How do you know when you belong?

In her work with new students, a dedicated DePaul staff person I happen to know well often draws upon her own experience as a DePaul freshman and her courageous struggle to find community and a sense of belonging. As a first-generation college student, she was particularly excited to be in college and eager to get involved. However, due to a three-hour roundtrip commute on public transit and her introverted nature, becoming engaged proved harder than originally anticipated. Indeed, her attempts to join student organizations and make new friends were usually thwarted by the fact that, as she said, “I was never in a space long enough with people to really get to know them.” As a result, as a freshman, she often felt relegated to the margins. Many painful memories of eating alone in the cafeteria or studying long hours by herself in the library drove home a palpable sense of isolation and loneliness.

Such feelings of invisibility and alienation continued to grow during her first year at DePaul. Indeed, by the beginning of her sophomore year this young woman was considering transferring to another college. She decided to give DePaul one last quarter. It was during this pivotal time that she encountered a DePaul staff person who welcomed her in such a way that she felt as though someone was truly seeing her for the first time. As she vividly recalls, “It was during the involvement fair when I was trying to make my way around a display table that a staff person kind of corralled me, and even before telling me about the program she was representing, asked me “What’s your name? How is the quarter going? What year are you? What are you studying?”

What may appear to be such simple questions today communicated a profound truth in that moment: “You matter. Your life and reality matters and we are glad you are here.” The sense that a DePaul staff person truly wanted to know who she was and cared about her stayed with this young student for years. Indeed, she ended up remaining at DePaul and finding a peer community in which she thrived, and in which she eventually became a senior leader. Today, serving in the role of a DePaul staff professional, she continues to model a praxis of radical hospitality to all who have the privilege of interacting with her.

“That feeling of being recognized made me realize this is exactly where I need to be—that I wanted to be part of a community that believed in recognizing the dignity of every single person.”

Vincentian wisdom calls us to create a sense of belonging, welcome, and inclusivity. A pillar to building such a community is by embracing a spirit of radical hospitality. In the words of Saint Louise de Marillac:

As for your conduct towards [others} never take the attitude of just getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; enquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately; procuring necessary help for them without being too bothersome or too eager.[1]

Reflection Questions:

  • At what point did you feel that you truly belonged at DePaul?
  • What conditions were integral to you feeling you belonged and finding community?
  • How are we called to create a culture of radical hospitality and inclusion where all may feel welcome?

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

[1] Document A. 85 “(Instructions to the Sisters Who Were Sent to Montreuil),” (1647), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 773. Available online: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/21.

 

The Art of Hospitality: A Day with Vincent Retreat

You are warmly invited to join colleagues on the afternoon of December 15th (12:15-4:15 pm) for a Day with Vincent exploring the “Art of Hospitality” together at the Art Institute of Chicago. The program will involve lunch, meaningful reflection and dialogue with DePaul faculty/staff colleagues, a guided visit to the Art Institute, and a lot of fun and good cheer!

RSVP here

Gratitude, Self-Acceptance, and the Unapologetic Cringe of Tumblr

“Every day of life more and more increases my gratitude to Him for having made me what I am.”[1]
– Elizabeth Ann Seton

What do cringe, gratitude, and Vincentian service have to do with one another? And how can we apply it to our own vibrant community here at DePaul? Let’s find out.

First, let’s dive into this first quote from Elizabeth Ann Seton, founder of the American Sisters of Charity, modeled after the Daughters of Charity: “Every day of life more and more increases my gratitude to Him for having made me what I am.” We can read this statement in any number of ways: gratitude for simply being alive, appreciation for her privilege and station, thankfulness for gifting her with certain talents and capabilities, or even endowing her with a particular personality and passion. Perhaps the most Vincentian thing to do would be to take an “all of the above” approach: an appreciation of the whole person, of all that she is, and can be. This might sound a little conceited (thanks for making me so incredible!), but I think it points more towards an inspiring model of self-acceptance. Seton, who is pointedly aware of her own shortcomings, still accepts herself as she is—oddities, weaknesses, talents, and all—and is grateful to be herself.

Which brings us to the concept of cringe and unapologetic self-acceptance. As bit of backstory, the social media landscape has been … going through a bit of transformational collapse. We need not go into every sordid detail, but the memes have been hilarious even as the demise of Twitter has been bittersweet (with a heavy dose of Schadenfreude). Many are looking for a new social media home with no real viable candidates. It’s into this gulf that Tumblr, which never really went away, has emerged its cringy head.

The blog site, home to niche fandoms and a quirky sensibility, has found a resurgence. If Twitter is (was?) the land of hot political takes by ‘professional’ journalists and pseudo-intellectuals, Tumblr is currently where users are, en masse, deciding to make up a fake 1970’s Martin Scorsese movie that they have all pretended to see (which again, doesn’t exist), and then arguing about it. They’ve even created a fake trailer. It’s a weird place. But at its best it’s a place where people are unapologetically themselves and embody a kind of self-acceptance modeled in that Seton quote. There’s power in that: a community that not only recognizes but celebrates each other’s delightful individuality and quirks. It’s also very Vincentian: a recognition and celebration of each person’s sacred dignity.

But why bring up Tumblr, cringe, and unapologetic weirdness in a post about gratitude? How does this have any bearing on our own DePaul community and mission? There are many different things that might make us cringe, but usually they say more about ourselves (and our lack of self-acceptance) than the object of our embarrassment. By accepting ourselves—most especially the cringiest aspects of ourselves—and being grateful for the way we are and can be as whole people, we can accept others and flourish as a community. Vincent de Paul was no stranger to this: his lifelong partner in service, Louise de Marillac, found him utterly repugnant upon first meeting him! But they were able to work their way through these differences and we are still living out their mission today, four hundred years later.

This brings us to a final quote from Louise de Marillac herself: “I hope that your gratitude will place you in the disposition necessary to receive the graces you need to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion.”[2] Ultimately, our gratitude and self-acceptance should be directed outwards, in compassion, and in pursuit of the mission. Let’s celebrate our community’s own idiosyncrasies and be grateful for the wonderful diversity of personalities and passions.


Reflection by: Alex Perry, Division of Mission & Ministry

[1] 7.98, Draft to Mrs. William Raborg, [June 1817], Elizabeth Bayley Seton: Collected Writings, 2:488, at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/11/.

[2] L.383, To My Very Dear Sister Anne Hardemont, November 13 (1653), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 434, at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/.

Just Say a Word Where You See It’s Needed

“Just say a word where you see it’s needed.”[1]

On September 28, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, the internationally acclaimed anti-death penalty advocate and author, was awarded DePaul University’s highest honor, the Saint Vincent de Paul Award.

Before, during, and after the conferral reception, Sister Helen gracefully greeted guests, caught up with old friends, and gained countless new ones. She also made a point of delighting students, as they bustled through the sign-in, giddy with the hope of capturing a selfie with “the cool nun in that old movie about the death penalty.” Sister Helen eagerly welcomed them, wished them well with their academics, and told them to make sure they had fun at college.

Yet, that day, it wasn’t the general crowd that perhaps most captivated Sister Helen’s gaze. As I watched her work the room, there were distinct moments when she chose to pull herself away from the throng of admirers to position herself off to the sides or at the very back. Amid all the hustle and bustle of the grand occasion, it was in the peripheral shadows of the Loop concourse that Sister Helen created a quiet moment to seek out the library staff, who were otherwise hidden by the huge visual displays that had been meticulously prepared to showcase her work. She earnestly thanked them for their efforts. Then, without missing a beat, she made a beeline to greet the many serving staff who were hurriedly rushing in and out of the staging area, attentively replenishing plates and refilling unceasingly empty glasses.

As I watched this dynamic religious sister, an undeniable social justice icon on the global stage today, I was enthralled by how her actions exuded a simple yet profound truth, the power of radical hospitality.  As John J. Navone, SJ, once said in an interview, “The humanizing and personalizing power of hospitality is limitless.”[2] Indeed, genuine and radical hospitality are “possible only when persons know who they are, have a self to give, and are happy to share that self with others.”[3]

Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac’s lives were grounded in a similar wisdom. Their ministry was shaped by their response to such questions as “Who is in need and what do they need? Who among us are excluded? How can they be welcomed? Who among us are unheard and how do we help them to be heard?”[4]

We cannot know who may be need a kind word as we go through the busyness of our days. However, responding to the invitation to affirm the dignity of those in our midst through small acts of kindness is never a wasted moment.

Not all of us are called to be Sister Helen Prejean, Saint Louise, or Saint Vincent de Paul. Yet sharing a word of kindness with someone who may need it invites us all to create a more compassionate and loving world. Another world is indeed possible, and, if we create it with our hands, hearts and minds, it can happen within our midst.

What does radical hospitality mean in your everyday life and work at DePaul? What is an act of radical hospitality that has stayed with you? Why is this so?


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

[1] Conference 85, “Service of the Sick and Care of One’s Own Health (Common Rules, Arts. 12–16),” 11 November 1657, CCD, 10:270. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/35/.

[2] John J. Navone, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. Personal interview (2010) quoted in Thomas A. Maier, PhD, “Preface: The Nature and Necessity of Hospitality,” Vincentian Heritage 33:1 (April 2016) [unpaginated]. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vhj/‌vol33/‌iss1/1/.

[3] Maier, “Preface: The Nature and Necessity of Hospitality.”

[4] Ibid.


Participate in DePaul’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance:

The DePaul community is invited to join the Division of Mission and Ministry for our annual Gathering of Remembrance, an interfaith memorial service for all community members who have lost loved ones over the past year. This service in Cortelyou Commons (and broadcast over Zoom) on November 17 at 4:30 pm invites us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity with our colleagues as the calendar year draws to its close.

We invite the entire DePaul community to please submit the names of loved ones for remembrance by end of day Tuesday, November 15 so that they can be included in the service. If you know of anyone who has lost a loved one over the last year, please share this announcement. We want to honor their memory. All are invited and encouraged to join us as we celebrate their memory and surround all those who have experienced loss with loving support.

Learn more and RSVP at: https://gathering-of-remembrance.eventbrite.com

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/.

 

Life Will Continue Beyond Us

Around the world today and in the coming weeks, people of many cultures will remember and celebrate those who have gone before them, honoring and giving thanks for the way in which the spirit of our predecessors continues to be present.

In the United States, we are accustomed to embracing Halloween day as a joyful opportunity to put on costumes, to play a bit with our fears, and to eat lots of candy!

This evening and tomorrow, those in the Catholic tradition celebrate All Saints Day, when we remember the positive attributes and examples of those who have gone before us. The following day, November 2, is All Souls Day, a feast day lifting up and celebrating all who have preceded us for the way in which they continue to inspire us and touch our lives even in their absence. In the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead, the ongoing presence and spirit of our ancestors is affirmed. Though our predecessors are physically gone from us, we remember how they have touched our lives and continue to matter to us in the present.

While often celebratory in nature, there is something profound going on in these traditional activities and events. We face our own mortality and also recognize the ripple effect that human lives have on others, potentially for generations to come. We acknowledge our deep interconnection as a human family across time and space. These celebrations offer us a moment to pause and remember that those who have preceded us shaped our lives in ways known and seen, and in many other ways, perhaps unknown to us.

Our predecessors have not been perfect. They have had successes and failures, just as we do. There are many positive contributions they have made to us and to the broader world, and probably also some ways in which their actions have had a negative impact on us or on others. Yet we recognize them just the same and honor them for the good they did or sought to do, and perhaps even more, for the love that was manifest in and through them despite their frailties and shortcomings. We are challenged to live in such a way that our own lives reflect the best of what has been handed down to us, and, perhaps, also to grow a bit more merciful and understanding of the ways in which we human beings can at times fall short of our ideals.

As we move closer to the winter and the days grow shorter and colder, our tradition at DePaul is to honor and celebrate our loved ones who have passed away over the last year with the Annual Gathering of Remembrance. This interfaith memorial service will be held this year on Thursday, November 17th at 4:30 pm in Cortelyou Commons. The program has become an opportunity for our DePaul community to encircle all those who have experienced the loss of a loved one with loving support. Please join us!

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


Participate in DePaul’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance:

The DePaul community is invited to join the Division of Mission and Ministry for our annual Gathering of Remembrance, an interfaith memorial service for all community members who have lost loved ones over the past year. This service in Cortelyou Commons (and broadcast over Zoom) on November 17 at 4:30 pm invites us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity with our colleagues as the calendar year draws to its close.

We invite the entire DePaul community to please submit the names of loved ones for remembrance by the end of Thursday, November 10th so that they can be included in the service. If you know of anyone who has lost a loved one over the last year, please share this announcement. We want to honor their memory. All are invited and encouraged to join us as we celebrate their memory and surround all those who have experienced loss with loving support.

Learn more and RSVP at: https://gathering-of-remembrance.eventbrite.com

 

The Bane of Communities—and its Remedies

Dorothy Day beautifully captured the spiritual journey of many when she wrote, “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”[1] Our Vincentian legacy was pioneered by people who created communities of both religious and laypeople dedicated to noble missions. We have encouraged the DePaul community to see itself as a community gathered together for the sake of our mission.

Yet we have probably found that other stuff comes with community too, and not only good things. We find numerous examples in the letters of Saint Vincent where he advised people, often superiors of different Vincentian communities, about handling the mundane problems of community life. In one such letter, Vincent observed “The bane of Communities, especially small ones, is usually rivalry; the remedy is humility.”[2] Vincent also advised his confreres of his own struggles with anger and being short tempered.[3] While Vincent was probably being especially hard on himself to prove a point, in his remarks and in his writings, he convinces us he is no stranger to the experience of being annoyed by people. In our time, when we are used to dashing off a text or calling someone in times of frustration, it is remarkable to contemplate writing a letter in frustration and having to wait for a reply!

In response to such difficulties, Vincent consistently recommended two of the central Vincentian virtues, gentleness and humility.[4] Vincent often used the example of Jesus[5] to counsel forbearance in human relationships. “I can well believe what you write me about M … but I ask you to bear with him as our Lord bore with His disciples, who gave him good reason to complain–at least some of them did. Yet, He allowed them to remain in His company and tried to bring them gently.”[6] One finds a similar call in the Qur’an describing the character of the Prophet Muhammad[7] with his companions, “By an act of Mercy from God, you were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you.”[8] Vincent saw the reality that human relationships are often difficult and that conflict among personalities not only makes life less enjoyable but prevents important tasks from getting done, leaving those who are vulnerable to suffer. Yet Vincent also believed in the power of gentleness and humility, especially from leadership, to win over hearts.

In a letter to a sister, Vincent began poetically: “I received two letters from you, which consoled me because they are your letters, but distressed me when I saw, on the one hand, that your Sister is not well, and on the other, that there is some slight misunderstanding between you. I ask His Divine Goodness to remedy both of these. The latter situation distresses me more because it seems to disrupt charity, of which forbearance is one of its principal acts; it is difficult for two persons to get along without it.” But Vincent was confident in the power of virtuous behavior, along with prayer, in such relationships: “[T]he virtue of humility is a good remedy for such antipathies because it makes those who practice it lovable.”[9] Vincent’s advice to those in leadership consistently makes clear that while verbal reminders may sometimes be part of their role, setting a powerful example of such virtues is most effective.

Reflection Questions: What are some personal relationships in your work that you can sometimes find difficult? What are practices you can engage in or foster for others that allow people to bring their best, most gentle, and humble selves to their work?


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

[1] “The Final Word Is Love,” The Catholic Worker, May 1980, 4. Available online at: https://‌www.‌catholicworker.‌org/‌dorothyday/articles/867.html.  Also included in the postscript to Day’s autobiography The Long Loneliness.

[2] Letter 2037, “To Louis DuPont, Superior, in Treguier,” March 26, 1656, CCD, 5:582. Available online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/.

[3] Conference 202, “Gentleness (Common Rules, Chap. 2, Art. 6),” March 28, 1659, CCD, 12:151. Available online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

[4] See Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “A Further Look at ‘Gentleness,’” Vincentiana 39:4 (1995). Maloney explores the various meanings with which Vincent uses the term gentleness (French douceur). See: Gentleness article.

[5] Peace be upon him!

[6] Letter 1676, “To Mark Cogley, Superior, in Sedan,” November 5, 1653, CCD, 5:47.

[7] Peace be upon him!

[8] Qur’an 3:159 tr. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem. Note: For Muslims this example is especially powerful as they consider the companions of the Prophet to have been very righteous, yet, they would have run away if not treated gently, a similar point to that made by Vincent in talking about the disciples of Jesus.

[9] Letter 2110, “To Sister Charlotte Royer, Sister Servant, in Richelieu,” July 26, 1656, CCD, 6:50. Available online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/31/.


Submit names of loved ones lost over the past year and join us for the Annual Gathering of Remembrance:

The DePaul community is invited to join the Division of Mission and Ministry for our annual Gathering of Remembrance, an interfaith memorial service for all community members who have lost loved ones over the past year. This service in Cortelyou Commons (and broadcast over Zoom) on November 17 invites us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity with our colleagues as the calendar year draws to its close.

We invite the entire DePaul community to please submit the names of loved ones for remembrance by the end of Thursday, November 10th so that they can be included in the service. If you know of anyone who has lost a loved one over the last year, please share this announcement. We want to honor their memory. All are invited to join us as we celebrate their memory.

Learn more at: https://gathering-of-remembrance.eventbrite.com

Quality is (also) our Mission

Near the top of the list for the most frequently referenced quotes from Vincent de Paul is: “It is not enough to do good, it must be done well ….”[1] Today, we take this quote at face value to mean that merely seeking to “do good” is not enough; rather, we must also make sure that we are doing it at the highest level of quality and in a way that is effective and sustainable. Often, we tie this particular quote to the notion of Vincentian professionalism, and the need to work toward continuous improvement in the services we deliver and the way we function together as a community.

The quote itself comes from a conference that Vincent gave to the Congregation of the Mission in 1657. Besides referring to the example and spirit of Jesus, as Vincent often does, he speaks of attending to the quality of who we are and what we do. He points out the ripple effect of our actions, both in the present and for the future, recognizing that what we do in the present impacts life for many who follow us far into the future. In this case, then, Vincent’s focus on the quality of what we do encourages us to build the future on a solid foundation so that those who follow will benefit from the good work we do today. As Vincent says, “The good they’ll do depends in a certain sense on the good we practice!”[2]

The COVID pandemic certainly accelerated changes in the delivery of higher education and in the workplace here at DePaul and globally. While DePaul’s mission has not changed, our current context challenges us to be more intentional about the way we work and teach to provide the highest quality education and service to students, as well as to remain a vibrant workplace and a flourishing community. How can our mission continue to serve to guide these changes in the face of this changing reality to maintain the highest quality in all we do?

When we speak of our Vincentian mission, we are occasionally speaking simultaneously at several different levels. At any given point, our focus may be the why, the what, the how, or the who of our mission. Sometimes, the subtle difference between these dimensions can cause confusion or make it challenging to reach decisions or take actions that all understand to be “grounded in mission,” regardless of their place in the university community.

A robust understanding of our mission involves attention to all four dimensions. Each plays an important role in solidifying a foundation for both present and future success. We stay connected to the deeper purpose behind what we do (the why). We clarify through a mission lens what we are called to do (or not do). We perform our duties and actions with the spirit of personalism, generosity, and service that we understand as central to the how of our mission. We do so in the context of an actively and intentionally inclusive and welcoming community (the who), one that invites ongoing mindfulness, learning, and growth and that always asks, “Who is being left out?”; “Who’s voice is not being heard?”; or “Who does not have access?”

Through all the changes we have faced and will continue to face in the days ahead, the quality of what we do remains fundamental to the success of our Vincentian mission. As mission guides our decisions and actions, we seek at the same time for our shared work to be effective and sustainable. At DePaul, our mission and quality are not at odds with one another; instead, they are intricately connected and necessarily rise and fall together.

Reflection Questions:

How might our desire to do what we do well while staying connected to our mission continue to shape the decisions we make about the education we deliver; our daily work life; and our communal practices, norms, and policies?

How do each of the different dimensions of our mission (why, what, how, and who) offer different insights into what “doing all we do with the highest quality” requires?


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

[1] Conference 177, Repetition of Prayer, 25 November 1657, CCD, 11:389. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌‌depaul.edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/37/.

[2] Ibid., 11:390.

Underneath our feet, the trees are talking

“May you be forever a beautiful tree of life bringing forth fruits of love.”[1]

This is going to be a post about trees, with just a bit of science and fungi. But trust me, it’s not simply because it’s autumn now and the leaves are changing. It’s all about our Vincentian mission in the end.

Trees have long been a powerful symbol and have captured our imaginations in art, religion, popular culture, and myth. I’m sure most of us have a treasured, meaningful memory that features a tree. Personally, I spent half my childhood in the summer and fall scrambling up, down, and around treetops. After I didn’t have to rake them, I came to enjoy the slow process of the leaves as they seemed to warm up with vibrant colors until finally falling. Every year now I wish for a long fall.

There’s the old phrase: never meet your heroes. What’s wonderful is that trees never disappoint. Turns out, the more we learn about our ancient arboreal friends, the more they have to teach us. There’s a reason that wisdom is associated with trees. We all know that trees literally help all of life breathe. They help moderate the climate and detoxify our global ecosystem, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. It’s estimated that one large tree provides enough oxygen for up to four people! Without them, we would not be here. But did you know that trees talk with one another? Not just metaphorically, or poetically, like in the way their leaves rustle through the wind, but in a very organic, physical way? Did you also know that, far from the myth of trees competing for either sun (up in the canopies) or for water (deep in their root structure), that forests of trees live in a kind of collective harmony, looking out for one another?

The work of Suzanne Simard, a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, has been revolutionizing the way that we look at trees and forests. Professor Simard has been studying plant intelligence and networked communications since 1997. Her ground-breaking scientific work, previously scorned, is now leading the field’s understanding of forest ecology, and has coined the term “the wood-wide web.” It turns out, trees don’t—and never were meant to—stand alone. Beneath our feet is a sprawling, busy, dynamic network of roots and fungi that form what are called mycorrhizal networks. Mycelium are tiny threads of a fungal network that wrap into and around tree roots, linking them into a vast community. Through this network of fungus and roots, trees are able to send not only water and nutrients to each other, but also signals warning about disease, drought, or insects.

You can listen to a TED Talk from Professor Simard herself here, and learn directly from her much better than I could hope to explain.[2] The big takeaway for me though, as Professor Simard summarizes so eloquently in her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, is this: “Plants are attuned to one another’s strengths and weaknesses, elegantly giving and taking to attain exquisite balance. There is grace in complexity, in actions cohering, in sum totals.”[3]

How beautifully rich and awe inspiring is that? Beneath our feet, tree roots are connected via a fungal network and constantly communicating, a buzzing exchange of signals. Trees are looking out for one another, and for the health of the whole forest. They do not hoard water, nutrients, and minerals, but freely share them with whatever sapling or mighty oak needs them the most. Scientifically, trees live in community with one another.

Now, what does this have to do with our Vincentian community and mission? Everything. The image and metaphor of the tree has long been associated with our Vincentian family. Just look at DePaul’s own symbol: the Tree of Wisdom. We often talk about our Vincentian roots and origins, and the many branches that have grown from that same trunk. In his letter for this year’s Feast Day, Father Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., President of the Executive Committee of the Vincentian Family, noted the tree’s long symbolic history with the Vincentians.[4]

Our new scientific understanding of mycorrhizal networks only further enriches the metaphor. We do not stand alone, either as individuals, or as departments, colleges, universities, or any other group. We thrive when we do not hoard this or that or get stuck in our own silos, but freely collaborate in community, whether it is in the exchange of ideas, or in compassionate care. Let’s learn from the trees and, as Vincent said, bring “forth fruits of love.”

Note: A big thank you to Kiley Chernicky, a Graduate Student from our own Biology MS Program here at DePaul, for alerting me to the work of Professor Suzanne Simard!

Reflection Questions:

  • What’s your favorite memory of a tree?
  • How might you deepen your collaboration with another department or area of the university to the benefit of all?
  • What’s one “outside-the-box” department you aren’t already connected with, that you think might bear fruitful collaboration? Unlikely, creative pairings can often produce unexpected, wonderful benefits.

Reflection by: Alex Perry, Program Manager, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Letter 27, “To Saint Louise,” [July 30, 1628], CCD, 1:46. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/25/.

[2] TED Talk, Suzanne Simard found at https://www.npr.org/2017/01/13/509350471/how-do-trees-collaborate

[3] Simard, Suzanne; Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2022).

[4] Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., “Letter from Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., on the Occasion of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul 2022,” Famvin blog, September 19, 2022, Letter from Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., on the Occasion of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul.

 

Vincentian Heritage Tour

We are now accepting applications for the August 2023 Vincentian Heritage Tour. Join your fellow colleagues and walk in Vincent’s footsteps around Paris and France. Learn more about our Vincentian roots and become inspired to bring those experiences and lessons back with you to DePaul.

Learn more here: August 2023 Vincentian Heritage Tour

What is Vincentian Hospitality?

Last week, DePaul University’s new president, Rob Manuel, shared a message in honor of the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul. He detailed the concepts of radical hospitality and service as deeply connected to the spirit and life example of Vincent de Paul, an ongoing inspiration for us today. While the connection between mission and service is familiar to most at DePaul, in subsequent conversations I observed that the idea of radical hospitality was new to many. This was especially true in articulating the present day meaning of DePaul’s Vincentian mission. The concept of such hospitality, however, has deep roots in our Vincentian heritage and is rooted in the life example and testimony of Vincent de Paul. There is great spiritual depth to the practice and experience of radical hospitality, particularly when considering our mission.

A common Vincentian story told at DePaul is often referred to as the story of the white tablecloth. In the foundational documents and rules established for the Confraternity in Châtillon-les-Dombes in 1617, Vincent de Paul explained the careful attention necessary when seeking to serve those in need. He recommended that missioners lay out a white cloth before serving food to a person in need, and that they engage in kind and cheerful conversation to better understand the context of that person’s story.(1) The attentive care communicated through gestures such as these reflect a recognition of the sacred dignity of those being served, as well as the essential relational dimension of human interaction, breaking down the distinction between “us” and “them.”

When Vincent established the Congregation of the Mission, he recognized the importance of establishing “a community gathered for the sake of the mission.” This community would not be based upon individual action, it would be built on the collective interdependence of those sharing a common purpose. Vincent took this further in establishing the Daughters of Charity alongside Louise de Marillac. Louise invited young peasant women into her personal space and formed a community. She recognized their potential and taught them to read and write, equipping them to be catalysts of change in their communities. Such hospitality was unprecedented at the time. Louise created entirely new opportunities that did not exist previously for women in society. With Vincent she shaped an intergenerational community, gathering women across all boundaries of social class. The Daughters believed that the “streets are our chapel,” and they continue to carry a spirit of personalism, openness, and hospitality outward, wherever they go.

In 2016, a special edition of the journal Vincentian Heritage was devoted to the theme of hospitality. It was inspired by our Vincentian spirit, so urgently needed in today’s world. The articles in this virtual compendium of Vincentian hospitality contain many insights on the transformative power of the practice of possibility.

The preface describes Vincent de Paul as a “hospitality practitioner” due to his desire to serve and care for others in the way that is best for them.(2) Subsequent articles further develop the theme through the lens of Vincentian tradition, emphasizing hospitality as a “sacred” experience that reflects the very nature of God. Vincent and Louise’s attention to the quality of the services they provided is singled out as a reflection of their deep, faith-based commitment to offering the best care possible to others, particularly those that society forgot or diminished.(3) An encounter of hospitality as a transformational event is highlighted “because we are engaging in new relations and opening ourselves to deep change.” In the process of encountering others, we must simultaneously address the harmful or unjust structures that get in the way of the effective care that hospitality demands.(4) Cultivating friendships and learning to listen deeply to oneself and the needs of others in the manner of Vincent de Paul is emphasized, as is the practice of hospitality to students of all faith traditions. We must recognize the importance of our words and actions in welcoming and caring for students, and in helping them to feel at home.(5) The intentional practice of hospitality, and how it effectively passes on the Vincentian mission and charism in the relational encounter between students and community partners, is also detailed.(6) Vincentian hospitality has been successfully used to address some of today’s most pressing societal issues.(7) Other articles discuss Vincent’s attentive care and concern for the sick and indigent, prisoners, and foreign migrants, and all those whom society tends to marginalize.(8) This edition truly illustrates how the practice of hospitality can serve as a catalyst for both inner and outer transformation.

Interestingly, an earlier Vincentian Heritage article by Sioban Albiol in DePaul’s College of Law points out that Vincent was himself a migrant and therefore he maintained a special concern for foreigners. This was reflected in the hospitality he provided to others.(9) The article states:

Saint Vincent de Paul must have felt the blessing and the pain of migration in his own life. Like so many economic refugees, at some personal cost to himself and his family. His father’s selling of two oxen to finance Saint Vincent’s studies is recounted by several authors. He left his home in order to pursue educational opportunity and economic security that could not be found in his place of birth. The land where he was born would have provided a bare existence.(10)

Vincent’s frequent reflection upon and practice of charity connects closely to the concept of hospitality. While today charity may sound soft and ineffective in the face of large, structured inequities, it also might be understood as the critical affective and relational dimension to justice. In fact, Vincent’s emphasis on charity was about action and generativity beyond the surface level.(11) Vincent advised his followers that charity involved the willingness to endure risks for the sake of offering hospitality to those in need: “If you grant asylum to so many refugees, your house may be sacked sooner by soldiers; I see that clearly. The question is, however, whether, because of this danger, you should refuse to practice such a beautiful virtue as charity.”(12) Enduring risks and vulnerability means extending ourselves beyond our comfort zone for the sake of others. Vincent’s charity, and his personal transformation over time, began by responding to the needs of those in front of him. He saw it as a virtue and an imperative of his Christian faith to be approachable.(13)

The resources above may help to shape a distinctive Vincentian hospitality vitally integral to sustaining and energizing the daily practice of our mission as we engage students, colleagues, community partners, and guests and visitors within our DePaul campus and community. However, in the spirit of Vincent de Paul, we will only learn radical hospitality and understand its profound meaning through concrete actions and experiences.

How might a radical Vincentian hospitality become concrete and real in our day-to-day interactions and encounters?

How might the practice of hospitality lead to both inner and outer transformation—within us and within the communities of which we are a part?


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

1) See Document 126, Charity of Women, (Châtillon-Les-Dombes), 1617, CCD, 13b:13; and Document 130, Charity of Women, (Montmirail – II), CCD, 13b:40. At: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian‌_ebooks/‌38/.

2) Thomas A. Maier, Ph.D. “Preface: The Nature and Necessity of Hospitality,” Vincentian Heritage 33:1 (2016), available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/1.

3) Thomas A. Maier, Ph.D., and Marco Tavanti, Ph.D., “Introduction: Sacred Hospitality Leadership: Values Centered Perspectives and Practices,” Ibid., at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/2.

4) Ibid, p. 5.

5) Annelle Fitzpatrick, C.S.J., Ph.D., “Hospitality on a Vincentian Campus: Welcoming the Stranger Outside our Tent,” Ibid., at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/9.

6) Joyana Dvorak, “Cultivating Interior Hospitality: Passing the Vincentian Legacy through Immersion,” Ibid., at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/16.

7) J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D., “Hospitality in the Manner of St. Vincent de Paul,” Ibid., at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/12.

8) See John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D., “Vincent de Paul and Hospitality,” Ibid., at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vhj/‌vol33/iss1/5; John M. Conry, “Reflections from the Road: Vincentian Hospitality Principles in Healthcare Education for the Indigent,” Ibid., at: http://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/14.

9) Siobhan Albiol, J.D., “Meeting Saint Vincent’s Challenge in Providing Assistance to the Foreign-Born Poor: Applying the Lessons to the Asylum and Immigration Law Clinic,” Vincentian Heritage 28:2 (2010), at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol28/iss2/20/.

10) Ibid., p. 282.

11) Conference 207, Charity (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 12), 30 May 1659, CCD, 12:223, at: https://‌via.‌‌library.‌depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

12) Letter 1678, Vincent de Paul to Louis Champion, Superior, In Montmirail, November 1653, CCD, 5:49, at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/.

13) See Robert Maloney, C.M., “The Way of Vincent de Paul: Five Characteristic Virtues,” Via Sapientiae, (DePaul University, 1991), at: Five Characteristic Virtues; also Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Ph.D., “‘Our good will and honest efforts.’ Vincentian Perspectives on Poverty Reduction Efforts,” Vincentian Heritage 28:2, at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol28/iss2/5.

Vincent de Paul: An Essential Memory

This week we are celebrating the best of our spiritual heritage: the life of Saint Vincent de Paul.

I discovered St. Vincent when I joined the Congregation of the Mission at 18 years of age on February 5, 1984. I was looking for community and a communal experience. I rapidly felt in love with him, his life, his commitment, his humanism, and his endless creativity. Over the past 38 years I have come to understand that Vincent is an important part of an infinite constellation of guardians, prophets, and witnesses. He is part of a constant, sacred memory of the God of a thousand names and expressions in a vast array of religions, cultures, and spiritualities.

Vincent de Paul is a very human prophet and teacher capable of provoking a yearning within us for God, the God of the poor and the most abandoned. This memory and our yearning take concrete form as something bigger than our own egos. We recognize it as something essential for a peaceful and sustainable coexistence in this, our common home. Vincent’s life and his work were inspired by the memory of God, a memory and yearning for compassion, mercy, solidarity, transformation, and love and justice. The memory of God in Vincent’s life is a strength that forces us to go to the margins, to welcome the stranger, to console the afflicted, to free the oppressed, and to “leave no one behind.”[1]

Today Vincent de Paul is a living memory, and our yearning must therefore include working for racial equity and to overcome structural racism and systems of white supremacy. For us, we must recognize the historical reality of the unfortunate connections some members of the Congregation of the Mission had to slavery in the nineteenth century. And we must articulate the connections that enslavement and the legacy of institutional racism have to our present. The yearning of God must be a yearning for truth and transformation.

I am certain that Vincent himself experienced a memory and yearning for God early in life. “He left his home diocese, Dax, and moved to the capital around 1607, where he began to make contacts among the ecclesiastical and even social elite. Being surrounded with refugees, the poor, and the marginalized, his attention gradually shifted away from his personal advancement toward service given to his needy sisters and brothers.”[2] The poor provoked in Vincent an essential memory of who he was called to be. They became both unique human beings endowed with sacred dignity and a living memory of the revelation of God. Every single day they called him to service, to compassion, to solidarity, and to transformation. In Vincent’s heart relationships with those who were poor led to a constant yearning for God, for the best of our human experience. They transformed his very existence.

Vincent was a humble man. He never aspired or claimed to be a “little god” or tried to control everything and everyone. He lived with a yearning and sense of God’s presence throughout his life, especially when doubts or conflict surrounded him. He felt this essential yearning and connection to God in his daily work, in the loving coexistence of his community, and in the day-to-day struggles to sustain all the projects he created to help victims of war, peasants, men in prisons, the destitute, the sick, and abandoned children. More than believing in God, Vincent de Paul knew God, served God, and committed his life to God as present to him in all those most abandoned by society. It was in the poor that he knew God, loved God, and felt the living God. His commitment to the excluded, the ones on the margins, the most abandoned, became one of those essential and perennial memories in his developing a deeper form of humanity.

Therefore, our Vincentian theological-spiritual approach is not of a pious type. Instead, it attempts to make a leap from religious devotion to ethical dedication in favor of social and environmental justice for the defense of vulnerable and threatened life. Vincent de Paul gave religion an ethical horizon. He taught us that the recognition and care for the dignity of the other, especially the ones on the margins of society, is essential to really experience God, to know God, and to serve God.

In this celebration of the feast of Saint Vincent my Vincentian heart feels a yearning for God, a yearning for compassion and solidarity, for equity and inclusion, and for respect, recognition, and care.

Happy feast of Saint Vincent to our students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Over this week, let us experience together a yearning for those essential things that bring us joy and inner peace.


Reflection by: Fr. Memo Campuzano, C.M., Vice-President for Mission and Ministry

[1] Cf. Luke 4:16-21.

[2] John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D., “Vincent de Paul and Hospitality,” Vincentian Heritage 33:1 (2016), at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.edu/vhj/vol33/iss1/5/.