Joyana Jacoby Dvorak
Associate Director Vincentian Service & Formation Team
Division of Mission & Ministry
All I really wanted to do was go dig for worms with my kids. I couldn’t tolerate having another Zoom meeting, creating another VoiceThread presentation, or developing a new virtual event. During a Zoom session with my class, my two-year-old spilled smoothie all over both of us. Yup. This is life right now—real messy! I’d hit my coronavirus wall. I had fallen into a pattern of pretending that I could still carry on with life and work as usual, even though I am now a kindergarten teacher, daycare provider, remote staff and faculty member experiencing my first-ever pandemic.
I found myself especially uninspired to envision an important project—you guessed it—Louise Week 2020! A few weeks ago, I was excited to elevate Louise’s celebration, something that is long overdue. In the midst of being overwhelmed by all things coronavirus, I found myself suddenly paralyzed by old scripts that “it wouldn’t be good enough” to honor the legacy of a woman who has shaped my Vincentian heart so profoundly.
So, I went and dug for worms and then I did something that is really hard for me to do. I put out a plea for help. I got Louise de Marillac’s biggest fans together on Microsoft Teams! Over the course of an hour we laughed, cried, clapped, cheered, and we all pulled out our personal copies of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac. (Yes, we literally grabbed that book from our shelves before leaving DePaul for quarantine!)
We told 400-year-old stories of Louise that resonated deeply with our current struggle. Louise knew what it was like to live through plagues. Her charisma was born from overcoming her struggles. I forgot that we were connecting over Microsoft Teams and felt real connection. We began to remember the best of who we are, and in so doing, we began to honor our dear Louise. I remembered the power of a small group of women. I began to feel I could carry on.
Louise de Marillac was a woman who empowered other women. She formed a community out of the poorest of the poor, creating home for them. She invited young peasant women from rural France into her personal space. She saw their potential, taught them to read and write, and equipped them to make change in their communities. This kind of hospitality was unprecedented during her time, and because of the community she formed, she created whole new opportunities that had never existed for women in society at the time.
Louise knew community was the only way forward. Her final spiritual testament reminds the Daughters of Charity to “live together in great union and cordiality.” She tells her sisters often to “encourage one another.” The word encourage comes from the Old French encoragier—“make strong, hearten.” It means “to inspire with courage, spirit, hope.” Louise knew what she was asking her community to do was not easy and that they would need each other and courage in their hearts.
Now more than ever, I count on my sacred circles of women, my mama tribes, my colleagues, and my students to encourage me. I need them to remind me that it’s ok to not be ok, that my best is going to look different now, that I am enough, that I am loved even when I’m a mess. Sometimes these messages even come in virtual post-it notes from authors like Brené Brown, who reminds us: “Hitting the wall is real. Hard days suck. There is nothing wrong with us. We’re going to be ok.” Today, the best way to honor Louise is to do what she did 400 years ago—put courage into one another’s hearts and remember we have each other!