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.

Seeing with Vincentian Eyes

You will attain this happiness if you practice faithfully humility, gentleness, and charity toward the poor…1

Vincent de Paul remembered the moment captured in the featured illustration as pivotal for him in transforming his sense of mission and vocation. The sacred dignity of this poor, dying peasant became evident to him. With Madame de Gondi’s help, Vincent came to realize there were many people like this who lacked vital spiritual and physical care, and that existing systems within both the Church and society routinely neglected their needs.

Over time, Vincent de Paul grew to be consistent in living the mission he professed. He encouraged his companions to look at reality through the perspective of those enduring poverty, those who suffered basic needs, or those who were routinely left out by the status quo of church, state, and society at the time. He would ask his community, in essence: What do these people need and how do our actions and decisions impact them? How can our resources be used to better serve them? Vincent further recognized the importance of forming leaders who shared his vision and were committed to this sense of mission. He envisioned a community of solidarity that surrounded and supported people in need, and in so doing, enabled all to flourish.

Compassion and care for those struggling with the effects of material and systemic poverty is essential to a Vincentian perspective. Their realities make a claim on us, inviting us to take action. They call us to make changes individually and collectively to address their immediate needs, as well as to confront the root causes of their suffering. This is what we are challenged to do when asking ourselves what has come to be known as the Vincentian question: “What must be done?”

The COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath have required us to make difficult decisions about what we value, as well as the vision we will pursue, both individually and collectively. Vincent’s example invites us to center the perspective of those in poverty, or of those suffering or in pain, and to care for them. Currently, this includes those facing the horrible effects of COVID-19, those who have died, those who have lost loved ones, or those struggling because of unemployment. Vincent’s vision ensures that all people experience a sense of human community and that they are given both the opportunities and resources necessary to flourish. For Vincent, safeguarding hope for those left behind or forgotten by society, especially those in dire conditions, was a necessary part of working for the good of all humanity.

How might “seeing with Vincentian eyes” shape our vision for how to respond to the current crisis? For the education we offer? For the way we go about business as a university? What does it invite you to consider in your work as a colleague, or in your role as a neighbor, citizen, or family member?


1 2787, To Sister Françoise Ménage, In Nantes, 12 February 1659, CCD, 7:471.

Reflection by:

Mark Laboe
Associate Vice President
Faculty and Staff Engagement
Division of Mission and Ministry

Reflection, Day Two: The Many Hats of Louise

By
Minister Jené Colvin
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care Team
Division of Mission & Ministry

 

We have a confession. In planning for this week to honor St. Louise de Marillac today’s theme was “The Many Hats of Louise.” We wanted to focus on the wisdom we could glean from Louise in having to manage all the different roles in her life. She was a mother, a wife, a widow, a teacher, an organizer, a founder, a visionary, an innovator…you get my point. We love St. Louise. The list of adjectives and nouns that rejoice in her legacy are endless. Sometimes, though, when all the words used to describe Louise are listed together, it can be easy to forget she was not all those things all at once. Some of those descriptors do not overlap at all in her life’s story. Even those of us whose job it is to know Louise well enough to share her legacy with the rest of the DePaul community must remember that her descriptors reflect a journey rather than an ingredient list. Not all of those “hats” fit her indefinitely. Not all of them were worn at the same time.

When presented with all the things Louise was and still is to us today, we may think about all the things we are asked to be, the hats we are asked to wear. Student, worker, babysitter, teacher, parent, partner, child to parents who may or may not understand us, faithful member of a community we’ve always been a part of, leader, activist, artist, and so on. When we have so much to do, accomplish, and live up to, we may question how to care for ourselves while juggling our lives. How do I stay healthy and still show up? What wisdom do I rely upon to manage it all?

How did Louise balance it all? How do I balance it all? What if the answer is actually…don’t? Don’t balance it ALL. Hear me out.

Before “shelter-in-place” became an urgent, life-saving call, our lives and identities were arranged across different groups of people, offices, classrooms, organizations, and times of day. Most of us have had to jam all these pieces of our lives into a single living space. Instead of being in an office, parents are home laughing (and sometimes scoffing) at the idea of an uninterrupted hour. Some of us are far from friends who tenderly love our secrets. Some of us must do schoolwork and teach siblings. Some of us are just exhausted by how distressing this all is. Some of us are grieving behind computer screens instead of gathering with family. Some of us were already struggling. Instead of anything being new, it’s just more intense. Rather than being able to prepare, neatly pack, and sort out our lives so that we could social distance effectively, we had to stuff it all in one box, in a hurry. That’s hard.

Not all your hats will fit right now. That’s ok. Maybe you can still switch between hats but can’t wear them as long or as often as before. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not a lack of effort or will. It’s not a lack of dedication or drive. It is true that Louise was many things. She was all those things at different points in her life, to different degrees of completion, success, and peace. She failed sometimes. She was frustrated. She struggled, hard. Yesterday we focused on Louise’s lumière moment. Life changing revelatory moments don’t usually happen when everything is “fine.”

So, if you really want to glean something from the many hats Louise wore, ask yourself this:

  • How can I gently and with deep compassion love the parts of myself that are shaken and tender right now?
  • Which hats can I set aside for a while and which ones can I wear, without shame, until others or new ones fit?
  • What do I need to create the breathing room to ask myself, without shame, “Which hat for right now?”
  • How can I give myself space for the hat that does not produce the most, but helps return me to center?

Two of my favorite hats are “lover of tea” and “mother to many houseplants.” I adore being a minister. It’s been one of the greatest joys of my life. Yet, there are days I feel like I have to prune and replant for three hours all while drinking grapefruit oolong tea. I can do that, and then spend an additional hour kicking myself for not wearing the “minister” hat longer…or I can accept those three hours as a hat I desperately needed to wear.

The other hats will still be there. The ones that won’t, well, maybe as Louise found, it was time for a new one anyway.

Serving from the Heart

May you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done…

“As for your conduct toward the sick, may you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; inquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately.” Louise de Marillac (Spiritual Writings, p. 773)

Louise de Marillac spent many years in active ministry directly serving those on the margins. She was an accomplished leader whose deep sense of compassion infused all her actions. Over the course of her life, Louise organized and administered a broad spectrum of works in healthcare, education, and social welfare. These works continue worldwide today through the efforts of the Daughters of Charity, the religious community of women she co-founded with Vincent de Paul.

In the tradition of Vincentian personalism, every day at DePaul we are presented with opportunities to serve from our heart and demonstrate acts of compassion. How do you see your work continuing this legacy?

Vincent de Paul as Mentor

 

When leading the Congregation or advising individual members, Vincent de Paul acted from spiritual principles as well as an understanding of psychology. He believed that everyone should follow God’s will by loving others and helping them to imitate Christ’s example of charity. By doing this, each served as a mentor to one another. He guided from both a paternal and fraternal perspective. While discipline and judgment were sometimes necessary, he more often dispensed advice and wisdom. Humility, empathy, gentle persuasion, suggestion, affirmation, and flexibility were the cornerstones of his leadership.

“Vincent de Paul as Mentor” is an article published in the Vincent Heritage JournalVolume 27, Issue 2, Article 1 (2008) which is available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol27/iss2/1/