Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a knack for remembering dates, and that dates often tend to carry a lot of meaning for me. Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about important dates and birthdays and the rituals connected to them. This introspection is likely because this year my mom, one of my sisters, multiple nephews, and I all celebrate what I will call milestone birthdays. Some of us are a little older than others, but for all of us, these birthdays feel infused with meaning and significance whether we’re turning 10 or turning 80. It also seems apt to be reflecting on a big milestone year of my own in a year when DePaul is celebrating its 125th anniversary milestone. Plus, today, April 24, is the day Vincent de Paul was born in France in 1581. Happy birthday, Saint Vincent—I’m grateful we get to celebrate you at DePaul!
A few years ago, I learned that I share a birthday with another DePaul staff member and that we were also born in the same year. A few times this year we’ve talked about our upcoming summer birthday and what it means to be celebrating this milestone. I’ve felt some trepidation in thinking about the age I’m about to turn, but this wonderful person reminded me during a recent conversation that our birthday is a gift and to be able to celebrate and mark the day is special. Not everyone has the privilege of getting older, as so many of us who have mourned and grieved for family and friends know.
My family doesn’t have elaborate birthday rituals; instead, we like to celebrate with cake. Most of us like to celebrate with something we’ve always called chocolate-chocolate cake, so named because of the special chocolate frosting that covers the cake, a recipe shared by dad’s mom with my mom early in my parents’ marriage. At some point, however, my friends who’d had this cake and knew it was a tradition in my family took to calling it Sullivan chocolate cake and that moniker has stuck. The ritual of this cake has taken on even more symbolism in the 10 plus years since my dad died because he loved it, so he is usually on my mind any time I make or eat it. That’s something I really appreciate about this family ritual—it helps me connect to my dad while also sharing something delicious with others. Plus sharing this cake allows me to tell stories about it—like the first time I made it by myself and got chocolate frosting everywhere—the walls, the counter, even my hair. I’m really looking forward to this summer when I will get to go to Colorado and eat chocolate cake and celebrate with my family.
What are some of the rituals your family has around birthdays?
How have you connected rituals with people you love who are no longer alive?
One of the things I find essential to my work at DePaul is that we build on traditions and rituals that were created in the past and we create new ones to adjust to the times we live in. Rituals and traditions are essential not just to individuals but also to groups and institutions. While DePaul has many, many wonderful traditions, one I’m particularly grateful for came from DePaul marking its 100th anniversary during the 1998–1999 school year. That was the year Vincentian Service Day (VSD) began. This year as DePaul celebrates 125 years of existence, VSD remains an important DePaul event, serving as one of the final cornerstone events of this year’s anniversary celebrations. It feels important to mark the end of this year’s anniversary celebrations with a day tied to DePaul’s mission—a day in which our community can make “positive contributions” to Chicago and a day in which we can engage with community partners who serve “as co-educators who support the development of DePaul students.”
I invite you to join the DePaul community for Vincentian Service Day on Saturday, May 6. Registration closes on Tuesday, May 2, at 11:59 PM. For more information about participating in VSD, visit: http://serviceday.depaul.edu; or email: email@example.com.
Reflection by: Katie Sullivan, Program Manager, Vincentian Service and Formation, Division of Mission and Ministry
 “DePaul University Distinguishing Characteristics, Core Values, and Commitments: Public Service,” DePaul University Division of Mission and Ministry, accessed April 17, 2023, https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/about/Pages/mission.aspx.