Channeling Grief into Love and Service

Photo courtesy of Maura Sullivan

“Love one another, bear with one another, support one another, and be united in the Spirit of God.”1     Vincent de Paul

April is a weird month for me and has been for a long time. On a sunny spring day twenty-two years ago, gun violence overturned my life, my family’s lives, and the lives of everyone in my community. I was a student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. While I cannot articulate fully the impact of that day on my life, I would like to share a little about how it shaped me. I write this also as our country today repeatedly reels from gun violence in all its insidious forms, from police shootings of unarmed persons of color, to mass shootings, to communities daily experiencing the traumas that come with gun violence in their neighborhoods.

I’m sharing this deeply personal and private part of myself because in so many ways it led me to DePaul and to the work I do in the Division of Mission and Ministry.

As a high school student struggling to process the emotions involved in experiencing significant trauma, I discovered the joy I felt in helping others as so many helped my community in the aftermath of our tragedy. That joy led me down many roads, including the one that leads to DePaul. I connected my faith to service and helping others and ended up working in ministry in higher education. I helped students passionate about service as they processed their experiences, sometimes connecting service to their faith and spiritual journeys as well. Along the way, I have learned a thing or two, discovered more just ways of connecting with communities, and been reminded that because of the color of my skin, I have had opportunities to process my trauma that people from some communities never get.

The work I currently do in the Division of Mission and Ministry involves coordinating Vincentian Service Day (VSD), what I like to think is one of DePaul’s greatest traditions. Last year, when our world was first rocked by the pandemic, I couldn’t imagine moving Vincentian Service to a remote event, yet we did so successfully. Now, it’s one year later and we are about to have our second remote VSD. Though we have remained physically distant and we may be feeling the sting of ongoing physical isolation, community is still very real and very necessary. We can “love one another, bear with one another, support one another” much like the Columbine community did for each other in 1999.

We all have our own stories, our own motivations, our own reasons for being on the paths we are on. I hope my story will lead you to consider participating in DePaul’s 23rd annual Vincentian Service Day. On Vincentian Service Day, you can channel whatever you may be feeling after more than a year of grief and anger into service, and into a way of loving and supporting one another.

Registration closes for Vincentian Service Day tonight, Monday, April 26th at 11PM. For more information about participating, visit: http://serviceday.depaul.edu; or email: serviceday@depaul.edu.


1 Letter 1930, To Several Priests of the Mission, [Around October 1655], CCD, 5:441.

Reflection by: Katie Sullivan, Ministry Coordinator, Vincentian Service & Formation, Division of Mission and Ministry

Seeds of the Mission: Ruben Parra

Because we are Catholic…All are welcome!  

At DePaul, we understand Catholicism to be an invitation to foster a universal human family. It is because of our Catholicism, not despite it, that we value interfaith dialogue and spiritual exploration. Throughout DePaul’s history, our Catholic, Vincentian identity also led us to admit immigrant populations, women, and students of color before many other universities across the country.  

From the very beginning, Vincent made it clear that love for the “most abandoned” was the central focus of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. In a conference in January 1657 Vincent preached on the importance of the love for poor:  

God loves the poor, consequently, He loves those who love the poor; for when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now, the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let’s devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned

Our Vincentian tradition places unheard stories at the center of the narrative. It calls us to hear the needs of those who have been made poor and marginalized and to respond with compassion, solidarity, and justice. Daughters of Charity today speak about “need not creed” guiding their response. The ministries of the Daughters of Charity around the world serve the most vulnerable without judgement or exclusion. The Vincentian tradition highlights communities’ assets and strengths so that those who are poor may be agents of their own transformation.  

Vincentians not only welcome but also seek out those who are invisible and forgotten. Because we are Vincentian, because we are Catholic, all are welcome. 


  1. 64. Love for the Poor, January 1657, CCD 11:349

 

Discovering a Resilient Joy

My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, “God is my God” … Therefore, I cannot help communicating with you this evening to ask you to assist me to profit from this excess of joy…”1

The ups and downs of the election season and the continued uncertainty that lingers regarding the state of our nation and a public health crisis make evident to us that unless we want to ride an emotional rollercoaster, we need to find a deeper, steadier, and more sustainable source of joy.

As quoted above from a letter to Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac found a source for such resilient joy in the ongoing presence of her God. From her Christian imagination and faith, she spoke with confidence of a belief that even in moments of loss and hardship, there is always the possibility of new life and resurrected hope. This way of making meaning offered her the possibility of a resilient joy that sustained her generative life of service and charity.2

What about you? Where do you seek and find a joy that is not dependent on the daily fluctuations of your external environment, such as the post-election results or COVID numbers, or the inevitably temperamental nature of human emotions and thoughts?

As I have aged, I’ve come to realize that much of the quality of my life is about learning how to live with loss. Whether the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of an idealistic dream or well-designed plan, the loss of a favorite sports team, or even the loss of my hair, losses can sting and leave us flustered, sad, angry, and off-balance. Furthermore, there is often a tendency to turn that hurt or sadness inward on ourselves in the form of self-critique or self-loathing, or outward onto others with blame and judgment. Handling loss like this does not lead to the kind of meaningful joy that Louise speaks of and we desire. Such joy will only come with a willingness to accept what we cannot change or control, to accept reality as it is, even if we would rather it be different.

Staring reality in the face, might we find joy simply in knowing that we can begin again from where we now are? Life offers us an infinite number of opportunities to begin again and ultimately reach our goals. There is joy to be found in re-discovering our freedom and creativity, in finding new ways to shine a light amidst darkness, and in being generative despite uncertainty or difficulty.

I suspect that this is what Louise de Marillac discovered, that with God’s help, the human spirit is resilient and will always rise again.


1) L. 369, To Monsieur Vincent, August 24 (Before 1650), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 341. Online at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/

2) For more on the overflowing joy and generativity of Louise’s life, see: Vie Thorgren, “‘God is My God’: The Generative Integrity of Louise de Marillac,” Vincentian Heritage 12:2 (1991), 201-18. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol12/iss2/7

 

Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Division of Mission and Ministry

 


Join us this coming Wednesday!

Gratitude Workshop

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Noon to 1 pm

The DePaul community is invited to join the College of Communication and the Division of Mission & Ministry for a lunchtime workshop devoted to gratitude practices. Research indicates that cultivating a sense of gratitude in our lives protects us from stress and depression and increases resiliency. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is the perfect time to come learn some new approaches to feeling and expressing gratitude. Click here to register for Gratitude Workshop.

 

Seeds of the Mission: Matt Schultz

Service Beyond DePaul & Intentional Community

The Catholic tradition is rooted in the practice of sacramentality, the understanding that the gifts and graces we receive throughout life are meant to be shared. As a Vincentian university, DePaul strives to inspire students to use their gift of education to live a life of service to others, regardless of the academic field or career choice. Post-graduate volunteer programs are one way that DePaul graduates live this call to service. Rooted in intentional community, faith, service, and social justice post-graduate volunteer programs bring to life the Vincentian way for young adults today.

Living in intentional community is deeply rooted in our Vincentian tradition. When Louise de Marillac founded the Daughters of Charity she formed a community out of the poorest of the poor, creating home for them. She actually invited young peasant women 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 for a noble woman was unprecedented during her time, breaking social class barriers and opening new opportunities for women.

Louise had the deep intuition from the start that living together in community was the way forward to sustaining a life of service to others. Even in her last will and spiritual testament she  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. Time and time again you see in her letters to the Daughters of Charity Louise helping them navigate the joys and struggles of living in community with others.

When young adults have the opportunity to serve and live in intentional community, they experience this rich tradition and learn a countercultural way to exist in our society.  It invites them to see beyond individualism and begin to realize our interconnectedness. They also grow in concrete skills of conflict resolution and dialogue as they navigate the realities of living with other humans! This transformative formation gives them tools to continue living another way beyond their year of service.

DePaul hosts an annual Post-Graduate Volunteer Fair for students interested in exploring this opportunity after graduation. In partnership with the Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN), this year’s fair will take place virtually on Monday, November 9 from 4:30-7:30pm and Tuesday, November 10 from 11:30am-2:30pm. Students can RSVP on DeHub here and sign onto the fair here.  For more information about post-graduate volunteer opportunities, visit the CVN website.


The Soul of Good Leadership

“When I said that you must be unwavering as to the end and gentle as to the means, I am describing to you the soul of good leadership.”  Vincent de Paul (CCD, 2:403)

Checklists, systems, and metrics can serve important purposes in ensuring the consistency and effectiveness of our performance. However, if we consider the “soul” of good leadership, we recognize that these things can only get us part of the way there. There is more to good or soul-full leadership than simply following a prescriptive recipe. The soul of good leadership includes an ability to intuitively discern the signs of the times, the flexibility to adapt to circumstances beyond our control, the courage to take risks while remaining committed to guiding principles, and the grace to relate to others as human beings in a way that exhibits compassion and concern. How do you engage with the “soul” of good leadership in your life’s work, and how do you help others to do the same?

Practicing Charity on the Way to Justice

“Charity is the cement that binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Vincent de Paul (CCD, 2:413)

For some, charity is construed negatively because it is equated to paternalism or perhaps a band-aid – – an approach that fails to address the root causes of systemic injustice. When viewed this way, Vincent de Paul’s notion of charity can strike us as inadequate and even problematic if applied uncritically to today’s world. Yet, to understand Vincent effectively we must re-contextualize his teaching and practice of charity in a meaningful way for our time, such as understanding it as the affective and relational dimension of social justice. Charity, or its Latin root “caritas,” translates closely to our present-day notion of love. Re-contextualizing Vincent’s charity, then, presents us with a challenge rather than a concept easily dismissed. Is justice truly possible in the absence of charity? How can we channel our generosity and compassion for others into actions that communicate love and move us towards justice?

Reflecting Our Values to the World

…we are as it were a mirror for the world on which it pauses to look and easily does what we do. St. Vincent de Paul The world of Vincent de Paul seems a distant mirror to us today. Yet these words he shared with his community in 1654 are worth pondering even now. Occasionally, it is good to reflect on the way in which we live our lives. What comes to mind if you imagine yourself as a mirror to the world? How do your actions reveal the values that are important to you? What are your favorite Vincentian values? Does your work at DePaul mirror those that mean the most to you?

 

 


On Scandal. Conference of October 9, 1654, Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity

Love is Inventive to Infinity

“Love is inventive to infinity” – Vincent de Paul

In the year 1617, in Châtillon, France, the new pastor Vincent de Paul preached about a sick and impoverished family who were in need of assistance. Vincent’s appeal proved so persuasive that it led many more people to respond to the family’s needs than was necessary. In witnessing such an overwhelming response, Vincent became convinced that if good works are to be effective they need to be well organized. This incident was the catalyst that led Vincent to found conferences of charity to care for the poor and marginalized in parishes throughout France, and eventually all over the world.

Vincent’s experience in Châtillon helped him see the need to make substantial changes to the way charity was administered. In the good work being done at DePaul, how do you see ways that might help us fulfill our mission in a more sustainable or effective way?

Frédéric Ozanam’s Tactical Wisdom For Today’s Consumer Society

 

From Thomas McKenna’s perspective, consumerism reduces everything, including religious tradition and altruism, to commodities that are removed from their original contexts and lacking in meaning. Elements of consumerism are identified; their combined effect leads individuals to only value short-term engagements with what appeals to them, makes them feel noble, or makes a statement about their identity. McKenna examines how Frederic Ozanam’s life and work can be used to counteract this. According to Ozanam, Christians should mediate between the rich and the poor to alleviate class conflict and ensure justice for poor persons. His mandate for direct service means that neither suffering nor altruism can be reduced to commodities, and that personal contact is the basis for practical solutions to social problems. It was Ozanam’s insight that service should be done in community and be directly tied to religion, or what would today be termed theological reflection. This strengthens those who serve, encourages further action, and, in McKenna’s view, preserves religion’s imperative force, meaning, and context.

“Frederic Ozanam’s Tactical Wisdom For Today’s Consumer Society” is an article published in 2010 in the Vincentian Heritage Journal, Volume 30, Issue 1, Article 1 available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol30/iss1/1

Saint Vincent and Saint Louise, Catholic to the Core

 

DePaul University’s Vincent and Louise House community is a “residential faith formation program” in which students “engage more fully in the Christian faith, community service, social justice, and stewardship.” Following the examples of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, members of the house learn about and take part in the spiritual practices necessary for putting faith into action. The article details the community service they perform, how their commitments to social justice and stewardship are carried out, and what effect these activities have on the students. The program’s goal is to transform students, their worldview, and their perspective on their vocation within the tradition of Vincent and Louise. Students’ own words on the value of their experience in the house are included.

“Saint Vincent and Saint Louise, Catholic to the Core: Spiritual Praxis as the Foundation for Social Change” is an article published in the Vincentian Heritage Journal, Volume 28, Issue 2, Article 24 (2008) available at: https://www.via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol28/iss2/24