Building a Strong Foundation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions for Reflection:

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

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

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


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

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

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

Creating a Community of Care

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For reflection

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

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Ibid., 12:222.

 

Putting People First

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

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

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

… I’m already late for my next appointment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Entering into the Heart of Another

Another effect of charity is to rejoice with those who rejoice. It causes us to enter into their joy.” – Vincent de Paul [1]

Recently, I spent time in the bleachers of Sullivan Athletic Center, cheering on our women’s volleyball team as they faced the Huskies of Northern Illinois. Though I don’t really understand the finer points of the game, I love the intensity, pace, and athletic prowess that are fundamental to volleyball. And, I have tremendous admiration for the competitiveness and teamwork that are so critical to any sport at the elite collegiate level.

There is something else I love about volleyball: the behavior of the players on the court after each point. In those moments, if DePaul wins the rally with a spike or block or great serve, the players quickly gather in something resembling a group hug, rejoicing with the one who made the winning play and celebrating the moment before resuming the set. If DePaul loses the point, the response is very similar— a brief group huddle that is not celebratory but instead seems to communicate support to the player who may have missed a shot and also helps the team refocus for the next point. In both scenarios, despite the different outcomes, players are empathizing with one another. In those few moments, they are strengthening their bonds as teammates and pushing themselves to work together to win the next point and, ultimately, the match.

This simple demonstration of unity and devotion by our volleyball players seems to resonate with the quote that inspired today’s reflection. In the conference from which this quote is taken, Vincent de Paul is addressing members of the still-developing Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentian priests). He is urging them, for the sake of their mission’s ultimate success and sustainability, to ground their communities in virtue, particularly the virtue of charity (or what we might call today love). Vincent believed that the presence of a generous amount of charity within a community would lead to its members being able to “enter in” to the hearts of one another, to rejoice with those members who rejoice and grieve with those who are saddened. In other words, charity would create a community where there is genuine empathy, ever-present support, and abundant compassion among its members for one another.

When I have the privilege of visiting with university colleagues and learning what they value most about being at DePaul, their answers are almost always animated by their gratitude for our community. They speak of the affection they feel for treasured coworkers who are also good friends, the admiration they have for talented colleagues who diligently work on behalf of students, the enjoyment they take at campus-wide events that unite us in celebration, ritual or, simply, fun. On a large-scale and in small, personal ways—and even on a volleyball court—evidence abounds that DePaul, at its best, is a living example of the community grounded in love that Vincent de Paul set out to establish.

But, being a place where the lived norms are empathy, support, and compassion is not easy to achieve or maintain, nor does it automatically result from having a Vincentian identity. To be a community of charity needs to be made a priority both institutionally and individually. Then, it must be backed up by commitment, hard work, humility, equity, shared goals, cordial relationships, placing the good of the whole over that of the individual, and so forth. Although the challenges are real, DePaul has a history of being this type of loving community and a mission that supports this going forward.

Reflection Questions:

  • Are there people you know at DePaul who have recently accomplished something of note or celebrated a joyful experience? Or, alternatively, suffered a loss or are going through a particular struggle?  Consider reaching out to these people to offer congratulations and celebration or support and sympathy.
  • Where have you witnessed examples – either large or small – of empathy, support or compassion that help to make DePaul a more caring community? How might you be called to contribute to or build upon these examples?

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

[1] Conference 207, “Charity (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 12),” May 30, 1659, CCD, 12:222. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

Patience as Method

For almost two years now, I have been photographing the discarded masks I’ve encountered on my walks around the city. By the end of the autumn quarter 2021, I had accumulated close to 500 mask photos, and this practice has continued. When I traveled to Australia in June 2022, I found masks on the ground there, too. I traveled to Ontario, Canada in August and, again, found the ubiquitous masks. A September weekend in the borough of Queens, New York yielded more masks for my growing digital collection. And in November, on a trip to Paris, I found even more. Such is the nature of collections: they start small and, over time, the numbers grow. One must be patient. Our culture, however, doesn’t tend to traffic in patience. We want it now.

In a letter to Sister Anne Hardement, Saint Louise de Marillac wrote, “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 as to allow room for the guidance of God in your lives. Do not worry about the rest.”[i] As a health communication scholar, I recognize at once Louise de Marillac’s advice as it relates to the twin aspects of coping: problem-solving (or changing what can be changed) and emotional adjustment (adapting to what cannot be changed).[ii] While it is not always easy to simply “not worry,” there is some peace to be found in accepting a predicament and doing what can be done to move forward. I didn’t know what I was going to do with all these mask photos until I happened to mention the “project” to Robin Hoecker, my colleague in the College of Communication, who happens to be a photojournalist. And our interactive collaborative photo mosaic project of the image of Vincent de Paul—“Unmasked”— was born.[iii]

When I’ve shared the “Unmasked” project with others, a common response has to do with this strange paradox of making art out of what is ostensibly environmentally injurious litter. For me, the masks on the ground are polysemic; there are many ways to read this symbolic detritus of the pandemic. In addition to indicating an irresponsible act of pollution, the masks on the ground—particularly those I photographed almost two years ago—seem emblematic of our community desire to move on too quickly.

This worldwide phenomenon of the Covid masks on the ground, I believe, symbolizes the liminal stage of the Covid pandemic. “Liminal” comes from the Latin “limen” or threshold. Anthropologist Victor Turner refers to the liminal as “betwixt and between,” the transitional or intermediate stage in a rite of passage.[iv] The liminal is loaded with challenges and ambiguities and is often precarious. For comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, the liminal stage is part of the initiation stage, what he termed “the belly of the whale.”[v]

Few would deny Covid has been a collective rite of passage. Many of us recognize those betwixt and between times in our lives. This is true especially for our students. For example, there is the liminal moment of crossing the stage to receive a degree and a handshake with the university president. This march across the Wintrust Arena stage might last only ten seconds but, symbolically, it marks the culmination of years of hard work.

Do you remember in the very early days of the pandemic—three years ago—we were instructed not to buy masks? Masks were in such short supply that health officials were concerned about their availability for professional providers and essential workers.[vi] Not long after that, whenever we did venture out of our homes, we wore masks. Early on, many were homemade. And then everyone was wearing masks. And now—for good or ill—masking is down significantly. Nevertheless, the masks continue to cross my path. Someday, however, we won’t see them on the ground either. But that doesn’t mean that things will be as we want them, following the admonition of Louise de Marillac, “for a long time to come.”

Perhaps it is simply an aspect of maturity that we grow to be more patient. But I do not mean to imply that patience is passive. Not at all. While we wait, we can move things along. We can find ways to respond to the conditions of our existence creatively. We can perception-check with others—what women in the second wave of feminism branded “consciousness-raising.” We can advocate.

In a blog post dated October 27, 2014, Father Ed Udovic describes the ceremony associated with the publication of the Congregation of the Mission’s Common Rules in 1658. He writes: “One of Vincent’s great gifts as a founder was his ability to take his time and through discernment and consultation draft and re-draft clear, concise, inspiring, essential, and useful rules based on faith and experience to guide his followers in the effective accomplishment of their mission to evangelize and serve the poor.”[vii] To further illustrate Vincent’s tacit acceptance of patience, it’s worth noting the Congregation was founded in 1625, and thirty-eight years passed before the Common Rules were published and distributed. It seems unlikely, however, that those who embraced the philosophy stated in those rules waited thirty-eight years to abide by their spirit.

What can we draw from Saint Vincent’s seeming embrace of patience as a method?

What are the challenges of life right now that provoke our impatience and a desire to move on too quickly?

How can we live in our liminal moments and embrace creative responses to uncertainty, whether individual or collective?

If this moment marks Covid’s threshold, what awaits us on the other side?


Reflection by: Jay B

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

[ii] Charles Tardy, “Counteracting Task-Induced Stress: Studies of Instrumental and Emotional Support in Problem-Solving Contexts,” in Communication of Social Support: Messages, Interactions, Relationships, and Community, ed. B. Burleson, T. Albrecht, and I. Sarason (New York: Sage Publications, 1994).

[iii] Craig Keller, “Unmasked,” DePaul Magazine, February 16, 2023, https://‌depaulmagazine.‌com/‌2023/‌02/‌16/unmasked/.

[iv] Victor Turner, The ritual process: Structure and Anti-Structure (De Gruyter, 1969).

[v] For Campbell, the “belly of the whale” is an initiation stage signifying death and rebirth (through digestion and the creation of new energy). Joseph Campbell, Hero with a thousand faces (Bollingen, 1949).

[vi] German Lopez, “Why America ran out of protective masks—and what can be done about it,” Vox, March 27, 2020, https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/3/27/21194402/coronavirus-masks-n95-respirators-personal-protective-equipment-ppe.

[vii] Edward Udovic, “Saint Vincent’s Reading List LVIII: The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission,” The Full Text (blog), DePaul University Library, October 14, 2014, https://‌news.‌library.‌depaul.‌press‌/full-text/2014/10/27/saint-vincents-reading-list-lviii-the-common-rules-of-the-congregation-of-the-mission/.

Designing a DePaul with Heart

In the coming weeks, our DePaul community will continue to engage in the current strategic design process and consider the short and long-term future of our beloved institution. This is likely to include seeing, hearing about, and sharing together in many challenging conversations as we manage the implications of the recent announcement about the budget challenges and the headwinds the university is facing.

At this time in our history, it is as important as ever to center our thinking and collective conversations about budgets, departments, programs, and services around our DePaul University mission. In the light of this mission and amid our current budgetary tensions and constraints, as well as our aspirational hopes and dreams, we are challenged to thoughtfully discern and intentionally decide what is and will remain fundamental to who we are and who we believe we are called to become as a Catholic, Vincentian institution of higher education. This call is perhaps never more important than in times of political and economic adversity. What must be done? We must integrate conscious attention to equity, sustainability and community into our design and decision-making processes.

We share these thoughts as an interdisciplinary group of faculty members across all ten colleges who have spent the last year as part of the pilot Vincentian Pedagogy Project. Together, we have collectively learned, reflected upon, and discussed the ways in which our Vincentian mission might inform and inspire our practice of teaching.

We have concluded that how we enact mission in our classrooms needs to remain central to our collective conversations. While there are some things that we cannot control at the university, the work of teaching and learning is uniquely ours. What we do in the classroom, how we think about educational outcomes, and how we shape educational processes with our students lie at the heart of who we are and what we do as an institution of higher learning. Our pedagogical commitments are a concrete reflection of how we understand and practice our Vincentian mission.

In the pedagogy group’s shared reflections over the past year, we have become more conscious of how our teaching most commonly reflects what we value and how systems produce the outcomes that they have been designed to produce. Therefore, we believe it is particularly important for us to ask: what is the institutional and educational vision toward which we are working? Who do we, as educators, need to become if we are to achieve this vision? What must we do in the classroom and in our work with students to achieve this vision?

How we think about the education we deliver matters. Becoming more conscious and intentional about the way our systems and educational processes are structured—both visibly and invisibly, whether consciously or unconsciously—is an essential part of the process of effective design and shapes how decisions are made. If our mission is to have integrity, the means must reflect the end that we seek. In other words, our pedagogy must reflect the educational outcomes to which we aspire.

After four lengthy and in-depth conversations together this academic year, our shared wisdom about what a Vincentian pedagogy entails has moved us to the common recognition that most fundamentally our teaching is and must remain motivated by a mission far bigger than our own individual disciplines. As people inspired by the intuition and spirit of Vincent de Paul, we advocate for delivering an education not only focused on developing professional competence, but also the formation of people with hearts for those in need. We must develop their skill and capacity to work collaboratively with a wide diversity of others toward a more just, equitable and sustainable society and planet. In short, we teach with and for social and environmental thriving.

Significantly, recent major international conversations about education, such as those led by the Catholic Church and the United Nations, have moved more and more toward a focus on equity and sustainability as central to the work of education. They suggest that through education we build together the future of our humanity. This means cultivating a spirit of community, solidarity, compassion, and care for one another and a deep appreciation for the dignity of all people, particularly those who are marginalized and abandoned.

An important part of what is needed to achieve such a vision of education both globally and locally is nurturing the habit of living and learning in a communal context. In the current age, therefore, our pedagogy must involve inviting the wisdom, perspective, and participation of those we seek to teach, as well as fostering critical self-reflection and self-examination in our students. Doing so involves a certain degree of vulnerability, including the willingness and ability of teachers to model what they teach. This involves being self-aware and reflecting on the ways in which our beliefs and practices, our use of power, and the responsibilities entrusted to us either help or hurt movement toward our stated educational vision and goals.

What does all of this have to do with the current institutional context?

First, we hope that the decisions of members across the university community, including those of our institutional leaders, will be guided by clearly stated mission-related values. Transparent communication about the vision and direction in which we are seeking to move benefits all. A high level of self-awareness and self-scrutiny is needed if we are to hold true to our values and not replicate the harms so prevalent in the patterns present in our broader society. Again, the means must reflect the ends to which we aspire.

Second, sound decisions most often involve the collective wisdom of the broader community. When we move and decide independently of consideration for the larger whole, the community to which we belong and seek to serve, we are more likely to forget who we are. The community holds us accountable to what we most value. We hope to see this appreciation of communal wisdom evident through the participation of a diverse community of DePaul faculty, staff, and students in the Designing DePaul process.

Third, we must continue to work intentionally to develop the systems and to cultivate with care the kind of community-of-persons that will most help us achieve the mission to which we aspire. Communities are not built by happenstance, but through careful attention and care for each other.

DePaul University, with our distinctive Catholic and Vincentian mission, is well positioned to contribute meaningfully to a new humanity through our approaches to pedagogy and leadership. Our mission calls us to model and support the development of competent and skilled teachers and leaders with a heart. By intention, the education we provide and the leadership we exhibit should clearly reveal our commitment and desire to work together with others in our rapidly changing, complex, and diverse world and toward the goal of a more just, equitable, and sustainable human community and planet. In these times, and especially in the midst of our current challenges, let us move with intention toward this hope in the service of our mission.


Reflection by:    The Vincentian Pedagogy Project Pilot Group

Christopher Tirres, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, co-lead faculty facilitator
Jacki Kelly-McHale, School of Music, co-lead faculty facilitator
Sarah Brown, Center for Teaching and Learning
Doug Bruce, College of Science and Health
Susanne Dumbleton, School of Continuing and Professional Studies
Elissa Foster, College of Communication
Sharon Guan, Center for Teaching and Learning
Horace Hall, College of Education
Jaclyn Jensen, College of Business
Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry
Sheryl Overmyer, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Coya Paz Brownrigg, Theatre School
Mark Potosnak, College of Science and Health
Howard Rosing, Steans Center
Ann Russo, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Allison Tirres, College of Law
Allen Turner, College of Computing and Digital Media
Chris Worthman, College of Education

 

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/.

Vincentian Personalism and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Personalism … gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most inspiring and influential figures of the twentieth century, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. As is the case with most if not all such heroic figures, any careful study of King’s life shows that while he was indeed a unique figure in some ways, he did not accomplish anything alone. His achievements were done in cooperation with countless other people, a few who are famous to us and many unknown to us. As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16, we are not only honoring him as an individual but also those countless people and the principles for which they stood and sacrificed.

In reflecting upon the ideas and ideals that drove Dr. King and that he communicated to us in both words and deeds, it is compelling for us here at DePaul to note Dr. King’s connection to personalism. We at DePaul, especially in the context of our mission, speak often of Vincentian personalism as a driving force in both the “why” and the “how” of what we do. Personalism is not a term that we take directly from Vincent but one that we have found fitting to describe the core values he lived and, perhaps even more so, the values that the men and women who have served the organizations he founded lived out under his inspiration and guidance. As a philosophical or theological term, it has been used in different ways by many different thinkers starting in the nineteenth century.[2] There are deep connections between Kingian and Vincentian personalism.[3]

As my opening quote illustrates, Dr. King’s understanding of personalism was at the heart of his understanding of the world. In a way that resonates with Vincent’s understanding and with our commitments here at DePaul, personalism defined how Dr. King saw God and how he saw human beings. Each human person was filled with dignity and worth. For King, as for Vincent, this dignity was honored more in practice and in relationship than in abstract philosophy or even theology. King famously hoped that after his life he would be remembered not for his education or awards but as someone who “tried to love somebody …to love and serve humanity.”[4]

For Saints Vincent and Louise and other Vincentians, just as for Dr. King and the countless other leaders and participants in the African American freedom struggle, the sacred insights of personal encounter and individual dignity led to a realization of the need for organization and movement for systemic change.[5] Above all, it led to an understanding that the material and spiritual needs of individuals can only be met in community. DePaul University has the size, resources, and organization to serve many people well. Still, at our best, our students experience DePaul through personal relationships in which they feel seen and honored, relationships in which they feel that they belong.[6]

Dr. King popularized the vision of a beloved community where the dignity of all could truly be honored. He identified the primary obstacles to making this a reality amid the evils of poverty, racism, and militarism.[7] The practice of personalism can give us not only a “why” and a “how” but hope and a deep faith in the purposefulness of our work. We embrace challenges along the way, profoundly trusting in the destination of our journey.

What inspirations do you take from the legacy of Dr. King, personally and professionally?

What challenges do you think these concepts invite us to address as DePaul?


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

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 100.

[2] See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Personalism” by Thomas D. Williams and Jan Olof Bengtsson, 2022, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/personalism/ and Wikipedia, s.v. “Personalism,” last modified December 27, 2022, 10:50, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personalism.

[3] King and Vincent would both see all of these concepts as rooted in their shared Christianity and in the teaching and example of Jesus (peace be upon him), but the concepts have also been resonant and inspiring to many who are not Christian, including myself.

[4] See King’s sermon, The Drum Major Instinct, which he gave on February 4, 1968. For more on this, see: https://www.africanamericanreports.com/2018/01/transcript-martin-luther-king-jr-drum.html.

[5] As Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., shared last year, “The systemic racial justice of Dr. King’s utopia is a Vincentian issue that we embrace from our own convictions and for our vocation. His dream is not strange to us. Our Vincentian sociology, theology, and anthropology naturally bring us to this cause. We are on the move, marching with God for a world free of hate.” See Campuzano, “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘We are on the move now… Our God is marching on,’” The Way of Wisdom (blog), January 10, 2022, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2022/01/10/rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-we-are-on-the-move-now-our-god-is-marching-on/.

[6] On the complementary relationship between Vincentian personalism and professionalism, see Mark Laboe, “Both/And: Vincentian Personalism and Professionalism,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), November 8, 2021, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2021/11/08/both-and-vincentian-personalism-and-professionalism/, and Edward R. Udovic, C.M., “Two Sides of One Vincentian Mission Coin: Personalism and Professionalism,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), January 10, 2019, https://‌blogs.‌depaul.‌edu/‌dmm/‌2019/‌01/10/two-sides-of-one-vincentian-mission-coin-personalism-and-professionalism/.

[7] “The Triple Evils,” The King Philosophy, The King Center, accessed January 5, 2023, https://‌thekingcenter.‌‌org/about-tkc/the-king-philosophy/.

Happy New Year, DePaul!

Usually, when sitting down to compose a Mission Monday reflection, I try to find something … topical … to write on. A matter that is, I trust, of relevance or interest to at least a portion of the DePaul community. Once I have selected a topic, I search for a Vincentian quote to apply, a nugget of wisdom from our institutional legacy that I think sheds light on the chosen subject, provides hope or even connects the challenges of today with the ones faced by our Vincentian forebears. The result, ideally, is a piece that engages readers in a meaningful way with our Vincentian heritage as well as with their own lived experience and insight. At least, that is what I hope happens!

Given the freshness of the year 2023, today’s chosen topic is … new year’s resolutions. I admit that I am hesitant to make new year’s resolutions this year, despite doing so most of my life, considering all we have been through personally and as a community over these recent months and years. Why would I voluntarily invite more tests of my character when those already present seem to be ample enough?! However, old habits die hard, and I am not willing to forgo tradition before asking what Vincent de Paul might have to say about the matter. What wisdom might this man of action, who lived through great upheavals all the while exhibiting faith and common sense, have to say about new year’s resolutions? After digging around, not surprisingly, I found a little something.

At a conference he was giving in November of 1656 for members of the Congregation of the Mission (whom we know as the Vincentian priests), Vincent was discussing their growing in virtue by living out the Rules of their Company. His message to them was pragmatic, encouraging, and reasonable. Vincent did not set unrealistic expectations. He did not expect success all at once. He had this to say: “[I]f today, for example, someone practices one degree of an act of virtue, tomorrow he [sic] will practice it to the second, then the third degree of perfection, and that’s how we grow little by little.”[1]

Little by little. Change, growth, success do not happen suddenly. Progress, not perfection, is the goal. Patience and dedication toward our goals is the key. With the support of community, reasonable efforts on our part, and faith in something larger than ourselves, Vincent believed we would experience this progress. Little by little.

I like that. It makes modest new year’s resolutions like watching what I eat, sending a note to a friend, saying yes to a community service opportunity, or completing compliance training in a timelier manner seem … doable. Making progress “little by little” gives me hope. To be sure, it does not absolve me, or our community, of taking on the larger, systemic problems that we know need urgent attention. Those larger needs should always have some of our attention and energy. But accomplishing small tasks inevitably equips us to better take on the bigger issues. Being mindful of Vincent’s practical wisdom, committing to even simple new year’s resolutions gives me confidence that personally, and communally, we can make progress and that the year 2023 can be a year of growth and peace for each of us, for DePaul and for our beautiful, challenged world.

Invitation for Reflection:

As the year 2023 begins, take a moment to close your eyes, breathe deep, and lift up a hope for greater love, justice, and flourishing throughout the world in the coming year.

Is there a new year’s resolution that you would like to make, perhaps one that is modest and makes you feel hopeful?

Is there someone in your network, perhaps a co-worker at DePaul or a family member, with whom you could share your new year’s resolution and who could support you along the way? Perhaps you could do the same for them too.


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

[1] Conference 162, “Repetition of Prayer,” November 19, 1656, CCD, 11:346. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/37/.

How do you know when you belong?

In her work with new students, a dedicated DePaul staff person I happen to know well often draws upon her own experience as a DePaul freshman and her courageous struggle to find community and a sense of belonging. As a first-generation college student, she was particularly excited to be in college and eager to get involved. However, due to a three-hour roundtrip commute on public transit and her introverted nature, becoming engaged proved harder than originally anticipated. Indeed, her attempts to join student organizations and make new friends were usually thwarted by the fact that, as she said, “I was never in a space long enough with people to really get to know them.” As a result, as a freshman, she often felt relegated to the margins. Many painful memories of eating alone in the cafeteria or studying long hours by herself in the library drove home a palpable sense of isolation and loneliness.

Such feelings of invisibility and alienation continued to grow during her first year at DePaul. Indeed, by the beginning of her sophomore year this young woman was considering transferring to another college. She decided to give DePaul one last quarter. It was during this pivotal time that she encountered a DePaul staff person who welcomed her in such a way that she felt as though someone was truly seeing her for the first time. As she vividly recalls, “It was during the involvement fair when I was trying to make my way around a display table that a staff person kind of corralled me, and even before telling me about the program she was representing, asked me “What’s your name? How is the quarter going? What year are you? What are you studying?”

What may appear to be such simple questions today communicated a profound truth in that moment: “You matter. Your life and reality matters and we are glad you are here.” The sense that a DePaul staff person truly wanted to know who she was and cared about her stayed with this young student for years. Indeed, she ended up remaining at DePaul and finding a peer community in which she thrived, and in which she eventually became a senior leader. Today, serving in the role of a DePaul staff professional, she continues to model a praxis of radical hospitality to all who have the privilege of interacting with her.

“That feeling of being recognized made me realize this is exactly where I need to be—that I wanted to be part of a community that believed in recognizing the dignity of every single person.”

Vincentian wisdom calls us to create a sense of belonging, welcome, and inclusivity. A pillar to building such a community is by embracing a spirit of radical hospitality. In the words of Saint Louise de Marillac:

As for your conduct towards [others} never take the attitude of just getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; enquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately; procuring necessary help for them without being too bothersome or too eager.[1]

Reflection Questions:

  • At what point did you feel that you truly belonged at DePaul?
  • What conditions were integral to you feeling you belonged and finding community?
  • How are we called to create a culture of radical hospitality and inclusion where all may feel welcome?

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

[1] Document A. 85 “(Instructions to the Sisters Who Were Sent to Montreuil),” (1647), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 773. Available online: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/21.

 

The Art of Hospitality: A Day with Vincent Retreat

You are warmly invited to join colleagues on the afternoon of December 15th (12:15-4:15 pm) for a Day with Vincent exploring the “Art of Hospitality” together at the Art Institute of Chicago. The program will involve lunch, meaningful reflection and dialogue with DePaul faculty/staff colleagues, a guided visit to the Art Institute, and a lot of fun and good cheer!

RSVP here