Just Say a Word Where You See It’s Needed

“Just say a word where you see it’s needed.”[1]

On September 28, Sister Helen Prejean, CSJ, the internationally acclaimed anti-death penalty advocate and author, was awarded DePaul University’s highest honor, the Saint Vincent de Paul Award.

Before, during, and after the conferral reception, Sister Helen gracefully greeted guests, caught up with old friends, and gained countless new ones. She also made a point of delighting students, as they bustled through the sign-in, giddy with the hope of capturing a selfie with “the cool nun in that old movie about the death penalty.” Sister Helen eagerly welcomed them, wished them well with their academics, and told them to make sure they had fun at college.

Yet, that day, it wasn’t the general crowd that perhaps most captivated Sister Helen’s gaze. As I watched her work the room, there were distinct moments when she chose to pull herself away from the throng of admirers to position herself off to the sides or at the very back. Amid all the hustle and bustle of the grand occasion, it was in the peripheral shadows of the Loop concourse that Sister Helen created a quiet moment to seek out the library staff, who were otherwise hidden by the huge visual displays that had been meticulously prepared to showcase her work. She earnestly thanked them for their efforts. Then, without missing a beat, she made a beeline to greet the many serving staff who were hurriedly rushing in and out of the staging area, attentively replenishing plates and refilling unceasingly empty glasses.

As I watched this dynamic religious sister, an undeniable social justice icon on the global stage today, I was enthralled by how her actions exuded a simple yet profound truth, the power of radical hospitality.  As John J. Navone, SJ, once said in an interview, “The humanizing and personalizing power of hospitality is limitless.”[2] Indeed, genuine and radical hospitality are “possible only when persons know who they are, have a self to give, and are happy to share that self with others.”[3]

Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac’s lives were grounded in a similar wisdom. Their ministry was shaped by their response to such questions as “Who is in need and what do they need? Who among us are excluded? How can they be welcomed? Who among us are unheard and how do we help them to be heard?”[4]

We cannot know who may be need a kind word as we go through the busyness of our days. However, responding to the invitation to affirm the dignity of those in our midst through small acts of kindness is never a wasted moment.

Not all of us are called to be Sister Helen Prejean, Saint Louise, or Saint Vincent de Paul. Yet sharing a word of kindness with someone who may need it invites us all to create a more compassionate and loving world. Another world is indeed possible, and, if we create it with our hands, hearts and minds, it can happen within our midst.

What does radical hospitality mean in your everyday life and work at DePaul? What is an act of radical hospitality that has stayed with you? Why is this so?

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

[1] Conference 85, “Service of the Sick and Care of One’s Own Health (Common Rules, Arts. 12–16),” 11 November 1657, CCD, 10:270. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/35/.

[2] John J. Navone, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. Personal interview (2010) quoted in Thomas A. Maier, PhD, “Preface: The Nature and Necessity of Hospitality,” Vincentian Heritage 33:1 (April 2016) [unpaginated]. Available at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vhj/‌vol33/‌iss1/1/.

[3] Maier, “Preface: The Nature and Necessity of Hospitality.”

[4] Ibid.

Participate in DePaul’s Annual Gathering of Remembrance:

The DePaul community is invited to join the Division of Mission and Ministry for our annual Gathering of Remembrance, an interfaith memorial service for all community members who have lost loved ones over the past year. This service in Cortelyou Commons (and broadcast over Zoom) on November 17 at 4:30 pm invites us to stand together in mutual support and solidarity with our colleagues as the calendar year draws to its close.

We invite the entire DePaul community to please submit the names of loved ones for remembrance by end of day Tuesday, November 15 so that they can be included in the service. If you know of anyone who has lost a loved one over the last year, please share this announcement. We want to honor their memory. All are invited and encouraged to join us as we celebrate their memory and surround all those who have experienced loss with loving support.

Learn more and RSVP at: https://gathering-of-remembrance.eventbrite.com

Healing is a Journey

“Healing is a journey.” This is one of the many nuggets of wisdom shared during a recent Mission and Ministry Women’s Power program that featured Sr. Helen Prejean[1] in conversation with students, faculty, and staff. The event was titled Trauma, Hope, and Healing, and prompted participants to acknowledge that we are in the midst of trauma and grief, struggling through a pandemic and living in a warring world. Equally important, the conversation made space to learn from each other as we seek paths toward healing and hope for all of humanity and for us as individuals.

“Healing is a journey.” These words also reflect the work of Saint Vincent and Saint Louise. As these two courageous leaders ministered to the marginalized, they provided ongoing accompaniment to those they encountered. They acknowledged the need for healing, and they brought hope through their words and deeds, returning time and again to homes and prisons, to streets and churches, offering ongoing support and caring.

Each of us has been affected to varying degrees by the realities of our world and each of us need support and caring. As we continue to muddle through the pandemic and strive to return to “normalcy,” we should remember that our own personal healing from the trauma of these past years (and even beyond) is an ongoing process. We would serve one another well by recognizing that each of us is healing in our own way and at our own pace. As pointed out in the Women’s Power conversation, expectations that we simply slip back into pre-pandemic life and work are impossible for some and unrealistic for all. We have all been affected by the waves of trauma of the past few years, and we are all on a journey—each of us in our own way—of healing and hope.

As we continue to walk through these difficult and tumultuous times, may we be filled with hope and embrace a path toward healing. May we give ourselves room and grace for these personal journeys. And may we offer grace and understanding to others in their journeys.

View the video of Sr. Helen Prejean’s conversation on Trauma, Hope, and Healing.

Reflection by: Diane Dardón, ELCA, D. Min., Director, Pastoral Care and Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Sr. Prejean is the author of Dead Man Walking (1994) and is an anti-death penalty advocate and activist. For more on her life and work see: https://www.sisterhelen.org/.

Louise de Marillac

Here’s the thing. If you just “read” this about this powerful God-filled woman, Louise de Marillac of the seventeenth century, you’ll come away with a few tidbits of—what to call it— “interesting information.” Good enough. BUT… if you approach the life of Louise in a prayerful way, your interaction with her spirit just might inspire and enliven you to new ways of living your own life. Maybe not right away, but what you learn about her might sit like a pulsing little seed in your imagination, the part of you that’s always picturing how you want to live and who you hope to become.

That’s the thing about us as humans made in the image of God: we’re always capable of becoming more than we are. Another thing about us is that we are deeply relational beings. We’re wired to connect. For instance, I feel a special connection to the pansies I planted and to the birds that come to my feeder.

So much for flowers and birds… what about connecting with a saint like Louise de Marillac?

Here’s the big “Louise Spark” that enlivened me as I read about her in preparation to write this article. It was a real “Geez Louise” realization! A favorite expression I’ve had since I was a kid, I now feel happy to apply it to a real Louise in my life.

As I read about this great lady with her steadfast-trusting-God pioneering spirit, training and guiding the Daughters, I had what Louise called a “Lumière.” I realized that if she hadn’t actively collaborated with Vincent to birth a new form of religious life, one which combined prayer and service of others, I wouldn’t be a Sister of St. Joseph today. The Daughters of Charity burst into history in 1610, and right on their heels, my congregation came into being in 1650. Which—praise Jesus—set about teaching young women, eventually sending them across the Atlantic, and over the course of 300 years, to St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana… and, blessedly, to me.

Prior to the Daughters, being a nun meant a cloistered life, and I would have died on the vine being confined inside convent walls like that. I would have had a nervous breakdown and no doubt driven everybody else crazy too. I wanted to be a nun because I wanted to TEACH (really wanted to teach, couldn’t wait to teach). This was because the nuns in my high school were super teachers, alive with faith and humanness and infectious humor, who challenged me to think critically, to stand up and speak in a public setting, and to be curious as all-get-out about the world and people and how God moves throughout it all. My nuns lured me in. Attraction is the way the Holy Spirit works, never the prod of “do your duty” or, worse, “you better do this or you’re going to feel sooo guilty.” So, yes, I was lured, and at age 18 I threw in my lot with the Saint Joes and haven’t looked back.

Thank you, Louise and Vincent. You did the hard work of plowing the furrow, which prepared the soil for other apostolic orders to spring up.

I’m still teaching, sometimes in classrooms, like when I come to DePaul, but also to audiences around the world about human rights. This is what has led me to entrust my archives to you here at DePaul, and to visit with you for a week of sharing each year. It is the Christ-like spirit of the Vincentians that brought me to you and keeps me coming. I love the pictures and quotes of Louise and Vincent that are all over campus. Their spirit permeates every nook and cranny and, hopefully, these few words as well.

Geez Louise! Thank you.

A postscript from Sr. Helen

Check out my collection at: Sr. Helen Prejean Papers or visit Special Collections on the third floor of the library, open again in August 2021. Two wonderful women stand ready to assist you: Jamie Nelson and Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts. Phone: 773-325-2167.

Reflection by: Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.

This is Louise Week at DePaul! Learn more about the many activities of the week focused on sustaining the legacy of Louise de Marillac in our lives and work at DePaul and beyond!