Louise-Style Creative Solutions to Organizing, Mutual Aid, Community, Self-Care, and Action

From the devastation of COVID-19 to the manifestations of deeply rooted white supremacy and other hardships, the challenges we faced in 2020 have sparked a movement among communities to create social change. During a year of tragedy and refuge inside our homes, we have had to be innovative in efforts. Some of us have been introduced to the ideas of community activism for the first time. I found it surprising that a strict lockdown did not stop thousands from protesting in support of Black Lives Matter, serving meals for their community, and redistributing their wealth to folks in need when a large majority are experiencing personal financial hardship and when a need for individualistic decisions seemed to be at an all-time high. I can admit there were points throughout the pandemic that I was heavily concerned with my needs and my needs only, which can still be super important when our day-to-days drastically change. It would make sense for humanity to value individualism rather than collective good at a time like this, so it was magical and hopeful to see so many come together to selflessly fight for the betterment of our fellow humans—especially when our methods and practices have had to adapt to pandemic protocol in order to emphasize safety and health. This brings me to a question: have we had to radically transform the way we show up for justice, or perhaps are we going back to the roots of social change and directly serving the needs of the people?

Louise was all about throwing out the old plan when it no longer worked and creating a new one to adapt to the needs of the people. She understood the change happening around her and knew that there was no use in sticking to tradition if it was no longer making any progress. However, she also knew she couldn’t do this alone. This was a woman who was very self-aware and who had a clear sense of her strengths. Therefore, she was able to find the right people to fill in where support was needed. Louise founded the Daughters of Charity and devoted her time to building strong caretakers and activists out of women with a variety of skills that wouldn’t have been recognized or used to their potential otherwise. I can only imagine the deliverables assigned to the Daughters—perhaps sewing garments for folks in need of clean clothes, or serving warm food to those without, among other necessities that fit both her seventeenth century and our twenty-first.

It is an unfortunate truth that many members of our own communities lack the same basic human needs we visualize when we think of the people Louise and her Daughters served. We must remember that these harsh realities are not so far removed from us as we may think (know that when I use “we” language, I am speaking on behalf of folks who hold privileged racial and class identities like myself). The pandemic has cost people their jobs, daycare, and partnerships, as well as putting an enormous strain on our spirits. We need each other, and we need each other quick. Many folks in need are not in the position to wait for an annual fundraiser to count their donations, or for a kitchen to serve their holiday meal with their once-a-year volunteers. We are witnessing the importance of mutual aid as a form of direct action, a tool I think Louise probably used but with different language to describe it. Redistributing our resources and applying our unique gifts are valuable steps to becoming an agent of social change in our current world.

When I try to imagine what my service looks like, I remember that skills I wouldn’t think translate into social justice work actually have the potential to come in handy. Louise and her mentees had skills that were looked down upon by the men of that era. It was unlikely that many women would be taken seriously in activist movements of the time because our patriarchal society only saw them as mothers. Louise truly opened the doors for women to step into themselves as change agents and to use their talents for justice without having to change or try to be like men. While I believe we have advanced beyond this gendered way of labeling our skills and achievements, I honor the sentiment that talents from all backgrounds of work and experience can be useful in a social movement. The student activist groups I’ve seen in the last few months feature leaders from varying majors, departments, and life experiences. Everyone has something special to bring to the table.

As I’m nearing my college graduation in a few weeks, I’m reflecting on all the coursework and hands-on experience I’ve had centered upon social justice and identity politics and understanding and meeting the needs of a community. I’m also witnessing the ever-present realities of oppression and injustice in our society. It is easy to get bogged down by the doom and become overwhelmed by it all. When thinking back to Louise and her work, I remember that she experienced doubts about what her purpose in the movement was as well. She was a woman of many hats, as we like to say, and while she is known for wearing her leadership hat, she also was not afraid to rely on her Daughters and lean on them for support. She could not have done the work on her own. When a community is hurting, it is not the job of a sole individual to heal it—how could one person have all the answers? I believe there is power in community and collaboration, filling in the gaps, and leaning on each other for support. The needs of the collective are best met through the collective.


Written by: Grace Jacques, DePaul Class of 2021

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

St. Louise and Mental Health

In February 2021 my godmother passed away, leaving me with an overwhelming sense of grief and loss. I had lost family members before, but never one quite as close to me. My godmother was the reason I survived my birth, my role model, and one of my biggest supporters. Her love carried me through my childhood and helped me grow because it was unconditional. Losing her has been one of the most painful things I have ever had to experience. When she first passed, it was difficult to picture a world without her and thinking of a life without her presence felt so painful. I didn’t know where to go from there. And at times, months later I still feel overwhelmed with grief and guilt. I felt guilty that I didn’t do enough to appreciate her when she was alive. I felt hopeless.

A number of things helped me process the grief I was feeling. I reached out to mentors, such as Karl Nass, and talked with them about my godmother. It was nice to lean on others for support and to feel like I had community to help me ease the pain. My friends also helped a lot; they wrote me cards, and my dear friend Gabby drew me a picture of my godmother. One of the things I found most helpful in processing my grief was very unexpected. Not too long after my loss, I attended a meeting in which there was a presentation on Saint Louise de Marillac. The presenters talked about the grief and loss she experienced.

Louise’s story helped me answer the big question that lingered with me: “Where do I go from here?” Not only was I experiencing loss when I encountered Louise’s story, but I was (and still am) dealing with some difficult mental health issues. Louise’s story gives me hope that these difficult moments will one day lead me to where I am supposed to be, or my lumière moment as Louise experienced. I learned from Louise that moments of grief, loss, and pain don’t last forever. I hold this with me now as I struggle to manage my depression. There are days in which I can’t seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I feel this way, I remember everything Louise went through and how she persevered. Louise leaned on others for support, such as her counsellor Francis de Sales, in order to deal with the grief of losing her husband. She dealt with her depression by seeking support from others, and this is something I believe we can all learn from. There are times where we need others to navigate the difficulties of life, and there is power in doing so, as we hear in Louise’s story.

Some of the greatest people, such as Louise, are not the people who seem to have it all together. They are people who are vulnerable and open about their difficulties, because we all encounter difficulties in our lives. Louise’s vulnerability teaches us the power of sharing our story with others. Because Louise’s story has brought me hope and company in a time that feels dark and lonely, I am grateful that it is documented through her writing and that we can all learn from her resilience.


Written by: Gisselle Cervantes, DePaul Class of 2021

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

Holy Perseverance

 

While it is not exactly historically documented, one of my favorite Vincentian stories is how Saint Louise de Marillac made one single decision that drastically preserved the way the Daughters of Charity lived their mission and which continues to prevail even today. A true lesson in perseverance. Holy perseverance. The relative norm for religious women during the seventeenth century was to be cloistered and out of the public eye. However, Saint Louise and her sisters lived a life that was very much a public ministry. They went about doing the practical business of God’s work when and where it was required, without a need to separate themselves from the poor. The story goes that Saint Louise was given a letter requiring the Daughters of Charity to become a cloistered order. Interestingly enough, that letter was never seen… It seems that our beloved and strategic Saint Louise “lost” the letter!

Ultimately, it was Saint Louise who had a clear vision for what the mission was meant to be. The hierarchical authorities at work might have much preferred the sisters busy but out of sight. Yet, quite frankly, Saint Louise simply knew better. We should take some notes from our foundress. How could the Daughters minister in hospitals or establish schools for young girls if they were not permitted to be out in the world? It is a tricky thing to heed authority sincerely, all the while knowing that sometimes no one sees the heart of our mission more clearly than we do. One of the ever-present buzzwords of our day is “systems.” We have an affinity for relegating our societal problems into indecipherably overpowering frameworks that no one person can dismantle alone. “Systems” is the word we use these days as a catchall for intricacies that keep people bound.

No one lives outside of these systems. We are all universally participants in one system or another: there’s simply no societal way around it. But we can actually turn the system on its axis if we work within it to create effective change in the small ways we each hold agency. We can enlist our systems in a fashion that facilitates the greatest good we can achieve; upholding the dignity of others. That’s precisely what Saint Louise did! She may have “lost” the letter, but she kept the mission vibrant.

Working within systems can be a taxing mess, yet often we are called to promote change with our very persistence. We must put our hope into action with steady progress toward what we can influence. While the tasks may be tedious and the hierarchy well-intended, we all have a letter to lose. May Saint Louise be a reminder to us that no one is exempt from systems, and may we draw solace from her words, “I hope that our good God will grant you holy perseverance.”1


1 L.19, To Monsieur L’Abbé de Vaux, 3 May 1640, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 28.

Written by: Azucena De La Torre, Ministry Coordinator, Division of Mission and Ministry

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

What are you doing with your life?

If you’re anything like me, this question will send you into an existential tailspin as you try to reconcile who you are right now with the image of who you want to become. The funny thing about life, though, is that no one tells you how tough things will feel when you don’t end up at a dream job or what to do when you don’t fulfill the image of who you thought you’d be. It can all feel like a maze as you try to sort out the best direction for your life. Believe it or not, this is the same labyrinth that Louise de Marillac found herself in too.

Louise is the saint of social work and her story tends to get wrapped up in a neat bow: she was a widow who found her sense of purpose by working alongside Vincent de Paul to co-found the Daughters of Charity. Her legacy lives on today and she’s admired for her persistence and commitment to serving others, but the truth of Louise’s story is that she struggled, hard, facing questions about purpose and self-doubt. In fact, when Louise was a young woman one rejection shaped the entire course of her life. Louise had her path and her plans set; she was going to finish her schooling and join a convent. It was, for all intents and purposes, her dream job. But once she got to the convent, she was turned away, and we have good reason to believe that she was discriminated against because she was born out of wedlock. This rejection set the ball rolling in the opposite direction of what Louise had hoped. Instead of becoming a nun, her only option was to get married and begin her life as a wife and mother.

So, that’s what she did. Soon enough, the challenges of motherhood and being a wife to an ailing husband began to add up, and Louise was at her breaking point. What’s really interesting, though, is that the most pivotal moment of her life was her breaking point. Just as Louise was at her wits’ end struggling to find a way to move forward with her life, she received a revelation within the hallowed walls of the Church of St. Nicolas de Champs on the feast of Pentecost. Overwhelmed with frustration, Louise prayed for a sign, any sign, that could give her a shot at a life of fulfillment, service, and purpose. She sat there and pleaded to God for guidance. Just when she thought all was lost, He answered her prayer. She envisioned a life in which she saw herself serving the poor and living in community with sisters. This flicker of hope became her “lumière”—her guiding light.

As she sat inside the church in Paris, her doubts became quieter. Louise was to stay married 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. Sometimes, all you need is permission to dream up a new life, filled with opportunities and invitations to take matters into your own hands, and this was Louise’s.

Louise’s story and her lumière moment remind me that we need to trust the timing of our lives and embrace the unexpected pivots. Louise’s lumière gave her just enough hope to keep going—to keep envisioning a new version of the woman she dreamed of becoming. She prayed and meditated on this vision and with hard work and patience, she manifested a life better than the one she had dreamed of as a young woman.

Sometimes, you just have to throw out the original plan because what awaits you is bigger than you could have possibly planned for. I think a lot about Louise’s life path and what might’ve happened had she been accepted into that convent on her first try. She probably would’ve lived a quiet, pious life cloistered in the convent. She probably would’ve found her way, but Louise was meant to stand out, and although it made her life tougher, it was the fact that she didn’t fit the mold that made her so extraordinary. In the end, what made the Daughters of Charity remarkable was that they didn’t live a cloistered life. They preached, “The streets are our chapel,” and it is that very philosophy that helped lay the groundwork for a lot of modern-day social work in American society. It’s because Louise was able to meet people where they were that she revolutionized the way that we form each other through service and community.

I can’t help but think that life is less about the plans we make and more about saying yes to the things we love and promising ourselves to find a way to persist when we’re forced to pivot. Louise did and so can we. It wasn’t easy, but at her core she knew she had this desire to serve and to contribute to something bigger than herself. So, she followed those instincts, and she kept saying yes to the opportunities that let her live out bits and pieces of her lifelong dream until finally, she was living out that dream in full swing. Louise didn’t leave that church and instantly become the servant leader, girl boss she envisioned in her lumière. But she did walk away with some hope and the belief that she’d one day get to where she wanted to be. Until then, she had to inch herself toward that goal in any way that she could. She didn’t give up in the face of rejection and what felt like a dead end in life.

It’s so easy to look at our lives or career paths that didn’t work out and think we’ve failed and that we’ll never rebound from a mistake, but Louise and I are here to tell you to keep going, keep dreaming, keep fighting for the person you hope to become one day because this is a fight that is always worth it.


1 L.519, To Sister Anne Hardemont, (1658), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 614-615.

Written by: Gracie Covarrubios, Admission Counselor, Office of Undergraduate Admissions

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

Saint Louise and Motherhood

Homily for Sunday, May 9
Feast of St. Louise de Marillac and Mother’s Day
St. Vincent de Paul Parish

This year, Mother’s Day coincides with the Feast Day of Saint Louise de Marillac. In many ways, we have Louise to thank for our parish community. Without Louise, Vincent de Paul would not have made the impact he did during his life. Louise and Vincent worked side by side to serve the needs of those who were poor in seventeenth-century France, and Louise was a driving force in transforming the systems of charity that existed at the time. She and Vincent co-founded the Daughters of Charity, which was the first non-cloistered order of religious women. She was so effective and innovative in her work that she pioneered the field of social work and became the patron saint of social workers.

This is the version of Louise’s life that you might read on the back of her prayer card. It is neat, clean-cut, and orderly. And while it is all true, it is also incomplete. When Peter encounters Cornelius in the first reading today, he says, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” Louise, like all of our other saints, was a human being—complex, messy, real.

In these unsettled, tumultuous times, Louise’s humanity—her struggles, her perseverance, her faith—speaks to us the most.

Louise’s world looked similar to ours today. She lived through an epidemic, war, and civil unrest, and she saw firsthand the effects of a massive wealth gap which kept the rich in power and oppressed those who were poor. The suffering that she saw on the streets of France shaped her into a compassionate, driven, and strategic agent of change.

Louise was also formed by her own suffering. She never knew her mother and was rejected by her father’s extended family. As a child, she knew how it felt to be other-ized and unseen. When she was unable to pursue her dream of taking vows with a cloistered order of religious sisters, Louise’s family arranged a marriage for her. She had a son whose special needs left her feeling helpless in a society that did not yet understand alternative developmental needs. She nursed her husband through a terminal illness and was widowed by the time she met Vincent.

Anxiety and grief left an imprint on Louise’s life, just as they have left imprints on our lives in the last year. What we are surviving together as a human family—a pandemic, our country’s continued, generations-long systemic racism, an environmental climate reckoning—shapes us each day. For some of us, grief has entered into our homes through the loss of a loved one and the inability to mourn in community. For some, anxiety builds with the touch of each door handle, the fear of going to work in-person, the worry of job security and putting food on the table. Louise’s own journey with mental health teaches us the importance of remaining grounded in ritual, faith, something that is bigger than ourselves. As a healer and herbalist, Louise reminds us to center holistic care in difficult times and to tend to our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Louise’s story reminds us that we are not alone.

For all of the mothers in the pews or joining us virtually today who have counted down the minutes until your kids’ bedtime only to flip the baby monitor on every 20 minutes to peek at their sleeping faces, who have stayed awake worrying about the social and physical effects the pandemic will have on your kiddos, who have felt totally touched out and just need to go to the bathroom alone, who have known boundless joy at your children’s laughter, silliness, and wonder—Louise was also a mother. She sees you even in those moments when you feel that your work, your worry, your needs are unseen. She shares your delight when tiny hands slip acorns into your coat pocket and a soft voice whispers in your ear, “love you sooooo much, mama.”

Some joining us today might feel conflicted or heavy-hearted during the Mother’s Day blessing at the end of mass. You may have a strained relationship with your mother or child. You may not feel called to motherhood. Your pregnancy may have taken you by surprise and come with fear or confusion. You may struggle with fertility or carry the lonely, silent grief of pregnancy loss. Louise knows how it feels to be angry with God and wonder why her plans for her own life were not God’s plans. She walks with you in your uncertainty, and she will continue to accompany you when the road ahead comes into clearer view.

From time to time, I engage in a spiritual practice wherein I read a traditional sacred text with the perspective of God as a woman, as a mother. On this day when we remember Louise, who re-shaped what it means to be a woman in our church, and celebrate all women who share motherly love with the world, I would like to share this spiritual practice with each of you.

From the Gospel according to John:
As the Mother loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you honor my wishes, you will remain in my love,
just as I have honored my Mother’s wishes
and remain in her love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my wish: love one another as I love you.


Written by: Emily LaHood-Olsen, Ministry Coordinator, Division of Mission and Ministry

For the entire Louise Week Lineup including our daily events and 6-day virtual pilgrimage visit:

Louise Week 2021

In honor of Saint Louise de Marillac’s Feast Day on May 9th, the Division of Mission and Ministry invites DePaul students, faculty and staff to celebrate Louise Week 2021. Louise de Marillac lived in a time of great upheaval and crisis. Her life, grief, and loss have the power to speak to us during our own difficult times. In this current moment of loss, fatigue, burn-out, and isolation, Louise exemplifies holistic wellness. She calls us to spirituality, connection, and community care. Louise Week will tap into Louise’s legacy as a leader, healer, and activist to ignite and empower faith-in-action.

Join us May 9-14 to pause, connect, play, and sharpen your social justice tool kit. Read along with daily blog reflections, complete a virtual six-day pilgrimage, and attend many other events created to help our community connect and refresh. 

Follow along on social media for daily reflection and invitations to virtual activities and events:  Facebook  or Instagram @mmatmdepaul

Daily Blog Reflections

Connect with Louise’s wisdom as we move through a series of daily reflections grounding us in a holistic approach to leadership and community care. The themes explored from Louise’s life will reveal themselves to be just as meaningful today as they were during 16th century France. In her role as a wife, mother, religious sister, and activist, Louise can teach us lessons of resilience, selfcare, systemic change, and creative organizing.

Follow along on social media for daily reflections:
Facebook  or Instagram @mmatmdepaul

-or-

Visit “The Way of Wisdom” blog for daily Louise Week 2021 reflections:
https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/tag/louiseweek  

Louise Virtual Pilgrimage

Learn about St. Louise de Marillac’s life through a virtual pilgrimage! For six days, we’ll take you on a journey to places that represent defining moments through an interactive map leading you to short videos curated by our pastoral, faculty and alumni team. 

The root of the word pilgrim means stranger. When it comes to making a pilgrimage of any kind, we can think of this root meaning in two ways. First, each of us can feel like a stranger when it comes to figuring out our faith life, especially during these pandemic times. Second, the saints we go to meet along the journey of our pilgrimage are strangers until we encounter them. Let us go together as pilgrims, maybe starting off as strangers and ending up as members of a faith community. Let’s take the first step and get to know Saint Louise de Marillac.” ~Fr. Christopher Robinson, CM

Grab your virtual passport and head over to our pilgrimage page every day from Sunday, May 9th to Friday, May 14th: go.depaul.edu/pilgrimage

Events

Feast Day Mass
Sunday, May 9 | 10 am, 5 pm, and 8 pm
St. Vincent de Paul Parish (in-person)
1010 W. Webster Ave.
Livestream on Instagram: @depaulccm

All are welcome to a special liturgy in honor of the Feast Day of St. Louise de Marillac. For in-person Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, please register on our Facebook events page. Questions? Contact Matt Merkt: mmerkt@depaul.edu

Women’s Power: Waking Up to Justice
Panel with Sr. Helen Prejean & DePaul Student Advocates
Monday, May 10 | 6:00 7:30 pm
Register on DeHub: http://cglink.me/2cC/r13644

DePaul Community: Join us for a transformative conversation with anti-death penalty advocate and activist Sr. Helen Prejean as she shares how she discovered a path that centers human rights as an integral part of faith-in-action and responds to the question “What Must Be Done?” The conversation will be led by student leaders bringing unique perspectives on what it means to wake up to justice in response to our lives today. 

Get to Know a Daughter of Charity
Tuesday, May 11 | 10 am
Facebook Watch Party: @DPUStudentInvolvement

Students: You’re invited to a special interview with a Daughter of Charity, Sr. Angele Hinkley. She will share about the healing role of art in her work in prisons. This event is in partnership with the Mission and Ministry and the Office of Student Involvement. 

DePaul Women’s Network | High Tea with Louise
Tuesday, May 11th |  3:00 4:00 pm
Register on Eventbrite: bit.ly/LouiseHighTea

Faculty and Staff: Join the DePaul Women’s Network during our High Tea event for rejuvenating conversations, laughter and meditation. Take a break during your busy day and make space for self-care and connection with women across the university while sipping on some tea and learning about some of Louise’s favorite self-care routines, community reflections and more!

Lunch with Louise
Wednesday, May 12th | 12:00 1:00 pm
Register here: http://bit.ly/LunchwithLouise

Faculty and Staff:  You’re invited to a virtual “Lunch with Louise,” an adaption of our regular “Lunch with Vincent” bi-quarterly series in honor of Saint Louise de Marillac’s Feast Week! Our presenters will be Coya Paz Brownrigg from The Theatre School and Jackie Kelly-McHale from the School of Music. Themes will explore the intersection of the Arts, Diversity-Equity-Inclusion, and the Mission presented in a creative, conversational way. 

Wellness Wednesday with DePaul Health Promotion & Wellness
Wednesday, May 12 | 4:00 –  4:30 pm
Register on DeHub: http://cglink.me/2cC/r13044

Students: Join HPW and Meet Me at the Mission for a conversation sharing wisdom about Louise de Marillac’s relationship with herself and others related to the mind, body and spirit.  

Jeopardy Game Night
Wednesday, May 12 | 7:00 8:00 pm
Register on DeHub: http://cglink.me/2cC/r13795

Students: Join Louise Week partners for a night of trivia about fun categories like Louise, Disney movies, random animal facts, and more! 

Cafecito con Tepeyac with Community Peacemakers (CPM)
Thursday, May 13 | 3 4pm
Register on DeHub: http://cglink.me/2cC/r13032 

Students: Join Cafecito con Tepeyac and the Community Peacemakers for a restorative justice peace circle to honor Louise’s Lumiere experience and reflect on what grounds us in hope. Participants who attend will receive a Bright Endeavor’s candle with a quote by Louise provided by Meet Me at the Mission.

Virtual Dinner with the Daughters
Thursday, May 13 | 5 pm 
Join us on Zoom: bit.ly/vinfamchatsSQ

Students: Join Meet Me at the Mission, Vincentians in Action, Res Ed and Daughters of Charity from around the country for a virtual dinner and conversation about St. Louise de Marillac’s living legacy of community and systemic change. Participants who attend will receive Louise goodies in the mail provided by Meet Me at the Mission.

 

Reflection, Day Five: Sustained by a Solid Foundation

By
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

By
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

By
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

By
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.