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.

Gentleness in Our Relationships

Vincent de Paul with Francis de Sales, Jeanne de Chantal

“Kindness is the key to hearts.”[1]

—Saint Vincent de Paul

Last week (and every year on January 25), on the Catholic feast day of the conversion of Saint Paul, Vincentians around the globe celebrated what we have come to know as Foundation Day. Vincent de Paul remembered this day as the critical moment when his mission began, the day he gave a powerful sermon at the church in Folleville, France. The sermon came in large part from his lived experience of witnessing the great need among the rural poor for material and spiritual care, and most likely, after hearing the probing question of Madame de Gondi—“Vincent, what must be done?”

What I always find interesting and so very appropriate is the Catholic feast day that falls each year on the day before our Foundation Day, on January 24. This day is celebrated each year as the feast day of Saint Francis de Sales, a spiritual giant and contemporary of Vincent de Paul. Francis clearly had a deep and transformational impact on Vincent and on the way that Vincent eventually came to understand and practice spirituality in the latter part of his life. “Vincent I,” the person Vincent was in the first part of his life, was by all reports what we might call an average and (at times) self-serving priest, who then transformed into “Vincent II,” the person who came to be regarded by many as a saint.[2] In addition to the pivotal events of 1617, which many have deemed as the turning point from “Vincent I” to “Vincent II,” it seems quite clear that Francis de Sales contributed significantly to shaping the spiritual framework of the transformation that took place in Vincent de Paul.

Saint Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva, was highly regarded and well known in Vincent’s time and he continues to be famous for his practical application of the spiritual life to everyday life and relationships. At the very least, Francis’s pragmatic spirituality clearly had a marked resemblance to what emerged as the spiritual vision of Vincent de Paul. This vision solidified after their face-to-face encounters in Paris beginning around November 1618. It was then that Francis came to Paris for a ten-month period on business. And, indeed, Francis’s influence is reflected by the particular ways in which Vincent continued to grow and express himself spiritually in the second half of his life.

Vincent helped to petition the pope for Francis’s beatification nearly forty years later. What seemed to impress Vincent—and most people—about Francis de Sales was his kind and gentle spirit. According to Vincent, the two “had the honor of enjoying [a] close friendship.”[3] Vincent is reported to have called Francis “a living gospel.”[4] Known for the now popular spiritual advice that “a spoonful of honey attracts more flies than a barrelful of vinegar,” Francis preached the way of gentleness in relationships, recognizing that our everyday encounters with others are the consummate opportunity to practice love and to grow in virtue. Later, we see the emergence of Vincent’s emphasis on the virtue of “meekness,” which has been translated as becoming “approachable” by and for others. Vincent had previously noted that Francis “made himself accessible to all, without distinction—religious as well as secular and laypersons—who came to consult him …”[5] Additionally, Francis was known to have emphasized the importance of spiritual zeal and humility, which are virtues that Vincent eventually identified as foundational to his vision for the Congregation of the Mission.

Louise de Marillac was also someone who held Francis in high esteem. The quote from Vincent shared above about kindness occurred while he was speaking to the Daughters of Charity about the practice of mutual respect and gentleness in their interactions with others, particularly with those who are poor and whom we wish to serve. He suggested such virtues must be characteristic of all those seeking to practice this mission of charity and care for those in need.

Vincent de Paul was a unique person who initiated a great mission that we continue to live and benefit from today. We remember him now as a saint, as one to emulate. We look to his example for inspiration and guidance as we continue to carry forward his legacy and mission in our work at DePaul University.

And, at the same time, no human being grows into the fullness of their identity and vocation without others who support, inspire, and mentor them along the way. We, like Vincent, most commonly gain and sustain a vision for our own life through the relationships and vocational narratives that we have been blessed to encounter along the way.

Reflection Questions:

  • In what ways do kindness and gentleness resonate with you in relation to what you have come to know about living our Vincentian mission at DePaul? How might you integrate them more intentionally into your daily interactions?
  • Who are foundational spiritual influences in your own life?

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

[1] Conference 27, “The Practice of Mutual Respect and Gentleness,” August 19, 1646, CCD, 9:207.

[2] Hugh O’Donnell, C.M., touches on this idea in Frances Ryan, D.C., John E. Rybolt, C.M., eds., Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, Classics of Western Spirituality (Paulist Press, 1995), 15ff.

[3] Document 29, “Deposition at the Process of Beatification of Francis de Sales,” (April 17, 1628), CCD, 13a:81.

[4] James Dyar, “‘To listen like a Disciple’ (Is. 50:4),” Colloque 9 (1984), at We are Vincentians: The Vincentian Formation Network, Know More to Serve More (blog), July 12, 2016, http://vincentians.com/en/to-listen-like-a-disciple-is-504/. Citation refers to the blog post.

[5] Document 29, “Deposition at the Process of Beatification of Francis de Sales,” (April 17, 1628), CCD, 13a:83.

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.

Stories of Life Made New

The 1947 French film Monsieur Vincent opens with a striking sequence during which Vincent de Paul arrives at the city of Châtillon to serve as a priest. Châtillon is depicted as a place where the sick and the poor are left to die. Meanwhile, the rich party behind closed doors as the plague sweeps through town. Everyone has seemingly lost faith. People laugh when Vincent tells them he has come to serve as priest, horrified that he intends to assist the poor and the sick most of all. While Vincentian historians may point out the many ways this dramatization conflicts with historical record, it does bear a thematic resemblance to some of the testimonies given by residents during the investigation for the canonization of Vincent after his death.

Although we are fortunate to have many volumes of letters and conferences by Saint Vincent, we are sometimes stymied in our search to better understand details of Vincent’s life. He seems to have been reluctant to talk about himself, especially his past. In his spiritual urging of others, Vincent was often self-deprecating and humble. He was fond of referring to his peasant origins and his childhood tending animals, which was understood to be very humble work. Of course, in many spiritual traditions the work of the shepherd is linked to the tasks of prophets and other servants of the divine. Indeed, in the Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad affirms that in his youth he too served as a humble shepherd and that in fact this is true of all the prophets of God.

In addition to the inherent humility of this occupation, many have written of the important lessons one learns from this type of work in order to “pastor” human persons. In another hadith, or prophetic teaching, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, is reported to have said, “All of you are shepherds and each of you is responsible for their flock.” A central aspect of the value of personalism embraced at DePaul can be found in this shared human understanding of pastoral responsibility. Margarita Mooney Suarez has described personalism as a “middle way between radical individualism and collective authoritarianism.”[1] In the pastoral wisdom of personalism one may be responsible for a group, whether large or small, but one can only fulfill that responsibility by recognizing the sacred dignity and uniqueness of each of the persons under their care.

The Qur’an calls the attention of the listener to the revival of the earth, which appears dead, with the coming of the rain: “And among His signs is that you see the earth devoid of life, but as soon as We send down rain upon it, it begins to stir ˹to life˺ and swell. Indeed, the One Who revives it can easily revive the dead.”[2] In this and other verses like it, the Qur’an affirms both an everlasting life for the soul after death and the revival of hearts which appear dead. I would argue that in the sacred attention and care that accompanies personalism, one can find not only a revival of individual hearts but of communities that may appear dead or devoid of vibrancy.

This is one lens through which to understand the testimonies of those in Châtillon detailing Monsieur Vincent’s effect over several months in 1617. After someone has a wonderful revival experience it is often difficult to communicate the depth of that to others. When individuals testify to an important life-giving change they often emphasize or even exaggerate the more negative aspects of their prior life. Sometimes this is done to make their story more compelling or dramatic, but just as often it is a desperate attempt to convey just how important and beautiful the change was for them.

Both individually and as an institution, as we continue the process of revival in emerging from the depths of the pandemic and the many other difficulties we have faced, let us embrace sacred attention to all those under our care. Furthermore, let us remember and celebrate the countless sacred acts that carried us through our lowest moments and prepared us for the coming of a new spring.


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

[1] Margarita Mooney Suarez, “Being Human in the Modern World: Why Personalism Matters for Education and Culture,” 25 June 2018, Public Discourse, at: https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2018/06/21942/.

[2] Quran 41:39.

Building your resume or building your legacy?

A number of years ago, the political and cultural commentator David Brooks penned a thought-provoking article juxtaposing resume virtues with eulogy virtues.[1] While resume virtues are skills that you bring to the marketplace, eulogy virtues run deeper and define one’s depth of character. Eulogy virtues are the characteristics that we recall at a person’s funeral when we seek to describe the quality of their life.

According to Brooks, although most of us would probably agree that eulogy virtues are the most important, our culture and educational systems tend to put more effort into teaching skills for professional success. As a result, many of us neglect to cultivate the skills necessary to deepen our interior lives. We don’t until life confronts us with situations that require us to wrestle more profoundly with questions of meaning and purpose.

Saint Vincent de Paul’s trajectory seems to mirror the developmental shifts that Brooks lays out. Indeed, much of Vincent’s early experience reveals the ambitions of a young cleric who, motivated by “chances for advancement” and thoughts of “an honorable retirement,”[2] focused on furthering his ecclesial career and “building his resume.” While spiritual and ecclesial formation were certainly an integral part of his theological training, Vincent’s initial priestly motivation stemmed primarily from his desire to escape the financially uncertain life of a peasant farmer. As a result, Vincent, “the eager and ambitious cleric,” sought upward mobility by climbing the ecclesial ladder.[3]

Yet Vincent’s dreams of social advancement did not remain the driving force of his ministry for long. Amid the twists and turns of his vocation, a series of pivotal moments would challenge Vincent’s aspirations and invite him to think beyond himself and consider those in front of him who were living in deprivation. Prompted by such encounters as his visit to a dying peasant in 1617,[4] Vincent began to focus his ministry primarily on the needs and spiritual well-being of those who were poor and abandoned, whose dignity was not often recognized in seventeenth-century French society. He became immensely dissatisfied with the way the world appeared around him.[5] Yet, rather than accept the status quo, he channeled his frustration into a quest to build the world that he wanted to see.[6]

In tangible terms, these spiritual invitations led Vincent to abandon his desire for his own career advancement in favor of seeking a more just and equitable world. Consequently, he spent the rest of his life not merely asking, What must be done?[7] but using his actions as a pathway to live his way to the answer.

As Brooks notes, “some people have experiences that turn their careers into a calling.” While Vincent’s motivation to do good stemmed from his desire to build the Kingdom of God, his trajectory as an ambitious young clergyman might never have changed direction were it not for his ability to listen deeply and respond to what God asked of him. Vincent quite simply longed to serve God faithfully. The cries of those on the margins transformed his heart and motivated him to use “the strength of [his] arms and the sweat of [his brow]”[8]

Reflection Questions:

“We all go into professions for many reasons: money, status, security. But some people have experiences that turn a career into a calling.”[9]

Have there been moments in your career at DePaul when you have experienced your work as a calling? What was it about these moments that transformed your work?

What do you feel called to build in your life right now?

 

Reflection by:           

Siobhan O’Donoghue, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry


[1] David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List,” New York Times, April 12, 2015, Sunday Opinion, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/12/opinion/sunday/david-brooks-the-moral-bucket-list.html.

[2] Letter 0003, “Vincent de Paul To His Mother, in Pouy,” 17 February 1610, CCD, 1:15  Available on line at: https://digicol.lib.depaul.edu/digital/collection/depaul01/id/84/rec/1

[3] Douglas Slawson, C.M., “Vincent de Paul’s Discernment of His Own Vocation And That of the Congregation of the Mission,” Vincentian Heritage Journal 10:1 (1989): 6. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol10/iss1/1.

[4] Luigi Mezzadri, C.M., and José María Román, C.M., The Vincentians: A General History of the Congregation of the Mission, trans. Robert Cummings (New York: New City Press, 2009), 1:10. Quoted in Scott Kelley, “Vincentian Pragmatism: Toward a Method for Systemic Change,” Vincentian Heritage Journal (2012): 31:2. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol31/iss2/2.

[5] Edward Udovic, C.M., Ph.D. “St. Vincent de Paul, A Person of the 17th Century, a Person for the 21st Century,” Office of Mission and Ministry DePaul University, YouTube video, January 16, 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zrwez_neJT4.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Ph.D., “’Our good will and honest efforts.’ Vincentian Perspectives on Poverty Reduction Efforts,” Vincentian Heritage Journal (2008): 28:2, 72. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol28/iss2/5.

[8] Conference 25, “Love of God,” n.d., CCD, 11:32. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/37/.

[9] Brooks, “Moral Bucket List.”

The Sacred Dignity of all Persons

More than four hundred years ago in the small French town of Folleville, France, Saint Vincent de Paul had a transformative experience that he would later describe as the start of the Vincentian mission, which we continue to this day.[1] While serving as a tutor and spiritual director for the wealthy de Gondi family Vincent was called to the bedside of a dying peasant. The opportunity to facilitate the sacrament of confession and the profound positive effect it had on the man revealed much to Vincent about the conditions and human needs that were widespread in his time. When Madame de Gondi famously asked, “What must be done?” the mission had begun.

The Vincentian mission to honor the sacred dignity of every human being has taken many different shapes in many different environments over the last four hundred years. It is a living legacy that seeks to serve the same goals and purposes in ever-changing circumstances. DePaul University seeks primarily to advance the dignity of every person through higher education, but in doing so, we serve the whole person and the larger community. We find and serve not only the material needs of people but their spiritual needs as well. It is because of, not despite, our commitment to our Vincentian Catholic mission that we honor the spiritual needs of all in our community, inclusive of people of all faiths and none.

Much of our Christian community has just come to the end of the Lenten period with the celebration of Easter.[2] Our Jewish community has begun the observance of Passover. Our Muslim community is in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan. Others observing sacred holidays during this season this year include the Sikh, Jain, and Baha’i communities. We remind ourselves of Dr. Esteban’s call in the fall tocreate an accepting and nurturing environment in which people of every faith are supported and nurtured.”[3] Just as our university closes for Good Friday to facilitate Christians’ observance, we encourage all members of the community to be flexible and accommodating so that people can engage in religious observances and spiritual growth. Doing so enriches and inspires the entire community, as our own Father Memo Campuzano beautifully shared last week.[4] The spirit of accommodation and the honoring of human dignity invites conversation among people about their needs, recognizing that not everyone is the same and all are equally precious. The staff of the Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care is here to serve as a resource whenever we can be helpful in such dialogue.[5]

We invite all of our community to find, as Vincent did, life and beauty in honoring and facilitating the sacred traditions and spiritual needs of each other. Many of us are weighed down by the hardships or just the daily grind of life. We seek these special observances to provide joy and meaning to our lives, as individuals and as communities. Being able to facilitate these moments for others provides a special blessing of its own. The Prophet Muhammad[6] offered this beautiful prayer for those who would provide food for him when it came time to break the fast, “May those who are fasting break their fast with you, may the righteous eat your food, and may the angels pray for you!”[7]


Reflection by:    Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care

[1] Andrew Rea, “The 400th Anniversary of St. Vincent de Paul’s Sermon at Folleville,” DePaul University, January 25, 2017, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2017/01/25/4809/.

[2] Orthodox Christians will observe Easter on April 24.

[3] A. Gabriel Esteban, “Religious Observances: Facilitating a Culture of Respect, Understanding and Civility,” DePaul University Newsline, August 31, 2021, https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/sections/campus-and-community/‌Pages/‌Religious-observances-2021.aspx.

[4] Memo Campuzano, C.M., “Spiritual Times: Times When We Hope Together,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), DePaul University, April 8, 2022, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2022/04/08/spiritual-times-times-when-we-hope-together/.

[5] Contact information and a calendar of holidays and religiously significant events can be found here: https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/religious-spiritual-life/religious/Documents/2021-2022_‌Religious_‌Holidays_Calendar.pdf.

[6] Peace and blessings be upon him and all of the prophets and sacred teachers and guides.

[7] Hadith reported by Abu Dawud.

What’s your DePaul origin story?

Tomorrow, January 25, is Foundation Day! So … what is that? It’s a day Vincentians around the world celebrate one of the community’s key origin stories. Everyone has an origin story—not just comic book superheroes, or even saints. They are moments where the line between before and after becomes very clear. Foundational stories help frame and contextualize our lives and give us resources to understand and overcome whatever current challenges we face.

Take our own hero, Saint Vincent de Paul. Several well-known experiences formed who Vincent became—and the legacy that we still live out today. One was in a small village named Folleville in France. At the time, Vincent was a priest accompanying his incredibly wealthy benefactor Madame de Gondi on a tour of her lands (we are talking, “I have a family castle up the road” wealthy). Vincent, though of course concerned with the welfare of the poor, was not yet the driven saint that we know today. He saw joining the priesthood as the surest way of enjoying the finer things in life. His experiences at Folleville were about to change all that.

In January 1617, while staying at said family castle, Vincent received a message that a sick peasant desperately wanted to see him. When Vincent arrived, he discovered that the man was dying, and he proceeded to take his last confession. After a lengthy conversation—that seemed to be grounded in what we might call mutuality today—both men found joy in unburdening themselves to each other. This cathartic experience shook Vincent to his core, so much so that he brought “I have a castle” Madame de Gondi to the peasant’s small hut to talk with him. This transformed her as well, and a mission began that was centered on the question, “what must be done?” In retrospect, Vincent looked back on the sermon he gave about this experience on January 25, 1617, as the formation of the Congregation of the Mission—an institution through which we find our own origin and mission as a university.

Foundation Day is the story of when Saint Vincent really understood what his mission was and what questions he should be asking and answering. His formative experience with the peasant not only inspired internal reflections but drove him to action—and it has inspired the actions of many others over the past four centuries.

What is your DePaul origin story? When was the moment you really understood how you needed to live and what you needed to do … or what DePaul’s mission was all about? Which person or people helped you to really see how your work contributes to DePaul’s (or the Vincentian) mission? What experiences opened your eyes to “what must be done?” Whatever your answers, these are now a part of your foundational story.


Reflection by: Alex Perry, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

 

Foundation Day Celebration

Tuesday, January 25, 11:00 – 1:30pm

LPC Student Center Atrium & Loop DePaul Center, 11th Floor

Join Mission & Ministry to celebrate the 405th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Mission. Stop by for a snack and take a moment to reflect on how you carry out the Vincentian legacy at DePaul.

DePaul SOCK DRIVE

Monday, January 24th – Friday January 28th

Further celebrate Vincentian Foundation Day through action!  Join us as we partner with the Wool Gathering Project to collect socks for those who need them this winter to stay warm.  Just get a brand new pair of socks of any kind and drop them off at the bins at any of the following locations sometime this week:

11th Floor DePaul Center, Loop Campus, Near #11010

1st Floor Student Center, Near the CCM Office on the West End.

The Theatre School, Near 1st floor Elevators

From Compassion to Organization

I watched the Tokyo Olympic Games and enjoyed my armchair view of the competitions. The personal stories of the contenders, their skills, fortitude, and camaraderie presented a multinational spectrum of dreams achieved, whether by presence or prize. I was intrigued by stories like the British gold-medalist diver who focused on knitting and crocheting as an outlet. Yet even as the Olympics dominated social media, cases of COVID-19 variants were suddenly spiking. News outlets juggled features of intense athleticism, with the climate crises, wildfires, and COVID.

Through the prism of pandemic-related stories of patients, caregivers, and activists, I heard echoes of the Vincentian tradition: What must be done? What must I do? What must we do?

Vincent de Paul, the patron of our university, offers wise insight in response to human misery. Impoverished people suffer greatly, but “more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons.”[1] For this reason, after learning of a family wherein everyone was ill and incapable of helping one another, Vincent encouraged his parishioners to assist them.[2] Moved by compassion, he also visited their home. Afterward, Vincent called a meeting. He “suggested that all those good persons animated by charity to go there might each take a day to make soup, not for those sick persons only, but also for others who might come afterward” in order “to assist body and soul.”[3]

Vincent organized the first Confraternity of Charity, at Châtillon-les-Dombes, 23 August 1617. Intending to engage others to collaborate in addressing an immediate need, Vincent’s charitable project created a chain reaction. The model was replicated, expanded, and refocused over the ages as social justice issues necessitated systemic change and advocacy to create healthier tomorrows for impoverished persons.

From that humble beginning, four hundred years ago, over four million people now embrace the Vincentian way. Today, the 150 branches of the Vincentian Family are multicultural, multilingual, prophetic, and global in the service of charity, social justice, and systemic change.

  1. What moves me to act with compassion?
  2. When I know or see someone in need, how could I respond compassionately?
  3. When I see human suffering, what motivates me to take action?

Note:  For more on the work of the charitable and systemic justice work of the Vincentian Family globally, see: https://famvin.org/vfo-en/

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


[1] Document 124a, Foundation of the Charity in Châtillon-les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3-5. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/

[2] Cf. Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9:192-3; Conference 20, Observance of the Rule, 22 January 1645, CCD, 9:165-6.

[3] Conference 24, Ibid., 9:193; Document 124a, op. cit., 13b:3.

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

Anniversaries: A Time to Reflect

Throughout the upcoming year, people will observe many kinds of anniversaries. They may throw a party for a friend or family member’s birthday. Partners or spouses may exchange gifts to commemorate their first date or wedding anniversary. Countries may celebrate the date of their founding. Others still may remember a family member on the anniversary of their passing. All these occasions provide us with an opportunity to pause and reflect on the significance of a particular date tied to events in our past that make the day impactful.

When asked to identify the origin of “the mission,” Vincent de Paul noted that it all began on January 25, 1617. Several days prior he had heard a confession from a sick peasant, and on January 25 he preached at St. James church in Folleville, France, about that transformational experience. It was on that day that Vincent’s life took a turn, and what we now know as the Vincentian Mission was born.1

Today, then, is celebrated as the 404th anniversary of the foundation of the Vincentian Mission. As such, it provides the DePaul University community and the Vincentian Family a time to reflect upon that mission. January 25 is a day to remember the part we have played in this movement that started in a small countryside town in France. This mission has spread across the globe and impacted millions of people, including our own students, faculty, and staff at DePaul

When thinking about the 404-year history of the Vincentian Tradition, how have you played a role in continuing its legacy? What are other anniversaries that you celebrate or observe throughout the year that are important in helping you to remember what is most important in your life?

If you are interested in learning more about Foundation Day, see this new reflection by the Vice President of Mission and Ministry, Fr. Guillermo Campuzano, C.M.:

Anniversary of the Foundation


1 Conference 112, Repetition of Prayer, 25 January 1655, CCD, 11:162-164.

Reflection by:

Michael Van Dorpe, Program Manager for Faculty & Staff Engagement, Mission & Ministry


JOIN US FOR:

Sustaining the Mission: Integrating Vincentian Mission into Our Work at DePaul

Thursday, February 18th

9:30 – 11:00 am

Zoom

The Division of Mission and Ministry invites you to new workshop that is focused on the practice of “mission integration,” that is, ways of applying DePaul’s Vincentian mission to one’s daily life and work. Participants will be invited to reflect on how they might be agents or leaders for mission in their areas of responsibility and influence. Please join us.

Register here: http://events.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=qiic4w6ab&oeidk=a07ehj28vy045bb4fab