What are you doing with your life?

If you’re anything like me, this question will send you into an existential tailspin as you try to reconcile who you are right now with the image of who you want to become. The funny thing about life, though, is that no one tells you how tough things will feel when you don’t end up at a dream job or what to do when you don’t fulfill the image of who you thought you’d be. It can all feel like a maze as you try to sort out the best direction for your life. Believe it or not, this is the same labyrinth that Louise de Marillac found herself in too.

Louise is the saint of social work and her story tends to get wrapped up in a neat bow: she was a widow who found her sense of purpose by working alongside Vincent de Paul to co-found the Daughters of Charity. Her legacy lives on today and she’s admired for her persistence and commitment to serving others, but the truth of Louise’s story is that she struggled, hard, facing questions about purpose and self-doubt. In fact, when Louise was a young woman one rejection shaped the entire course of her life. Louise had her path and her plans set; she was going to finish her schooling and join a convent. It was, for all intents and purposes, her dream job. But once she got to the convent, she was turned away, and we have good reason to believe that she was discriminated against because she was born out of wedlock. This rejection set the ball rolling in the opposite direction of what Louise had hoped. Instead of becoming a nun, her only option was to get married and begin her life as a wife and mother.

So, that’s what she did. Soon enough, the challenges of motherhood and being a wife to an ailing husband began to add up, and Louise was at her breaking point. What’s really interesting, though, is that the most pivotal moment of her life was her breaking point. Just as Louise was at her wits’ end struggling to find a way to move forward with her life, she received a revelation within the hallowed walls of the Church of St. Nicolas de Champs on the feast of Pentecost. Overwhelmed with frustration, Louise prayed for a sign, any sign, that could give her a shot at a life of fulfillment, service, and purpose. She sat there and pleaded to God for guidance. Just when she thought all was lost, He answered her prayer. She envisioned a life in which she saw herself serving the poor and living in community with sisters. This flicker of hope became her “lumière”—her guiding light.

As she sat inside the church in Paris, her doubts became quieter. Louise was to stay married and await her chance to take vows of poverty. Little did she know that her lumière was foreshadowing a future as a Daughter of Charity. Louise saw an opportunity, and she was going to make it manifest if it was the last thing she did. Sometimes, all you need is permission to dream up a new life, filled with opportunities and invitations to take matters into your own hands, and this was Louise’s.

Louise’s story and her lumière moment remind me that we need to trust the timing of our lives and embrace the unexpected pivots. Louise’s lumière gave her just enough hope to keep going—to keep envisioning a new version of the woman she dreamed of becoming. She prayed and meditated on this vision and with hard work and patience, she manifested a life better than the one she had dreamed of as a young woman.

Sometimes, you just have to throw out the original plan because what awaits you is bigger than you could have possibly planned for. I think a lot about Louise’s life path and what might’ve happened had she been accepted into that convent on her first try. She probably would’ve lived a quiet, pious life cloistered in the convent. She probably would’ve found her way, but Louise was meant to stand out, and although it made her life tougher, it was the fact that she didn’t fit the mold that made her so extraordinary. In the end, what made the Daughters of Charity remarkable was that they didn’t live a cloistered life. They preached, “The streets are our chapel,” and it is that very philosophy that helped lay the groundwork for a lot of modern-day social work in American society. It’s because Louise was able to meet people where they were that she revolutionized the way that we form each other through service and community.

I can’t help but think that life is less about the plans we make and more about saying yes to the things we love and promising ourselves to find a way to persist when we’re forced to pivot. Louise did and so can we. It wasn’t easy, but at her core she knew she had this desire to serve and to contribute to something bigger than herself. So, she followed those instincts, and she kept saying yes to the opportunities that let her live out bits and pieces of her lifelong dream until finally, she was living out that dream in full swing. Louise didn’t leave that church and instantly become the servant leader, girl boss she envisioned in her lumière. But she did walk away with some hope and the belief that she’d one day get to where she wanted to be. Until then, she had to inch herself toward that goal in any way that she could. She didn’t give up in the face of rejection and what felt like a dead end in life.

It’s so easy to look at our lives or career paths that didn’t work out and think we’ve failed and that we’ll never rebound from a mistake, but Louise and I are here to tell you to keep going, keep dreaming, keep fighting for the person you hope to become one day because this is a fight that is always worth it.


1 L.519, To Sister Anne Hardemont, (1658), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 614-615.

Written by: Gracie Covarrubios, Admission Counselor, Office of Undergraduate Admissions

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

Can We Endure This Much Longer?

You may have recently seen the news that Europe’s oldest known person survived Covid-19, after having tested positive just weeks before her 117th birthday. That person, Sister Andre (Lucile) Randon, happens to be a Daughter of Charity, a member of the religious community founded by Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul in 1633. She became a nun in 1944 at the age of 40, after having lived through two world wars and the Spanish Flu pandemic. She devoted many of her years to working with children as a teacher and governess and spent over two decades working with orphans and the elderly in a hospital. Sr. Andre was quoted as saying, “I’m not afraid of dying, so give my vaccine doses to those who need them.”(1)

Her long life and generous spirit puts things into perspective and help us to recognize that this difficult period we are living through shall eventually pass.

I have heard it said that the difference between a child and an adult is that an adult knows a challenging moment will pass. If only it were that easy for us! Like a distraught child overcome by intense feelings, we often have difficulty seeing beyond our present situation. Feelings can overwhelm us, cloud our vision, and prevent our understanding the larger context. We forget that life is about more than our current reality and that time will surely change our perspective. Looking back on our lives, our thoughts about all we have experienced have certainly evolved and will do so again. Sr. Andre’s life can help remind us of this fact.

Over the course of our lives, we may fall into ruts. This may happen without our even being aware. The ruts may be habits or draining, even harmful, ways of seeing, thinking, acting, or relating with others. We may wake up days, weeks, months, or even years later, only to recognize we have gone astray and lost touch with our heart’s desire. In facing this, strong doses of humility and self-compassion are necessary and healing antidotes. Surely, in her long life, Sr. Andre learned many times of the need for forgiveness.

The examples of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac also encourage us to take a long view on life. Vincent wrote to Louise: “The spirit of God urges one gently to do the good that can be done reasonably, so that it may be done perseveringly and for a long time.”(2) Louise, meanwhile, encouraged her fellow sisters by saying: “It is not enough to begin well, one must persevere, as, I believe, you intend.”(3) Keeping this perspective in mind, Sr. Andre’s example and the words of Vincent and Louise invite us to reconsider what it really means to live a good life.

Thinking of how we might look back on our life in old age, what can we do now to be able to someday say, as St. Paul did, and Sr. Andre might, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith?”(4)

How might our perspective of our current difficult reality shift or evolve with time? What can we forgive or let go of today to start anew or better move in the direction of our deepest hopes?


1) Elian Peltier, “As she turns 117, French nun is oldest to recover from virus,” New York Times; as published in the Chicago Tribune, Thursday, February 11, 2021, p. 11.
2) Letter 58, “To Saint Louise, In Beauvais,” CCD, 1:92. See: https://‌via.library.‌depaul.edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌25/
3) L.300, “To Sister Charlotte and Sister Françoise,” 17 March 1651, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 346. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/13
4) 2 Timothy 4:7.

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Division of Mission and Ministry

The Streets as a Cloister: History of the Daughters of Charity

The Vincentian Studies Institute is extremely pleased to promote the publication of our colleague and fellow board member’s new work. Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée is a Professor of History and ​the Dennis H. Holtschneider Chair of Vincentian Studies at DePaul University.

“The Daughters of Charity are today the largest community of Catholic women, with 15,000 sisters in about 100 countries. They devote their lives to serving the poorest in hospitals, schools, and care centers for homeless or migrants, as well as working to promote social justice. Until now, however, the history of the Daughters of Charity has been almost wholly neglected. The opening of their central archives, combined with access to many public and private archives, has finally allowed this to be remedied.

This volume, the fruit of several years’ work, covers the history of the Company from its foundation by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a confraternity of young women to the suppression of the order during the French Revolution. The study, at the juncture of women’s history and religious history, shows how much the Daughters of Charity contributed to the emergence of a new and ambiguous status in post-Tridentine society: neither cloistered nuns nor married women, but “seculars.” The Company has certainly offered a framework that enabled many resolute women to lead lives out of the ordinary, taking young peasant women to the royal court, intrepid hearts to Poland, and, more generally, generous souls to the “martyrdom of charity” among the poor and the ill.”

ISBN Number: 978-1-56548-027-8. 668 pages. Available at Amazon.com or directly from the publisher: The Streets as a Cloister

To read an interview with Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée about his new book and the Daughters of Charity, please see Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse

The Daughters in Tanzania: Working Toward Systemic Change

“The Sisters are women who stand up for women’s and girls’ rights.” – Mary, 15-year-old graduate of the December Rescue Camp, Tanzania, East Africa.1

Last week we invited you to reflect on how charity should be an essential part of transformative action and the vital relational and affective dimension of justice. This week we’ll explore this theme through the example of an initiative of the Daughters of Charity in Tanzania focused on eradicating the practice of female genital mutilation. The Daughters’ unique approach combines ministering to those impacted by this practice, intently listening to their stories, and purposefully integrating their work with signs of the times to advance systemic change.

The Association for the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATFGM) is an organization founded by The Daughters of Charity in Tanzania in 2008. It was created at the request of the local bishop, parents, and girls in the community seeking protection from this practice. The ATFGM runs a “December Rescue Camp” which affords a safe space for girls seeking to escape the practice. And, while such protection meets an immediate critical need, the focus of the camp is equally devoted to education and awareness. During the last decade, more than 2,500 girls have attended.

The Daughters also understand that in moving towards eradicating female genital mutilation, they must take into consideration multidimensional realities such as tradition, social stigma, and the economic implication for practitioners. Thus, beyond ministering directly to the girls, the Daughters work with parents, elders, schools, communities, and practitioners. They also target boys who will become future husbands and fathers. Additionally, they help former practitioners attend a government college to learn entrepreneurship skills, and eventually find work when they have graduated.

The work of the Daughters in Tanzania reminds us once again that the Vincentian approach to justice necessitates addressing immediate need while working toward broader systemic change.

As we think of the work of these Vincentian family members, what resonates with you about their approach? What challenges you? What can we learn from their approach that may inspire our work at DePaul today?


1) Meghan J. Clark, “Charity, Justice, and Development in Practice: A Case Study of the Daughters of Charity in East Africa,” Journal of Moral Theology 9:2 (2020), 11; at: https://jmt.scholasticahq.com/article/‌13334-charity-justice-and-development-in-practice-a-case-study-of-the-daughters-of-charity-in-east-africa

 

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Faculty and Staff Engagement Director, Mission & Ministry

Charity, Justice, and Development in Practice

A unique benefit of membership in a Vincentian institution is that we belong to a large global family who participate in and lead acts of service and justice every day. Such actions are manifest in a vast array of social, educational, and religious undertakings. Depending upon their context and geographical location these endeavors may look quite different, but they share a common Vincentian mission to uphold the dignity of all persons, particularly those on the margins of society. This mission is enhanced by responding to the signs of the times and drawing upon the wisdom of a rich 400-year-old legacy.

A recent article highlighting the fieldwork of the Daughters of Charity in East Africa illuminates this dynamic.1 Established in 1927, the Daughters of Charity in Ethiopia are almost entirely composed of Ethiopian sisters. During the last two decades, through their keen reading of the social landscape and interpreting the signs of the times, the Daughters have reimagined their model of service and engagement. As a result, they have moved away from programs that simply provide goods to alleviate need, to programs that engender economic empowerment and skill-building.

Examples include the St. Louise Women’s Empowerment Project which runs a six-month skill-training program in Mekelle that incorporates a sewing program and a cooking preparation class. Over ninety percent of the more than two thousand women who have graduated from this program now have jobs or are self-employed. In Addis Ababa, the Daughters Urban Development Project also focuses on women’s empowerment by coordinating economic support and training to start up or expand small businesses. Through economic empowerment, such programs are forging pathways for the participation of women in all areas of Ethiopian civil society. This is in keeping with Louise de Marillac’s vision. “Louise lamented the lack of opportunity of women and the abuses and deprivations of young girls and adult women [was to be] a priority work of the Daughters if the social and moral conditions for women were to be improved.”2

As members of the DePaul community in Chicago learning about the continuing efforts of our global Vincentian family to uphold the dignity of those who have traditionally been denied the right to fully participate in society, how do you interpret the signs of the times today? To what action might Vincentian wisdom be calling you to advance justice? How will you respond?


1 Meghan J. Clark, “Charity, Justice, and Development in Practice: A Case Study of the Daughters of Charity in East Africa,” Journal of Moral Theology 9:2 (2020), at: https://jmt.scholasticahq.com/article/‌13334-charity-justice-and-development-in-practice-a-case-study-of-the-daughters-of-charity-in-east-africa

2 Margaret J. Kelly, D.C., “Louise de Marillac: The ‘Gentle Power’ of Liberation,” Vincentian Heritage 10:1 (1989), 33. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol10/iss1/2/

 

Image from: Daughters of Charity International Project Services, Facebook, 26 July 2019, at: https://www.facebook.com/DaughtersOfCharityInternationalProjectServices/posts/from-a-daughter-of-charity-in-ethiopia-this-woman-decided-to-take-sewing-clothes/10157639349760799/

 

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Faculty and Staff Engagement Director, Mission & Ministry

The Story of the White Tablecloth

Sometimes the smallest things can make a very big difference….

Many have shared the “Story of the White Tablecloth” around our DePaul community to emphasize the reverent dignity and care Vincent de Paul expected to be modeled by his followers in their service of others.

In the Foundation documents and the Rules established for the Confraternity in Châtillon in 1617, and later in Montmirail, Vincent de Paul explained how to minister to the sick poor and to treat those they would serve, greeting them “cheerfully and kindly,” “with gentleness, humility, and true charity,” and with a “consoling word.” He noted the importance of taking great care to offer a blessing, and asked that they carefully arrange a napkin, plate, and spoon before serving food. Vincent’s attention to such gestures clearly communicates the importance he placed on the dignity of those being served, as well as on the relational dimension to the service being performed. The fact that Vincent would include such details is remarkable, revealing how essential it was in his mind that we treat others with the greatest of respect and dignity.

What are the small details and gestures that you include in your daily activities at work, or in your home, that elevates the dignity of others?

Vincentian historian, Fr. John Rybolt, C.M., tells the full story in this video, describing the spirit with which Vincent wanted his followers to care for the poor: Story of the White Tablecloth

Reflection by:

Amanda Thompson, Director of Catholic Campus Ministry, Division of Mission and Ministry

  1. Charity of Women (Châtillon-Les-Dombes), 1617, CCD 13b, pp. 12-13.
  2. Charity of Women (Montmirail – II), CCD 13b, p. 40.

Louise de Marillac : A Wife, a Mother, A Foundress

 

In this reading, Sr. Carol Schumer, D.C., unfolds the life and legacy of Saint Louise de Marillac.  Hear a history of Louise’s life, her education, her spiritual development, her trials and doubts, her spiritual friendship with Vincent de Paul and her ministry with the poor and eventual foundation with Vincent of the Daughters of Charity.

“Louise de Marillac: A Wife, A Mother, A Foundress” was developed by Srs. Frances Vista, D.C., and Carol Schumer, D.C. as part of a Vincentian Integration Experience in 2010.  The text was published in FAMVIN and is available at: https://vinformation.org/en/vincentian-formation-resources/presentations-media-games/mosaic-life-of-st-louise/

 

2015 DRMA Fall Lecture

Sr. Betty Ann McNeil, D.C. gave a lecture about her recently published book Balm of Hope. Sr. Betty Ann a scholar in residence at DePaul University. Sr. McNeil’s discovery of 500 pages of handwritten memoirs by Daughters of Charity Civil War nurses led her into a multi-year project to transcribe, annotate, index, and publish Balm of Hope: Charity Afire Impels Daughters of Charity Civil War Nurses. This compendium includes: 1. Notes of the Sisters’ Services in Military Hospitals; 2. Civil War Recollections and Accounts; and 3. Correspondence. The texts invite readers to listen to courageous women reminisce in their own words about nursing amid the ravages of war.

Jean-Baptiste Étienne, C.M. and the Restoration of the Daughters of Charity

 

The nineteenth-century superior general Jean-Baptiste Etienne has often been given the title of “Second Founder” of the Congregation and the Daughters of Charity. Edward Udovic argues that this title is deserved, not because of any similarity to Vincent de Paul, but because of Etienne’s faithfulness to the communities’ primitive spirit. Etienne made that the guiding principle of the communities’ re-establishment. Etienne’s background, experience, agenda for restoration and reform, and worldview are all examined. According to Udovic, Etienne and his leadership are best described as “Vincentian-centric, Romantic, Gallican, and authoritarian.” A French nationalist and imperialist, he was particularly concerned with remaining true to what he saw as the French character of the Vincentian communities. This contributed to his insistence on absolute conformity to the original Rules and customs of the Daughters and complete uniformity in each sister’s life, without any regard for individuality. Just as the papacy had the authority of Christ over the Church, Etienne believed he as superior general had Vincent’s authority over the Daughters. Some of his counsel to them is included.

“Jean-Baptiste Etienne, C.M. and the Restoration of the Daughters of Charity” is an article published in the Vincentian Heritage Journal, Volume 31, Issue 2, Article 5 (2012) and is available at: https://via.libary.depaul.edu/vhj/vol31/iss2/5