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
President

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