Coined at DePaul in the 1970s, the term Vincentian Personalism refers 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 building relationships 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.
2) J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., “Servant Leadership in the Manner of Saint Vincent de Paul,” Vincentian Heritage 19:1 (1998), p. 122. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol19/iss1/7/
3) Ibid., 123.
4) Ibid., 124.