Our Mission Needs a Community

What a blessing to be a member of a Community because each individual shares in the good that is done by all!”[1]

I have been thinking a lot lately about communitywhat it means, what it looks like, and why it is so essential to us as human beings and as a university, especially in our current context. Looking back on past Mission Monday reflections, it is clearly not the first time I have felt this to be important to identify as an essential focus for an organization like ours that seeks to embody the Vincentian name.

Yet, there are many reasons for the need to re-emphasize the importance of community at this time:

  • the ongoing changes we are moving through as a university community, including the loss of many longtime friends and colleagues;
  • the marked increase in colleagues working from home since the pandemic;
  • the concurrent loss of regular face-to-face interactions in common spaces;
  • the larger cultural divisions and inequities in our society that only linger if not addressed directly;
  • the growing tendency among many to connect with each other and to learn only or primarily via computer or smartphone; and
  • recent public reporting on the rise and deleterious impact of loneliness in U.S. society.

Each of these changes—and there are clearly others—has recently had drastic effects on workplace norms and workplace culture within the patterns of our lives and relationships at DePaul.

Perhaps this draw to focus again on the importance of community also simply reflects my own experience and ongoing hunger for human connection, to feel a sense of belonging, and to participate in something more beyond the daily tasks of my individual work.

Regardless of the source of my musings, I am certain I am not alone. The experience of being part of a community is important for the well-being of humanity and for the flourishing of our workplaces, including and especially our university. Furthermore, here at DePaul, many rightly appreciate the experience of community as being “very Vincentian.”

In fact, how we sustain and continue to build a vibrant communal life is one of the vital, open questions facing us today. Over my eighteen years at DePaul, I believe the intentional work and effort of building community, and the need for it, has never been more important and more at risk. As we look ahead to the summer and the coming academic year, it is essential that we continue to weave and re-weave with great intention and care the fabric of our communal life if our Vincentian mission is to be effective and sustained over time.

I am fond of imagining Vincent de Paul in Folleville, France, in 1617 and what must have been going through his mind at that time. Based on his own retrospective reflections, that particular year and place seemed to represent an important moment in his life, a moment when, with the help of Madame de Gondi, Vincent arrived at a clearer vision of his own calling and the mission that God had entrusted to him.

The year 1617 was the final feather falling on the scales that tipped the orientation of Vincent’s life in a markedly different way. The upwardly mobile and aspirational priest, often rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful, began to focus his energies more and more toward a mission of service to and with society’s poor and marginalized for the remainder of his life. What he realized at that same time is that the mission God had entrusted to him was much bigger than he alone could fulfill. He needed others. In fact, Vincent’s effectiveness grew largely through the work of inspiring and organizing others to work in common to fulfill a shared mission. From the beginning, the Vincentian mission has been a collaborative and communal enterprise.

Simple in its genius, Vincent’s efforts anticipated current day organizational management insights by 400 years. The contemporary organizational and business writer and consultant Christine Porath, for example, has written extensively on how community is the key to companies moving from merely surviving to thriving together.[2] Simply put, her research suggests that when people experience a strong sense of community and belonging at work, they are more engaged, effective, healthy, and creative. This, in turn, leads to positive business outcomes. Many other organizational and business leaders have come to similar conclusions. It turns out that how we relate to each other as a community in the workplace, in fact, matters a great deal.

At DePaul, we speak often of being “a community gathered together for the sake of the mission.” We recognize and must remember that we need each other to thrive. Faculty, staff, administration, students, board members, alumni and donors work together effectively for a shared mission. Furthermore, as Vincent de Paul suggests, we each benefit from the good done by all. At our best, when we are flourishing as a community, we help, encourage, care for, collaborate with, and inspire one another. There is an energizing and vibrant unity that comes in our diversity—the unity of a shared mission to which each person contributes a part. This occurs only through ongoing intentionality and thoughtful daily interactions and efforts to build and sustain healthy and vibrant relationships with one another.

As we move into the summer months, through the many changes we are facing together, and into the new academic year this fall—this is your charge: How will you contribute to sustaining and building a vibrant and healthy sense of community together with your DePaul colleagues?

Submit your own recommendations as a response to this blog post or follow our Mission and Ministry LinkedIn group, which we will begin to use more often in the future as a place to share reflections on the workplace in light of anticipated changes with DePaul Newsline in the summer and the coming year. Perhaps by the time a new academic year begins, we can initiate some new efforts to weave or re-weave the fabric of our communal life and work intentionally toward thriving as “a community gathered together for the sake of the mission,” just as Vincent de Paul first envisioned.

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 1, “Explanation of the Regulations,” July 31, 1634, CCD, 9:2. Available at https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌‌‌vincentian_ebooks/34/.

[2] See: Christine Porath, Mastering Community: The Surprising Ways Coming Together Moves us from Surviving to Thriving (New York: Balance Books, 2022); and C.M. Pearson and C.L. Porath, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It (New York: Portfolio, 2009).

The Sacred Dignity of all Persons

More than four hundred years ago in the small French town of Folleville, France, Saint Vincent de Paul had a transformative experience that he would later describe as the start of the Vincentian mission, which we continue to this day.[1] While serving as a tutor and spiritual director for the wealthy de Gondi family Vincent was called to the bedside of a dying peasant. The opportunity to facilitate the sacrament of confession and the profound positive effect it had on the man revealed much to Vincent about the conditions and human needs that were widespread in his time. When Madame de Gondi famously asked, “What must be done?” the mission had begun.

The Vincentian mission to honor the sacred dignity of every human being has taken many different shapes in many different environments over the last four hundred years. It is a living legacy that seeks to serve the same goals and purposes in ever-changing circumstances. DePaul University seeks primarily to advance the dignity of every person through higher education, but in doing so, we serve the whole person and the larger community. We find and serve not only the material needs of people but their spiritual needs as well. It is because of, not despite, our commitment to our Vincentian Catholic mission that we honor the spiritual needs of all in our community, inclusive of people of all faiths and none.

Much of our Christian community has just come to the end of the Lenten period with the celebration of Easter.[2] Our Jewish community has begun the observance of Passover. Our Muslim community is in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan. Others observing sacred holidays during this season this year include the Sikh, Jain, and Baha’i communities. We remind ourselves of Dr. Esteban’s call in the fall tocreate an accepting and nurturing environment in which people of every faith are supported and nurtured.”[3] Just as our university closes for Good Friday to facilitate Christians’ observance, we encourage all members of the community to be flexible and accommodating so that people can engage in religious observances and spiritual growth. Doing so enriches and inspires the entire community, as our own Father Memo Campuzano beautifully shared last week.[4] The spirit of accommodation and the honoring of human dignity invites conversation among people about their needs, recognizing that not everyone is the same and all are equally precious. The staff of the Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care is here to serve as a resource whenever we can be helpful in such dialogue.[5]

We invite all of our community to find, as Vincent did, life and beauty in honoring and facilitating the sacred traditions and spiritual needs of each other. Many of us are weighed down by the hardships or just the daily grind of life. We seek these special observances to provide joy and meaning to our lives, as individuals and as communities. Being able to facilitate these moments for others provides a special blessing of its own. The Prophet Muhammad[6] offered this beautiful prayer for those who would provide food for him when it came time to break the fast, “May those who are fasting break their fast with you, may the righteous eat your food, and may the angels pray for you!”[7]

Reflection by:    Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care

[1] Andrew Rea, “The 400th Anniversary of St. Vincent de Paul’s Sermon at Folleville,” DePaul University, January 25, 2017, https://news.library.depaul.press/full-text/2017/01/25/4809/.

[2] Orthodox Christians will observe Easter on April 24.

[3] A. Gabriel Esteban, “Religious Observances: Facilitating a Culture of Respect, Understanding and Civility,” DePaul University Newsline, August 31, 2021, https://resources.depaul.edu/newsline/sections/campus-and-community/‌Pages/‌Religious-observances-2021.aspx.

[4] Memo Campuzano, C.M., “Spiritual Times: Times When We Hope Together,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), DePaul University, April 8, 2022, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2022/04/08/spiritual-times-times-when-we-hope-together/.

[5] Contact information and a calendar of holidays and religiously significant events can be found here: https://offices.depaul.edu/mission-ministry/religious-spiritual-life/religious/Documents/2021-2022_‌Religious_‌Holidays_Calendar.pdf.

[6] Peace and blessings be upon him and all of the prophets and sacred teachers and guides.

[7] Hadith reported by Abu Dawud.

Newsnote: Folleville model created to celebrate the close of the 400th anniversary year.

Detail of a scale model of the Church at Folleville, France, on display on the second floor of the Richardson Library on the Lincoln Park Campus. The church is where on Jan. 25, 1617, St. Vincent de Paul preached a sermon which led to the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission and all of his works. The model captures what the church looked like on that day. The church is still in existence but has undergone many changes over its 500 year history. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)


CHICAGO — DePaul University is honoring its Vincentian heritage with an exhibition that transports visitors back to 17th century rural France via a model of a historic church created using traditional craftsmanship and 3-D printing.

The tabletop model of the parish church in Folleville, France, where St. Vincent de Paul delivered a 1617 sermon regarded as the genesis of the Vincentian mission, will be unveiled Jan. 26 at the John T. Richardson Library on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

The 2 feet wide by 5 feet long model was commissioned by DePaul University’s Vincentian Studies Institute. DePaul is the nation’s largest Catholic university. It was founded in Chicago in 1898 by the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), a Roman Catholic religious community begun by Vincent in 1625. Vincent, popularly known as the “apostle of charity,” dedicated his life to serving the poor.

Image of Folleville, France church
A 2016 image of the parish church in Folleville, France, where St. Vincent de Paul delivered a sermon in 1617 considered the genesis of the Vincentian mission. A scale model of the church is displayed at the John T. Richardson Library on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus.

The Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., a historian and DePaul’s vice president for mission and ministry, described the project as “a long time coming” as planning started in 2012. He wanted to find an appropriate way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Vincentian mission and believed creating a model of the church located roughly 75 miles northwest of Paris would be an important and unique contribution to the anniversary celebration.

“DePaul University is the premier international center for Vincentian studies,” Udovic said.

The model will be a permanent exhibition in the Richardson Library. Interactive kiosks providing information on the church’s art, architecture and its Vincentian significance flank the structure.

The model shows the church as it was in 1617 prior to the ravages of history and renovations through the centuries. It depicts the original front façade and steeple and the original choir screen made of richly carved wood. Visitors will be able to peer through cross-sections of the model to appreciate the full beauty of both the interior and exterior of the church.

History meets high tech
Jeff Wrona, who created the St. Lazare diorama in the Richardson Library in 1992, provided the architectural research for the concept and structure of the Folleville model. Architectural model firm Presentation Studios International LLC (PSI) of Chicago completed the model.

“The model came together like a large Lego set,” Udovic said. “Each of the major pieces were individually printed out, joined together, hand-finished and painted.”

The interior is without pews or pulpit because those church furniture items were not present in 1617, he added.

Folleville, then and now
In 1617, the church was on the lands of the powerful and noble Gondi family who served as Vincent’s great and generous patrons.

The church, which is no longer an active parish, continues to attract visitors because it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as a stop on the northern medieval pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, a Spanish city home to the shrine of St. James the Great.

The church at Folleville is significant in art and architectural history as well as Vincentian history. Originally built as a simple parish church at the beginning of the 15th century, it was remodeled at the beginning of the 16th century with the addition of a flamboyant gothic chapel decorated with important Italian late-medieval sculptures and tombs.

Folleville model unveiling
An official unveiling will take place 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at the DePaul Richardson Library, 2350 N. Kenmore Ave. The event will include welcome and remarks by DePaul’s President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D., and Udovic.

The event will include a foundation day celebration hosted by the Vincentian Community of Rosati House. Attendees are asked to register by Jan. 23 to Alice Farrell at afarrell@depaul.edu or 312-362-8822.

Folleville: January 25, 1617

Anyone who has ever visited Folleville has had the exhilarating experience of walking back in time.  This tiny country church belonging to the Gondi’s was the site of the first sermon of the mission preached by Vincent de Paul on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.  It is one of those heritage places in France where one can still feel the palpable presence of Vincent.


The church itself is divided into two parts.  The front and older part is a simple barrel vaulted country church dedicated to St. Jacques (the chapel operated as pilgrim’s way-stop on the famous northern pilgrimage route to Compostella).  The rear portion of the church added at the beginning of the 16th century is a magnificent, flamboyant gothic structure built as a funerary chapel for the De Lannoy family (Madame de Gondi’s family). It contains the fabulous mausoleum of Raoul de Lannoy and his wife Jeanne de Poix, and once also contained the famous sepulture of Christ sculpture grouping now located at the church of St. Jean in Joigny. (The DeGondi’s moved the sculpture there when they sold their lands in Folleville.)


Over and above the chapel’s Vincentian Heritage, its importance in the history of French ecclesiastical sculpture and architecture is well known.  The church as it now stands has suffered from ill-considered additions, subtractions, thefts, and all the ravages that history can throw at a building. For example, in the nineteenth century the rood screen which had separated the two parts of the church was dismantled.  Yet, the remaining original fabric is still much greater than the losses it has suffered.


The Vincentian Studies Institute at DePaul University has commissioned the distinguished diorama artist Jeff Wrona to construct a large scale model of the church at Folleville. The model will  recreate what the church would have looked like on January 25, 1617 as Vincent stepped forward to preach.  In 1992, Jeff created the diorama of old Saint-Lazare in Paris as it would have appeared before the French Revolution.  That model continues to be on public display at DePaul’s Richardson Library.  Jeff has done two extensive site visits to Folleville, and has been working on preliminary drawings, material tests, and other projections.  He will soon begin work on constructing the model.  Serving as consultants to this project are Fr. John Rybolt, C.M., Dr. Simone Zurawski of DePaul, and myself.


When the model is complete, sometime in 2012, it will go on permanent display in the Richardson Library at DePaul.  It will also be photographed and digitized so that it can be visited online as part of the Vincentian Virtual Exhibition program of the V.S.I. (More on this program later).  Please see the attached images: