As Vincentians, we know that learning a person’s name and understanding their story is the first step toward systemic change. Relationship is at the heart of how we exist in the world. Vincentians strive to foster mutual, long term relationships with those in their communities, not for the sake of metrics or numbers, but rather for the sake of solidarity. Throughout our history, the Vincentian family has strived to keep each individual person at the center of their work.
When Frederic Ozanam founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he took inspiration from Rosalie Rendu and the Daughters of Charity, who went beyond providing acts of service and prioritized home visits. When members of the Society visit a person’s home, they sit with them, learn their name, engage in dialogue, and allow themselves to be formed and shaped by their story. For Vincentians, charity is not a series of standalone actions; it is love in action. It is the belief that through relationship, inventive change is possible.
DePaul University: Education to Break the Generational Cycle of Poverty
Since our founding, the Vincentian family has used education to open doors of access to marginalized communities. Although we often tell the stories of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac as social workers, we know that they were also educators. Sr. Louise Sullivan, D.C. writes that Vincent and Louise were “teachers and as such were keenly aware of the vital place of education in a holistic approach to service of the poor.” 
Sullivan writes that education was a central piece of Louise’s ministry. She established schools for young girls who lived in poor, rural communities and played a substantial role in overcoming illiteracy among women in France. These forms of educational outreach, Sullivan notes, “were not isolated but rather a natural outgrowth of a broader service of the poor from which they cannot be dissociated.” 
Vincent and Louise’s value in education undoubtedly informed the founding of DePaul University. During the late nineteenth century, many colleges and universities in Chicago did not serve immigrant communities. In 1898, the Vincentian priests, also known as the Congregation of the Mission, responded to this need by opening St. Vincent’s College, which served immigrants and their children. The Vincentians saw education as a way to disrupt the cycle of generational poverty.
Thirteen years after its founding, DePaul became one of the first Catholic universities in the country to admit women. In the century that followed, DePaul heard and responded to the needs of Jewish applicants, communities of color, low-income working communities, and first-generation students. Providing opportunities for higher education to those who are excluded is one way we choose to live out our Catholic heritage.
DePaul remains committed to its founding mission, to provide a quality education to those who have been marginalized and excluded from higher learning. We believe that education not only has the power to transform minds, but that it also equips individuals with the tools to transform their communities.
Read the article that Terry Vaughn III wrote to accompany this interview:
Vincent DePaul: A life committed to Justice and Peace
“Justice and Peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10)
Vincent lived in complex historical times. In addition to addressing the poverty and inequality he saw throughout France, he also lived through a pandemic and spoke out adamantly against war. There was not a day in Vincent’s life when his country was at peace. This reality called him to become a peacemaker.
Fr. Robert Maloney, CM, former Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, writes of Vincent’s commitment to nonviolence in an article titled, “A Vincentian Reflection of Peace.” In the article, he shares the following stories.
…in addition to his vigorous war-relief efforts, Vincent was also engaged in behind-the-scenes peacemaking. On two occasions he intervened personally, going right to the top… At some time between 1639 and 1642, during the wars in Lorraine, he went to Cardinal Richelieu, knelt before him, described the horrors of war, and pleaded for peace: “Let us have peace. Have pity on us. Give France peace.” Richelieu refused, responding diplomatically that peace did not depend on him alone. […] In 1649, during the civil war, St. Vincent left Paris quietly, crossed battle lines and forded a flooded river (at almost 70 years of age) to see the queen and to beg her to dismiss Mazarin, whom he regarded as responsible for the war. He also spoke directly to Mazarin himself. But again his pleas went unheeded. 
Vincent’s commitment to peacemaking is clear in the Vincentian virtue of meekness. Not to be mistaken for weakness, meekness refers to the intersection of gentleness and strength. It is about approachability, the ability to express righteous anger in constructive, productive ways. Meekness is an active expression of nonviolence, one that confronts injustice without inflicting more harm. It comes from an internal sense of peace.
The call to nonviolence at DePaul also has roots in our Catholic identity. Pope Francis writes, “The Church is called to commit itself to the solution of problems concerning peace, harmony, the environment, the defense of life, and human and civil rights.”  He specifies, “the university world has a central role to play as the symbolic place of the integral humanism that continually needs to be renewed and enriched.” 
At DePaul University, we know that justice leads to sustainable peace, a peace that takes courage, strength, and depth. We are committed to living out the Catholic, Vincentian value of nonviolence by equipping students with the toolbox to become effective agents of change in our world.
Listen to the audio version of Ken’s interview on Nonviolence.
“Love is inventive to infinity.” – Vincent de Paul
Vincentians, at their core, are trailblazers. When Vincent saw that people were eager to serve their neighbors but lacked the structure to do so, he organized charity in a new way that brought effectiveness to people’s care. When faced with a patriarchal system that limited women’s roles in society, Louise created the first order of non-cloistered Catholic sisters to be out in the world. In the face of poverty, conflict, and civil unrest, Frederic founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which allowed lay Catholics to be active in their faith in new ways.
Radical creativity is at the heart of the Vincentian mission. It is a way we honor human dignity. In times of crisis, we listen deeply to the needs of our communities and respond with compassionate innovation. We believe there is a power in seeing another person, knowing the burdens they carry, recognizing their ever-changing needs. Relationship and human connection are essential to how Vincentians exist and make meaning. We live dignity through recognition and care of the human person.
These creative ethics of care apply to our own internal needs, as well. As Vincentians, we know that in order to foster meaningful relationships with others and tend to the world’s needs, we must take time to pause for contemplation and meaning making. In our current times, practices of internal care likely look different than they have in the past. Just as our heritage figures in times before us, we are called to find new, sustainable ways to care for ourselves and our communities.
Vincent DePaul lived at a time when religious tension and conflict was a regular feature of life, both within Christianity and between Christians and people of other faiths. The spirituality Saint Vincent embraced, while enthusiastically faithful to the Catholic church, was one which emphasized humility, gentleness and pragmatic service to the poor over contentious debate. The spirituality of the order Vincent founded, the Congregation of the Mission, has created a living tradition which is rooted in its history but is always looking to respond to the real needs of the marginalized in each new time and place, continuously asking the question, “What must be done?”
It is this Vincentian spirit which led DePaul to be the first Catholic university chartered in Illinois to specify in its charter that there would be no religious test or requirement for admission or for hiring. That is, from its beginning DePaul University has believed that welcoming students, faculty, and staff of all faiths or none to the opportunities of higher education and to form a community together was to be faithful to its Vincentian Catholic commitment to honoring the dignity of every human person.
DePaul continues this commitment to the dignity and spiritual care and growth of all members of the community with Mission & Ministry staff members who are Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and of no faith tradition. DePaul fosters interfaith dialogue on campus through the framework of the Four Forms of Interreligious Dialogue outlined by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. This framework emphasizes that we live in a community which is consistently marked by people with a wide diversity of faiths and worldviews who are interacting, cooperating and working together for a better world. These forms include the dialogues of service, religious experience, and of life itself in addition to the narrow category which we often think of as “interfaith dialogue,” the dialogue of theological exchange.
It is with this history and this understanding that we, as a community made up of people of many different faiths and of none, that we embrace our continuing commitment to the Vincentian Catholic Mission of DePaul University and seek to respond to the continuing human challenges of a world that stands in need of so much.
Coined at DePaul in the 1970s, the term Vincentian Personalismrefers to the Vincentian family’s dedication to human dignity and holistic care.St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac approached their work with a person-first lens. They saw each person they encountered, whether rich or poor, as God’s beloved creation. This was evident in their commitment to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those on the margins.
Vie Thorgren, a Vincentian leader in Denver, Colorado, says, “There is no such thing in the Vincentian family as someone who does not belong.” To Vincent and Louise, nobody was invisible. They recognized the worth and gifts in each person they encountered and sought to create a sense of belonging for those who were often forgotten or excluded from the narrative.
In this sense, we strive to foster a sense of belonging at DePaul. We hope that every student, staff, and faculty member who is part of the DePaul community feels seen for their whole personhood. A DePaul education goes beyond intellectual development and seeks to cultivate holistic growth. We hope that each student who graduates from DePaul understands their larger sense of purpose in the world beyond their resume, degree, or job title. We are spiritual as well as academic, personal as well as professional.
In 1977, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.(1)This book invited readers to turn their understanding of leadership on its head and imagine an effective leader as someone who approaches their work with humility and selflessness rather than emphasizing power. Greenleaf’s research articulated foundational qualities of leadership similar to those with which Vincent approached his work. Some of these qualities include the following questions:
Do those served grow as persons?
Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?
What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?(2)
Servant leadership is rooted in active listening. For the Vincentian family, this means buildingrelationships with a community, hearing their stories, and understanding their needs before taking action.As Vincentians, we do not seek to “fix” but rather to be in solidarity. This requires asking the questions, “What do you need? How can I be of service?” before taking action. It is a way of rejecting the false sense of savior-ism and seeking instead mutual, meaningful relationships.
In the article, “Servant Leadership in the Manner of St. Vincent de Paul,” J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., writes, “Vincent came to servant leadership through prayer and scripture. He was inspired, for instance, by the passage from Luke: ‘Earthly kings lord it over their people. Those who exercise authority over them are called their benefactors. Yet it cannot be that way with you. Let the greater among you be as the junior, the leader as servant.’”(3)
Servant Leadership seeks to dismantle inequitable power structures and place people on even ground. Murphy goes on to write, “Vincent turned the church upside down (we truly can think of it as an inverted pyramid) to put the poor on top with the rest of (society) in service and support.”(4) We see this lived out in the structure of the Daughters of Charity. Instead of being called Superior Generals, as many leaders are called in Catholic faith communities, the Daughters refer to their community leaders as Sister Servants.
Servant Leadership is inseparable from Vincentian Personalism; both are bound up in the way Vincentians see and treat people. A Vincentian leader is concerned not with authority but with the well–being and dignity of those in their care.
1) Robert K. Greenleaf, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), 335 pp.
On behalf of the Division of Mission and Ministry and DePaul University we are excited to share the Seeds of the Mission Campaign stories. We are grateful to the students, faculty, staff and alumni who have graciously taken the time to share their mission-in-action stories. Gathering Seeds of the Mission stories is the first step to reviewing and possibly revising the University mission statement. Listening to and amplifying Seeds of the Mission stories helps us to understand who we have been, and who we are now, so that we may transform into who we are called to be in the twenty-first century. We invite you to watch these stories and to continue to reflect upon the living mission at DePaul. As a next step, this Fall we will be conducting dialogues to move towards the reviewing and possible revising of the University mission statement.
Review of The Mission Statement
The Division of Mission and Ministry has been charged with leading the process of gathering the necessary information, data and input from the university community to assist the Board of Trustees with this process.
A multi-step process is been implemented during this academic year, involving:
A review of the history of DePaul’s mission statement and other related documents that describe the self-understanding of DePaul’s sense of purpose and vision and how it has evolved over the course of its history.
The Seeds of the Mission Campaign will seek to identify current-day examples of DePaul’s mission-in-practice across the university.
A series of dialogue sessions with a wide and diverse range of the DePaul community of faculty, staff, students and alumni to invite their qualitative input on what is essential to DePaul’s mission.
Board of Trustees Survey
The information, data, and input from these 3 steps will be synthesized and presented to the Board of Trustees Mission Committee in the Winter of 2021 for consideration. This committee will then be responsible for presenting their findings and recommendations to the full Board of Trustees by the spring of 2021.
“There are no people in the world more obliged to do this than we are, nor any Community that should apply itself more to the external practice of heartfelt charity.” – 207, Charity, Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 12, 30 May 1659, CCD, 12:214.
Thus far, 2020 has been an historic year—for DePaul, for our nation and for our world. Importantly, it is a story that is still being written. Before us lies an opportunity in the weeks and months ahead to shape how this year will be remembered and described to future generations. The calendar year remaining will go a long way toward determining the net impact of this period on our human community for years to come. How will we be remembered? Will it be as a generation that rose to the challenge and became stronger and better as a result, or as one that allowed difficulties to cause further harm both in the present and for those who follow us?
After the deepened revelation of our fragile interdependence made evident during the COVID crisis, will we see our inherent connection to one another as a beautiful gift or as a dangerous threat? After the killing of George Floyd and the long legacy that predates his murderous death, will we be inspired to make concrete changes in our personal and collective lives, to actively seek to correct the systemic injustices of racism and make amends for their impact? After this tumultuous year, what will be the resulting vision and shared goals that guide our future efforts to create a flourishing society? Will examples of generosity, courage, and sacrificial love, service, and commitment become central to the storyline of 2020? Will their positive energy continue to ripple outward into the future? Will actions for a more just and inclusive society result in the transformation of policies, minds, and hearts?
The result will depend upon our doing the work of writing the history of 2020, which will be determined by our actions in the present. Indeed, as a Vincentian university community, “there are no people in the world more obliged to do this than we are, nor any community that should apply itself more…” to this work. We now have an opportunity to create and be shapers of our history, and to not just passively accept the circumstances of our life.
What is at the heart of the human community you want to live and work in, and that you want for future generations to remember? What would it mean for you to begin to work now toward that vision? How can we act today so that our university more fully lives out its unique Vincentian mission of service to society in the future? How can you begin to plant the seeds necessary for this future vision?
Mission and Ministry is Looking for your Input
VSI Calls for Proposals Related to Crises
The Vincentian Studies Institute would like to invite everyone from the DePaul community to participate in a special call to create and submit publishable materials dedicated to the unprecedented crises we have had to confront in 2020. We are asking for your contributions in the hope that they help us to reflect on what has happened and is still happening.
Every type of production is welcomed: academic papers, short essays, poems, fiction, paintings, photographs, videos, etc. Individual or collective proposals are welcomed. Shorter works will be featured online, promoted by the Division of Mission & Ministry, and shared with the university community. Longer written works may be featured in a special collection published in the VSI’s scholarly journal Vincentian Heritage. We ask that you submit your Proposal or short summary of your intended contribution, to: firstname.lastname@example.org Please do so before July 31, 2020. Proposals will be reviewed by the VSI board and you will be notified of their decision by August 21, 2020. Once accepted, final drafts of your contributed work must be received by January 15, 2021.
Seeds of Mission Campaign
What initiatives, stories, and people serve as authentic and striking examples of DePaul’s Vincentian mission for you? Please let us know by submitting your input to the: Seeds of Mission campaign
For a full description of the Seeds of Mission Campaign: Click here
As the DePaul community actively considers what is fundamental to how we understand and live our shared Vincentian mission, what initiatives, stories, and people serve as authentic and striking examples of our mission to you?
The examples that come to mind as you reflect on this question might be understood as Seeds of the Mission, the title of the current Division of Mission and Ministry campaign. This campaign is an important first step in the process that will be taking place in the coming months as part of the review and potential revision of the DePaul University mission statement.
The concept of a seed suggests something that is small now, but that also has great potential for growth if tended and cared for. Seeds are a hopeful sign. Therefore, this image speaks to the importance of what we are doing now to sustain the future of our shared Vincentian mission for the generations who follow. The future vitality of our Vincentian mission will depend on our ability to identify and cultivate what is essential to our mission today, especially within the context of DePaul’s vocation as a university.
The foundational concept behind the Seeds of the Mission campaign borrows and adapts the idea of “seeds of the Word.” This phrase appears most notably in Vatican II documents and describes the relationship between the mission of the Catholic Church and peoples of various cultures and religions around the world. The concept is traced back to a famous second-century Christian philosopher and martyr named Justin, who introduced the idea of “seeds of the Word of God.”1 The Vatican II documents use this concept to encourage people of faith to “…gladly and reverently lay bare the seeds of the Word which lie hidden among their fellows.”2 According to this understanding, the seeds of the Word are present in the heart of every person, and in any human initiative, that strives toward the justice, mercy, and compassion as modeled by the life of Jesus. The underlying theology inherent in this concept promotes an approach to diverse peoples founded on human dignity, engagement, and dialogue. It emphasizes an understanding of the Church’s activity in the world that corresponds closely to the vision and praxis of the current Pope Francis, as well as to our own Vincentian charism.
At DePaul, we often speak of bringing together “a community gathered together for the sake of a common mission.” We believe this communal approach enables our students to gain personal wisdom while we work together to build a more just society that honors and affirms the dignity of all.
Considering this background rooted in the Vincentian practice of valuing and learning from experience, the Seeds of the Mission campaign invites you, the DePaul community, to share what you have seen. What you have experienced that resonates with or reflects the heart of DePaul’s mission?
Please let us know: What initiatives, stories, and people serve as authentic and striking examples of DePaul’s Vincentian mission for you?