Every February 14th, no matter where I am, my mind travels back to my childhood and the Saint Valentine’s Day celebrations we had in grade school. The ritual was always the same. At the end of the school day, on cue, my classmates and I would excitedly remove our workbooks from our desktops and replace them with simple homemade cardboard “mailboxes,” typically decorated with red paper hearts, little white lace doilies, or maybe an image of Cupid and his arrow. Then, we would all walk around the classroom, delivering a personalized valentine to each of our classmates, slipping them through the openings cut in the boxes. When this job was finished, we would return to our desks to munch on cookies and cupcakes, read the valentines, and chatter about their goofy phrases and innocent declarations.
Even though my mailbox was never quite as impressive as others were, and one year I suffered profound embarrassment when I forgot my entire batch of Valentines at home, I still have sweet memories of those days. The gestures of friendship … the intentional kindnesses … the sense of camaraderie. They helped nurture relationships and good cheer that served our little school community well.
Many years later, these childhood memories stir in me a surprisingly palpable connection to our Vincentian heritage, specifically to Vincent and Louise’s great love for the virtue of charity. Vincent said charity should animate the heart and be “the cement which binds Communities to God and persons to one another.”
Vincent and Louise knew that communities with lofty aspirations like their own would only succeed if their members demonstrated the same feelings of respect and compassion to each other as they demonstrated to those they served. For Vincent and Louise, this was charity. As Vincent said, charity “demands that we strive to sow peace where it does not exist” and “do to each individual the good that we would reasonably want [them] to do to us.” Not unlike those long-ago Valentine’s Day celebrations, Vincentian charity calls on us to make simple “expressions of our affection” toward our community members, “offering cordially to be of service” or to do “something pleasing for one another.”
If, as a modern Vincentian community, we can tap into this heritage of charity and its wellspring of compassion and respect toward one another, our mission will be well served. What might this look like during these times of COVID fatigue, leadership change, financial stress, and the other trials that confront our students, staff, and faculty every day? We are all invited to answer that question to the best of our abilities. I would begin by encouraging deep listening to each other with open hearts and minds. We should make demonstrations of sincere appreciation for the good being done during trying times. We should show willingness to challenge and be challenged, but with civility and in a spirt of friendship. Finally, we should be mindful of the dignity of all and the commitment we share to providing our students and the university community with the best, most heartfelt experience possible. This is what Vincentian charity might look like at DePaul today.
To be sure, life is more complicated on this Valentine’s Day than it was all those years ago when I celebrated with my classmates over cards and cookies. However, the call to charity—whatever this may look like—remains as clear and as vital as ever. With this in mind, Happy Valentine’s Day, DePaul! May we all give and receive charity on this and every other day.
Invitation for Reflection:
How do you define or understand charity, particularly in the spirit of Saints Vincent and Louise? What might be ways that you feel called to demonstrate this virtue here at DePaul or elsewhere?
Reflection by: Tom Judge, Assistant Director and Chaplain, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry
 Letter 651, “To Jean Guerin, Superior, in Annecy,” March 10, 1643, CCD 2:413. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/27/.
 Letter 2054, “To Pierre de Beaumont, Superior, in Richelieu,” April 23, 1656, CCD 5:602. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/30/.
 Conference 207, “Charity (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 12),” May 30, 1659, CCD 12:216. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.
 Ibid., 12:223. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.