Reflection, Day Five: Sustained by a Solid Foundation

Minister Jené Colvin
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care Team
Division of Mission & Ministry

You ever say a word enough times or write it enough times that it doesn’t seem like a word anymore? (It’s called semantic satiation by the way. My spouse told me. It helps to be married to someone as nerdy as you are.) Then there are the times we use a term or concept so broadly and so sweepingly that it loses its weight and true meaning. “Community” can sometimes be one of those words. “Systems” sometimes loses its impact because we treat it like salt, instead of the right herb or spice for the conversation. This is all just leading up to one big disclaimer: I’m going to use these terms, but I actually mean them.

Today, we are reflecting on Saint Louise’s lifetime of work to create and change systems for the improvement of people’s lives. Today’s theme is “sustained” because we wanted to talk about how Louise was able to remain dedicated to transforming the world. I had a whole reflection written out about how social justice and self-care are not a dichotomy (don’t worry, I’ll still get into that a little bit). And then I re-read today’s quote from Louise: “The greater the work, the more important it is to establish it on a solid foundation. Thus, it will not only be more perfect, it will also be more lasting.”

I am convinced that the foundation is people.

Even when we acknowledge that taking care of ourselves can often be a matter of access and social-systemic bias rather than individual discipline, we are still left with the question of “how?” How in the world do I keep trying to change the world and not burn out before I am halfway through my life? In everything good we try to do, people are our greatest asset.

Two weeks ago, I attended a virtual birthday party for one of my best friends. Her partner wanted to make sure she was celebrated in a way she truly deserved, despite the fact that we couldn’t gather in person. But, right on brand for her, she spent time during her own birthday party elevating the work her friends were doing. She said, “Everything you need is in this [room]!” Finally, she made sure we had everyone’s receipts and contact information before we all left that virtual space. Jade T. Perry is one of my people. And I am sustained by her.

Even though we’re not in the office, I’ve knocked on my co-workers’ virtual doors for ideas, advice, and help in processing things more times than I can count. There are more than twenty-five faithful, praying, laughter-filled, loving, snack-, resource-, and time-sharing people in Mission and Ministry. They are my people. I am sustained by them.

When I was in high school, my sisters and I started throwing gumbo parties. Everyone would bring one or two ingredients. We all ate, and no one had to break the bank. It’s a practice I’ve repeated over the years. No one judges what someone else chooses to purchase from the list, and everyone eats until they are full. Our friends are always our family, our people. And we have been sustained by them over and over again.

Min. Candace Simpson has a vision she calls “Fish Sandwich Heaven.” It’s a play on the miracle where Jesus feeds the multitude with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish from a little boy in that multitude. In her sermon, A Packed Lunch, she helps us imagine how much can be done when people are generous with their “extra bread.” She is one of my people. And I am sustained by her.

When I thought my life was unraveling beyond repair, that I couldn’t come close to doing what I felt like I was supposed to in life—basically when I was Louise right before the lumière kicked in—people were present with me through it, and people helped me to the next stage. Community has sustained me.

The best work we do is not when we pour out of ourselves until we are empty or until we are dead. Our best work happens in community, where there is reciprocity and a consensual exchange of resources, ideas, and love. Our best work happens when we believe there is actually enough. There is enough time. There is enough for everyone to have what they need. There is enough sun to shine on all of us. There is enough trust and enough stage and enough accolade. There is enough to barter. There is enough to give some away. There is enough help. There is enough opportunity. That is, if we trust that people are our greatest asset: people who share and are shared with.

Every creative way around oppressive systems is found in the connections formed and strengthened between people. It’s the very reason so many systems that we have to fight in the first place stratify or separate us from each other or force us back together without realizing that unity is not sameness.

Saint Louise is heralded as the patron saint of social workers. Social work is a wide-ranging field that addresses everything from the most basic of human needs to advocacy for policy that supports the improvement of our living conditions. More often than not, it’s done by sustaining and improving our connections to each other and the resources we share with each other.

Some of the best wisdom from Saint Louise comes from the letters she wrote to people she was connected to and cared about or who cared about her: her community. Communities are systems. They are not inherently good or bad. Good ones, though, are absolutely necessary and foundational to our work to both impact the world and survive it. Communities can be spaces for creativity and for minding the gaps harmful systems create. Communities can be where people find sustainable care when individual actions and consumption are not enough. See, I told you I’d get around to self-care and social justice.

Conversations about sustaining our ability to engage with and change society very often (and rightly) include conversations about our wellness. This always reminds me of three things: 1) The Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”; 2) The Nap Ministry’s quote “Justice looks like a place to rest”; and 3) Deanna Zandt’s comic about self-soothing, self-care, community care, and structural care.

May you, as I believe Louise did, find good people for a just, solid, and long-lasting foundation for transforming our world.

Reflection, Day Four: Woman Empowering Women

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!

Reflection, Day Three: Resilient Creativity

Emily LaHood-Olsen
Vincentian Service & Formation Team
Division of Mission & Ministry

When my daughter gets older and asks me to recount life in a time of COVID-19, I will tell her about the day last week when we played in the courtyard in front of our building. Every time a neighbor walked outside, she would pick a dandelion, run toward them saying, “Hi!” and try to hand them the flower. All the while, I gently held her back. I will share my fear that social distancing would severely impact her development—that it would teach her to fear the close contact of others or make her too dependent on screens for social interaction, that it might create a stunted understanding of community.

I will share with her the frustration and anger that bubbled up in the face of social inequity, the disregard of science and human life, the apparent inability to mobilize to get safety equipment to grocery store workers, public transit drivers, medical professionals, and hospital janitorial staff.

I will tell her that the word COVID, in a word, was resilience.

When all this began, I prepared myself for the trauma of these times. I expected to be inundated with news of COVID-related tragedy and prepared my spirit accordingly. What I did not expect was to grieve a perfectly normal, non-COVID death. Five weeks into quarantine, my father-in-law died from undetected bone cancer.

Since then, my husband and I have been navigating a complex, confusing state of mourning. We cannot fly to Washington to be with family or ritualize his passing. We cannot gather in person with our community to receive hugs or share memories. We cannot ask friends to babysit our little one so that we can take some time to simply be sad with one another. The lakefront, our church, and the coffee shop that brings us comfort down the street are all closed; and, we are living each day within the walls that carry our grief.

The plans we made to face the unknown at the onset of shelter-in-place are now completely out the window. We are learning a new kind of resilience.

This experience has prompted me to think about Louise and her journey. Louise experienced an incredible amount of grief and disappointment throughout her life. She was rejected by her family, deprived of her education when her father died, and denied her dream to become a Dominican nun. Although she felt marriage was not her calling, she entered into an arranged marriage. Her son had developmental issues that she did not have the resources to understand. Her husband grew incredibly ill, and she cared for him through his death.

Nothing in Louise’s early life went the way she planned; and yet, she remained resilient. This resilience equipped her to shatter the barriers that blocked her path.

Louise saw the needs of the world and responded in radically creative ways. In a society that offered only two options for women—marriage or cloistered religious life—Louise forged a new way. The Daughters of Charity were the first religious women to be out in the world, unconfined by convent walls, serving people on the streets. Oral history tells us that Louise “misplaced” the letter from the Vatican mandating that the Daughters should be a cloistered order.

Seeing that the Vincentian family understood the reality of those who were poor and marginalized, Louise bucked tradition and had the Daughters make their vows to the Vincentians, not to the Vatican. To this day, instead of making lifelong vows Daughters renew theirs annually.

In the face of a broken class system, Louise welcomed women from peasant families into her home, taught them how to read, and recognized the gifts that they could offer the community. This was unheard of for a woman of social class and means.

Louise’s faith and creativity made her open to new possibilities.

We are all learning new ways to foster resilience. Whether coping with feelings of isolation or weathering economic hardship or grieving the illness or death of a loved one, we’re forced to remind ourselves day after day that we can do hard things. And within these hard things, there is an opportunity to vision a world that has never existed before.

When this time of pandemic is over, our call as Vincentians will not be to return to life as usual. It will be to build the world we dream is possible.

A world that values people over profits and sees healthcare as an essential human right.

A world committed to healing our ailing planet instead of returning to fossil fuel dependence.

A world where neighbors delight in one another’s presence and know each other’s names.

In the midst of the unknown, we all have an opportunity to tap into our inner Louise, to build a sense of resilient creativity. Let us dream of the way the world could be, and give those dreams life in the face of hard times.


Reflection, Day Two: The Many Hats of Louise

Minister Jené Colvin
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care Team
Division of Mission & Ministry


We have a confession. In planning for this week to honor St. Louise de Marillac today’s theme was “The Many Hats of Louise.” We wanted to focus on the wisdom we could glean from Louise in having to manage all the different roles in her life. She was a mother, a wife, a widow, a teacher, an organizer, a founder, a visionary, an innovator…you get my point. We love St. Louise. The list of adjectives and nouns that rejoice in her legacy are endless. Sometimes, though, when all the words used to describe Louise are listed together, it can be easy to forget she was not all those things all at once. Some of those descriptors do not overlap at all in her life’s story. Even those of us whose job it is to know Louise well enough to share her legacy with the rest of the DePaul community must remember that her descriptors reflect a journey rather than an ingredient list. Not all of those “hats” fit her indefinitely. Not all of them were worn at the same time.

When presented with all the things Louise was and still is to us today, we may think about all the things we are asked to be, the hats we are asked to wear. Student, worker, babysitter, teacher, parent, partner, child to parents who may or may not understand us, faithful member of a community we’ve always been a part of, leader, activist, artist, and so on. When we have so much to do, accomplish, and live up to, we may question how to care for ourselves while juggling our lives. How do I stay healthy and still show up? What wisdom do I rely upon to manage it all?

How did Louise balance it all? How do I balance it all? What if the answer is actually…don’t? Don’t balance it ALL. Hear me out.

Before “shelter-in-place” became an urgent, life-saving call, our lives and identities were arranged across different groups of people, offices, classrooms, organizations, and times of day. Most of us have had to jam all these pieces of our lives into a single living space. Instead of being in an office, parents are home laughing (and sometimes scoffing) at the idea of an uninterrupted hour. Some of us are far from friends who tenderly love our secrets. Some of us must do schoolwork and teach siblings. Some of us are just exhausted by how distressing this all is. Some of us are grieving behind computer screens instead of gathering with family. Some of us were already struggling. Instead of anything being new, it’s just more intense. Rather than being able to prepare, neatly pack, and sort out our lives so that we could social distance effectively, we had to stuff it all in one box, in a hurry. That’s hard.

Not all your hats will fit right now. That’s ok. Maybe you can still switch between hats but can’t wear them as long or as often as before. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not a lack of effort or will. It’s not a lack of dedication or drive. It is true that Louise was many things. She was all those things at different points in her life, to different degrees of completion, success, and peace. She failed sometimes. She was frustrated. She struggled, hard. Yesterday we focused on Louise’s lumière moment. Life changing revelatory moments don’t usually happen when everything is “fine.”

So, if you really want to glean something from the many hats Louise wore, ask yourself this:

  • How can I gently and with deep compassion love the parts of myself that are shaken and tender right now?
  • Which hats can I set aside for a while and which ones can I wear, without shame, until others or new ones fit?
  • What do I need to create the breathing room to ask myself, without shame, “Which hat for right now?”
  • How can I give myself space for the hat that does not produce the most, but helps return me to center?

Two of my favorite hats are “lover of tea” and “mother to many houseplants.” I adore being a minister. It’s been one of the greatest joys of my life. Yet, there are days I feel like I have to prune and replant for three hours all while drinking grapefruit oolong tea. I can do that, and then spend an additional hour kicking myself for not wearing the “minister” hat longer…or I can accept those three hours as a hat I desperately needed to wear.

The other hats will still be there. The ones that won’t, well, maybe as Louise found, it was time for a new one anyway.

Reflection, Day One: The Life and Times of Louise de Marillac

Gracie Covarrubias
Admission Counselor, Office of Undergraduate Admission
DePaul Class of 2017

It has been over 400 years since Louise de Marillac last stepped foot on this earth, and we’ve spent each of those years retracing her steps in an effort to better understand and emulate one of the most formative leaders in Vincentian family history. Louise’s life path is anything but linear, in fact if you were to draw it out you would quickly find that there are enough twists and turns to discourage and stop the everyday person dead in their tracks. But not Louise; despite the cards she was dealt, she persisted and pivoted to work towards her calling of serving others. Each story I’ve heard about Louise has unearthed another layer of her that draws me in closer. I’ve learned that the phrase, “To know her is to love her and to love her is to know her” suits Louise well. My hope is that as we share the story of Louise’s life you will get to know and love her a bit more than you did before, and that you will learn a bit more about yourself in the process.

Louise’s life is shared in four acts, each one detailing defining moments of her story. After each act, I invite you to answer the reflective questions and think back on your own life story.

Act I: Louise’s Early Years

On August 12th, 1591, Louise de Marillac was born just outside of Paris. She was the daughter of Louis de Marillac and born out of wedlock. Louise never knew her mother—a circumstance that made her illegitimate by societal standards and marked her with a metaphorical scarlet letter of sorts. Although her father raised her, she was never quite accepted by her family in the way we yearn to belong. At just three months old, she was placed in the care of the Dominican Sisters of Poissy with an aunt. This eventually led to Louise having access to a formative education. She studied at the convent and learned art, literature, and philosophy. Unfortunately, when Louise’s dad died, she was sent to a boarding school to learn “practical skills” for a woman. During this time, you had two options: either become a religious sister or marry. Our girl wanted to be a sister. Louise felt called to live a life in service to something bigger than herself. However, in the summer of 1612 when she turned 21, she was rejected by the Capuchin convent due to her family background and her health. This left Louise absolutely CRUSHED. Can you imagine having the biggest dream you’ve worked tirelessly towards taken from you because you couldn’t check off some boxes on a list? That was the startling realization facing Louise at the ripe old age of 21.

Reflective question: Who are you and where do you come from? Who has shaped and formed you to be who you are?

Act II: Louise as a Mother and Wife

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Being the pious woman Louise was she had faith that something else was planned. It was difficult for her to accept that her life’s dream would never come true. However, less than a year later she married Antoine de Gras on February 5th, 1613, and became a mother to a son, Michel, nine months later. Louise was trying to settle into new family responsibilities and did what she could to create the family she had always wanted. However, her happiness was short lived, and it came with complications. Her baby boy suffered from a developmental disability, and this brought great struggle in trying to navigate parenting in a society that did not understand those with disabilities.

As much as she loved her family, Louise endured much suffering in trying to be a wife and mother while also fighting to find her own sense of purpose. It was HARD, she was suddenly living a life she hadn’t envisioned, doing what she thought she should be doing because of societal standards imposed upon her. Depression ensued as Louise’s husband Antoine fell gravely ill. A future as a widowed single mother loomed. This was, without a doubt, Louise’s rock bottom. Everyone in her life was depending on her, yet she must have had a sinking feeling that she was letting them, herself, and God down as she fumbled about trying to find a sense of purpose.

Reflective Question: When was the last time that you experienced a challenge?

Act III: A Luminous Turning Point

Louise was at a crossroads in her life and she wasn’t where she was meant to be. Her husband’s health continued to decline, and she was heartbroken. She had lived a lifetime hoping to follow her calling to do God’s work, but now more than ever her dream of serving others as a sister felt like an impossibility. I imagine the phrase, “What am I even doing with my life?” echoed in Lousie’s mind constantly.

Overwhelmed with frustration, on the feast of Pentecost on June 4, 1623, Louise, while at prayer, pleaded to God for guidance. Just when she thought all was lost, he answered her prayer. She experienced a vision in which she saw herself serving the poor and living in community with sisters. This flicker of hope became her “lumière”—her guiding light of hope. Sometimes all you need is a metaphorical vision-board to give you something to hold onto, and this was Louise’s. As she sat inside a church in Paris, her doubts became quieter. She was now a woman with a plan. Louise was to stay with Antoine and await her chance to take vows of poverty. Little did she know that her lumière was foreshadowing a future as a Daughter of Charity. Louise saw an opportunity, and she was going to make it manifest if it was the last thing she did. This light, this moment of clarity, was a profound turning point for Louise. In fact, the moment was so powerful that she wrote down what God had advised her. As a reminder of her purpose, Louise put the note in her pocket and carried it with her everywhere until the day she died.

Reflective Question: What was a revelatory “lumiere” moment in your life?

Act IV: Louise as a Woman of Action

In 1625, following the death of Antoine and less than two years after her lumière, Louise met Vincent de Paul. Slowly but surely things started to fall into place for her. Vincent became her spiritual director and together the two became an unlikely team. She began to let go of her rigid lifestyle and started to find a balance between being a mother and serving her community through feeding and clothing the poor. In the decade that followed, she kept pressing forward and working with Vincent to answer the needs of the poor in France, constantly finding new ways to honor the dignity of every person they encountered. On March 25, 1634, Louise de Marillac took a sacred vow, and along with Vincent she co-founded the Confraternity of the Daughters of Charity. This forever changed the way women could serve both God and the poor. As a leader of the Daughters of Charity, Louise became an innovator, organizer, and advocate by inviting rural peasant girls to come be educated and serve the needs of the sick and those living in poverty.

Equally as important, together, Vincent and Louise created whole new opportunities and roles for women in seventeenth-century France. Her proactive attitude and go getter mindset changed the way the Church served the world. Instead of being cloistered in a convent, Louise and Vincent preached that “The streets are my chapel” and took their work there to make an impact. She opened orphanages, founded the foster care system, served in hospitals, and created free schools for girls and homes for the elderly. Our girl Louise had grown into her role as a woman of spirit and action in ways beyond her imagination. Ultimately, her lumière vision was fulfilled.

On March 15, 1660, Louise was laid to rest having lived a beautiful and challenging life in devout service to others. Her life’s work, her legacy, is all around us today.

Reflective Question: Where are you now and where do you hope to be?

Today, we know Saint Louise de Marillac as the patron saint of social work in the Catholic Church. However, her impact extends far beyond the Church and even the Vincentian family. In fact, her life’s work laid the foundation for many of the modern systems of social work that we see around us today. We talk a lot about how Louise’s pious nature guided her in life. It inspired her to see the human dignity of everyone, and to fight for what is right and just. Louise wasn’t brave every moment of her life—no saint or sinner is—but she was brave when it mattered most. She was brave enough to believe in her faith and the people she served. It’s that bravery and persistence that made her such a profound trailblazer for social work, justice, and equity. It’s an understatement to say that Louise’s legacy lives on today and every day. In truth, it feels impossible to believe that 400 years have passed since she lived.

When I think about Louise, I think of her as living now alongside us all. I think about all the ways she’d be organizing people to call state representatives to make healthcare accessible for everyone. I think about all the people she’d gather together making face masks for every community. I think about the daycare service she’d direct for frontline workers. And, I think about the Zoom calls she’d arrange to check in on leaders from every community across our city. When I think of Louise, I think of every woman I know and love embodying a little bit of Louise’s persistence. Most importantly, I think about how Louise has taught us that every act of kindness and service is in fact a radical act, demanding equity and love by recognizing the dignity in us all.