Every year, the Division of Mission and Ministry hosts 13 service immersion trips over winter and spring break. On these immersions, students travel to a different city, engage in service and social justice work through a Vincentian lens, and build community with one another. Although COVID precautions prohibited this year, the Division of Mission and Ministry worked with community partners in St. Louis, Cincinnati, and El Salvador to create virtual immersions. Below is a reflection from the St. Louis student leader, Chloe Brougham.
This December, I had the pleasure of going on the first round of virtual service immersions. For four days I zoomed into St. Louis, Missouri to learn about anti-racism through the Vincentian charism.
Each day our group of 13 DePaul students and 1 wonderful staff mentor logged onto three synchronous zoom sessions in which we learned about Vincentianism, St. Louis, social change, and about one another. In between these sessions we did individual reflections, built community over group messages, watched documentaries, participated in a virtual scavenger hunt of St. Louis, and participated in unique ways of spirituality through art, poetry, dance, setting dream intentions, and many other practices.
We engaged in authentic dialogue with many community members in St. Louis. To highlight just a few, we spoke to Sister Ellen LaCapria, a Daughter of Charity, who shared her art with us and spoke about expressions of spirituality. DeMarco Davidson, an organizer and activist who was on the ground and active in the 2014 Ferguson protests after the murder of Michael Brown, shared his story and spoke to us about acknowledging our part in systematic oppression. Kaveh Razani, an artist, business owner, and member of Cherokee Street Community Improvement District spoke with us about gentrification, cultural displacement, and his use of moral imagination to combat the cultural erasure as Cherokee Street is becoming developed.
The conversations we had with Sister Ellen, DeMarco, Kaveh, and others in St. Louis completely blew me away. These dialogues are what I will carry with me through life, hearing the stories and experiences of those on the ground making change provided insight and wisdom that we can’t get from watching the news, reading books, scrolling social media, or even in our classes; these were profound experiences of authentic dialogue, person to person.
Our group had so many connections to your Vincentian family who lives in a different city and who have different lives experiences. We had artists, activists, business owners, and Vincentians in our group who all could relate the stories and wisdom shared by Sister Ellen, DeMarco, and Kaveh. In light of all I have learned in the virtual immersion I hope to continue to be able to hold those sacred stories, seek out more stories from those most impacted by systematic oppression and learn from those working on the ground.
I think back to our Vincentian origins, of St. Louise de Marillac making the brave and unprecedented choice to have the Daughters of Charity not be cloistered, to instead go out in the streets and to be with those affected by oppression. While quarantine has left me feeling hopelessly cloistered, virtual immersion felt like a practice of community that Louise would be proud of.