A key to the spiritual transformation of Vincent de Paul was his recognition that only a community of people working together could accomplish the mission he envisioned. Vincent could not do it alone. This insight grounds the Vincentian spirit carried forth in his ministry for the remainder of his life. The Vincentian mission’s sustainability is not the job of one person; instead, it relies on the effective formation of a community that together embodies its spirit and works for its fulfillment. It is the work of a community of people gathered together for the sake of a shared mission.
As we move through another important leadership transition at DePaul, welcoming our new president who officially begins today, this Vincentian insight is timely for us to remember. The ultimate success of DePaul University belongs to every person in our community who carries our mission forward and seeks to make it real in and through their daily actions. Leadership for mission at a Vincentian institution is always a distributed phenomenon. It is characterized by mutuality and collaboration. It is interdependent. In a Vincentian community, we are humble about our personal limitations and our need for others, knowing we lead ultimately by our example and not by our words or the amount of formal authority that we wield. Our effectiveness lies as much in the quality and integrity of our interactions with others as it does in our individual actions or accomplishments.
Who are the Vincentian leaders among us? Ask people to tell you—or better yet, just pay attention to those who inspire both excellence and care, innovation and mutual respect, professionalism and personalism. Vincentian leaders exist in every corner and in every department, among faculty, staff, and students. Look for those who listen carefully and who communicate directly, simply, and clearly. Notice those who, like Vincent, “wear the same cloak” at all times, though they be speaking to the most senior member of the Board or cabinet, or to a student in need. Vincentian leaders face the tough questions head on. They do not play games or pretend to be more than they are. They have the freedom and courage to put service first, responding to immediate needs rather than waiting to have all the answers before they dare to act. They go about the work of doing what is right without unnecessary delay, because they know in their bones what we are about—or perhaps, like Vincent, because they trust that we can always count on Providence to see us through in the end. Through their being and their doing, they inspire others.
As we move through this new transition in presidential leadership, may our shared Vincentian mission continue to inspire and guide the why, what, and how of our work at DePaul. Let it shape the kind of community we are and seek to be together. As we seek to ground our mission deeply in the life and example of our inspirational founder and namesake, may the name above the door continue to say something about who we are and what we aspire to achieve. While we look to our formal leaders—and our new president—to be a source of continued inspiration and guidance, may we recognize that our success will always depend on the way we live our mission as a community of people, all of us together.
What can you do today to lead by your example and to live in the Vincentian way? How do you participate in leadership for the mission of DePaul?
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry