Louise de Marillac

Here’s the thing. If you just “read” this about this powerful God-filled woman, Louise de Marillac of the seventeenth century, you’ll come away with a few tidbits of—what to call it— “interesting information.” Good enough. BUT… if you approach the life of Louise in a prayerful way, your interaction with her spirit just might inspire and enliven you to new ways of living your own life. Maybe not right away, but what you learn about her might sit like a pulsing little seed in your imagination, the part of you that’s always picturing how you want to live and who you hope to become.

That’s the thing about us as humans made in the image of God: we’re always capable of becoming more than we are. Another thing about us is that we are deeply relational beings. We’re wired to connect. For instance, I feel a special connection to the pansies I planted and to the birds that come to my feeder.

So much for flowers and birds… what about connecting with a saint like Louise de Marillac?

Here’s the big “Louise Spark” that enlivened me as I read about her in preparation to write this article. It was a real “Geez Louise” realization! A favorite expression I’ve had since I was a kid, I now feel happy to apply it to a real Louise in my life.

As I read about this great lady with her steadfast-trusting-God pioneering spirit, training and guiding the Daughters, I had what Louise called a “Lumière.” I realized that if she hadn’t actively collaborated with Vincent to birth a new form of religious life, one which combined prayer and service of others, I wouldn’t be a Sister of St. Joseph today. The Daughters of Charity burst into history in 1610, and right on their heels, my congregation came into being in 1650. Which—praise Jesus—set about teaching young women, eventually sending them across the Atlantic, and over the course of 300 years, to St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana… and, blessedly, to me.

Prior to the Daughters, being a nun meant a cloistered life, and I would have died on the vine being confined inside convent walls like that. I would have had a nervous breakdown and no doubt driven everybody else crazy too. I wanted to be a nun because I wanted to TEACH (really wanted to teach, couldn’t wait to teach). This was because the nuns in my high school were super teachers, alive with faith and humanness and infectious humor, who challenged me to think critically, to stand up and speak in a public setting, and to be curious as all-get-out about the world and people and how God moves throughout it all. My nuns lured me in. Attraction is the way the Holy Spirit works, never the prod of “do your duty” or, worse, “you better do this or you’re going to feel sooo guilty.” So, yes, I was lured, and at age 18 I threw in my lot with the Saint Joes and haven’t looked back.

Thank you, Louise and Vincent. You did the hard work of plowing the furrow, which prepared the soil for other apostolic orders to spring up.

I’m still teaching, sometimes in classrooms, like when I come to DePaul, but also to audiences around the world about human rights. This is what has led me to entrust my archives to you here at DePaul, and to visit with you for a week of sharing each year. It is the Christ-like spirit of the Vincentians that brought me to you and keeps me coming. I love the pictures and quotes of Louise and Vincent that are all over campus. Their spirit permeates every nook and cranny and, hopefully, these few words as well.

Geez Louise! Thank you.

A postscript from Sr. Helen

Check out my collection at: Sr. Helen Prejean Papers or visit Special Collections on the third floor of the library, open again in August 2021. Two wonderful women stand ready to assist you: Jamie Nelson and Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts. Phone: 773-325-2167.

Reflection by: Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

This is Louise Week at DePaul! Learn more about the many activities of the week focused on sustaining the legacy of Louise de Marillac in our lives and work at DePaul and beyond!

 

Are “Thoughts and Prayers” Enough?

“Pray as you can, not as you can’t,” said my professor as we students felt torn between different methods, none of which seemed to fit.

“I’ll pray for you and your girls,” I told my friend last week after she was hospitalized with four aneurisms.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough!” say countless people after preventable tragedies happen and those tweeted words just seem so hollow.

Is prayer not enough? Is there a right way to do it?

I don’t think there is a best way to pray, but in an article on the subject Fr. Robert Maloney, C.M., writes in a clear and practical way about Vincent de Paul’s wisdom on prayer.1 It is very much worth a read, and two things particularly struck me when recently reviewing it.

The first is Maloney’s reminder that “Few things were as important as prayer in St. Vincent’s mind.” Vincent’s Common Rule called for an hour of mental prayer each day, and he spent considerable time giving practical guidance to his contemporaries about praying, much of which is still very timely.

The second point speaks both to those who call themselves Vincentian but don’t have a prayer practice or theistic framework, and to those who pray to connect to God. Four centuries ago, Vincent asserted that (in my interpretation) thoughts and prayers are essential, but indeed are not enough. Maloney relates, “He [Vincent] warns over and over again about regarding prayer as a speculative study. He cautions about its becoming an occasion for vanity or for ‘beautiful thoughts’ that lead nowhere.”

In an article on Vincent and prayer, Vinicius Teixeira Ribeiro, C.M., relates how Vincent cautioned his confreres: “it doesn’t suffice to have good affections, we must go further and be motivated to take resolutions to work seriously in the future.…”2 Ribeiro writes how prayer must be grounded in reality to create “prayerful, thinking and active people.” For Vincent, action was modeled on Jesus as known through the scriptures—serving the poor, leading with humility, working for God’s justice, and acting within a community of others.

I believe that in many ways, as Søren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Yes, I pray for others. I pray for my friend in the hospital and for those suffering from Covid in India. I do think prayer matters and that prayers are “effective” in some real way, though I don’t know exactly how. But these days, I’ve been reflecting on prayer as a channel to change me: to strengthen me to do the things I need to do for justice, pay attention to the world as it really is, and to pause for inner wisdom to ensure that the actions I take are the right ones to the best of my understanding.

“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” For those who feel called to do so—pray!

And, as we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 6th, know that millions of others across many religious and spiritual traditions are praying with you, and dare I hope, preparing themselves through prayer and thoughtful reflection to also take the right action.


1 Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today – Some Reflections on the Vincentian Tradition,” Vincentiana 39:2 (1995), available online at: Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today.

2 Vinicius Teixeira Ribeiro, C.M., “Prayer According to Saint Vincent de Paul – Part III,” 19 April 2020, Famvin.org, at: Prayer According to Saint Vincent.

 

Reflection by: Katie Brick, Executive Assistant, Division of Mission and Ministry

Channeling Grief into Love and Service

Photo courtesy of Maura Sullivan

“Love one another, bear with one another, support one another, and be united in the Spirit of God.”1     Vincent de Paul

April is a weird month for me and has been for a long time. On a sunny spring day twenty-two years ago, gun violence overturned my life, my family’s lives, and the lives of everyone in my community. I was a student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. While I cannot articulate fully the impact of that day on my life, I would like to share a little about how it shaped me. I write this also as our country today repeatedly reels from gun violence in all its insidious forms, from police shootings of unarmed persons of color, to mass shootings, to communities daily experiencing the traumas that come with gun violence in their neighborhoods.

I’m sharing this deeply personal and private part of myself because in so many ways it led me to DePaul and to the work I do in the Division of Mission and Ministry.

As a high school student struggling to process the emotions involved in experiencing significant trauma, I discovered the joy I felt in helping others as so many helped my community in the aftermath of our tragedy. That joy led me down many roads, including the one that leads to DePaul. I connected my faith to service and helping others and ended up working in ministry in higher education. I helped students passionate about service as they processed their experiences, sometimes connecting service to their faith and spiritual journeys as well. Along the way, I have learned a thing or two, discovered more just ways of connecting with communities, and been reminded that because of the color of my skin, I have had opportunities to process my trauma that people from some communities never get.

The work I currently do in the Division of Mission and Ministry involves coordinating Vincentian Service Day (VSD), what I like to think is one of DePaul’s greatest traditions. Last year, when our world was first rocked by the pandemic, I couldn’t imagine moving Vincentian Service to a remote event, yet we did so successfully. Now, it’s one year later and we are about to have our second remote VSD. Though we have remained physically distant and we may be feeling the sting of ongoing physical isolation, community is still very real and very necessary. We can “love one another, bear with one another, support one another” much like the Columbine community did for each other in 1999.

We all have our own stories, our own motivations, our own reasons for being on the paths we are on. I hope my story will lead you to consider participating in DePaul’s 23rd annual Vincentian Service Day. On Vincentian Service Day, you can channel whatever you may be feeling after more than a year of grief and anger into service, and into a way of loving and supporting one another.

Registration closes for Vincentian Service Day tonight, Monday, April 26th at 11PM. For more information about participating, visit: http://serviceday.depaul.edu; or email: serviceday@depaul.edu.


1 Letter 1930, To Several Priests of the Mission, [Around October 1655], CCD, 5:441.

Reflection by: Katie Sullivan, Ministry Coordinator, Vincentian Service & Formation, Division of Mission and Ministry

Healing the World We Call Home

In a conversation with a student recently together we wondered if any good could come out of a pandemic. It took a bit of time, but eventually we were able to move past our assessment of this very difficult past year. In so doing, we found ourselves smiling over the goodness almost lost in the cacophony of pandemic chaos.

One of the bright spots we found has to do with the beauty of blossoming spring days. Because of the pandemic, our earth has been able to take a deep breath. The signs of relief are apparent in skylines no longer hidden by smog and toxins, waterways sparkling with freshness and life, and forests exhaling ever more cleansing breaths. The earth has received a moment of reprieve from the abuse that millions of its citizens heaps upon the environment daily.

Soon we will celebrate two days set aside to remind us to be kind to our environment, Earth Day and Arbor Day. These days invite us to change our habits, plant trees, stop wasting natural resources, and wake up to the fact that we can and must change our relationship with our planet. As we prepare for these special April days let us take a moment to ponder how we care for our neighbors and ourselves through caring for creation.

When we honor the gifts that the earth showers upon us, we honor our human family. When we care for, share, and serve as good stewards of those gifts, we engage in charity toward all of humanity and all of creation. Simply put, our own Vincentian vision for the world must include a commitment to caring for creation.

St. Vincent knew that the work of justice was tedious and difficult, but he offered a simple recipe for serving as change agents in the world: “ . . . one must be firm and unchanging with regard to the end but gentle and humble as to the means.”1

In caring for one another by loving the earth and the heavens, our work must include a firm and unchanging commitment that we cannot neglect once we reach the other side of this pandemic. As Vincentians we must make a commitment to be gentle and humble in our walk with creation. We must also remain firm and unchanging in our resolve to continue healing this planet we call home.

Make a plan. What will your gentle and humble walk with our planet mean for you? What kind of commitment can you make to enable the earth to continue healing? How can your Earth Day (April 22) or Arbor Day (April 30) expressions be visible witness to your commitment to caring for creation?


1 Letter 618, To Francois Dufestel, Superior, In Annecy, 20 September 1642, CCD, 2:332.

Reflection by: Rev. Dr. Diane Dardon, D.Min., Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry

Ramadan and the Vincentian Question: Guidance and Inspiration in Times of Challenge

Muhammad ibn Abdullah(1) was a man living in seventh-century Arabia. Coming from a prominent clan and tribe, he traced his own lineage to the Prophet Abraham through Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar (ar. Haajar). That family history was a source of collective pride for the people of Mecca, where Muhammad lived and where a house of worship built by Abraham and Ishmael served as a place of pilgrimage for tribes from throughout the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, substantive connection with Abraham’s guidance seemed to be lost to most Arabs, except for a few Jewish tribes and scattered individuals who claimed to be followers of Jesus or of a general Abrahamic monotheism. Muhammad’s father died before he was born, his mother when he was just six years old, and he was raised as an orphan by his uncle. Despite his noble lineage in a society wherein lineage was greatly valued, these circumstances meant Muhammad lived a humble life.

Muhammad’s experience as an orphan left him sensitive to the plight of the vulnerable in society. He felt his society did not live up to the chivalric values it claimed to hold dear and which it celebrated in its self-image and poetry. This was especially true when it came to those who were marginalized, which often included women as well as those who were enslaved or without tribal connections. Muhammad felt a call to do something and yearned for specific guidance from the Creator. He began to spend periods of time in meditation and prayer in solitude in a cave outside of the city. It was while engaged in this practice, in the lunar month of Ramadan, that the Prophet Muhammad received the first of what he understood to be revelations from God, which we call the Qur’an.

Muslim communities worldwide, including thousands of DePaul students, faculty, staff, and alumni, will begin observance of the month of Ramadan with the sighting of the crescent moon this week.(2) Muslims will commemorate the revelation of the Qur’an by fasting from dawn to sunset each day for the next lunar month while also engaging in special night prayers and acts of charity. These spiritual practices serve to develop spiritual discipline, generosity, compassion, and connection to the Most Merciful. Ramadan is filled with many different practices and traditions which make it an eagerly anticipated and joyously welcomed time in Muslim communities. Of course, as was the case last year, this year’s observance will be limited by precautions due to the pandemic. Despite that caution and uncertainty however, there is also a hopefulness this year that better times are coming.

Madame de Gondi once asked Vincent de Paul what has come to be known as the Vincentian question “What must be done?”(3) to confront the widespread material and spiritual poverty of seventeenth-century France. Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad sensed that profound change was needed to address the social and spiritual challenges of seventh-century Arabia. Today, we as a DePaul community must ask the same question in facing the challenges of twenty-first-century Chicago. The spiritual practices of Ramadan serve to remind us that the guidance and inspiration we need to address the most profound challenges can come from being open to signs from the transcendent, being spiritually in touch with ourselves, and being socially connected as a community.

What spiritual and social challenges do you see as most pressing from your vantage point in twenty-first-century Chicago? What spiritual and social practices help you to remain committed to addressing them in your life and work?


1) Commonly referred to as the Prophet Muhammad. This of course spoils our narrative as neither he nor others thought of him in that way when our story begins. It is considered proper etiquette for Muslims to say the Arabic formula ﷺ often translated as “Peace be upon him” after the names of prophets and other sacred figures. I will not write the formula in this reflection, but I encourage those who wish to follow this practice to do so as you read.

2) It is expected that the moon may be visible on the night of Monday, April 12, which would make Tuesday, April 13, the first day of fasting.

3) For a discussion of the Vincentian Question see Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Podcast: “The Vincentian Question,” 2 December 2015. At: https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2015/12/02/the-vincentian-question-2/

 

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

Thanks to God We are Alive!

As we joyfully embrace the many seasonal, religious, and spiritual celebrations of this beautiful time I would like to share with you a Christian/Vincentian perspective of Easter. This day of life, hope, and connection beyond our own understanding raises a simple question: where is God in everything that is happening?

Thanks to God we are alive! This is the Easter voice that I hear in my heart today. It is a voice I have heard many times in my life from people close to death because of natural disasters, poverty, hardship, violence, etc. And, over the past year I have heard survivors of the pandemic saying again and again… thanks to God we are alive!

I recently heard it said that “more than in other times, our age is characterized by its concern for the future and by wanting to glimpse the human person of tomorrow. Most agree about this: our way of being human needs to be transformed. The real human person is still a project… it is latent in the dynamic of evolution [and transformation]. This search for a new human person has been a recurrent theme in each historic cultural moment.”(1) Today more than ever we are aware that our way of being human is not sustainable. The urgent call for a new person is an Easter call… a call that echoes as a living memory of the resurrection. This is the call from God at the heart of the paschal mystery.

This morning, having endured the pandemic, we begin to see an end to this long day of the passion. The resurrection of Jesus is revealed to us in the real signs of what is happening in our lives, our country, and our world. All can perceive these new signs of life with which God is gracing us. For St. Vincent de Paul one of the primary challenges of Christian faith was to perceive and to live God’s life in our own lives. He expected the members of his spiritual family to conform with essential values that reflected a sustainable human experience. Vincent found these values exemplified in the life of Jesus Christ the evangelizer [humanizer] of the poor, who invites us to awaken dawns of resurrection amid dark nights of history.

“I beg Our Lord, Monsieur, that we may be able to die to ourselves in order to rise with Him, that He may be the joy of your heart, the end and soul of your actions, and your glory in heaven.”(2)

In Christian faith, from a Vincentian perspective, the value of all religious practices depends on their connection with real life. When we celebrate the resurrection, we are invited to experience life in all its forms, and to commit to protecting it. We are asked to defend human life, and all forms of life, now at risk due to our individualistic and consumeristic lifestyle. We recognize God’s life in us, and this life is what we celebrate. This life is what challenges us to change and to give of our own lives.

During these times, the celebration of the resurrection cannot be disconnected from all the essential issues that are challenging our very existence: social and environmental justice, human and communal rights, freedom, racism, and equity in all its forms. All these issues call us to reshape our Vincentian Mission and spirituality. For Christians, then, the celebration of the resurrection is simply a call to advance, giving concrete signs, the agenda of a new humanity and a new world!

“I ask O[ur] L[ord] to be the life of our life and the only aspiration of our hearts.”(3)


1) Cf. Leonardo Boff, La Resurrección de Cristo Nuestra Resurrección en la Muerte, 5th ed. (Editorial Sal Terrae, 2005), p. 9.

2) Letter 1202, To a Priest of the Mission, In Saintes, 27 March 1650, CCD, 3:616.

3) Letter 2433, To Charles Ozenne, Superior, In Poland, 26 October 1657, CCD, 6:576.

 

Reflection by:

Guillermo Campuzano, C.M.
Vice President of Mission and Ministry


Sustaining the Mission

Need a different kind of shot in the arm? Join us for Sustaining the Mission and get a mission booster! Sustaining the Mission is a mission engagement program designed for staff and faculty who have been at DePaul for at least a year.

This 90-minute workshop on Thursday, April 15th from 9:30-11:00 am, will invite you to consider how to practically apply DePaul’s mission to your everyday work and life. Together, we will examine how the mission can provide a deeper sense of meaning to your daily activities. As a member of the DePaul community, our goal is to help you reflect on concrete ways you can contribute to the advancement and sustainability of DePaul’s Vincentian mission within your team, department, area, division, etc. We will also help you to develop a mission integration plan. Please note that this program also meets one of the requirements for those interested in becoming a Mission Ambassador. Register Here.

Time for a Change

DePaul University Mission Statement

Approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees on March 4, 2021

As an innovative Catholic, Vincentian University anchored in the global city of Chicago, DePaul supports the integral human development of its students. The University does so through its commitment to outstanding teaching, academic excellence, real world experience, community engagement, and systemic change. DePaul prepares graduates to be successful in their chosen fields and agents of transformation throughout their lives.

Guided by an ethic of Vincentian personalism and professionalism, DePaul compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community. Through education and research, the University addresses the great questions of our day promoting peaceful, just, and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges. Since its founding in 1898, DePaul University has remained dedicated to making education accessible to all, with special attention to include underserved and underrepresented communities.

♦                      ♦                      ♦

What would DePaul University be without its mission? Would it be like wearing a pair of glasses without lenses, our vision blurred? Would it be like piloting a ship without its rudder, drifting aimlessly with no sense of direction? Or, would we be like a tree without its roots, slowly dying until no longer able to withstand the first strong wind that comes its way? None of these metaphors are very rousing or hopeful, are they? They are certainly not the kind of symbolic images you would want applied to your mission-based institution.

Fortunately, however, DePaul is far from being a university without a mission. In fact, one could argue that the spirit behind our mission is stronger and more heartening than ever. This is thanks, in no small part, to our newly adopted mission statement which came to fruition during the fall and winter quarters. The document was accepted unanimously by DePaul’s Board of Trustees on March 4, 2021.

Drawing from the best of our Vincentian tradition, guided by our institutional identity and history, and shaped by the voices of our present-day community, DePaul’s new mission statement emboldens us to face current opportunities and challenges with an eye towards the future. Yet, for all the documents’ import, we cannot forget that a mission is only as strong as the commitment of those entrusted to keep it. Now that we have gone through the process of creating a new mission statement, the task in front of us is to bring it to life. We must find ourselves and help others find themselves within it. Doing so will ensure that DePaul University can, more fully, become a community gathered for the sake of our mission.

Take a few moments and re-read DePaul’s new mission statement. Read the words slowly and ask what they mean to you? Does any word or phrase stand out? How are you inspired? Where do you find yourself in our mission?

Learning to be Led

“(P)lease be steadfast in walking in the vocation to which you are called.”1

Spring Break may give us a little space to pause and reflect. So, let me ask: how much of your life’s journey has been due to your choice, and how much of it has been something not of your own making?

In the United States, at least, the narrative we often tell ourselves is that we are independent and “self-made” people who can overcome every obstacle to achieve our dreams. We trust all things are possible. This sustained optimism can indeed enable us to work through difficulties and continue to believe–and that is a good thing.

However, life often throws us curveballs. The coronavirus pandemic is not something anyone would have chosen. Nor is the unexpected death of a loved one, or other such difficult life challenges that leave us upside down. Even something minor like the untimely arrival of bad weather during an outdoor walk or picnic can be such a curveball. Much of our lives amount to responding to circumstances out of our control.

Furthermore, few of us are world class athletes, though we may have dreamed of hitting the perfect “10” on the balance beam, swimming a championship level butterfly, or hitting a game winning shot. And, few of us will author an award-winning novel, become a nuclear physicist, win an Academy award, or win a million dollars even though we may have fantasized what it might be like. Our lives are probably somewhat less remarkable. They are typically characterized by some degree of human limitation that is not of our making, nor our desire.

Further tempering the narrative of the “self-made” person, consider that our identity and the choices we make are shaped by our families, communities, and relationships. We are often required to balance our own needs and wants with those of others.

Learning to be led through the events and relationships that shape our lives, then, is at the heart of living with a sense of vocation and mission, both individually and as an institution. The dreams we have for our lives are tempered, shaped, and redirected by the realities and circumstances we face. Most of these are outside our control or making and not of our choosing.

Living with a sense of vocation, or mission, is a way of being, a way of journeying through our lives. We are not simply choosing our personal playlist, making everything exactly how we would like it. Our personal hopes and dreams are an important part of the big picture. But so is being receptive to what life offers and to what our reality enables us to do and to be as we respond to the challenges that unexpectedly arise along the way.

Being steadfast in living our mission and walking in our vocation may not mean that things work out exactly as we planned, or in a predictable manner. It does mean faithfully discerning each step we take along the way as circumstances allow. The story of our lives is as much about being led, about being receptive to what emerges on the journey, as it is about forging a path of our choice.

Perhaps this is what Vincent meant when he said: “Wisdom consists in following Providence step by step.”2


1 Letter 1824, To a Priest of the Mission, 2 January 1655, CCD, 5:256.
Letter to Bernard Codoing, in Rome, 6 August 1644, CCD, 2:521

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

Celebrating Louise de Marillac and the seeds of our Vincentian tradition.

On Seeds in the Vincentian Tradition

– On the 361st anniversary of Louise de Marillac’s death, 15 March 1660 –

God, who created “every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it… saw that it was good.”(1) Our Creator also sowed seeds of the mission in the hearts of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their associates.(2) Those seeds of hope developed into the Vincentian Family which fulfils the Vincentian mission around the globe. In their conferences and writings, Vincent and Louise frequently referred to grains and seeds, particularly the mustard seed. Most religious traditions embody “seeds of the Word.”(3) In seventeenth-century France, Christians understood the allegorical use of the mustard seed as the “word of God” in the Parable of The Sower in Sacred Scripture.(4)

Raised in the rural marshlands of the Landes district of Gascony, not far from the Pyrenees, young Vincent de Paul learned to work the land and care for flocks of sheep. Before he left the farm at fifteen to attend school in Dax, Vincent probably helped his family plant hard-shell seeds of millet. When “cooked in a pot and poured into a dish,” this nutritious staple resembles fluffy mashed potatoes.(5) Memories of rural life remained vivid to Vincent, especially when he spoke from experience and referred to the “Good country folk…[who] sow their seed and then wait for God to bless their harvest.”(6)

After moving to Paris, Vincent shifted from an agrarian focus to priestly service. He realized that relationships and events are like seeds. Each contains covert energy. Through his relationship with the Gondi family, Vincent discovered a spiritual poverty among the peasants residing on the family estates. When learning of their situation, Mme. de Gondi asked “What must be done?” This good woman planted the first seed of the mission. Her query and Vincent’s zeal produced the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Priests and Brothers) in France in 1625. The first mission preached by Vincent at Folleville in 1617, “has always been considered as the seed for all the others to follow.”(7)

Months later at Châtillon, after visiting the home of a family where illness prevailed, Vincent grasped both their need of assistance and the full extent of material poverty. His awareness became a root for creativity and practicality to grow into action as organized charity.(8) At Vincent’s invitation, women of the town “joined forces to take their turn to assist the sick poor,” thus forming the first Confraternity of Charity. This seedling would develop branches, initially in Paris. Soon, pastors replicated this model throughout France.(9)

In 1623, another event in Paris embedded seeds of hope deep within a distressed wife and mother seeking interior peace. Louise de Marillac had an extraordinary experience of light (or lumière), which freed her from anxiety and doubts. Inner peace permeated the core of her being. Aware that she would “live in a small community” and “help her neighbor,” Louise “did not understand” how that would be possible since “there was to be much coming and going.”(10) As a widow several years later, Louise began to assist with Vincent de Paul’s charitable works. Recognizing her potential, in 1629 Vincent sent Louise to Montmirail as his deputy. This was the first of many supervisory visits to the Confraternities of Charity.

Marguerite Naseau, a woman from the countryside, learned that volunteers were caring for sick and impoverished people through the Confraternities of Charity in Paris. She heard Vincent preaching and shared her desire to render such charitable services.(11) Perceiving that this encounter held a seed of great value, Vincent sent Marguerite to Louise de Marillac, now his collaborator. Louise formed the women who desired to commit themselves to be servants of the sick poor, and Marguerite became the first Servant of the Sick Poor. Together, Marguerite, Louise, Vincent, and the first sisters planted the seeds of mission, which developed into the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1633. The Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu was the next foundation established in Paris in 1634.

Illustration by Cody Gindy, CDM ’12

As a Catholic priest and man of action, Vincent de Paul proclaimed the word of God like seeds sown in the hearts of his listeners awaiting their moment of grace.(12) For persons in need, Vincent was generous and practical. His benevolence included “money, food, clothing, medicine, tools, seed for sowing, and other necessities to sustain life.”(13) A master of dialogue and diplomacy, Vincent responded to the grace of the moment, believing that God speaks through events, encounters, persons, and sometimes grains of millet.(14)

Elizabeth Seton used the image of sowing “the little mustard seed” in reference to her own Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.(15) She reminded the women that “Every good work…we do is a grain of seed for eternal life.”(16) In a meditation comparing heaven to a mustard seed, Louise de Marillac wrote, “I am “well aware that this seed contains great strength within itself, both in its capacity to multiply and in the quality it gives to everything that is seasoned with it.”(17) Her deep desire was that the “seed may grow to its full perfection.”(18) Vincent would have certainly affirmed the important role of each person in collaborating to plant and nurture seeds of the mission to flourish.

Believe me, there is nothing like being faithful and persevering for the greater good once we have committed ourselves. May we be faithful to the mission of DePaul University in following the “way of wisdom.”(19) Let us be persons of integrity who honor the dignity and humanity of everyone, and let us embrace our responsibilities to one another and the common good. The result will be that we shall grow in virtue and God’s grace as the tiny grain of mustard seed grows into a large shrub over time.(20) I pray that the DePaul University community collaborates to transform society—to eliminate racism and eradicate oppression—so that mutual respect, justice, compassion, and peace may prevail for all people.

Reflection Questions:

  • How familiar am I with the energy of seeds? Their potential? What seeds have I planted? Nurtured? Harvested?
  • How sensitive am I to inner prompts that invite me to reflect on and recognize the veiled wisdom in unplanned events and providential encounters?
  • What helps me realize that an event or comment contains a powerful seed of hope or truth? How do I acknowledge its presence? How willing am I to respond by taking practical action?
  • As a member of the DePaul University community, what seeds would I like to plant? Seeds of hope? Seeds of equity? Seeds of respect? How could I nurture the growth of more seeds of the mission?

View the Seeds of the Mission Campaign Postscript


1) Genesis 1:11-12.
2) Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vols. 1-3 (Vincentian Studies Institute, 1993), 2:31. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/abelly_english/4
3) Ad Gentes, §15. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/‌documents/‌vat-ii_‌‌decree‌_‌19651207‌_ad-gentes_en.html
4) Luke 8:11.
5) Cooked millet has a fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor. See Conference 13, Imitating the Virtues of Village Girls, 25 January 1643, CCD, 9:70. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/
6) Ibid., 73-4.
7) Abelly, Life, 1:61.
8) Conference 23, Maxims of Saint Vincent, “Order in the Service of Charity,” CCD, 12:383.
9) Document 1248, Foundation of the Charity in Châtlllon-Les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3.
10) A2, Light, in Louise Sullivan, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac (New York: New City Press, 1991), 1. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/
11) Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9: 194; Conference 12, The Virtues of Marguerite Naseau, [July 1642], CCD, 9:64-6.
12) Abelly, Life, 2:99.
13) Cf. Ibid., 1:204.
14) Letter 704, To Bernard Codoing, 16 March 1644, CCD, 2:499.
15) 7.117, Elizabeth Ann Seton to Antonio Filicchi, 16 September 1817, in Regina Bechtle, S.C., and Judith Metz, S.C., eds., Ellin M. Kelly, mss. ed., Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings, 3 vols. (New City Press: New York, 2000-2006), 2:508. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/seton_lcd/
16) 10.2, Red Leather Notebook, Maxims, Ibid., 3a:488.
17) A.37, “Heaven Compared to a Mustard Seed,” in Sullivan, Spiritual Writings, 803.
18) Ibid.
19) Proverbs 4:11.
20) Conference 162, Repetition of Prayer, 19 November 1656, CCD, 11:346.

Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry

Leaving God?

To leave God for God is not leaving God at all, that is, to leave one work of God to do another, either of greater obligation or of greater merit.1

As we know, St. Vincent de Paul was a person of great faith who found strength in prayer and the belief that an unfaltering, loving God was active in our lives. So, it may seem a little odd to hear that Vincent once told the Daughters of Charity to leave God. What could Vincent have possibly meant by this?

To understand Vincent’s words, we need to appreciate the context of his theology and how he lived his faith. Vincent de Paul possessed a deeply incarnational faith, which manifested itself in very real and practical ways. In other words, because Vincent believed that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, the act of serving one’s neighbor was a concrete expression of serving God. Therefore, this belief undergirded Vincent’s words when he told the Daughters that even if they were engaged in meditation, prayer, or spiritual reading, they were to stop whatever they were doing if a poor person sought help from them. As Vincent explained, such an act of service was not to leave God. Instead, it was to engage in a work of God that was of greater obligation or merit than their meditation and prayers. Thus, Vincent is seen to have valued concrete acts of service more than individual acts of piety.

Over the centuries, the seeds of Vincent’s pragmatism have taken root and flourished in myriad ways through the foundation of numerous social service organizations, groups, hospitals, and educational institutions. DePaul University is one of these fruits. Today, one of the signs that Vincentian pragmatism is alive and well is through DePaul’s collective embrace of Vincentian personalism. This practice calls us to serve our students and treat one another with compassion, empathy, and a high level of professionalism. And another sign is our ability to respond nimbly to current issues, as witnessed by our ongoing response to the pandemic.

We are living in a time that continues to be fraught with many challenges and obstacles. Yet amid our tumultuous present, how might an echo from our past still be heard, inviting us in new, innovative ways to answer Vincent’s pragmatic call?


1 Conference 30, The Rules, 30 May 1647, CCD, 9:252. See: CCD Vol. 9

 

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