, we are more likely to forget who we are. The community holds us accountable to what we most value. We hope to see this appreciation of communal wisdom evident through the participation of a diverse community of DePaul faculty, staff, and students in the Designing DePaul process.

Third, we must continue to work intentionally to develop the systems and to cultivate with care the kind of community-of-persons that will most help us achieve the mission to which we aspire. Communities are not built by happenstance, but through careful attention and care for each other.

DePaul University, with our distinctive Catholic and Vincentian mission, is well positioned to contribute meaningfully to a new humanity through our approaches to pedagogy and leadership. Our mission calls us to model and support the development of competent and skilled teachers and leaders with a heart. By intention, the education we provide and the leadership we exhibit should clearly reveal our commitment and desire to work together with others in our rapidly changing, complex, and diverse world and toward the goal of a more just, equitable, and sustainable human community and planet. In these times, and especially in the midst of our current challenges, let us move with intention toward this hope in the service of our mission.


Reflection by:    The Vincentian Pedagogy Project Pilot Group

Christopher Tirres, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, co-lead faculty facilitator
Jacki Kelly-McHale, School of Music, co-lead faculty facilitator
Sarah Brown, Center for Teaching and Learning
Doug Bruce, College of Science and Health
Susanne Dumbleton, School of Continuing and Professional Studies
Elissa Foster, College of Communication
Sharon Guan, Center for Teaching and Learning
Horace Hall, College of Education
Jaclyn Jensen, College of Business
Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry
Sheryl Overmyer, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Coya Paz Brownrigg, Theatre School
Mark Potosnak, College of Science and Health
Howard Rosing, Steans Center
Ann Russo, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Allison Tirres, College of Law
Allen Turner, College of Computing and Digital Media
Chris Worthman, College of Education

 

Finding the Human Connection

The arrival of March means a few things here in Chicago. It is the arrival of meteorological spring, although I wouldn’t put away the winter coat quite yet. We are in the Lenten season for many Christians, and this year Ramadan will start for Muslims worldwide during our spring break. It also means Saint Patrick’s Day, which turns our hearts toward all things green and Irish. I think the spirit of this season reminds all of us to bring the beauty of our full selves to this community, and to look with special care for those among us who may be a bit lost, but who with a bit of minding could blossom beautifully.

As with any saint, especially one who lived sixteen centuries ago, we know a lot more about the Patrick of hagiography and myth than the one of history. On the bright side, we can learn a lot from hagiography and myth. For many, Saint Patrick represents the plight of those who fall victim to great evil,[1] but who under God’s care can turn evil to good. In his Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus, Saint Patrick speaks poignantly against the horrors of slavery as someone who had experienced it himself. In the nineteenth- and twentieth-century United States, Saint Patrick’s Day became a symbol of Irish cultural and religious pride and an honoring of immigrants more broadly.

After its establishment in 1898, DePaul University’s mission was centered upon providing higher education and a ladder to a better life to the children of immigrants in Chicago, many of whom were Irish Catholics. Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M., DePaul’s President from 1910 to 1920, oversaw tremendous growth in DePaul’s student body and began coeducation of men and women together over the objections of the archbishop. He also made DePaul the first American university to grant an honorary degree to an international figure when he bestowed one upon Irish leader Eamon de Valera in 1919.[2] De Valera had escaped from an English prison and was touring the United States to raise money and political support as the Irish War of Independence raged.

Given that March is Academy Awards season, it also seems appropriate to note that a commitment to include and honor people from different cultures and identities in a deep way can often best be achieved through the arts. There were three powerful Irish films released last year that also may evoke some mission-related reflection.[3] In The Banshees of Inisherin, we see what appears to be an idyllic Irish village. As the story unfolds, we see that the village contains elements of evil and corruption, but most of all feelings of loneliness and of being trapped. These are brought to the surface when the vital human connection of friendship for one of the residents is cut off without warning. Aisha tells the story of a Nigerian Muslim woman seeking asylum in Ireland who, having already suffered immense trauma and hardship, is now caught in a bureaucratic nightmare. And, in the Irish language film An Cailίn Ciúin (The Quiet Girl), we witness the effects on a neglected young girl spending a summer with distant relatives who truly see and care for her despite her quietness.

Each of these films dramatizes the profound human need for connection. We see how much can lie beneath surfaces. One of the paradoxes of DePaul’s mission is that we emphasize the individual care and attention we call personalism, while also proudly carrying the banner of the nation’s largest Catholic university. There is great potential in this paradox. We can offer the diverse resources of a large school while providing personal holistic attention to each student as well. To fulfill this potential, we need to remind ourselves of the value of connecting with those students who may be quiet, who may feel lost in bureaucracy, who may suffer from traumatic life circumstances, or who merely feel an unmet need for friendship that can make life seem meaningless. Perhaps in a nod to their Irishness, none of these films offers an easy, happy ending, but each demonstrates that even in the midst of difficulty, reaching out for true connection is always worth it for all involved.


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

[1] The predominant understanding has been that Saint Patrick was kidnapped and taken to Ireland as an enslaved person, although as with most everything about his life, the historical accuracy of that has been questioned. See “Was St. Patrick a Slave Trader and Tax Collector?” IrishCentral, March 7, 2022, https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/saint-patrick-slave-trader.

[2] See “DePaul Presidents: Rev. Francis X. McCabe, C.M.,”               The Full Text (blog), DePaul University Library, February 24, 2010, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2010/02/24/depaul-presidents-rev-francis-x-mccabe-c-m/.

[3] By the time you read this, you will know how many of the fourteen nominations garnered by Irish talent resulted in Oscar wins. See Emma Jones, “Oscars 2023: Banshees and the Irish Films Breaking Records,” BBC, March 6, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20230303-banshees-and-the-irish-films-breaking-oscars-records.

 

How Would Vincent “Design DePaul”?

In January of this year, President Rob Manuel formally launched “Designing DePaul,” a process to envision our university’s future. The goal: becoming the national model for higher education. As part of Designing DePaul, our community will engage in meetings, visioning sessions, and other conversations all contributing to making this goal a reality. Given DePaul’s bountiful resources, namely, our talented faculty, staff, and leadership; generous alumni and supporters; vibrant Chicago-setting; rich heritage; and energetic, forward-looking student body, I believe we stand a good chance of achieving this goal.

But, in planning our future, we might be well served to also look to our past and ask: How would Vincent de Paul design the university that bears his name? While he surely never contemplated such an endeavor, Vincent did leave us with a rich store of wisdom, based on experience and infused by faith, that could guide us in answering that question. What follows are principles, highlighted by Vincent in his conferences with the Daughters of Charity and Vincentian priests, as they together first established what is now known, almost 400 years later, as the global Vincentian Family. Perhaps they may help in our design.

  • Be guided by the Mission.[1] Vincent’s sole motivation, for himself and his communities, was to stay true to their mission. For Vincent, this mission consisted of both following the example of Jesus Christ in serving the poor as well as listening always for the will of God. For us, the roots of our mission are fed not only by these Vincentian and Catholic values including service, justice, and human dignity but also by the highest aspirations of a university: to foster the integral human development of our students.[2] If a community were to stray from its mission, Vincent believed, it would ultimately lead to its decline.

 

  • In the treasure trove of correspondence, conferences, and documents left to us by Vincent de Paul, we learn that he communicated frequently, about all manner of things, with his community members. He conversed transparently, listened deeply, shared humbly, and encouraged their commentary. Although today’s popular means of communicating would be unrecognizable to Vincent, his approach to communicating is timeless and worth remembering.

 

  • Believe in what you are doing and the value of each role. To his community members, Vincent often spoke of the goodness of their vocations and the value of their work. In that same spirit, we must believe in the fundamental importance and goodness of what we are endeavoring to do here at DePaul. Moreover, every member of our community must honor and value their own role in that endeavor as well as the role of others.

 

  • In your work, act pragmatically and prioritize the common good. When advising his far-flung communities about their various daily operations, Vincent emphasized good stewardship of resources, conscientious management, and pragmatic responses to the many issues that arose.[3] Importantly, his advice always prioritized the common good, of the community and those they served, over the self-interest of the few.

As we each continue to play our role within the DePaul community—as student, staff, faculty, or supporter—and as our university collectively commits to boldly charting our future, perhaps the above principles will help to light the way. For the moment, it may be beneficial to visit another Vincentian quote on the matter. In writing to one of his far-off missionaries, a person known for his zealous commitment to the mission, but who was then meeting with resistance and struggling with feelings of failure, Vincent reassured his companion that his “good will and honest efforts”[4] were enough. By expending our good will and honest efforts, and drawing upon the wisdom of our heritage, certainly we will have done enough.

Invitation for Reflection:

What do you think of these Vincentian principles both as they might apply to Designing DePaul and more generally? Do you think they are worth following? If so, how might you apply them?


Reflection by: Tom Judge, Assistant Director and Chaplain, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 59, “The Preservation of the Company,” May 25, 1654, CCD, 9:536. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/34.

[2] “University Mission Statement,” Division of Mission & Ministry, adopted March 4, 2021, https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/about/Pages/mission.aspx.

[3] Conference 83, “The Management of the Property of the Poor and of Community Goods (Common Rules, Art. 10),” August 26, 1657, CCD, 10:245. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/35.

[4] Letter 962, “To Etienne Blatiron, Superior, in Genoa,” June 21, 1647, CCD, 3:206. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/28/.

Transforming DePaul University

DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus on an autumn afternoon, Oct. 27, 2022. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

On Friday, amid much celebration and good will, DePaul will install Robert L. Manuel as our thirteenth president. This historic event, the culmination of a festive Inauguration Week, will not only mark the formal beginning of a new chapter in our university’s history; it will also amplify a call that is beginning to be heard around campus: the call for DePaul to change. It is said we must change to meet the challenges resulting from rising costs, social pressures, and demographic headwinds confronting higher education today and to which DePaul is not immune. And that we must change in ways that deepen our mission identity, ensure our sustainability, and allow us to flourish as a Vincentian, Catholic university in the twenty-first century. If all this is true and DePaul does need to change, the questions then become: what would this change look like? How would we do it? Where would we begin?

First, I suggest that the proper word for what DePaul needs to do at this moment is not change but transform. Change is inevitable. It is a constant. And there has probably never been a moment in DePaul’s 125-year history when we weren’t in the midst of some significant changes. Transformation, on the other hand, is special. It is unique, holistic, and even transcendent. Transformation is not reflexive but instead requires greater discernment, choice making, and faith in an uncertain future. It is more Vincentian. In seventeenth-century France, Vincent de Paul’s instinct was not so much to change the Catholic Church as it was to transform it from an institution of ill-prepared, absentee priests removed from their communities to one of service and accompaniment with those we might today understand as being marginalized. To echo the parables, Vincent, his collaborator Louise de Marillac, and their colleagues saw the church not so much as a pearl of great price, but as a seed whose roots burrowed into the soil of humanity, helping to bring life and growth to an awaiting world.

Second, as the call for transformation becomes louder, DePaul may wish to take direction from another wisdom figure, Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi’s original, lengthier quote on change[1] may not be familiar to most, but its later, paraphrased version is known by many in the pithy statement “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” What if we at DePaul took this directive to heart? How might our university begin its transformation if the changes we seek also become the behaviors we model? For instance, if we aim for greater shared governance, how can each of us live out the elements of shared governance by listening more closely, striving for consensus, and treating all stakeholders with respect? If, as an institution, we value this thing called Vincentian personalism, how can we as individuals creatively show more care and compassion for our students as well as for our colleagues in faculty and staff? And, if DePaul is truly committed to our Vincentian legacy of service and justice for those most in need, how can we today more fully center those throughout our university, city, and world yoked by oppressive systems and struggling due to socioeconomic disadvantage.

To be sure, I am not saying that all change, let alone transformation, is simply the result of an individual’s inner workings manifested in their outer behaviors. As Vincent’s great colleague and cofounder, Saint Louise de Marillac, knew and communicated: changes are always difficult and they take time.[2] This is especially true at the systemic level, where much of the efforts need to be made. The work of transformation is challenging, arduous, disciplined, it comes with a cost, and it requires great numbers. That is why we will all need to play a role in transforming DePaul into the best version of our mission possible for the sake of the people who join our community in the decades to come.

Questions for Reflection:

Is there a change or transformation you would like to make in your own life? If so, how might the invitation to “be the change you wish to see in the world” help you? How might you contribute to DePaul’s ongoing transformation into more fully living out our mission?


Reflection by: Tom Judge, Assistant Director and Chaplain, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Originally published in Indian Opinion, August 9, 1913, and reprinted in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 98 vols. (New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India: 1999), chap. 153, 13:241. Available at: Gandhi Collected Works.

[2] “You are well aware that changes are always difficult, and that it takes time to learn new ways of serving the poor skillfully and well,” letter 337, “To My Very Dear Sister Cecile Agnés,” December 30, (1651), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, ed. and trans. by Louise Sullivan, DC (New York: New City Press, 1991), 385. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/.

 

Vincentian Leaders: They’re All Over the Place!

Mural at Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Contagem, Brazil

A key to the spiritual transformation of Vincent de Paul was his recognition that only a community of people working together could accomplish the mission he envisioned. Vincent could not do it alone. This insight grounds the Vincentian spirit carried forth in his ministry for the remainder of his life. The Vincentian mission’s sustainability is not the job of one person; instead, it relies on the effective formation of a community that together embodies its spirit and works for its fulfillment. It is the work of a community of people gathered together for the sake of a shared mission.

As we move through another important leadership transition at DePaul, welcoming our new president who officially begins today, this Vincentian insight is timely for us to remember. The ultimate success of DePaul University belongs to every person in our community who carries our mission forward and seeks to make it real in and through their daily actions. Leadership for mission at a Vincentian institution is always a distributed phenomenon. It is characterized by mutuality and collaboration. It is interdependent. In a Vincentian community, we are humble about our personal limitations and our need for others, knowing we lead ultimately by our example and not by our words or the amount of formal authority that we wield. Our effectiveness lies as much in the quality and integrity of our interactions with others as it does in our individual actions or accomplishments.

Who are the Vincentian leaders among us? Ask people to tell you—or better yet, just pay attention to those who inspire both excellence and care, innovation and mutual respect, professionalism and personalism. Vincentian leaders exist in every corner and in every department, among faculty, staff, and students. Look for those who listen carefully and who communicate directly, simply, and clearly. Notice those who, like Vincent, “wear the same cloak” at all times, though they be speaking to the most senior member of the Board or cabinet, or to a student in need. Vincentian leaders face the tough questions head on. They do not play games or pretend to be more than they are. They have the freedom and courage to put service first, responding to immediate needs rather than waiting to have all the answers before they dare to act. They go about the work of doing what is right without unnecessary delay, because they know in their bones what we are about—or perhaps, like Vincent, because they trust that we can always count on Providence to see us through in the end. Through their being and their doing, they inspire others.

As we move through this new transition in presidential leadership, may our shared Vincentian mission continue to inspire and guide the why, what, and how of our work at DePaul. Let it shape the kind of community we are and seek to be together. As we seek to ground our mission deeply in the life and example of our inspirational founder and namesake, may the name above the door continue to say something about who we are and what we aspire to achieve. While we look to our formal leaders—and our new president—to be a source of continued inspiration and guidance, may we recognize that our success will always depend on the way we live our mission as a community of people, all of us together.

What can you do today to lead by your example and to live in the Vincentian way? How do you participate in leadership for the mission of DePaul?


Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry