What is Vincentian Pragmatism?

One of the core tenets of our current Designing DePaul framework is Institutional Effectiveness and Vincentian Pragmatism. As evidenced by the questions we have received in the Mission and Ministry office over the past several months, the concept of Vincentian pragmatism is still relatively new or unclear to the DePaul community, even though it leans heavily on what has been commonly assumed and repeated about our mission (and included on the pens we have given out for decades now)—that Vincent de Paul was “pragmatic.” Many seem instinctively to recognize that this concept of Vincentian pragmatism holds something important and proper to our mission, even if they don’t fully grasp what it means.

In terms of the origins of the concept, it seems to date back to a 2012 article by a former DePaul staff and faculty member, Scott Kelley, who identified Vincentian pragmatism as a method for systemic change.[1] For Kelley, this concept clearly drew heavily from the deep well of the 400-year Vincentian tradition and the life and work of our founder and namesake. He was keen to emphasize Vincentian pragmatism as an intentional method or process of discernment rather than a detailed roadmap to arrive at instant clarity about a decision or action.

In a message to the university community for Saint Vincent de Paul Heritage Week in September 2023, “St. Vincent’s Extraordinary Pragmatism,” President Rob Manuel further connected the concept of Vincentian pragmatism to the “essence of St. Vincent de Paul” and to our work of embracing his heritage and legacy through our work today, inviting us to focus on a “mission-centered horizon”; create people-centered approaches; and foster a communal sense of participation, collaboration and innovation.

Earlier in the spring of 2023, a group of faculty had focused on how Vincentian mission informs pedagogy by speaking of it as a way of living and learning in the communal context that reflected similar themes of centering on (mission-related) values; actively involving the collective wisdom of the community; and intentionally cultivating communities of care and inclusion in the creation of what they called “Designing DePaul with Heart.”

Over the past few months, we, the current Vincentian Mission Institute cohort group at DePaul University, have been furthering this concept. We have reviewed related writings and research in our online Vincentian Studies Institute resources and discussed together what a tangible and useful framework for Vincentian pragmatism might look like and mean for DePaul decision-makers and groups. While still in its evolution and development, this framework emphasizes careful attention to the discernment process leading up to decision and action. This includes:

  1. Making Space for Discernment: showing an intentionality and willingness to “see and reflect” with an honest acceptance of one’s reality and context and proceeding with a “holy indifference”[2] to the path forward. This discernment is born of reflective self-awareness (meditation and prayer) and radical openness (to the presence and movement of Providence).
  2. Dialoguing and Consulting: demonstrating a commitment to listen deeply and with humility, valuing people and their collaboration and input; to seek out the insights of “wise persons” and the wisdom of the broader community; and to consider the perspectives and needs of those who are most marginalized and disempowered.
  3. Deciding Responsibly: taking the time necessary to understand complexity, to evaluate pros and cons of possible actions, to interpret and think imaginatively, and to always consider the impact of any decision on those who are most marginalized and disempowered.
  4. Acting with Solidarity: having the courage to act, to adopt an orientation of service, to advocate creatively for those in need, and to consider sustainability and long-range impact, including bringing others into the work and support of the mission.

We look forward to continuing to develop this concept and to deepening understanding of what it means in practice, but what is clear from each of the above examples is that the adjective Vincentian placed before pragmatism is highly significant. In the United States, while we are clearly influenced by notions of pragmatism that are, at their best, also deliberate and reflective in nature, we are also prone to cultural understandings of the term that can simply reinforce a “just do it” approach that lacks the deeper spiritual roots and communal wisdom called for by the adjective Vincentian.

In the coming months, we will continue to design and move into our future together and to better understand and develop the concept and practice of Vincentian pragmatism in all its richness. In so doing, may we continue to seek to understand and discern together what the adjective Vincentian demands of us, so that we may honor and do justice to the extraordinary heritage and mission to which we are privileged to contribute our lives and work, as so many have before us.

Reflection by: Vincentian Mission Institute, DePaul Cohort 7


GianMario Besana

Stephanie Dance-Barnes

Mark Laboe

Lexa Murphy

DeWayne Peevy

Tatum Thomas

Lucy Rinehart


[1] Scott Kelley, Ph.D., “Vincentian Pragmatism: Toward a Method for Systemic Change,” Vincentian Heritage Journal 31:2 (2012): 41–63. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol31/iss2/2.

[2] For more on the meaning of this concept, see L.642, Louise de Marillac to Anne Hardemont, 20 December 1659, in Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac: Correspondence and Thoughts, ed. and trans. Louise Sullivan, D.C. (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991), 660–661, at: Letters of 1659.

St. Vincent’s Extraordinary Pragmatism

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul from whom we derive our name, vision, mission, and identity.

St. Vincent was a visionary. He understood the realities of his time and saw new possibilities for his world within the massive socio-economic and religious chaos of 17th century French society. As he searched for meaning and direction in his own life, he found purpose and direction that always guided his vision and extraordinary pragmatism.

The practical ways of St. Vincent de Paul focused entirely on societal and church transformation by establishing communities dedicated to serving and healing those most in need. The work of St. Vincent de Paul, of some 400 years ago, focused on a new, transformed society, and this should resonate with us today, as we try to respond to our current and chaotic times.

Designing DePaul, our opportunity to shape our own society, allows us to be in touch with the inner soul of DePaul University. During this time of institutional conversation, we acknowledge the values in which we are founded and our collective dreams. We commit to being an educational institution that contributes to social mobility, breaking the cycle of poverty, designing for equity, responding to the challenges of artificial intelligence and technological development, caring for and protecting our planet, and educating leaders capable of generating a societal model where hate and violence have no place.

As you carry out your work, research, and studies this year, please consider the following four elements, which summarize the essence of St. Vincent de Paul as we embrace his heritage today:

  • Focus on a mission-centered horizon. This necessitates understanding your unique contributions to DePaul, firmly grasping the realities of the current situation and institutional needs, and yet also dreaming of what could be and leveraging ethical imagination to move beyond the world we know to what it could become.
  • Create people-centered approaches to all you do as we drive forward the initiatives within Designing DePaul. The wellbeing, the joy, and the fulfillment of individuals in a healthy environment will organically lead to a vibrant organization and better outcomes for those we serve.
  • Amplify a sense of co-responsibility, solidarity, and collaboration at all levels as the goals of St. Vincent de Paul. Our individual work and studies are all a part of an institutional fabric. They are interconnected in explicit and implicit ways because we all serve the same purpose, the same common good, and the same mission.
  • Develop strategies that are implementation-oriented, that respond effectively to real issues based on lived experience, and that systemically address solutions following the model of St. Vincent and the very spirit of our students. At DePaul our students demand that we not only ask the Vincentian question of “what must be done?” but that we also develop our response by understanding the current situation and data-based needs, by adopting a willingness to innovate and break out of old ways of thinking, and by changing our assumptions as we get new information.

And as we say, “Happy Feast Day,” let us also embrace the spirit of St. Vincent in everything we do, and also say to each other, “DePaul – be pragmatic, in a Vincentian way.”

Robert L. Manuel

Fr. Guillermo (Memo) Campuzano, C.M.
Vice President for Mission and Ministry

How Would Vincent “Design DePaul”?

In January of this year, President Rob Manuel formally launched “Designing DePaul,” a process to envision our university’s future. The goal: becoming the national model for higher education. As part of Designing DePaul, our community will engage in meetings, visioning sessions, and other conversations all contributing to making this goal a reality. Given DePaul’s bountiful resources, namely, our talented faculty, staff, and leadership; generous alumni and supporters; vibrant Chicago-setting; rich heritage; and energetic, forward-looking student body, I believe we stand a good chance of achieving this goal.

But, in planning our future, we might be well served to also look to our past and ask: How would Vincent de Paul design the university that bears his name? While he surely never contemplated such an endeavor, Vincent did leave us with a rich store of wisdom, based on experience and infused by faith, that could guide us in answering that question. What follows are principles, highlighted by Vincent in his conferences with the Daughters of Charity and Vincentian priests, as they together first established what is now known, almost 400 years later, as the global Vincentian Family. Perhaps they may help in our design.

  • Be guided by the Mission.[1] Vincent’s sole motivation, for himself and his communities, was to stay true to their mission. For Vincent, this mission consisted of both following the example of Jesus Christ in serving the poor as well as listening always for the will of God. For us, the roots of our mission are fed not only by these Vincentian and Catholic values including service, justice, and human dignity but also by the highest aspirations of a university: to foster the integral human development of our students.[2] If a community were to stray from its mission, Vincent believed, it would ultimately lead to its decline.


  • In the treasure trove of correspondence, conferences, and documents left to us by Vincent de Paul, we learn that he communicated frequently, about all manner of things, with his community members. He conversed transparently, listened deeply, shared humbly, and encouraged their commentary. Although today’s popular means of communicating would be unrecognizable to Vincent, his approach to communicating is timeless and worth remembering.


  • Believe in what you are doing and the value of each role. To his community members, Vincent often spoke of the goodness of their vocations and the value of their work. In that same spirit, we must believe in the fundamental importance and goodness of what we are endeavoring to do here at DePaul. Moreover, every member of our community must honor and value their own role in that endeavor as well as the role of others.


  • In your work, act pragmatically and prioritize the common good. When advising his far-flung communities about their various daily operations, Vincent emphasized good stewardship of resources, conscientious management, and pragmatic responses to the many issues that arose.[3] Importantly, his advice always prioritized the common good, of the community and those they served, over the self-interest of the few.

As we each continue to play our role within the DePaul community—as student, staff, faculty, or supporter—and as our university collectively commits to boldly charting our future, perhaps the above principles will help to light the way. For the moment, it may be beneficial to visit another Vincentian quote on the matter. In writing to one of his far-off missionaries, a person known for his zealous commitment to the mission, but who was then meeting with resistance and struggling with feelings of failure, Vincent reassured his companion that his “good will and honest efforts”[4] were enough. By expending our good will and honest efforts, and drawing upon the wisdom of our heritage, certainly we will have done enough.

Invitation for Reflection:

What do you think of these Vincentian principles both as they might apply to Designing DePaul and more generally? Do you think they are worth following? If so, how might you apply them?

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

[1] Conference 59, “The Preservation of the Company,” May 25, 1654, CCD, 9:536. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/34.

[2] “University Mission Statement,” Division of Mission & Ministry, adopted March 4, 2021, https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/about/Pages/mission.aspx.

[3] Conference 83, “The Management of the Property of the Poor and of Community Goods (Common Rules, Art. 10),” August 26, 1657, CCD, 10:245. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/35.

[4] Letter 962, “To Etienne Blatiron, Superior, in Genoa,” June 21, 1647, CCD, 3:206. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/28/.

Enduring Life’s Challenges

“You say you experience great difficulty in the Mission. Alas! Monsieur, there is no lot in life where there is nothing to be endured.” – Vincent de Paul (931, To Claude Dufour, 31 March 1647, CCD, 3:173.)


As we continue to move through the challenging ramifications and unpredictable events associated with the COVID-19 virus, how might we find some perspective in the lived example of Vincent de Paul? Vincent’s era was replete with tragedy and critical challenges, including violent conflict, hunger, sickness, and natural disasters. How might his example in the way he faced such crises offer us perspective in moving through the challenges ahead with grace and wisdom?

Vincent encouraged his colleagues to practice “unwavering courage” and to be “stouthearted in the face of difficulties.” (CCD, 11:216.) He was realistic and pragmatic, and not prone to trusting idealistic fantasies or pipedreams. He recognized that troubles were a part of life and not something we can expect to avoid, for “they are to be encountered everywhere.” (CCD, 8:113.)

For Vincent, such times invited creativity and adaptability as a response. He was tremendously resourceful and believed challenges like these “give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” (CCD, 4:36-37.) He was known for his “prayerful and calm attentiveness” in facing terrible suffering, particularly among the poor and marginalized. (Deville, “French School of Spirituality,” Vincentian Heritage 11:1 [1990], 40.) He felt that such circumstances can allow us to grow in compassion for one another. Ultimately, and so important for us to recognize today, Vincent remained confident in the future, trusting that “the storm will abate, and the calm will be greater and more pleasing than ever.” (CCD, 5:454.)

Inspired by Vincent de Paul’s example, let us find creative and meaningful ways to apply this Vincentian spirit to the particular challenges before us during this crisis.

How might Vincent’s way of navigating difficulty inspire your own creative action and response to today’s challenges? How can you be a source of encouragement and support for those around you?

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