The Journey to Simplicity

“For myself I don’t know, but God gives me such a great esteem for simplicity that I call it my gospel. I have a particular devotion and consolation in saying things as they are.”[1]—Vincent de Paul

Recently I had the opportunity to address a group of students about nurturing mental wellness during law school. Knowing intimately some of the emotional challenges we shared during that period in our lives, one of my close friends from that time messaged me; I enjoyed the fact that we both had enough perspective now to laugh at the idea that I would be addressing others on such a topic. At the best of times, while accompanying students on their journeys I sometimes feel like saying, “I know and honor that this is really challenging for you now, but you are going to look back and really miss these times!” At other times I know students are faced with challenges that are more serious. But, in any case, I hold onto hope that there is room for perseverance and growth through all circumstances.

One of the reflections I had upon addressing this group of students was that, in many ways, law school was for me a time of emotional solitude. Since I planned to talk about the importance of a supportive community in nurturing mental wellness, I wanted to be honest that my own experience was often characterized by its absence. Still, I felt that was a tremendous opportunity for growth. As someone who was making major changes in my life during that time, as young adults often are, I found large amounts of time alone to have great benefits. While a healthy community is one in which we can embrace what Vincent called simplicity, or what we might call sincerity or authenticity, social relations inevitably involve some challenges to sincerity. Relations with others often invite the questions, Am I saying what I truly believe or what I think will raise me in the esteem of those around me? Do I present myself as I truly am or as others would like me to be? (Or as I would like to be?)

In a university environment, we pride ourselves on cherishing values such as academic freedom as essential to the pursuit of truth. However, a recent survey showed that among college faculty, whom we often think of as enjoying the height of such freedom and protections, more than 80 percent feel the need to “self-censor” their true views on at least one especially contentious issue.[2] While I don’t think all issues are that contentious, I don’t believe this is limited to one issue, nor is this only a recent phenomenon.[3]

In academia, as in other spaces, those who succeed can sometimes be those who learn best how to know what others expect them to think or say and learn to meet those expectations. It can be developmentally appropriate or indicative of an appropriate humility to tailor one’s self-presentation to the expectation of others. As I often explore with students, however, it is one thing to selectively choose to share what one thinks at the appropriate time and place. It is another thing to realize that one is so good at saying or doing what is expected that one no longer has an authentic sense of self that is independent of what is rewarded in a certain environment. In pursuit of such authenticity or simplicity, important tools can include solitude in which dialogue with the self or the Divine takes place, and a supportive community where one is free to explore ideas in a challenging but safe way. Christians in our community have entered the Lenten season, and Muslims will soon enter the month of Ramadan. These blessed times are filled with time honored traditions which blend individual and communal encounters with the self and the transcendent in ways which invite us to cultivate our best, most authentic selves.

Being people who can truly know what we think (what we might think of as sincerity with ourselves) requires certain conditions. Being able to share heartfelt and considered views with others requires other conditions, such as trust and charity toward each other. Some might argue that the primary condition required in all such circumstances is courage, and I agree. I would join that with a call for examining the environments and cultures we create, and the ways in which we nurture sincerity or encourage conformity and groupthink.

For Reflection:

Do you feel that you are able to bring your authentic self to your work at DePaul? What practices help you to establish and maintain a connection with your true opinions and desires? What do you think is the most essential characteristic of individuals or communities in fostering simplicity or authenticity?


REFLECTION BY: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry.

[1] Conference 52, “The Spirit of the Company,” February 24, 1653, CCD, 9:476.

[2] Manuela López Restrepo, “’Fear Rather Than Sensitivity’: Most U.S. Scholars on the Mideast Are Self-Censoring,” NPR, December 15, 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/12/15/1219434298/israel-hamas-gaza-palestinians-college-campus-free-speech.

[3] See this thoughtful exploration of the intellectual costs of such self-censorship from thirty years ago: Glenn C. Loury, “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of ‘Political Correctness’ and Related Phenomena,” Boston University, accessed February 15, 2024, https://‌www.brown.edu/‌Departments/‌Economics/‌Faculty/Glenn_Loury/‌louryhomepage/papers/Loury%20(Politcal%20Correctness)_02.pdf.

 

 

Sometimes, We Forget Who We Are

Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash

Human beings are creatures who can drift away from who we are at our best. We make mistakes, show poor judgment, or operate from a wounded place. In such moments, we add to the world’s dysfunction and even unwittingly contribute to harm and injustice, despite our best efforts not to. This dynamic seems to be part of our human experience, which suggests that we would be wise to walk through the world with an ample supply of humility and that we need a community to hold us accountable.

Recognition of this human tendency that plays out in our individual and collective lives is at the root of the Christian practice of Lent, which begins this coming Wednesday, February 14, with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. The annual season of Lent is a communal practice that invites Christians to a time of intentional pause to reflect on ways that we may have gone astray in our habits and caused harm to our relationships. Lent is a season when we join our mindful attention and willpower together with the healing and restoring mercy and love of God. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we seek to realign our lives with what we value most. (Learn here about plans for DePaul Ash Wednesday Services and Lent.)

I wonder what regular practices and habits in our work environment might play a similar role in helping us rectify ways we have fallen off course. Perhaps we might benefit from auditing how we have strayed from our mission, developed habits of relating and working together that are ineffective or even harmful, or allowed ourselves to drift into a state of “just going through the motions.” Perhaps, as an institution founded in the Catholic tradition, we might also use this season of Lent for organizational purposes to reflect on how we can refresh our work with new positivity, creativity, and efficacy.

The season of Lent runs from Ash Wednesday on February 14th through Easter on Sunday, March 31st.

Questions for reflection:

What might you commit to doing over these 6+ weeks (40+ days) to put your own house back in order, individually or collectively? How can you realign how you are living with what you value most?


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

Building a Strong Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Creating a Community of Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 12:222.

 

Inspiration for Sincere Dialogue in Difficult Times

Martin Luther King, Jr., meets with President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson Library, Public Domain

“We live at a time when the world is full of violence, oppression and conflict.” “We live in a time of deep division in our own country.” Perhaps both these statements are true of many times, maybe even all times, but they are certainly true of this one. The communication technologies of our period also can serve to make these realities seem closer to us or harder for many of us to escape, even if we’d like to.

One of the reasons we honor and celebrate certain special individuals is because we hope that in their lives, we can find wisdom and inspiration for our own times. In the span of a few weeks at the beginning of the year, we mark the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the celebration of Foundation Day (the commemoration of the start of the Vincentian Mission), and the birthday of Abraham Lincoln. So much could be said about each of these days and the men and the movements they commemorate. Today, let’s consider what they might suggest to us about relationship and dialogue in difficult times.

In reading the highly acclaimed new biography of Dr. King by Jonathan Eig (who happens to live near DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus), I was struck by King’s relationship with President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson reached out to King three days after the assassination of President Kennedy seeking his assistance.[1] Johnson was a highly skilled political operator and said he was committed to civil rights but he knew he needed the help of King, who was then at the height of his mainstream popularity and success. They remained in close contact although neither publicized their dialogue, and both were wary of the other. (In fact, both knew that elements of the federal government were spying on King and seeking to destroy him.) King wept after watching Johnson’s powerful address to Congress after the civil rights movement was met with violence in Selma (and after Johnson had met in the White House with Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace).[2] The address called Congress and the nation to pass the Voting Rights Act. Despite what they were able to accomplish in this arena, as Johnson continued to escalate the Vietnam War, King would not remain silent, despite the advice of many who considered themselves his allies in the movement.[3]

In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” King stressed the importance of dialogue and negotiations (along with research to identify injustices and to engage in self-purification). Yet King rejected the idea that direct action was in opposition to dialogue and negotiations. King argued that while destructive violence must always be opposed, the constructive tension created by nonviolent direct action was often necessary to force those in power to engage in dialogue and negotiations with the marginalized. King said that while he initially disliked being the label of extremist, he now embraced the need for “creative extremists” for love, truth, and justice.[4]

While the time and place of Vincent was not one of direct action or of democracy, I would argue that Vincent and the organizations he founded relied not only on service, but also on creative calls through words and actions for those in power to accept their responsibility for those on the margins. The call for the powerful in France to live up to the Christian example and not ignore those in poverty stood in stark contrast to the injustices of French society. When Vincent was transformed from a smart young man who was motivated to make a better life for himself to one utterly committed to serving God and those living in poverty, he did not cut off relationships with the elite and powerful in society. Instead, he continued to cultivate them with the aim of using those relationships to fulfill his mission.

I have also been reading a compelling recent book on Abraham Lincoln by NPR’s Steve Inskeep.[5] While Lincoln, like King, is remembered for his powerful oratory, this book focuses on Lincoln’s relationships and dialogues. Each chapter focuses on a different account of encounters between Lincoln and another person who came from a different background than him and with whom he had a significant disagreement. What stands out in each encounter is Lincoln’s willingness to engage with those with whom he disagreed. The results of the dialogue were rarely about one convincing the other, but Lincoln used the dialogues to understand others better. He was a quintessential politician and believer in democracy, and he could use his understanding of the others’ interests to define priorities and create coalitions to accomplish his most important goals. Although as a politician Lincoln would often choose to remain strategically silent as part of this process, Inskeep’s book takes its title from something Lincoln wrote in a letter to his close friend Joshua Speed. Speed came from a slaveholding family and Lincoln “chided [him] for admitting the “abstract wrong” of slavery but failing to act accordingly.”[6] Still, Lincoln remained in relationship with Speed, signing off the letter with “your friend forever.”[7]

We all have different roles to play in life and in the university. Just as the roles and perspectives of a prophetic preacher leading a movement for social change, a politician in an era of civil war, and a saintly founder of a religious order in an absolute monarchy may differ greatly, we may see our own roles differently based on our positions, personalities, or other commitments. I see in each of these examples a call to remain in dialogue and relationship with others, even those with whom I may have profound differences or disagreements. I have seen a call to sincerity in that dialogue which means a willingness to express difficult truths and to listen to them. Finally, I appreciate the role that constructive, creative tension can play in individual and communal transformation when we are willing to channel that tension into dialogue and negotiation.

I am inspired by the people and spaces in the university that help form students to engage in these types of difficult, sincere ongoing dialogues. Among those with which I am most familiar are the Interfaith Scholars program and the Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, but I know there are many others. What are the ways in which you think DePaul engages these questions best and what are ways in which we might be able to do better?


REFLECTION BY: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry.

[1] Jonathan Eig, King: A Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023), 351.

[2] Ibid., 435.

[3] Ibid., 514–30.

[4] See Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” August 1963, https://www.csuchico.edu/iege/_assets/documents/susi-letter-from-birmingham-jail.pdf.

[5] Steve Inskeep, Differ We Must: How Lincoln Succeeded in a Divided America (New York: Penguin Press, 2023).

[6] Ibid., xiv-xv.

[7] Ibid., xv.

Calling Your “Best Self”

While only a simple turn of a calendar page from one month to the next, the beginning of a new year offers a conspicuous invitation to begin again with renewed vigor on the path to become the people we aspire to be. It is a convenient opportunity to re-commit to growth, healing, goodness, hope, and possibility.

I have often found inspiration in a line that’s apparently common in Zen Buddhist circles, which simply states, “This is it!” This moment. This situation. Now. Here. All of it. Because I am so prone to “fast-forwarding” in my imagination to an ideal future, this line reminds me to stay present to the reality before me. As a person of faith, I view the present as exactly where God has placed me to do the work entrusted to me. The present is a place to grow into the person I am called to become.

One of the frequent reminders we can take from the words and example of Saint Vincent de Paul echoes this insight. For Vincent, the calling and presence of God, that is, the movement of what he often named “Providence,” emerges in the circumstances of daily life. Vincent looked for this. He tried to pay attention to life events, to relationships, and to the challenges and opportunities before him because he understood that this was exactly where God was leading him. Vincent was also a lover of putting his ideals and values into practice in concrete ways—what he understood to be the practice of virtue.

We might say then that the “most Vincentian thing” for us to do as we begin this new year is to bring forth our “best selves” as we face the realities that surround us. To create spaces for the goodness in us and in others to come to the light of day, to be nourished and cultivated, shared, and put into practice in concrete ways. To begin again to work with energy and zeal toward the vision of life and community that reflects what we most value, and to leave behind all that works against it.

Let’s do this together for the benefit of all and for the flourishing of our DePaul community. And let me/us know in Mission and Ministry how we can work with you to do so!


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

The Potential Already Present

There are times in life when we may struggle to see light in darkness or when we are overcome with doubt. Occasionally, it may seem that the entire world is going in the wrong direction, that hardship is around every corner, or that we may not make it through the present in one piece.

The Christian season of Advent, now upon us, invites us to see with hopeful eyes the presence of grace and the latent potential for goodness waiting to be actualized. Whether in our home lives, in our communities, in our workplace, or in the larger world, each moment offers us this opportunity.

What gets in the way of our realizing it?

I acknowledge many times my underlying feelings get in the way. Maybe I’m sad, irritated, or confused. Or it could be my habitually self-absorbed thought patterns get in the way and prevent me from seeing the opportunities before me.

If I pause to consider it, I know that my feelings at any moment in life are the result of many complex factors that are at once internal and external, objective and subjective, individual and communal, rational and intuitive. Feelings may be caused by what we see, but in every case, they are also likely to color the lens through which we see, and thus accentuate or distort certain aspects of our reality. Likewise, my thought patterns are likely to hold many preconceived expectations and biases that impact what I see as I face new situations and thus how I interpret them.

Thus, I consider the seasons of Advent and Christmas to be an annual gift that invites me into a beneficial communal practice of the Christian community. This annual practice helps to foster the emotional and spiritual readiness necessary to perceive and encounter all that is before us with hopeful expectation. Through story and ritual, this liturgical season reminds us that the present moment is always pregnant with emergent life and goodness.

I share these reflections in this space because they offer lessons for us that are helpful in the workplace, too. What gets in the way of your seeing? Seeing your co-worker with deep respect and care? Seeing past some of the prejudicial biases or defensive personal habits you have developed over time? Seeing with hope? Seeing the opportunity to accentuate or contribute to the goodness of our university community during your day? And what might help to restore you to seeing more clearly?

As we approach a time that may allow a bit more space for rest and rejuvenation from our regular work and life patterns, how might you ready or restore yourself to be able to see the new life that is emerging for you, within you, and around you? In your work situation, in your home life, or in your community, how might there be latent potential for goodness and new life?

Your answer to these questions may be exactly one of the gifts you are meant to receive this holiday season. May you recognize it, receive it, and give thanks for the way it calls you forward to new life and hope in the year ahead!


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

Struck by Beauty

 

What can compare to the beauty of God, who is the source of all the beauty and perfection of creatures? Is it not from God that the flowers, birds, the stars, the moon, and the sun derive their luster and beauty?[1]     —Vincent de Paul

 

On a recent November weekday morning, I was going through my usual routine, frantically hustling around my apartment, trying to get myself together and then out the door and into work. Back and forth from bathroom to bedroom to kitchen, collecting what I needed for my day—notebook, lunch bag, workout clothes, keys, phone, wallet. As I was just about ready to depart, I glanced at the clock and thought, If I run down the stairs and speed walk to the train, I just might have a chance to make it to the office reasonably on time.

All of a sudden, while I was shoving my laptop into my backpack, something made me pause and look up and out my third-floor bedroom window. As I think back to that moment now, it is surprising to me how much a mind is able to take in in just a split second. Outside of my apartment, the sun was bright and the air was clear. The leaves on the trees were translucent shades of orange and gold and were so close to the windowpane that I could almost make out the veins on each leaf. Through the branches and around the trees, below and across the street, the familiar trio of well-maintained Victorian homes were so vivid to me that I could see clearly the autumn wreaths that hung on their front doors and the mum plants that sat on their broad porch stairs. At that moment, standing in my bedroom and taking in the scene on the other side of my window, I was conscious that the world outside—the world that I was about to enter—was beautiful and inviting.

No sooner had that realization made itself known to me than a very slight breeze passed through the trees outside. In response, multitudes of leaves detached from their branches and began falling gracefully to the ground below. Then, as spontaneously as it began, the gentle rustling of the leaves ended.

The breeze had been natural, even predictable, and the falling leaves had had a beauty uniquely their own. Yet, in that moment, the feelings of joy and awe that had just welled up inside of me were pushed aside by something else. A different, surprising feeling rose up. I felt a sense of loss.

When I finally left my apartment a few minutes later, I continued mulling over the experience I had just had. Its sensations had seemed so much bigger and more profound than the simple moment called for.

Most of us learn, from witness or experience, that our lives, blessed and privileged as they may be, will contain some portion of sadness and pain. Sorrow tempers joy. Abundance and scarcity coexist. Light gives way to darkness. The truth is that these can be cold and bitter realities. The simple shedding of a leaf from a tree is nothing compared to the real suffering and loss taking place in the world.

But, as challenging and fearsome as these experiences are, they do hold potential for something good, for the growth of compassion and empathy and the strengthening of faith and resilience. The writer Kahlil Gibran put it this way: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”[2]

Vincent and Louise knew something of both the joys and sorrows in our world.  DePaul’s Vincentian mission reflects this in our commitment to peace, justice, and equity and to upholding the dignity of all especially the underserved and underrepresented. We, the Vincentians of today, need to be reminded of these commitments and values, whether those reminders come from the words in our mission statement or from a chance encounter with the world’s beauty and brokenness through our window.

INVITATION FOR REFLECTION:

  • Can you recall a time when you were struck by beauty or joy around you? What was this like for you?
  • Has there been an experience in your life at DePaul, or elsewhere, that has been challenging for you but that has also provided you with a gift or has helped you become a more compassionate person?

Take a moment to honor the gifts that you took from your experiences.


REFLECTION BY:  Tom Judge, Chaplain, Mission and Ministry

[1] Document 43, “Reflections on the Beauty of God,” n.d., CCD, 13a:160.

[2] Kahlil Gibran, On Joy and Sorrow, from The Prophet, p 28(New York: Knopf, 1923).

Learning with Dorothy Day

When the world feels bleak, I worry that I’m not doing enough. How can I justify my comfortable life when migrants are sleeping on the floors at Chicago police stations? Shouldn’t I show up to more protests and direct actions? How can I be in solidarity? What must be done? In response, I often ask myself: What would Dorothy Day do?

If you are not familiar with Dorothy, I encourage you to read about her life and the Catholic Worker movement that she co-founded in 1933, ninety years ago. Many people know the highlights. She was a leftist and a journalist, a young woman living in New York City during a time of political transformation. She converted to Catholicism, met an itinerant French intellectual named Peter Maurin, and they founded the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy started the Catholic Worker, a newspaper about labor, capitalism, and more—all through a Catholic lens. When hungry people began showing up at the newspaper’s office, Dorothy and her collaborators fed them. This work is still going on today. In 2023, Catholic Worker houses of hospitality around the world blend radical social action and mutual aid.

I have lived in two Catholic Worker houses, and through her writing, Dorothy became my constant companion. When I lived there, I sorted clothing donations, prayed vespers, gave out toothbrushes, and went to round table discussions about sociopolitical issues. I played mahjong and scrabble with guests, rescued cats, distributed food to free fridges on the streets, and risked arrest to protest a tar sands pipeline. Dorothy’s writings kept me grounded in personalism and solidarity.

Young people have always gone to the Catholic Worker, seeking an experiential education that they didn’t find in the classroom. Some dropped out of prestigious universities to devote themselves to a countercultural lifestyle. Others moved into houses of hospitality after graduation. Dorothy embraced education in its most expansive sense. She understood that, among other things, the movement was becoming an alternative school for young adults. She and Maurin imagined a cross-class community in which workers would become scholars and scholars would become workers. Dorothy herself was a college drop-out; she left the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in her second year. (She did finish high school right here in Lincoln Park, where she spent part of her childhood.) Dorothy spoke at colleges and universities, and she developed a deep knowledge of literature and the arts. However, she—rightly, in my view—knew that learning transcended the classroom.

In my role at DePaul, I get to introduce students to Dorothy Day. As coordinator of the Service Immersion Program, I bring students to houses of hospitality. Last spring, I took eight DePaul students to St. Francis House, the Catholic Worker house in Uptown. I left that conversation reinvigorated. The students asked wonderful questions about voluntary poverty, technology, mutual aid, and the logistics of hospitality. This experiential learning is in DePaul’s DNA, naturally flowing from our Vincentian mission. By introducing students to Dorothy and other Catholic Workers, I am giving them tools that have helped me wrestle with tough questions about justice and privilege. I commit to keep asking myself those tough questions, to question, unlearn, and learn alongside my students.

November is the month when many Christians remember the dead through the commemoration of All Saints Day and All Souls Day. For Catholic Workers, it is also a month when we remember the life and witness of Dorothy Day. She was born on November 8, 1897, and died on November 29, 1980. During this month when the veil between the living and the dead draws thin, I remember a woman who has shaped my life even though I never met her.

If you’d like to learn more, From Union Square to Rome is a good introduction to Dorothy’s writings. I’ve also heard good things about D.L. Mayfield’s new biography, Unruly Saint. To get a pulse on the contemporary Catholic Worker movement, you can subscribe to the newspaper. The masthead still proclaims that it sells for a penny a copy.

Catholics believe that “there is no time with God.” This means that our relationships with the dead are real and powerful. This November, I invite you to enter into relationship with Dorothy across space and time. You don’t need to be a young adult to become a student of the movement. As we live through uncertainty, we must remember to call on the crowd of witnesses, the saints who can show us how to live, work, and be together.

Reflection questions:

  • How do you continue to learn and grow outside the classroom?
  • Who are the saints and ancestors who guide you in challenging times?

Reflection by: Abigail Rampone, Ministry Coordinator for Vincentian Service and Immersions

Putting People First

Have you ever had this question floating around in your mind during an encounter with another person:

How can I possibly prioritize the person in front of me, when … (you fill in the blank)

… I have so much to do and am already overwhelmed with many other things?

… I’m already late for my next appointment?

… I have a task to complete in meeting an imminent deadline?

… this encounter doesn’t feel as important to me as other things I feel I have to do?

Perhaps such a situation has occurred with a student, with a colleague, or with a person passing on the street. Maybe it’s during the workday on the way to or from a meeting, before or after a class … or maybe a similar situation will occur during an upcoming family holiday event!? I know that many times I have struggled with these types of situations. (And, as a theologian, I might add so were the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan!)

Over and over in my life and work, I continue to re-learn that putting people first may require letting go of my compulsive drive to achieve more, to fast-forward past the present to some ideal future, or to follow some other metric of “success.”

There are many reasons why being present to the person before us can seem difficult or less important than some other tasks we feel must be completed urgently. This hypothetical example may seem quite trivial in relation to the many larger challenges we face. Yet, being present to the other, for the other, and with the other may be the most foundational building block of creating a workplace and a student experience where people feel recognized, valued, and joyful. This is Vincentian personalism in practice, and sometimes it can mess with our plans and timetables.

The way in which we are present to one another has a significant impact on the kind of community we are and thus to our institutional ethos. It impacts the felt experience people have within the DePaul community, whether they feel seen and cared for, and perhaps whether or not they thrive.

Vincent de Paul’s spirituality was what Catholic Christians speak of as “incarnational.” That is, he believed that faith is ultimately made evident in concrete action. Vincent spoke often of virtues, which are essentially the consistent embodiment of our aspirational values. He was skeptical of abstract ideals that did not find their way into lived practice. In fact, what he most revered in the person and life example of Jesus was that Jesus incarnated the presence and love of God. Vincent believed we are called to do the same. Furthermore, he suggested, Providence accompanies us in the process, helping us toward the realization of the mission entrusted to us.

As an institution bearing Vincent de Paul’s name, we are challenged to prioritize people. In our mission statement and in how we go about our life together, we strive to value and affirm the sacred dignity of all in concrete ways. Therefore, the encounters, actions, and decisions that unfold in our life, work, and study are inherently meaningful. Each is an opportunity to put what we most value into practice. Each is an opportunity put people at the center, especially those who may be impacted by our way of being together, our decisions, and our actions. Each can help us to remember that ultimately our work is contributing to a community and society that helps all people thrive.

We are not perfect. Sometimes we fall short. We’re not always ready for the situation. Sometimes our personal habits, practices, or leadership styles must be adapted to better make care for one another possible. Sometimes we lose sight of what’s most important. Or, it may be that some institutional policies, procedures, job descriptions, or goals need to be critically examined and adapted to better enable such care.

Whatever it may be, our Vincentian mission calls us to make the accompaniment and support of people the heart of what we do and how we do it.

Clearly, we will continue to earnestly strive for larger and very important goals, such as greater justice and equity in our society and world, the sustainability of our planet, an end to violence, and the alleviation of poverty. These remain our end goals and larger vision. Yet perhaps what we manage best along the way, amid our daily journey, is that next encounter with the person before us or that next action that may impact other human beings in our care. In these situations, and in your approach to your life and work at DePaul, how do you—how do we—put people first? As an educational institution, isn’t that what we are most about in the end?


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