Lean Into Your Strengths

“May God be pleased to strengthen you in these hardships, enlighten you in your doubts, and bring you safely to the place where Providence intends to lead your little bark. Trust firmly in God’s guidance and encourage your people to have this trust in the present disturbances; the storm will abate, and the calm will be greater and more pleasing than ever.”[1] — Vincent de Paul

Over the past several days, I have found myself repeatedly searching for words that might support my colleagues in Mission and Ministry—and to encourage us to be a support to others—as we move through the many challenges of our current moment as a DePaul community. What surfaced for me in my own prayerful reflection was to share a rather simple message of encouragement to “lean into your strengths.”

Compassion. Kindness. Generosity. Listening. Making space that brings people together as a community. Care. Invitation to relationship. Bridge-building. Hope. Mindful and heart-full reflection and prayer. Love.

There is so much that is beyond us and our ability to control, in our personal lives and in these current times. Remaining grounded in who we are and what we do well is perhaps the best we can contribute for our own good and the good of the whole. This can serve to keep us grounded, authentic, and present to the moment. Each has unique gifts to share for the benefit of the larger whole.

I invite you to join us in Mission and Ministry by considering what strengths you offer that might contribute to the well-being of others in our community right now.

How can you mindfully and intentionally lean into those strengths and offer them generously as gifts for our DePaul community in need of care, healing, and hope?

I would welcome—and I am certain our whole team in Mission and Ministry would welcome—walking with you in any way possible to encourage and support you in bringing those gifts to light.

May we all walk together in the way of wisdom, which Vincent de Paul reminds us, “consists in following Providence step by step.”[2]


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

[1] Letter 1942, “To Charles Ozenne, Superior, in Krakow,” October 15, 1655, CCD, 5:454.

[2] Letter 720, “To Bernard Codoing, Superior, in Rome,” August 6, 1644, CCD, 2:521.

Understanding the Vincentian Heart

Some years ago, colleagues from Mission and Ministry and many other areas developed an initiative called Explore Your Purpose at DePaul University (EYP). This initiative is for all members of the university community to foster their sense of personal meaning and social purpose as part of the educational environment at DePaul.[1] While I wasn’t part of the initial group that created EYP, I participated in ongoing conversations on how to engage students, faculty, and staff around its four Enduring Understandings and have used its resources with students.

Each winter quarter, during a retreat with scholars in the Division of Mission and Ministry, I ask students to contemplate their DePaul experience. Using the lens of these Enduring Understandings, and depending on their class year, they might ponder living a meaningful life, discerning vocation, understanding the Vincentian heart, or sustaining the journey.[2]

This past January, I asked some DMM colleagues to join me and share a story or experience from their life in conjunction with one of the Enduring Understandings. My hope was that our sharing would help the students to feel more comfortable with the topics and lead them to deeper reflection during this part of the retreat. I spoke about understanding the Vincentian heart and shared, briefly, my experience as a student at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, when the then-worst high school shooting in U.S. history happened, and how that day shaped and formed me and led me to my path at DePaul.

I told them that as I struggled to process the complex emotions involved in experiencing significant trauma, I discovered the joy in helping others as so many had helped my community. I spoke about how, in my current role, I get to connect service-minded students to experiences that help their communities. In other words, I have the opportunity to walk with students as they work to understand their Vincentian hearts, spending time with them on their journeys and witnessing the amazing ways they look at the world and say, “I think we can do better.”

The astute reader of this blog might recall that I wrote on this very topic for a Mission Monday entry a few years ago. You might wonder why I’m bringing it up again. This event is an integral part of who I am, and it’s important not to forget this tragedy. As I write this reflection, the twenty-fifth anniversary of that tragic day is still a week away. When you read this, that day will have just gone by. I haven’t always been able to share about this part of my story, but I’ve learned there is a certain power that comes in naming that I lived through this experience and that it has shaped me—positively and negatively. I’ve also learned that it’s important for me personally to name that I am a survivor of gun violence. Sharing about this part of myself in a public setting isn’t easy for me, but when I do so, I am sharing from a specific understanding of my Vincentian heart.

My Vincentian heart is continuously being molded by all aspects of my life. Every year it is impacted by the students on the Vincentian Service Day Team in the Division of Mission and Ministry and the amazing work they do on this event. I’m not sure the students would articulate their work in this way, but they demonstrate an understanding of their Vincentian hearts every time they plan the DePaul tradition that is Vincentian Service Day (VSD). From the way they brainstorm about engaging more members of the DePaul community in VSD, to the ways they interact with community partners and DePaul partners during the planning process, to the way they interact with each other, they work with a sense of thoughtfulness and intentionality. They continually push me, and each other, to create a VSD that is representative of our Vincentian mission. In working on this tradition for the DePaul community, they create a space where everyone who participates can connect to understanding their Vincentian hearts through an experience of service.

Who or what has shaped and molded your Vincentian heart?

I invite you to join the DePaul community for Vincentian Service Day on Saturday, May 4. Registration closes on Wednesday May 1 at 11:59 AM. For more information about participating in VSD, visit: http://serviceday.depaul.edu; or email: serviceday@depaul.edu.


Reflection by: Katie Sullivan, Program Manager, Vincentian Service and Formation Office, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] For more, see: Explore Your Purpose at DePaul.

[2] For more, see: Explore Your Purpose at DePaul University: Enduring Understandings and Learning Outcomes.

Organizational Renewal and Collective Cultivation

When I left home for college, I had not yet come to appreciate the changing seasons of my rural Connecticut childhood. It would be decades before I was again able to experience a four-season climate. After twenty-plus years in Florida and stops in Texas and California, my partner and I arrived in Pennsylvania, where we were greeted by long winters and the life-affirming color of flowering plants and trees upon the arrival of spring: forsythia, tulips, crocuses, magnolias, and daffodils. By the time we moved to Chicago (and DePaul) in 2012, we had grown quite fond of the changing seasons. Planning and cultivating a garden meant a commitment to hard work, communication, patience, and reward.

We seek such meaning in our lives. And it is sometimes our setbacks—in relationships, in health, in our careers—that call out for renewal. However one finds a source for renewal, one hopes for a spark that might revitalize. When that spark ignites, it can feel like Wordsworth’s daffodils, “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.”[1] Whether embodied by the Easter holiday or the seemingly sudden appearance of brightly colored flowers, spring signals new beginnings, hope, and renewal.

Here we are again in the midst of change. I refer not just to the arrival of spring but also the significant work going on right now on this campus to implement Designing DePaul. I was fortunate to be in the audience for President Manuel’s inauguration speech in November 2022, when he previewed the work that so many in the DePaul community have contributed to. He emboldened those of us in attendance when he said, “We must live up to Saint Vincent and Saint Louise’s standards by being people of action and reflection—not only seeing the dignity of each individual, but also seeing their potential and creating the change that cures.”[2] The change that cures. As a health communication researcher, I am entranced by the word “cure.” Etymologically, the verb form of “cure” stems from the Latin curare, which means “to take care of.” In this sense, we also cure food for preservation. The noun form—cura—is drawn from the same Latin root and is both “a means of healing” and, when accented, “a parish priest in France” and “one responsible for the care of souls”—curé.

As Designing DePaul matures from vision to implementation, our community will recognize how the learning organization is one that is always open to possibility and continuous change. Systems strive for, but never achieve, equilibrium. The change that cures is an organizational mindset that encourages its stakeholders to respond to—indeed, to preserve—the inevitability of perpetual change.

How can we become a community that learns and grows together?

As faculty and staff at DePaul University, we embrace the duty of care we have for our students in fulfillment of our Vincentian mission. In the College of Communication, a small group of us has developed a course, Communication Fundamentals for College Success, to help students become more engaged in their learning, develop a growth mindset, and identify campus resources that can aid them. This collective effort was inspired by significant changes we recognized in our students as they emerged from two years of less-than-ideal learning environments during the pandemic. As committed faculty, we recognized a need, worked together, and made something new for the benefit of our students as well as for each other in our small learning collective.

In her Spiritual Writings, Saint Louise remarks on the work involved in establishing the Daughters of Charity and, in so doing, offers a philosophy for all collaborative work. She writes, “I must make good use of the advice which has been given to me concerning the distinctions which appear among persons working together for the same goal, who have similar and nearly equal responsibilities for its outcome.”[3] Margaret Posig draws connections between Saint Vincent’s change efforts and those of John Kotter, an organizational change scholar. As Posig explains, Saint Vincent and Saint Louise communicated their vision via storytelling in letters, newspapers, and brief memos—all the means of connection at their disposal.[4] Margaret Kelly notes the energy Saint Louise exerted in maintaining her correspondence with Saint Vincent as well as recording her private thoughts.[5] In her writing, she expresses joy and devotion but also her uncertainty, apprehension, and confusion. Arguably, Saint Louise was successful because she embraced humility and patience.[6] Deep learning emerges from an almost childlike curiosity of what can happen when we are both motivated for change—for renewal—and humbled by how much we can learn together.

Questions for Reflection:

To revitalize our work in service of the Vincentian mission and Designing DePaul, how can we inspire conversations that acknowledge both uncertainty and joy? In our various enterprises both within and beyond our professional units, how can we encourage curiosity and humility in the service of change that cures?

“Saint Vincent de Paul as a Leader of Change: The Key Roles of A higher” by Margaret Posig Ph.D.


Reflection by: Jay Baglia, Associate Professor, Health Communication, College of Communication

[1] William Wordsworth, “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” Poetry Foundation, accessed April 11, 2024, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45521/i-wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud.

[2] Rob Manuel, “Inauguration 2022,” DePaul University, November 11, 2022, https://‌offices.‌depaul.‌edu/‌president/‌notes-from-rob/2022-2023/Pages/inauguration-2022.aspx.

[3] Document A. 12, “(Renunciation of Self),” (c. 1633) in Louise Sullivan, D.C., ed. and trans., Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac: Correspondence and Thoughts (New York: New City Press, 1991). Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/.

[4] See Margaret Posig, PhD, “Saint Vincent de Paul as a Leader of Change: The Key Roles of A higher Purpose and Empowerment,” Vincentian Heritage 26:1 (2005), pp. 27-41, at: https://‌‌via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol26/iss1/4.

[5] Margaret J. Kelly, D.C., “The Relationship of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise from Her Perspective,” Vincentian Heritage 11:1 (1990), pp. 77-114, at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol11/iss1/6.

[6] Louise Sullivan, D.C., “Louise de Marillac: A Spiritual Portrait,” in Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, ed. F. Ryan and J. Rybolt (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 39-64.

Showing up in a Time of Digital Distance

As has been the case during many former Lenten seasons, this year several groups of DePaul faculty and staff met on Zoom during a six-week period to participate in faith-sharing groups. Even though many of the group members had never before met, their time invited them to get to know colleagues on a much deeper level than activities of the workplace typically allow. During these sessions, we shared about the events of our lives in light of our faith commitments, and we prayed together as a community gathered together for the sake of a rich mission. While we may have started out as strangers, we soon became spiritual companions who travelled together on a unique journey, opening up about our lives and supporting each other during an intimate and sacred moment in time.

In many ways, this simple commitment to meet together and to share honestly aligned with the invocation of Saint Vincent, centuries before, to model truthful simplicity. Writing to a fellow priest, Vincent had implored, “Have the simplicity of a dove. This means giving a straightforward opinion about things in the way we honestly see them, without needless reservations. It also means doing things without any double-dealing or manipulation, our intention being focused solely on God.”[1] After all, “everyone loves simple, candid people, who don’t use subtleties or tricks, who are straightforward and speak sincerely, with the result that whatever they say comes from their heart.… they’re respected … esteemed by all.[2]

Last week’s Mission Monday invited us to reflect on our human need to be in community and to feel cared for in good times and in bad. As I reflect upon what happened for me this Lenten season, our faith-sharing groups made manifest the best of “Take Care DePaul.” We showed up for one another. We listened and supported each other. At times, we gently challenged each other. We shared our truths, and we made meaning together. We trusted one another. And, if members couldn’t attend, we prayed for them and for the larger DePaul community. It was a form of spiritual accompaniment, a way of reminding each other that we matter, and the events of our lives matter. In a world that is so often defined by digital distance, this weekly coming together reminded us that we were not alone.

At its best, DePaul is a community that cares, and caring for the other is an integral part of working at a Vincentian university. Moreover, it is part of what it means to be human and is essential for human flourishing.

There are many experiences that may represent for us the best of DePaul. In the midst of the winter quarter, these groups were just one small manifestation of such an experience. They offered an opportunity to come together and listen to each other in a supportive environment of peers. This meant that for just a brief moment in time, we were able to share what was in our hearts and feel heard. It offered an opportunity to care and, in a spirit of mutuality, to experience being cared for by trusted peers. Engaging in such meaningful experiences has the potential to remind us that another world is possible, a world that is more caring and compassionate, in which all may thrive.

Reflection Questions

How might you/we create more experiences with colleagues that allow for deeper interpersonal sharing, support, and connection?

Think of a moment when you felt you were particularly well cared for at DePaul. Who showed up for you at that time? How have you paid this moment forward? What did that feel like?

Recall a time when you spoke the truth in the face of your own fears. What do you remember of this moment? What did you learn from it?


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

[1] Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation of the Mission, English trans. (Rome: General Curia of the Congregation of the Mission, 1989), 109.

[2] Pierre Coste, C.M., ed., Vincent de Paul: Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, ed. and trans. Jacqueline Kilar, D.C. et al., 14 vols. (New York: New City Press, 1985-2008), 12:142.

What Must Be Done to Renew the DePaul Community?

This past Saturday evening, millions of Christians around the world attended the Easter Vigil, the most important liturgy (or religious worship) of the year. With dramatic use of fire and water, prayer and readings, song and silence, the Easter Vigil celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ and welcomes new members into the Christian faith. A peak moment that combines these elements during the Vigil is the rite of baptism for adults being initiated into the Church. After months of preparation, those seeking baptism are brought before the assembly. They are invited to renounce sin and profess their faith and then are immersed in the holy waters of baptism, symbolizing cleansing and new life.

Just before this solemn ritual takes place, there is a moment during which the priest leads the worshippers in a unique prayer called the Litany of the Saints. With roots dating back to the founding of Christianity, the Litany of the Saints invokes the aid of those who came before us—angels, saints, and martyrs—to pray for and watch over those of us who are gathered. We are joined with this Communion of Saints through prayer and shared faith. We are in spiritual relationship with them as they give us support and guidance to continue our journeys of faith. The Litany of the Saints is a timeless reminder of our desire for community and connection. It encapsulates the human need for relationships, spiritual and otherwise, that provide care and witness in our lives.

Our need to be in community and relationships, to feel that we are cared for and valued, in good times and in bad, is basic and intrinsic. It is part of what motivates people to join faith communities, as witnessed at the Easter Vigil. Our churches, mosques, synagogues, and other social organizations help meet this need for community. So, too, do our schools, workplaces, and communities. At the most fundamental level, our families and friends are witnesses to our lives whose love and acceptance is enduring, even during periods of struggle and disappointment. As shown throughout human history and within our own personal experience, relationships matter. When healthy relationships abound in our lives, we flourish. When they are lacking, we decline.

This belief in the power of relationships is one that no less a person than the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, endorses. Last year, Murthy issued an advisory calling for all Americans to pay attention to the urgent public health issues of loneliness and isolation that he asserted has reached epidemic levels.[1] In part the result of decades of slowly declining social connectedness as well as the isolating impact of the Covid pandemic, Murthy found that Americans spend more time on the internet and less time with others. They feel less connected with their communities and more alone than ever before. In direct terms, the surgeon general wrote of the importance of rebuilding trust, empathy, and a sense of belonging to help nurture social connections in the face of this growing feeling of isolation.

Despite the vast difference in circumstances between their time and ours, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac understood this basic human need for community and a feeling of connection. At the heart of the service to which Vincent and Louise gave their lives was devotion to those who were abandoned by others,[2] who were the least visible and most marginalized in society. At the same time, in forming faith-based organizations of service such as the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, Vincent and Louise placed great importance on their followers living in community and serving shoulder to shoulder with each other. They saw these community relationships as providing both an edifying[3] as well as practical[4] benefit for the men and women who were the first Vincentian Family members.

Today, DePaul University members are just as in need of relationships and communities as were those early followers of Vincent and Louise. That need is even more apparent as our university community has been subjected to the same forces of changing social norms and the damages of Covid that have caused the broader social disconnect identified by the surgeon general. These realities present DePaul with challenges as great as those our university faces in the areas of enrollment, retention, consolidation, budgeting, and the like.

But, as in most things at DePaul, our strengths and advantages provide us with an abundance of resources needed to overcome these issues. First among our assets is our Vincentian, Catholic mission, which values the human being and the common good above all else. If all parts of the university reflect on how they are best guided to live by our mission, we will have ample protection against the forces that lead to disconnect. In addition, we have a history of being a strong and supportive community whose members have always been grateful to be in relationship with one another and to call DePaul home. Taken together, if today’s generation of talented students, staff, and faculty recognize and agree on the basic challenges that exist to our communities and relationships and then commit to operating within their spheres of influence to make a difference, we will succeed at renewing a vibrant, joy-filled, and supportive community at DePaul.

What might our committed response to these challenges look like? As a first step, it could simply be reaching out to a friend or colleague and scheduling a time to be together. Beyond that, you could join a group or go to an event that might allow you to develop your skills and meet new friends. At higher levels, university resources of money, energy, and attention could go toward supporting opportunities for community and relationship building so that members feel heard, valued, and supported. There are probably many other ways—modest or grand—that our DePaul community can reinvigorate our sense of belonging and connection and put the forces that contribute to loneliness at bay. It gives me, and I hope it gives you, real hope to imagine these possibilities!

Questions for Reflection:

How are you feeling about your relationships and community connections at DePaul? Who are people you can turn to when sharing a joy or a sorrow? Do you fill that role for others? How might you cultivate these relationships if they seem lacking?

Why not commit to doing something to help strengthen the bonds of community at DePaul? Could you reach out to a colleague and schedule a check-in? Attend an event or join an organization? Does anything else come to mind?

The Division of Mission and Ministry’s Faculty and Staff Engagement team would be delighted to visit with faculty and staff at DePaul at any time.


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

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation: The U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on the Healing Effects of Social Connection and Community,” 2023, at: https://www.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/surgeon-general-social-connection-advisory.pdf.

[2] Conference 164, “Love for the Poor,” January 1657, CCD 11:349: “Come then, my dear confreres, let us devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned.” Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌37/.

[3] Conference 1, “Explanation of the Regulations,” July 31, 1634, CCD, 9:2: “What a blessing to be a member of a Community because each individual shares in the good that is done by all!” Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌‌‌vincentian_ebooks/34/.

[4] Letter 1857, “To Charles Ozenne, Superior, in Warsaw,” April 2, 1655, CCD, 5:349: “The … question is whether you can go alone to visit the sick in the parish. O Jesus, Monsieur, you must be very careful not to go alone! When the Son of God determined that the Apostles should go two by two, He doubtless foresaw the great evils of going alone. Now, who would want to depart from the custom He introduced among His own men and which is that of the Company, which, after His example, acts in this way?” Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/.

 

An Invitation With Your Name On It

DePaul staff at Nuevos Vecinos

It has long been a tradition at DePaul to hold service days during which students, faculty, and staff participate in community-based projects all over Chicago. Service is in the DNA of any Vincentian institution, and service days are just one small way in which we live out this commitment.

Every year the Division of Mission and Ministry dedicates a day for faculty and staff to engage in service projects identified by our community partners as a need or priority. On an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in early February, approximately twenty-five faculty and staff visited four sites in the city to participate in projects as diverse as sorting clothes for newly arrived migrants, organizing emergency supplies in a food pantry, and accompanying those with special needs with their daily chores.

Having spent a few hours at the sites, the group then returned to campus to enjoy a nourishing Chartwells lunch followed by a meaningful conversation with peers, wherein we reflected on the activities of the day, the people we met, and the stories in which we had played a small part. In addition to some deeply poignant moments when we wrestled with existential questions regarding equity and the injustice in our city and our world, participants deepened old friendships and established new ones. Everyone seemed to revel in a moment of joyful appreciation to be part of an institution that prioritizes such engagement. As I scanned the reflection circle at the end of the day, I found myself thinking that Vincent would be very proud.

Afterwards, I thought the day was over as I made my way to the Fullerton El. But it wasn’t.

Upon arriving at the train platform, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a DePaul colleague who had participated in the service day. It was great to see her, and we used our ride together to talk about the activities of the day and to get to know one another on a deeper level. We found that we lived in the same neighborhood, and we had some friends in common. We were also getting off the train at the same stop.

Our journey north had already proved to be a lively one after a couple of surprising events that would not have been out of place in a dynamic novel. But then our train shunted to a slow halt at Wilson, and we stopped moving. After what seemed to be a short eternity, a message started scrolling in neon print on the digital announcement board. It stated that, due to a medical emergency, the train would remain at Wilson until EMTs could arrive. In that same instant, I noticed three CTA staff members huddling together around a passenger, who was sprawled out along the row of seats at the front of the car, seemingly unresponsive.

I found myself unsure of what to do next. However, without missing a beat, my DePaul colleague jumped to her feet and hurriedly approached the CTA staff. She said, “I’d like to help. I’m medically trained. I’d like to see him. I can help.” She crouched down so she could be on the same level as the man. Resolutely, she asked him, “Sir, are you ok? Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes? Don’t worry, we are going to take care of you. The ambulance is coming. You will be okay. I will stay with you.” After checking to see if he was still conscious, she gently touched his hand and stayed close to him the entire time while the emergency services were on their way. She was determined to let him know he wasn’t alone. When the ambulance whisked him away, he was still unresponsive.

Where this passenger went, we do not know. Who he was, we will never know either, but in that moment, the meaning of Vincentian personalism could not have been clearer. This man, who had been on the train for at least forty-five minutes and was seemingly unresponsive for most of that time, had been ignored by his co-passengers. When the ambulance arrived, his condition did not bode well. If someone had intervened earlier, his situation may not have been so dire. Yet my colleague had jumped into action. She had felt called to see how she might help him. It wasn’t the technicalities of her medical training that seemed to be the most important in that moment though. Rather, it was how she accompanied him with care and compassion in his hour of need. Getting down to his level, gently ministering to him with attention and love, and even holding his hand at one point, reminded me of the best of our Vincentian mission.

I had thought that our service ended when we left the service sites earlier that day. Yet watching my colleague respond to a stranger, perhaps in his moment of greatest need, with a kind word and small gestures that demonstrated that he wasn’t alone was perhaps the most profound demonstration of Vincentian personalism that I had witnessed the entire day. I was in awe, and I was reminded of the words of Saint Vincent that we had reflected on at the closing of our service day: “Let’s keep this lamp always lit in our hearts.”[1]

Every day, there are invitations in our life that ask us to focus on what really matters. Sometimes, this may involve reaching out to another in need and taking the risk to step outside our comfort zone and respond with an act of compassion. While we may never know how such an act may be received, if we listen deeply, we may find the courage to trust the truth of our actions and respond.

That day, I had the good fortune of being with someone who didn’t hesitate when she heard that call. I witnessed a small act of great love in that moment, demonstrated by a DePaul colleague whom I had just met.

I am thinking about that formative moment still, and today, I feel moved to share it with you and ask how you are being invited to demonstrate Vincentian personalism.

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you think of a moment when you felt called to respond to a stranger by an act of compassion? How and why did it stay with you?
  2. What act of compassion might you be invited to share at DePaul today that could lighten the load of a colleague? How will you respond?

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

[1] Conference 198, “Seeking the Kingdom of God (Common Rules, Chap. 2, Art. 2),” February 21, 1659, CCD, 12:116. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

Building a Strong Foundation

“I certainly hope that you will lay the foundation … of the establishment being made, so that the edifice will be built on rock and not on shifting sands.”[1]

I have been thinking about foundations—things upon which something stands or is supported—quite a bit lately, because on January 25, DePaul celebrated the 407th anniversary of the foundation of the Vincentian mission. On that date in 1617, Monsieur Vincent de Paul delivered a memorable sermon of inspiration and hope to poor villagers of the rural community he served. This occasion was so meaningful to those assembled, including Vincent, that it contributed to a great surge of faith among the villagers, and led some years later to Vincent founding an order of priests who, like himself, were willing to devote their lives to the poor. Accordingly, the foundation of the worldwide Vincentian mission we know today was laid in a modest country church in France when faith, in response to great need, took action.

In a less institutional but more personal way, I have been reflecting upon my own foundation as of late. Unexpected challenges have made me stop and ask: What have I built my life on? What really grounds and supports me? And what difference does it make?

Albert Camus, the French writer and thinker, talked about the human crisis, the time when an individual, or an entire society, comes under intense difficulty or threat, and when difficult decisions must be made.[2] At these times of crisis, Camus believed, human beings have three options: they can throw their hands up in despair and impotence; they can take refuge in empty beliefs that prove useless when the going gets tough; or they can resist. For Camus, this last option was the best option, the most noble, the most virtuous. To resist means to respond to danger and challenge with courage, selflessness, justice, and love. To resist is to use the available talents and resources towards vanquishing the threat and serving the common good. Camus did not think that such resistance was easy nor was it always successful. But it was the right, and ultimately most effective, thing to do.

It seems to me that resistance to a challenge or crisis, whether it is personal or societal, stands a better chance of success if it is based upon a strong foundation. Values that are tried and true. Wisdom that has stood the test of time. Relationships that are healthy and nurturing. A strong sense of your “inner compass” and where it is pointing you. Vincent de Paul and his community faced the crisis of poverty in seventeenth-century France and chose not to turn away, but to resist. They based their resistance on their own strong foundation: faith, which, for them meant modeling their lives on the example of Jesus Christ; community, which meant that they would live and serve together; and a shared commitment to respond to the needs that presented themselves.

As human beings, we move between challenges, even crises, as a part of life. As Camus understood, during these times the temptation to give up or turn to a false, empty solution is strong. But, if we can muster the strength and courage to meet the challenge and then do all we can to lean upon that strong foundation, ultimately, we will prevail.

At DePaul, and in our lives, we seek to meet difficult needs and critical challenges every day. Having a foundation that grounds and supports us, that accompanies and unites us, will always help us through.

Questions for Reflection:

What is your foundation built upon? What helps to ground and support you?

If DePaul’s foundation is our mission—our Vincentian and Catholic identity—what might you do to help sustain and strengthen it?

Think of a time in your personal or professional life when you have faced a great challenge or even a crisis. Did you “lean into” your foundation for support and strength? How so?


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

[1] Letter 1965, “To Jean Martin,” 26 November 1655, CCD, 5:479. See: https://‌‌‌‌via.‌library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/.

[2] Albert Camus, “The Human Crisis” (“La Crise de l’homme”), lecture, Columbia University, 28 March 1946. Click here to read a transcription of the lecture.

Creating a Community of Care

Mother Teresa once suggested that the world is hurting because “we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”[1] It occurs to me that whenever we have an opportunity to remember we are part of the same human family, and to respond to one another with love, the best of our shared humanity is revealed.

There is a lot of talk today about the importance of self-care. Indeed, a billion-dollar industry has emerged around this concept with self-help books, spas, life coaches, spiritualities, and myriad lotions and potions to address every kind of ailment that one could ever possibly imagine.

Without a doubt, self-care is important. To thrive as humans, we must tend to our physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs. A balanced life is something we all deserve, and we owe it to ourselves to strive to attain this. Moreover, it is essential if we wish to function to the best of our ability.

Judging from his letters, Saint Vincent de Paul would probably have agreed with this advice. He certainly encouraged his confreres and friends to find balance in their day-to-day lives and to take care of their health, “I ask you once again to work a little less and take care of yourself.”[2] Furthermore, he believed that healthy habits and behaviors were integral to realizing one’s purpose. In the name of Our Lord, Monsieur, do all you can to regain your health and take good care of it so that you can serve God and the poor for a longer time.[3]

At the same time, Vincent was also keenly aware that one cannot hope to grow spiritually if one’s focus remains within. As all the major world religions emphasize, a life well-lived requires us to listen deeply and respond to the voices that cry out from the wilderness, the margins of society. The Abrahamic traditions echo this message by urging us to care for the most vulnerable, namely, the “widows, orphans and strangers.” Taking care of those who are poor and marginalized is likewise firmly rooted at the very heart of Vincentian spirituality and DePaul University’s mission.

Additionally, Vincent believed that when he was in relationship with those on the margins, he most fully encountered Jesus Christ. Grounded in an incarnational faith, any opportunity to be of service to those in need allowed Vincent to enter more deeply into communion with God.

I have to love my neighbor as the image of God and the object of His Love, and to act in such a way that people, in their turn, love their Creator, who knows them and acknowledges them as His brothers [and sisters], whom He has saved, and that by mutual charity they love one another for love of God, who has loved them so much as to hand over His own Son to death for them.[4]

In centering the dignity and worth of each person to whom he ministered, Vincent was able to see that person as a brother or a sister in Christ rather than simply someone who was asking for help. This positionality enabled Vincent to relate to the person with mindfulness and presence, and to experience a level of kinship with them as he might a friend or family member.

To be a Christian and to see our brother [or sister] suffering without weeping with [them], without being sick with [them]! That’s to be lacking in charity; it’s being a caricature of a Christian; it’s inhuman; it’s to be worse than animals.[5]

Thus, charity became real for Vincent by entering into relationships with people whose names and real-life circumstances he knew. Such meaningful connections with “kinsfolk” ensured that care for those on the margins was never an abstract ideal based on an erudite theology. Instead, it was a lived response to a call he felt deep within to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Vincent answered this call through concrete actions to love and care for the most vulnerable. His journey represented a spiritual, ethical, and inclusive path. A path, which would never let him forget the essential truth that we belong to each other.

For reflection

  1. How do I find balance between responsibility to self and responsibility to others?
  2. How have you benefited from being part of a community of care at DePaul?
  3. What elements are integral to creating a sense of belonging in the workplace? How can these be created and sustained at DePaul?

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

[1] “Mother Teresa Reflects on Working Toward Peace,” see: https://www.scu.edu/mcae/architects-of-peace/Teresa/essay.html.

[2] Letter 1988, To Edme Jolly, Superior, in Rome, 7 January 1656, CCD, 5:506. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.edu/coste_en/

[3] Letter 343, To Bernard Codoing, in Richilieu, 29 August 1638, Ibid., 1:491.

[4] Conference 207, Charity (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 12), 30 May 1659, Ibid., 12:215.

[5] Ibid., 12:222.

 

The Final Word is Love

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”[1] – Dorothy Day

November is a month when people of many cultures and traditions celebrate the lives of those who have died. Recently, you may have noticed the many beautiful “ofrendas” or altars set up throughout our campuses to celebrate the lives of those who have gone before us. Indeed, in the Mexican tradition, the “Dia de los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead” is a way of affirming the ongoing presence and spirit of one’s ancestors. Furthermore, at the beginning of November, Catholics all over the world designate All Saints and All Souls Days as a time to go to Mass and pray for the souls of the departed and honor their memory.

One of the greatest privileges of my work in the Division of Mission and Ministry is when I accompany a person who has lost a loved one. Sometimes this involves planning a memorial service, often held on Zoom, where colleagues, friends, and family can come together to pay tribute to the life and living memory of the deceased. People often attend these virtual gatherings with cherished photographs in hand, keen to recall poignant stories or offer funny anecdotes. Favorite songs may be shared, as well as an abundance of prayers and poems. In such emotional and reverential moments, we gather to say, “you matter,” “your life matters,” “your loss matters,” and “your pain matters to me and to us.” While no one can take away the brokenness of a grieving heart, we can certainly walk together and support each other when the journey ahead feels daunting and perhaps even impossible to travel alone. Walking together in love is what Vincentian personalism calls us to do. It is the best of DePaul.

There is certainly no one blueprint to help us navigate the meandering journey of grief. Indeed, we must all forge our own journey along this most human of paths. Yet, at DePaul we understand ourselves to be “a community gathered together for the sake of the mission.” We are a place that offers a deep sense of belonging; a place where we “take care DePaul;” and a place of human flourishing. So, what, beyond individual acts of human kindness, might we do as a community to support those who are recently bereaved?

One November, perhaps over a decade ago, such questions prompted the Division of Mission and Ministry to invite our DePaul community to come together in a show of solidarity and support with those who were grieving among us. We called this event the “Gathering of Remembrance” and it has continued ever since. The Gathering, which is a short interfaith service, invites DePaul to pause and make the world stop for the smallest of moments to remember those who have died. It also serves to assure their loved ones that we are here to walk with them as long as the journey of grief may take. During this short service, we read aloud the names of recently deceased loved ones that a DePaul community member has shared with us, and we call these people to mind in prayer. It is a service that is both beautiful and powerful in its simplicity. We remember those who have died. We honor them, and we let our colleagues and DePaul friends know they are not alone in this journey we call life. We walk together in love and that love is demonstrated through community.

On November 16th at 4:30 pm in the Commons, I would like to invite you to join us for this year’s Gathering of Remembrance. In making this invitation, the words of Dorothy Day resonate deeply within my heart, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

We hope to see you there, but even if you can’t join us, feel free to send any names of your loved one(s) who have died during the last year that you would like us to remember.

If you would like to attend the Gathering of Remembrance click here to RSVP.


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

[1] “The Final Word Is Love,” Dorothy Day, 1 February 1952, at: https://catholicworker.org/ddlw-867/.

Another World is Possible

Even amid feelings of despair, there is always a way toward a new reality where life can triumph and flourish.

I know that I am not alone in finding myself stuck in some confusion and despair over the troubling conflict in the Middle East. These events are a stark reminder of the pain and destruction that violence and injustice can breed. Most of us learn about the harsh realities there primarily through shocking videos and images, leading to feelings of powerlessness and anguish because we are oceans away. Yet it is important to be aware of these realities rather than to avoid them, and to center our compassion and concern on all the people impacted. It would be inhuman of us not to do so.

As a Catholic Christian, I am steeped in a narrative of resurrection and the eternal possibilities of life and light present in the face of darkness. I find hope in knowing that another world is possible other than one filled with violence and destruction. I have learned repeatedly in my life that in moments of despair and helplessness, we can always regain some sense of agency by beginning with the reality immediately before us, with the people around us, and with the vision of life that we believe we must help create, enable, and sustain. The road ahead can be long, hard, and complex. Yet if we are open to it and courageous enough to pursue it, it is always possible to work toward a justice and peace that enables all life to flourish, reflecting the creative dream and intention of our God.

I am certain that we, at DePaul, can create a kind of community that does not replicate the harm of the broader society. Because our walls are porous by design, we cannot help but be influenced in powerful ways by the injustices that surround us in our world. Yet, with careful intention, we also can work toward a different way of being together, one that accepts deep difference and conflict while being open to deeper understanding and change. We can model among us what we hope to create.

Vincent de Paul’s spirituality is what Catholic Christians speak of as “incarnational.” That is, Vincent believed that faith is ultimately made evident in concrete action. He spoke often of virtues, which are essentially the consistent embodiment of our aspirational values and ideals. In fact, this is what Vincent de Paul saw and most revered in the example of Jesus, who incarnated the presence and love of God. Vincent de Paul believed we are called to do the same. Furthermore, Vincent suggested, God supports and accompanies us in the process, helping us toward the realization of an integral human development and flourishing.

Inspired by our Vincentian mission, we always strive toward larger goals, such as the sustainability of our planet, an end to violence, and the alleviation of poverty and injustice. We act for systemic change that can make the flourishing of life possible for all, with particular attention to those who have been marginalized or abandoned. We work to bridge the gap between what is and what we dream of.

The way to that desired end may best be achieved by seeking to create locally the human community that we feel called to bring into being globally. If it is ever to come about, the larger change we seek must be accompanied by change within and among us.

Reflection questions:

What is the human community and the world you believe we are called to help bring into being here at DePaul? How can your actions reflect the end that we seek?


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