Struck by Beauty


What can compare to the beauty of God, who is the source of all the beauty and perfection of creatures? Is it not from God that the flowers, birds, the stars, the moon, and the sun derive their luster and beauty?[1]     —Vincent de Paul


On a recent November weekday morning, I was going through my usual routine, frantically hustling around my apartment, trying to get myself together and then out the door and into work. Back and forth from bathroom to bedroom to kitchen, collecting what I needed for my day—notebook, lunch bag, workout clothes, keys, phone, wallet. As I was just about ready to depart, I glanced at the clock and thought, If I run down the stairs and speed walk to the train, I just might have a chance to make it to the office reasonably on time.

All of a sudden, while I was shoving my laptop into my backpack, something made me pause and look up and out my third-floor bedroom window. As I think back to that moment now, it is surprising to me how much a mind is able to take in in just a split second. Outside of my apartment, the sun was bright and the air was clear. The leaves on the trees were translucent shades of orange and gold and were so close to the windowpane that I could almost make out the veins on each leaf. Through the branches and around the trees, below and across the street, the familiar trio of well-maintained Victorian homes were so vivid to me that I could see clearly the autumn wreaths that hung on their front doors and the mum plants that sat on their broad porch stairs. At that moment, standing in my bedroom and taking in the scene on the other side of my window, I was conscious that the world outside—the world that I was about to enter—was beautiful and inviting.

No sooner had that realization made itself known to me than a very slight breeze passed through the trees outside. In response, multitudes of leaves detached from their branches and began falling gracefully to the ground below. Then, as spontaneously as it began, the gentle rustling of the leaves ended.

The breeze had been natural, even predictable, and the falling leaves had had a beauty uniquely their own. Yet, in that moment, the feelings of joy and awe that had just welled up inside of me were pushed aside by something else. A different, surprising feeling rose up. I felt a sense of loss.

When I finally left my apartment a few minutes later, I continued mulling over the experience I had just had. Its sensations had seemed so much bigger and more profound than the simple moment called for.

Most of us learn, from witness or experience, that our lives, blessed and privileged as they may be, will contain some portion of sadness and pain. Sorrow tempers joy. Abundance and scarcity coexist. Light gives way to darkness. The truth is that these can be cold and bitter realities. The simple shedding of a leaf from a tree is nothing compared to the real suffering and loss taking place in the world.

But, as challenging and fearsome as these experiences are, they do hold potential for something good, for the growth of compassion and empathy and the strengthening of faith and resilience. The writer Kahlil Gibran put it this way: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”[2]

Vincent and Louise knew something of both the joys and sorrows in our world.  DePaul’s Vincentian mission reflects this in our commitment to peace, justice, and equity and to upholding the dignity of all especially the underserved and underrepresented. We, the Vincentians of today, need to be reminded of these commitments and values, whether those reminders come from the words in our mission statement or from a chance encounter with the world’s beauty and brokenness through our window.


  • Can you recall a time when you were struck by beauty or joy around you? What was this like for you?
  • Has there been an experience in your life at DePaul, or elsewhere, that has been challenging for you but that has also provided you with a gift or has helped you become a more compassionate person?

Take a moment to honor the gifts that you took from your experiences.

REFLECTION BY:  Tom Judge, Chaplain, Mission and Ministry

[1] Document 43, “Reflections on the Beauty of God,” n.d., CCD, 13a:160.

[2] Kahlil Gibran, On Joy and Sorrow, from The Prophet, p 28(New York: Knopf, 1923).

The Wisdom of the Seasons

“Let your leaves fall and return. Oh darling, the seasons are your friend.”

~ Sia

One of my favorite songs is “Death by Chocolate” by Sia. The lyrics offer reassurance that grief and despair are temporary. They also offer comfort, inviting us to imagine leaning on someone who is there to listen, provide a shoulder, and offer wisdom. “Lay your head in my hands… this is only for right now.… Let your leaves fall and return. Oh darling, the seasons are your friend.”

Sometimes when I experience feelings of being overwhelmed, or helpless, or hopeless, I often turn to the lessons of nature. We can all think of moments wherein we are lost in the enormity of nature. One of nature’s most beautiful and spectacular performances, for me, is the fall season with its bright colors of changing leaves across the blue skies. Fall reminds me that moving through something is possible, yet often not easy. Consider the brilliance in the trust leaves seem to have, bursting brightly at their best, then letting go, and falling. Only, then they return in spring, emerging stronger and greener for another season. I have found this recent fall season to be quite breathtaking and must remind myself to be present in the moment, knowing this stunning moment will soon pass. Embracing the seasons as a reminder of life’s challenges also emphasizes the value of leaning on community. When the world can feel fraught due to uncertainty or unsteadiness, I take solace in connecting within the DePaul community.

Following in the spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul, we choose to gather together for the sake of the mission. Vincent suggested that in order to do so we must learn to become “full reservoirs in order to let our water spill out without becoming empty, and we must possess the spirit with which we want (others) to be animated, for no one can give what (they do) not have.”[1]

By leaning on one another, may we grow in the capacity to maintain love, respect, and acceptance and find the way to hold onto hope in the changing seasons.

Reflection Questions:

  • What ways do you fill your reservoir?
  • What ways can you build in time as we near the end of the quarter to reconnect with colleagues who are a part of your support system?
  • What sources of wisdom do you draw on to gain greater perspective as you move through the changing seasons of life?

Reflection by: Ellen Fingado, Dean of Students

[1] Letter 1623, To a Seminary Director, CCD, 4:570, at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/‌29/.


Underneath our feet, the trees are talking

“May you be forever a beautiful tree of life bringing forth fruits of love.”[1]

This is going to be a post about trees, with just a bit of science and fungi. But trust me, it’s not simply because it’s autumn now and the leaves are changing. It’s all about our Vincentian mission in the end.

Trees have long been a powerful symbol and have captured our imaginations in art, religion, popular culture, and myth. I’m sure most of us have a treasured, meaningful memory that features a tree. Personally, I spent half my childhood in the summer and fall scrambling up, down, and around treetops. After I didn’t have to rake them, I came to enjoy the slow process of the leaves as they seemed to warm up with vibrant colors until finally falling. Every year now I wish for a long fall.

There’s the old phrase: never meet your heroes. What’s wonderful is that trees never disappoint. Turns out, the more we learn about our ancient arboreal friends, the more they have to teach us. There’s a reason that wisdom is associated with trees. We all know that trees literally help all of life breathe. They help moderate the climate and detoxify our global ecosystem, turning carbon dioxide into oxygen. It’s estimated that one large tree provides enough oxygen for up to four people! Without them, we would not be here. But did you know that trees talk with one another? Not just metaphorically, or poetically, like in the way their leaves rustle through the wind, but in a very organic, physical way? Did you also know that, far from the myth of trees competing for either sun (up in the canopies) or for water (deep in their root structure), that forests of trees live in a kind of collective harmony, looking out for one another?

The work of Suzanne Simard, a Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia, has been revolutionizing the way that we look at trees and forests. Professor Simard has been studying plant intelligence and networked communications since 1997. Her ground-breaking scientific work, previously scorned, is now leading the field’s understanding of forest ecology, and has coined the term “the wood-wide web.” It turns out, trees don’t—and never were meant to—stand alone. Beneath our feet is a sprawling, busy, dynamic network of roots and fungi that form what are called mycorrhizal networks. Mycelium are tiny threads of a fungal network that wrap into and around tree roots, linking them into a vast community. Through this network of fungus and roots, trees are able to send not only water and nutrients to each other, but also signals warning about disease, drought, or insects.

You can listen to a TED Talk from Professor Simard herself here, and learn directly from her much better than I could hope to explain.[2] The big takeaway for me though, as Professor Simard summarizes so eloquently in her book Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, is this: “Plants are attuned to one another’s strengths and weaknesses, elegantly giving and taking to attain exquisite balance. There is grace in complexity, in actions cohering, in sum totals.”[3]

How beautifully rich and awe inspiring is that? Beneath our feet, tree roots are connected via a fungal network and constantly communicating, a buzzing exchange of signals. Trees are looking out for one another, and for the health of the whole forest. They do not hoard water, nutrients, and minerals, but freely share them with whatever sapling or mighty oak needs them the most. Scientifically, trees live in community with one another.

Now, what does this have to do with our Vincentian community and mission? Everything. The image and metaphor of the tree has long been associated with our Vincentian family. Just look at DePaul’s own symbol: the Tree of Wisdom. We often talk about our Vincentian roots and origins, and the many branches that have grown from that same trunk. In his letter for this year’s Feast Day, Father Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., President of the Executive Committee of the Vincentian Family, noted the tree’s long symbolic history with the Vincentians.[4]

Our new scientific understanding of mycorrhizal networks only further enriches the metaphor. We do not stand alone, either as individuals, or as departments, colleges, universities, or any other group. We thrive when we do not hoard this or that or get stuck in our own silos, but freely collaborate in community, whether it is in the exchange of ideas, or in compassionate care. Let’s learn from the trees and, as Vincent said, bring “forth fruits of love.”

Note: A big thank you to Kiley Chernicky, a Graduate Student from our own Biology MS Program here at DePaul, for alerting me to the work of Professor Suzanne Simard!

Reflection Questions:

  • What’s your favorite memory of a tree?
  • How might you deepen your collaboration with another department or area of the university to the benefit of all?
  • What’s one “outside-the-box” department you aren’t already connected with, that you think might bear fruitful collaboration? Unlikely, creative pairings can often produce unexpected, wonderful benefits.

Reflection by: Alex Perry, Program Manager, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Letter 27, “To Saint Louise,” [July 30, 1628], CCD, 1:46. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vincentian_ebooks/25/.

[2] TED Talk, Suzanne Simard found at

[3] Simard, Suzanne; Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. (Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2022).

[4] Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., “Letter from Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., on the Occasion of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul 2022,” Famvin blog, September 19, 2022, Letter from Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., on the Occasion of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul.


Vincentian Heritage Tour

We are now accepting applications for the August 2023 Vincentian Heritage Tour. Join your fellow colleagues and walk in Vincent’s footsteps around Paris and France. Learn more about our Vincentian roots and become inspired to bring those experiences and lessons back with you to DePaul.

Learn more here: August 2023 Vincentian Heritage Tour