The Enduring Spirit of DePaul’s Mission

“Let’s take renewed resolutions to acquire this spirit, which is our spirit; for the spirit of the mission is a spirit of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal. Do we have it or don’t we?”[1]

In 1659, Vincent invited his community to reflect upon the distinguishing characteristics, core values, and commitments of the Vincentian mission and to recommit to the essence of its spirit. Vincent understood the importance of reflecting on our actions to inform our understanding of the present, as well as to better craft the evolving future.

The seeds of DePaul’s mission were planted in seventeenth-century France and our heritage begins there. Yet, to paraphrase Vincent, even in these early days he challenged his community to discern “do we have the Vincentian Spirit or don’t we?”

Today, centuries later, each of us is invited to reflect upon similar questions. In what ways is the Vincentian Spirit manifest in our work and community? Where is it lacking? How are we interpreting the spirit of the mission for the reality of DePaul University’s present and the reality of its tomorrow?

In 2020-2021, for the first time in 35 years, DePaul engaged 600 community members in a ten-month-long participatory process to reflect upon who we are and whom we dream of becoming. Our updated mission statement is the result of this inclusive and communal process. Drawing on the same spirit as Vincent, it expresses the university’s current reality, reflects our shared values, and articulates our evolving hopes and common dreams.

Over the next seven days, we invite you to participate in the annual St. Vincent de Paul Heritage Week. In attending one or more of an array of mission-focused events, you will have the opportunity to celebrate our Vincentian Heritage, reflect upon the mission in today’s context, and examine its dynamic, unfolding meaning at both a personal and professional level.

We look forward to welcoming you and celebrating at one or more of these events. Registration information for the week can be found here.


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

[1] Conference 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:251.

When Shadows Give Way to Light

“I remain the daily subject of that boundless Mercy. The mists of Night and darkness dispersed, and if even at the Eleventh hour, Yet permitted to share in the Vineyard and gather the fruits of Eternal Life. Glory, glory, glory forever, forever, and forever.”1

As we begin the new calendar year, we celebrate the Feast Day of one of the recognized saints in the Vincentian tradition, Elizabeth Ann Seton (née Bayley). She is the namesake of DePaul University’s residence hall, Seton Hall.

Born August 28, 1774, Elizabeth was a daughter of Colonial New York. Married to William Magee Seton, a Manhattan businessman, Elizabeth had five children and helped start the first charitable association managed by women in New York City, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children. However, Elizabeth was shortly to undergo great hardships. The Seton family business went bankrupt, and then, in 1803, her husband died while on a visit to Italy. It was there that Elizabeth was introduced to Catholicism, which she converted to in 1805. In 1809 Elizabeth moved to Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s, the first society of religious women established in the United States. Soon thereafter she became known as Mother Seton.

Mother Seton modeled the society’s foundation on the Daughters of Charity, begun two centuries earlier in France by Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac. She became a pioneer in Catholic education for young women from impoverished families. In establishing St. Joseph’s Academy and Free School, she made tuition-free education accessible for poor girls in rural Maryland. Mother Seton died at Emmitsburg two hundred years ago this week, January 4, 1821. Remembered for always seeking to know and do the will of God, in 1975, Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton became the first native-born North American canonized by the Catholic Church.

Today, as we contemplate the year ahead, and undoubtedly utter a sigh of relief as we leave 2020 behind us, how might the life of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton offer us some seeds of wisdom?

Clearly, Elizabeth endured trials, loss, and much suffering during her lifetime. One can only imagine the enormity of being widowed and left alone to raise five children at the young age of 29 and in the wake of the failure of the family business. What fears and concerns might Elizabeth have experienced in that moment as she confronted the precariousness of her family’s situation and the uncertainty of their future? How was she able to find enough light amidst the overwhelming shadows to begin to map a pathway ahead?

Elizabeth weathered such storms by relying on her endurance and faith, which clearly played an integral role in shaping her future path. Over time, Elizabeth was able to find her way out of the shadows through her mission to open new doors of opportunity for young women on the margins, doors that had previously remained firmly shut. Enabling access and attainment of quality education for those in need meant that their dreams could become reality. Elizabeth’s legacy continues today in a vast network of Setonian schools that share the spirit our Vincentian mission.

At the dawn of this New Year, as we continue to wrestle with the impact of the pandemic, where do you find glimmers of light amidst the shadows? What opportunities do these glimmers of light reveal to you about the pathway ahead? In what ways, might the darkness of last year be preparing you to embrace the promise of today?


1 4.55, Spiritual Journal to Cecilia Seton, August 10 to October 16, 1807, Collected Writings, 1:475.

 

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

For more on St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, see the following:

Sustained by Deep Roots: Celebrating our Heritage

“Nature makes trees put down deep roots before having them bear fruit, and even this is done gradually.”1

Over the next seven days we celebrate Vincent de Paul Heritage Week. This includes a series of events leading up to Vincent’s church-designated feast day on September 27th. These events are meant to invite the university community into a deeper reflection on our shared mission and heritage, which traces all the way back to seventeenth-century France.

When facing urgent and troubling challenges such as those of our present reality, you may ask why spend our time and energy remembering historical roots going back over 400 years? How do the words and actions of those who have preceded us and lived in such different contexts so long ago speak to us now? How can this focus on history help us to discern a meaningful and relevant mission for today?

Ultimately, whenever we reflect on our sense of mission, whether personal or institutional, we are asking: what is essential to who we are? Thinking about such profound questions may spark a religious, spiritual, or philosophical impulse in us, including a consideration of our origin stories. From where do we come and why were we created? Is there a purpose to our existence? If so, who are we called to be and what are we called to do? Storytelling traditions surrounding the origins of communities of people have been common since the dawn of humanity. These stories often help us to hold and communicate values, meaning, purpose, and a sense of connectedness with one other, as well as to engage present-day circumstances with a deeply formed sense of identity.

We have a storytelling tradition at DePaul University. It is passed on within the history of the Congregation of the Mission and all those in the Vincentian family who live and sustain our shared, foundational mission rooted in the lives of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac. Over his many years at DePaul, Vincentian historian, Fr. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., often reminded us that in order for the lessons of history to be meaningfully re-contextualized for today, we must first understand the historical background from which these gifts emerged.

In other words, our efforts today to be rooted in and clarify our common mission as an institution comes with a two-fold responsibility. First, we must continually seek to better understand the historical roots and foundational stories of the Vincentian family, which ultimately gave birth to DePaul University. Second, we must seek to faithfully discern how those roots can be extended creatively and effectively to sustain our lives and work today. This is so even considering that the current challenges and opportunities we face could never have been imagined by Vincent de Paul hundreds of years ago.

The roots that have sustained our Vincentian tradition over time are characterized by a generous and caring spirit, essential to both historical and modern-day Vincentian communities, religious and lay. It is a spirit that focuses its efforts and attention on the service of those in society who are most in need. It asks critical questions about who is being left out or marginalized and seeks to affirm their dignity. It is a spirit that works to change social, economic, and political systems for the better.

When we reflect upon our Vincentian heritage this week, we do so with great humility, a virtue many recognized in Vincent de Paul. We do so with a willingness to acknowledge how far we still must go to live up to the deep, time-tested ideals that urge us forward. We take heart in knowing we are not alone on this journey. In fact, we join the decades and centuries old caravan of those who have also taken the Vincentian spirit to heart and sought to improve the lives of others.

To be Vincentian is to ask, as Madame de Gondi did of Vincent de Paul, “What Must be Done?” It is to get up day-after-day and continue our mission by taking concrete action. In times like these that challenge society and our institution, we are indeed fortunate for the deep roots of our mission.

Reflection Question:

How do the deep roots of our Vincentian mission and story inform your approach to today’s challenges?


1 1796, To Charles Ozenne, Superior, In Warsaw, Paris, 13 November 1654, CCD, 5:219.

 

Reflection by Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Mission and Ministry

 

See all the Vincent de Paul Heritage Week Events

Louise de Marillac Advises Mutual Support

Look at this woman in motion. As her spry steps fade, did you sense a breeze from the alacrity of her brisk and cheerful readiness? Yes, “We’ve seen this beautiful portrait.”(1) We recognize Louise de Marillac, friend and collaborator of Saint Vincent de Paul. Why do we still reminisce about her 360 years, or to be exact 131,490 days, after her death on 15 March 1660?

Working amid natural disasters, refugee crises, and public health catastrophes, Louise spoke candidly to those with whom she worked. “Who are we to think that we should be exempt from public evils?”(2) She instructed them not to “be impatient with…trials;” to acknowledge that they “will see a great amount of misery” among people which they cannot relieve.(3) Louise urged solidarity—“share their trials” and do whatever is possible “to provide them with a little assistance and remain at peace.”(4)

When circumstances separated Louise from her associates, she sought to be “creative to infinity,” not by sending tweets, but through friendly, hand-written messages.(5) For example, she wrote “I did not want to lose the opportunity to assure all of you that physical separation does not prevent spiritual presence among persons…united” by the bonds of a common mission.(6) Louise understood the difficulty of social distance, and the value of emotional connection for necessary mutual support. Those who knew Louise said that her life was “a mirror in which we have only to look at ourselves” for inspiration.(7) In probing her legacy, we discover the values that fueled her “thirst for justice.”(8)

Louise never knew her mother. She suffered heartache from family rejection. As wife and mother in an arranged marriage, she knew the pain of family conflict. As a widow she discovered God’s call to serve impoverished persons through home nursing, organized charity, educational opportunities, care for abandoned infants, and mentoring women to carry out the mission of the Daughters of Charity, which she, Vincent, and the first sisters developed together. We honor Saint Louise de Marillac, Patron of Social Workers, on her feast day of May 9.

In what ways could I help someone feel understood, connected, supported, and appreciated?

During our time of social distancing due to COVID-19, how could I promote mutual supportemotional care, solidarity, presence, and justice among us? How could I help others to feel less isolated?


  1. 119, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 24 July 1660, CCD, 10:582.
  2. L.353, To Sister Barbe Angiboust, (11 June 1652), Spiritual Writings, 396.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. 102, Vincent de Paul’s Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.
  6. L.628B, “To Sister Françoise Carcireux,” 15 September 1659, Spiritual Writings, 647.
  7. 118, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 3 July 1660, CCD, 10:577.
  8. A.30, (Meditation on the Hunger and Thirst for Justice), Spiritual Writings, 734.

 

Reflection by:

Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry


Mission and Ministry Honors Louise de Marillac on the week of her Feast Day

The Division of Mission and Ministry honors Saint Louise de Marillac during this week leading up to her feast day (May 9th) with daily reflections on Louise’s living legacy:  Sign up here for daily emails this week, which will invite you to reflect on the relevance of Louise’s wisdom for today.

For more on Louise de Marillac, see these resources: