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.

Living into Who We are Called to Be

Sunrise over the Lincoln Park Campus, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

“… a great good is worth being long desired.”[1]—Vincent de Paul

During my twenty-three years of working at DePaul, I have often found myself wondering what Vincent and Louise would think were they to wander on campus or take a stroll down the streets of Chicago today. Would they recognize that the seeds they planted in France more than 400 years ago have been lovingly tended and are currently flourishing in this twenty-first-century city? Would the fruits of their labor be evident in our contemporary context?

While I cannot answer such questions with any degree of certainty, I will hazard a guess. I imagine Vincent might turn to Louise and ask her to describe exactly what she was seeing and hearing as they observed the daily comings and goings on DePaul’s campus. Then, perhaps after a bit of a pause and a deep, prolonged sigh (after all, Vincent was known for his deliberative nature), Vincent might poignantly ask Louise to describe who or what was missing from the present picture and what such an absence might suggest: “What are the gaps that need to be addressed to provide quality education in the twenty-first century, Louise? How does a Vincentian university continue to make education accessible for all, particularly for those communities who are underserved and underrepresented, when the cost of education is already prohibitive for so many? What must be done, Louise, and how might we at DePaul do it?”

For her part, Louise would surely acknowledge the heaviness of her friend’s questions and, with him, refute the notion of any easy answers. However, being the intuitive person that she was, Louise might also inquire about Vincent’s feelings in finding the mission so changed yet so familiar in retaining the rich core wisdom from which it originated. Perhaps, to give context to her questions, Louise might point to the ways in which DePaul continues to support the integral development of the human person through its commitment to excellence in teaching and its preparation of graduates to be agents for positive change in our world.

To make her case, Louise could cite compelling research to support her thesis. For example, she might direct Vincent’s attention to some of the online pedagogical approaches that were developed in a nanosecond when COVID first hit, which continue to advance and inform asynchronous teaching today. Or she might ask students if she and Vincent could engage with them in a community service experience and participate in one of the impassioned reflections afterward, during which time they wrestle to make meaning of societal inequities, strive to identify root causes, and begin to ask how they might work toward systemic change. If she were feeling particularly courageous, Louise might even venture with Vincent into a faculty or staff meeting to discover how Vincentian personalism and professionalism still guide how colleagues care for each other, even when differences of opinion occur, or challenges seemingly provide only roadblocks ahead. No matter where she looked, Louise would surely find plenty of evidence of the university’s commitment to compassionately uphold the dignity of all members of its diverse, multifaith and inclusive community.

And then, of course, there are DePaul’s wonderful students and the rich cast of characters who work there and commit themselves each day to incarnate the best in us. I doubt that Louise would have to search far to find that the seeds of the mission continue to flourish. As she presented these examples to Vincent, I do tend to wonder if she might do so with a knowing look and a spiritual high five.

So, now it’s your turn. What do you think? Were Vincent and Louise to visit DePaul’s campus today, what evidence “of a great good … being long desired” might they find?

If gaps exist between who we, as a university, aspire to be and your own lived experience, what invitation do you personally hear about closing those gaps to enable us to more fully embrace who we are called to be?


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

[1] Letter 1489, “To Claude Dufour, in Sedan,” April 24, 1652, CCD, 4:363. See: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/29/.

 

Finding Hope and Healing by Providing It

Do not be upset if things are not as you would want them to be for a long time to come. Do the little you can very peacefully and calmly so as to allow room for the guidance of God in your lives. Do not worry about the rest. — Louise de Marillac[1]

Sometimes—oftentimes, lately—the world can feel overwhelming, and to be honest, a little bleak. Even as there is a collective momentum to try to shift toward a sense of recovery and healing, it can feel a bit like catching your breath before the next wave hits. It also matters where you are standing … and if you have the privilege of a space for healing.

There are the wars and their spiraling horrors in Ukraine and Yemen; a pandemic that marches on, sometimes slowing, sometimes quickening, with death and long-term illness in its wake; a political and civil maelstrom that churns and darkens, sure to break during the summer and fall; growing economic and racial inequalities that continue to metastasize unabetted; and looming ahead and upon us, a climate crisis, the effects of which we are already experiencing.

Where is justice? Where is hope? Where is healing?

These are some of the same realities—and questions!—that Vincent de Paul’s longtime partner in helping the poor, Louise de Marillac, faced. Saint Louise—whose Feast Day we celebrate this week—lived in a time of plague (check), war (check), violent political upheaval, and gross inequality (check, and check). I’ll be the first to admit that my image of saints (even though I’m not Catholic myself) tends to be through the distorted rosy lens of beatification. That is, these saintly figures surely floated above and beyond their historical context, transcendent in their ethereal embodiments of our greatest ideals. The truth is, they were just like us, living (sometimes intentionally) in the mud, dirt, and trauma of their days.

Where is justice? Where is hope? Where is healing? For Saint Louise—whose direct actions, ideas, and collaboration with Vincent formed what we now think of as Vincentianism—it was not enough to just bear witness to the trauma of the day. These questions were at the forefront of Saint Louise’s mind, keeping her awake. But these were not idle thoughts or mere academic questions. They were quite literal. She sought justice; she sought hope. She sought healing. And when she could not find them, she provided them. For others, for herself.

Her personal life was not without sorrow and hardship. Born of out of wedlock, a child of a single-parent home, she experienced her father’s death at age twelve and was rejected from the cloistered life she deeply desired at age fifteen. She was no stranger to childhood trauma. After marrying, she raised a special-needs son, but soon her husband died. Depression followed her, as did guilt. Widowed, and recognizing that she had a calling deep in her core, she met an irascible priest named Vincent. She initially found him repugnant. However, though they did not get along at first, their mission and purpose in life sang in harmony. Their commitment to the poor and vulnerable, to those who bore individual and systemic trauma, drove them both onward. Though her depression and sadness were never gone, they actively worked together to alleviate the suffering of others, and in so doing found hope, justice, and healing. They created a tradition that has spread from Paris to the world.

We’re now part of their story, her story, the next chapter in a four-century long tale. As we celebrate Louise de Marillac this week, celebrate your own part of her legacy. We can make things better, if we act out of that same engaged compassion that Saint Louise modeled so beautifully.

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

About Louise Week:

In honor of Saint Louise de Marillac’s Feast Day on May 9th, the Division of Mission and Ministry invites DePaul students, faculty, and staff to celebrate Louise Week 2022.

Louise de Marillac lived in a time of great upheaval and crisis. She, along with a growing number of female collaborators, provided shoulders that helped bear the weight of a country racked by war, entrenched in political upheaval, overwhelmed by the plague, and struck by hunger. The shadows of her own life’s story were filled with grief and loss and provided a vehicle for transformation that led to creating new pathways for women. Her story reminds us of the possibility of light transcending darkness.

Connecting to Louise’s story and tying it to the present can encourage us in times of suffering and uncertainty. As we seek healing from the impacts of living through a pandemic for the last two years, Louise’s example calls us to community, healing, and rekindling joy.

Join us May 9–13 to pause, connect, and celebrate St. Louise’s legacy alive today at DePaul. Just as she was sustained by the generosity and goodness of those around her, may we too take the time to pause, uplift, and celebrate with gratitude those who sustain our journey.

Curious to learn more about Louise’s personal journey? Check out this virtual six-day pilgrimage created last year that follows her footsteps across Paris.


[1] Letter 519, “To Sister Anne Hardemont (at Ussel),” (1658), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 614–15. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/.

A Vincentian Woman Out of the Shade

How could a delicate infant girl born in Paris in 1591, to an unknown mother and a prominent father between two marriages, be relevant today? How could her inauspicious early life have led to ongoing waves of benevolence and social services?

Prestigious relatives relegated the young child to a Dominican convent in Poissy for education. When her father died, an uncle withdrew the preteen and sent her elsewhere to learn domestic skills until relatives could arrange a marriage with Antoine Le Gras. Given her obscure start, only a well-informed Jeopardy contestant might identify Louise de Marillac as an agent of social transformation.

When she began collaborating with Vincent de Paul and his works of charity, Louise stepped “out of the shade, aflame and unafraid.”(1) Petite, “benevolent but bold,”(2) Louise addressed social challenges astutely because she believed that “God is Charity” and, therefore, that the “practice of charity is so powerful” that helping her neighbor in need would bring her closer to God.(3) Despite the blessings of her life, Louise understood that the early sufferings she endured were her “way of the Cross” and she wished to be full of “the fire of Holy Love … [and] divine light.”(4) An illuminating spiritual experience she titled “The Light” eventually transformed Louise into a spiritual leader and advocate for social change.(5)

In overcoming adversity, frailty, and life’s inevitable hurts associated with her upbringing, Louise de Marillac became empowered: to supervise charitable outreach programs begun by Vincent de Paul; to establish and mentor Daughters of Charity for basic nursing; to develop contracts for their services with hospitals; to rescue foundlings; to initiate a foster-care system for unwanted infants; to initiate education for girls from needy families; to feed starving refugees; to care for persons with mental illness; and to network with wealthy women for financial support. This dynamism of organized charity created systems of care that improved the lives of impoverished people of all ages.

We honor Louise on her birthday, August 12, as an unlikely agent of social transformation. Her love became “our legacy”—to be compassionate in upholding the dignity of all members of DePaul’s diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.(6) Louise lived by the light of her faith. What must we do to reach out and accompany those struggling at the margins of society? How can their needs illuminate our hearts to respond? Like Louise, we are called to be light for others. As Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, observes, “there is always light.” May we all be “brave enough to see it,” and “brave enough to be it.”(7)

Reflection Questions:

  1. What motivates you to step out from the shadows, aflame and unafraid?
  2. What does “light” mean to you? Describe your experiences of “light.”
  3. How are you motivated to be an agent of social transformation?

1) Amanda Gorman, “The Hill We Climb,” (Viking Books: 2021), 32 pp. See also: Amanda Gorman’s Poem Stole the Show at the Inauguration
2) Ibid.
3) A.29, (ON CHARITY), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 710-11.
4) Ibid.
5) For more on what is known as Louise’s “lumière experience” see: Louise de Marillac’s Pentecost Experience
6) A.29, (ON CHARITY).
7) Gorman, “The Hill We Climb.”

 

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

Louise de Marillac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geez Louise! Thank you.

A postscript from Sr. Helen

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

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

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

 

Celebrating Louise de Marillac and the Seeds of Our Vincentian Tradition

On Seeds in the Vincentian Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Cody Gindy, CDM ’12

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

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

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

Reflection Questions:

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

View the Seeds of the Mission Campaign Postscript


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

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

Discovering a Resilient Joy

My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, “God is my God” … Therefore, I cannot help communicating with you this evening to ask you to assist me to profit from this excess of joy…”1

The ups and downs of the election season and the continued uncertainty that lingers regarding the state of our nation and a public health crisis make evident to us that unless we want to ride an emotional rollercoaster, we need to find a deeper, steadier, and more sustainable source of joy.

As quoted above from a letter to Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac found a source for such resilient joy in the ongoing presence of her God. From her Christian imagination and faith, she spoke with confidence of a belief that even in moments of loss and hardship, there is always the possibility of new life and resurrected hope. This way of making meaning offered her the possibility of a resilient joy that sustained her generative life of service and charity.2

What about you? Where do you seek and find a joy that is not dependent on the daily fluctuations of your external environment, such as the post-election results or COVID numbers, or the inevitably temperamental nature of human emotions and thoughts?

As I have aged, I’ve come to realize that much of the quality of my life is about learning how to live with loss. Whether the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of an idealistic dream or well-designed plan, the loss of a favorite sports team, or even the loss of my hair, losses can sting and leave us flustered, sad, angry, and off-balance. Furthermore, there is often a tendency to turn that hurt or sadness inward on ourselves in the form of self-critique or self-loathing, or outward onto others with blame and judgment. Handling loss like this does not lead to the kind of meaningful joy that Louise speaks of and we desire. Such joy will only come with a willingness to accept what we cannot change or control, to accept reality as it is, even if we would rather it be different.

Staring reality in the face, might we find joy simply in knowing that we can begin again from where we now are? Life offers us an infinite number of opportunities to begin again and ultimately reach our goals. There is joy to be found in re-discovering our freedom and creativity, in finding new ways to shine a light amidst darkness, and in being generative despite uncertainty or difficulty.

I suspect that this is what Louise de Marillac discovered, that with God’s help, the human spirit is resilient and will always rise again.


1) L. 369, To Monsieur Vincent, August 24 (Before 1650), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 341. Online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/

2) For more on the overflowing joy and generativity of Louise’s life, see: Vie Thorgren, “‘God is My God’: The Generative Integrity of Louise de Marillac,” Vincentian Heritage 12:2 (1991), 201-18. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol12/iss2/7

 

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

 


Join us this coming Wednesday!

Gratitude Workshop

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Noon to 1 pm

The DePaul community is invited to join the College of Communication and the Division of Mission & Ministry for a lunchtime workshop devoted to gratitude practices. Research indicates that cultivating a sense of gratitude in our lives protects us from stress and depression and increases resiliency. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is the perfect time to come learn some new approaches to feeling and expressing gratitude. Click here to register for Gratitude Workshop.

 

Trust in Uncertain Times

In many ways, we are living in uncertain times. As a country, some people are anxious and uncertain about when the results of this year’s presidential and congressional races will be known. As a university, many of us are entering our eighth month of working from home as a result of the pandemic with no idea how much longer this may last. As individuals, some of us may also be facing other personal challenges with uncertain outcomes.

What can we do when we are faced with all this uncertainty?

Consider Louise de Marillac, who turned to her faith. Reflecting during a retreat, she wrote, “I must accept this uncertainty as well as my inability clearly to perceive at this time the path which God wishes me to follow in His service.”1 When faced with challenges, Louise realized that she could not always see where and when those challenges would end, and how she could overcome them. As a Catholic-Christian in seventeenth-century France, she put her faith and trust in God, who she believed to have planned a path for her life. She accepted that she could only do so much, and she believed God would take care of the rest.

What lessons can you take away from Louise’s approach to uncertain times? How might you translate her wisdom to your own life and belief system? When thinking about the uncertainty of life right now, who can you trust or believe in that will help you on your journey, wherever it may lead?


1) A.5, (Retreat), c.1632, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 717. See: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌‌edu/ldm/

Image credit: Bro. Timothy Opferman, C.M., artist; based on a work by Sharon Horace, D.C.; Photo courtesy of Bro. Broer Huitema, C.M.M.; Original in SVdP Center.

 

Reflection by: Michael Van Dorpe, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

From Darkness to Light

“I felt interiorly moved freely to place myself in a disposition of total availability…” – Louise de Marillac.  A.5, (Retreat), c. 1632, Spiritual Writings, 715.

A woman entered a church in a large city. Anxious and uncertain about her future, she sought a few moments of peace, and perhaps a hint of clarity. Taking her place amidst still surroundings, she closed her eyes and began to interlace words and images into the form of prayer. She was comfortable in the familiar ritual, gradually feeling calm restored to her spirit as she gently drew nearer to God—a power greater than her own anxieties. Attentive to what stirred within her heart during this quiet time, the woman had a vision. A moment when her mind was instantly freed of all doubt. She received a glimpse of her future and knew that her deepest desire would someday be realized.

The woman at prayer that day went by the name of Madame le Gras, but she is better known to history, and to us at DePaul, as Saint Louise de Marillac. The vision she experienced led her to understand that her greatest desire would be fulfilled, and that she would someday live in a community spending her life serving the poor. Upon leaving the church that day in 1623, Louise immediately wrote about what she called her “Lumiere” (or Enlightening) experience. She carried this description with her always so that she would never forget the grace of that moment, and the peace and purpose it provided her.

Almost 400 years separate Louise and her Lumiere from us today. But, like Louise, we too know periods of anxiety and confusion, as well as times of great peace and clarity of purpose. We harbor hopes for what the future could be for ourselves and for the world.

Perhaps today we can be like Louise, make a calm space around and inside of us, and devote a few moments to silent meditation or prayer. We can use this quiet time to begin to listen for the voice within and to pay attention to the desires of our heart. What may they be telling us? Maybe, like Louise, we can make this time of contemplation a regular habit to help us meet the challenges of the day, as well as to discover the grace and peace that await.


Reflection by:

Tom Judge, Chaplain, Division of Mission & Ministry

Louise de Marillac Advises Mutual Support

Look at this woman in motion. As her spry steps fade, did you sense a breeze from the alacrity of her brisk and cheerful readiness? Yes, “We’ve seen this beautiful portrait.”(1) We recognize Louise de Marillac, friend and collaborator of Saint Vincent de Paul. Why do we still reminisce about her 360 years, or to be exact 131,490 days, after her death on 15 March 1660?

Working amid natural disasters, refugee crises, and public health catastrophes, Louise spoke candidly to those with whom she worked. “Who are we to think that we should be exempt from public evils?”(2) She instructed them not to “be impatient with…trials;” to acknowledge that they “will see a great amount of misery” among people which they cannot relieve.(3) Louise urged solidarity—“share their trials” and do whatever is possible “to provide them with a little assistance and remain at peace.”(4)

When circumstances separated Louise from her associates, she sought to be “creative to infinity,” not by sending tweets, but through friendly, hand-written messages.(5) For example, she wrote “I did not want to lose the opportunity to assure all of you that physical separation does not prevent spiritual presence among persons…united” by the bonds of a common mission.(6) Louise understood the difficulty of social distance, and the value of emotional connection for necessary mutual support. Those who knew Louise said that her life was “a mirror in which we have only to look at ourselves” for inspiration.(7) In probing her legacy, we discover the values that fueled her “thirst for justice.”(8)

Louise never knew her mother. She suffered heartache from family rejection. As wife and mother in an arranged marriage, she knew the pain of family conflict. As a widow she discovered God’s call to serve impoverished persons through home nursing, organized charity, educational opportunities, care for abandoned infants, and mentoring women to carry out the mission of the Daughters of Charity, which she, Vincent, and the first sisters developed together. We honor Saint Louise de Marillac, Patron of Social Workers, on her feast day of May 9.

In what ways could I help someone feel understood, connected, supported, and appreciated?

During our time of social distancing due to COVID-19, how could I promote mutual supportemotional care, solidarity, presence, and justice among us? How could I help others to feel less isolated?


  1. 119, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 24 July 1660, CCD, 10:582.
  2. L.353, To Sister Barbe Angiboust, (11 June 1652), Spiritual Writings, 396.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. 102, Vincent de Paul’s Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.
  6. L.628B, “To Sister Françoise Carcireux,” 15 September 1659, Spiritual Writings, 647.
  7. 118, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 3 July 1660, CCD, 10:577.
  8. A.30, (Meditation on the Hunger and Thirst for Justice), Spiritual Writings, 734.

 

Reflection by:

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


Mission and Ministry Honors Louise de Marillac on the week of her Feast Day

The Division of Mission and Ministry honors Saint Louise de Marillac during this week leading up to her feast day (May 9th) with daily reflections on Louise’s living legacy:  Sign up here for daily emails this week, which will invite you to reflect on the relevance of Louise’s wisdom for today.

For more on Louise de Marillac, see these resources: