The Journey to Simplicity

“For myself I don’t know, but God gives me such a great esteem for simplicity that I call it my gospel. I have a particular devotion and consolation in saying things as they are.”[1]—Vincent de Paul

Recently I had the opportunity to address a group of students about nurturing mental wellness during law school. Knowing intimately some of the emotional challenges we shared during that period in our lives, one of my close friends from that time messaged me; I enjoyed the fact that we both had enough perspective now to laugh at the idea that I would be addressing others on such a topic. At the best of times, while accompanying students on their journeys I sometimes feel like saying, “I know and honor that this is really challenging for you now, but you are going to look back and really miss these times!” At other times I know students are faced with challenges that are more serious. But, in any case, I hold onto hope that there is room for perseverance and growth through all circumstances.

One of the reflections I had upon addressing this group of students was that, in many ways, law school was for me a time of emotional solitude. Since I planned to talk about the importance of a supportive community in nurturing mental wellness, I wanted to be honest that my own experience was often characterized by its absence. Still, I felt that was a tremendous opportunity for growth. As someone who was making major changes in my life during that time, as young adults often are, I found large amounts of time alone to have great benefits. While a healthy community is one in which we can embrace what Vincent called simplicity, or what we might call sincerity or authenticity, social relations inevitably involve some challenges to sincerity. Relations with others often invite the questions, Am I saying what I truly believe or what I think will raise me in the esteem of those around me? Do I present myself as I truly am or as others would like me to be? (Or as I would like to be?)

In a university environment, we pride ourselves on cherishing values such as academic freedom as essential to the pursuit of truth. However, a recent survey showed that among college faculty, whom we often think of as enjoying the height of such freedom and protections, more than 80 percent feel the need to “self-censor” their true views on at least one especially contentious issue.[2] While I don’t think all issues are that contentious, I don’t believe this is limited to one issue, nor is this only a recent phenomenon.[3]

In academia, as in other spaces, those who succeed can sometimes be those who learn best how to know what others expect them to think or say and learn to meet those expectations. It can be developmentally appropriate or indicative of an appropriate humility to tailor one’s self-presentation to the expectation of others. As I often explore with students, however, it is one thing to selectively choose to share what one thinks at the appropriate time and place. It is another thing to realize that one is so good at saying or doing what is expected that one no longer has an authentic sense of self that is independent of what is rewarded in a certain environment. In pursuit of such authenticity or simplicity, important tools can include solitude in which dialogue with the self or the Divine takes place, and a supportive community where one is free to explore ideas in a challenging but safe way. Christians in our community have entered the Lenten season, and Muslims will soon enter the month of Ramadan. These blessed times are filled with time honored traditions which blend individual and communal encounters with the self and the transcendent in ways which invite us to cultivate our best, most authentic selves.

Being people who can truly know what we think (what we might think of as sincerity with ourselves) requires certain conditions. Being able to share heartfelt and considered views with others requires other conditions, such as trust and charity toward each other. Some might argue that the primary condition required in all such circumstances is courage, and I agree. I would join that with a call for examining the environments and cultures we create, and the ways in which we nurture sincerity or encourage conformity and groupthink.

For Reflection:

Do you feel that you are able to bring your authentic self to your work at DePaul? What practices help you to establish and maintain a connection with your true opinions and desires? What do you think is the most essential characteristic of individuals or communities in fostering simplicity or authenticity?

REFLECTION BY: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director, Office of Religious Diversity, Division of Mission and Ministry.

[1] Conference 52, “The Spirit of the Company,” February 24, 1653, CCD, 9:476.

[2] Manuela López Restrepo, “’Fear Rather Than Sensitivity’: Most U.S. Scholars on the Mideast Are Self-Censoring,” NPR, December 15, 2023,

[3] See this thoughtful exploration of the intellectual costs of such self-censorship from thirty years ago: Glenn C. Loury, “Self-Censorship in Public Discourse: A Theory of ‘Political Correctness’ and Related Phenomena,” Boston University, accessed February 15, 2024, https://‌‌Departments/‌Economics/‌Faculty/Glenn_Loury/‌louryhomepage/papers/Loury%20(Politcal%20Correctness)_02.pdf.



Living Our Words through Actions

During this Black History month, I have been reflecting a great deal, as I often do, on the life of Malcolm X. February 21 marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of his martyrdom. Encountering the life and work of Malcolm, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, changed the course of my own life, and I have studied and taught about him for three decades now.

There is often mystery involved in who becomes known and influential and who is largely forgotten to history. Some people are famous during their lifetimes and become unknown later. Others are obscure in their lifetimes and become famous after their deaths. Many people become known and thought of in ways that would surprise them and those who knew them. For those of us who have faith, we believe there is divine providence in these processes, and yet none would deny that many truly good people are never known or recognized beyond their families.

One of the Vincentian virtues, in fact the virtue most beloved to Vincent de Paul, was simplicity.[1] Although Malcolm first came to national prominence on the basis of his rhetorical powers, I believe it is his simplicity that continues to inspire. Simplicity involves actions such as witnessing to what is true, living in a way where deeds match words, and believing with complete sincerity in ideals. None of us—not even Vincent or Malcom X—are perfect, but if we strive in a way that honors this virtue, it will show in our lives.

It can at times be easier to love such exemplars from a distance. Simplicity requires us to tell the truth, as we understand it, to ourselves, those whom we love, and those who have power. It requires us to push ourselves and others to live up to our words when hypocritical virtue is often more comfortable. It requires us to not only speak what is popular but to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done. It requires us to change and grow, which often demands more courage than facing physical danger.[2] In the last years of his life, Malcolm was passionate about acknowledging the shortcomings of people and institutions to whom he had devoted all his gifts and energies. He saw it as necessary to honoring the ideals that he held sacred.

Some may say Malcolm X is far different than Vincentian role models such as Vincent, Louise de Marillac, or Frédéric Ozanam. Malcolm’s rhetoric was revolutionary and at times harsh, even if often marked with humor and love that are salient to anyone truly familiar with his life and character. Yet the similarities are what strike me. Malcom and our Vincentian role models were all committed, not just to speaking about suffering or injustice, but acting effectively to lessen it. They were all driven by a need to be true to their ideals and to form and live in vibrant, life-giving communities. And they were all willing to change and grow even when it was hard or scary. They were all able to embrace these challenges due to their profound faith in God and love for humanity.[3]

Christians around the world are preparing to enter the season of Lent, when, through intensified worship and closeness to God, they prepare themselves to better meet such challenges. This year, the fasting month of Ramadan falls shortly after, when Muslims will pursue similar goals.

What are some ways you can live up to your own ideals effectively through your work at DePaul? Are there ways in which you have changed or may feel a need to change to be true to your values, even if it is hard or frightening?

Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Assistant Director and Muslim Chaplain, Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] For past reflections on simplicity, visit

[2] For Malcolm, change involved physical danger as well. Vincentian role models also faced danger in their work. For example, Marguerite Naseau, who is regarded as the first Daughter of Charity, followed God’s call to serve the poor and the sick. This resulted in ridicule and, eventually, in her own illness and death. For more, see

[3] For a deeper examination of what we may learn from Malcom X, see my article, “Lessons from the Life of Malcom X.” Available at


UMMA’s Fast-a-Thon Iftar Dinner will take place this year on March 9, 2022, at 5:30 PM in Cortelyou Commons. DePaul community members can RSVP on DeHub: https://‌dehub.‌‌event_‌details?uid=d5ef46fe6af4f974d637b60ec8a25c2b

Simplicity in Hectic Times

Since the academic year started, I’ve felt like I’m learning to juggle while the balls are already in the air. Fall Quarter is hectic in ordinary times, but this school year is anything but average. We face a global pandemic, systemic racism and racist violence, a declining economy, massive unemployment numbers, and political upheaval and uncertainty. The pandemic has made burdens that people already carried much heavier, and it has added new burdens to our loads.

In those moments when it feels like there are too many balls to juggle, I turn toward the Vincentian virtue of simplicity. In the Vincentian tradition, the value of simplicity is twofold. On the one hand, it refers to clear and honest speech. When we speak simply, we are our most authentic selves. In The Way of Vincent de Paul, Robert Maloney, C.M., writes “The heart must not think one thing while the mouth says another.”1 In our context today, simplicity might invite us to name honestly when we have reached our limits and need support. Likewise, it might mean speaking truth to power in the face of injustice and political turmoil.

Simplicity also invites us to clear away the clutter in our lives to make room for the things that truly matter. In a time when we face an immense amount of mental clutter and overstimulation, simplicity can remind us to pause and refocus our attention where it needs to be. It reminds us to make room in our lives for stillness and rest.

As you start the week, notice the ways you feel called toward simplicity.

  • Where do you feel you need to speak your truth?
  • Where do you feel stretched too thin? If you’re juggling too many balls, is it possible to remove one from the rotation and/or ask for support?
  • Where is the clutter in your life? How can you actively clear it away to find room for stillness?
  • What is one way you can rest today?

1) Robert P. Maloney, C.M., The Way of Vincent de Paul: A Contemporary Spirituality in the Service of the Poor (New York: New City Press, 1992), 38. See:

 Reflection by:    Emily LaHood-Olsen, Ministry Coordinator for Service Immersions, Division of Mission and Ministry

Simplicity is the Virtue I Love the Most

 “Simplicity is the virtue I love the most and to which, I think, I pay the most attention in my actions.”
— Vincent de Paul (CCD, 1:265)

Recent social movements have made transparency a growing expectation for companies and organizations in society. Along with this, authenticity has become a cherished value for many people in a world under barrage by social media and advertisements that make it difficult for us to determine what is real or true.

Vincent de Paul’s understanding of simplicity – the virtue he cherished most – emphasized this type of transparency and authenticity. As Vincent understood it, being simple means being honest, as well demonstrating what we believe in concrete ways through our actions. Vincent would have been comfortable saying that it is not what we say but rather what we do that communicates what we truly value. The wisdom found in Vincent’s notion of simplicity asks us to ensure that our professed values are evident in our daily decisions, behaviors, and relationships.

A focus on the virtue of simplicity, therefore, would beg a number of questions both personally and collectively: What are the core values that are most important to you? Would others see these values shine through in your daily actions? Based on our shared Vincentian mission, what values are most important to us at DePaul? Do our daily actions and decisions match these ideals or, conversely, where do we fall short? How can we better practice what we preach to live the values we espouse?

Reflection by:

Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Mission and Ministry

Day with Vincent: A Day of Service and Reflection for Faculty and Staff

Friday, March 6th, 2020. 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Are you interested in joining your colleagues to put mission into action during a day of service and reflection? Join us for this special mission engagement and learning opportunity for DePaul’s faculty and staff. We will focus on gaining a deeper understanding of DePaul’s Vincentian mission by integrating a commitment to service with our personal sense of purpose. This Day with Vincent retreat doubles as Part II of the Explore Your Purpose Workshop series for staff and faculty. For more information, please contact Tom Judge at

The Long and Winding Road


“Let us go in simplicity where merciful Providence leads us, content to see the stone on which we should step without wanting to discover all at once and completely the windings of the road.”

Frédéric Ozanam (Dirvin, Letters, p. 93)

Portrait de FrŽdŽric OZANAM, par L. Janmot, mars 1852

In a letter to a friend, Frédéric Ozanam, founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, identified within himself something that many of us also experience: we restlessly focus upon the future, only to miss out on the peace and purpose to be found in the present. For Ozanam, faith meant an embrace of the present moment and a willingness to be led by God one-step at a time even at the risk of not knowing where the journey will take you.

Are you willing to let go of certainty and take life one step at a time?  If you pause and reflect, what needs tending to in your life, both in and outside of DePaul, right now?

Inspired by the lives of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, and influenced by Rosalie Rendu, D.C., Frédéric Ozanam co-founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833 to tend to the spiritual and material needs of the poor in Paris. Today, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul numbers nearly one million members worldwide.

Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M., trans and ed., Frédéric Ozanam: A Life in Letters (St. Louis: Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 1986).

Frédéric Ozanam:

Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA:

Rosalie Rendu:

That Countercultural Virtue


In this meditation, Fr. Jack Melito, C.M., focuses on the virtue of Simplicity as understood and lived by Vincent de Paul.  Experiencing the God of the Universe while living a life of Simplicity reveals to the practitioner the efficacious nature of that virtue.  In whatever age, a life ordered by the virtue of Simplicity is a life readily identified as countercultural.

“Simplicity: A Countercultural Value” is a chapter from the book Windows on His Vision (pp. 146-147) available at:

It is also available as an ebook here:

Give Me the Simple Life


“Give Me the Simple Life” is a chapter in the book Saint Vincent de Paul: His Mind and His Manner (pp. 84-86) by Jack Melito, C.M., published in 2010 by the Vincentian Studies Institute at DePaul University in Chicago, IL.  Here Fr. Melito illustrates how Vincent de Paul urges us to live simply.  What does this mean?  How is it done? For Vincent the answers did not involve quantitative measures but qualitative ones which point to living as Jesus lived.  Even the great poet, Henry David Thoreau, though not ‘religious,’ stressed the importance of living simply.  Both the religious guide and the humanistic guru, then, counsel living simply and realizing, ultimately, its liberating openness to the inherent beauty of life itself.  Simple, deliberate living is a personal style.  There is no one-size-fits-all.  For Vincent, it was “the livery of Christ conceived in the Spirit of the poor.”

Happy Birthday, Vincent!

On April 24th, the DePaul community will celebrate the birthday of St. Vincent de Paul, for whom DePaul is named.  Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians) and, with St. Louise de Marillac, the Daughters of Charity. 

Above all,
I appreciate
what I have come to know of
as your “simplicity,”
that virtue which
you said you desired most.
I translate this quality
for myself
as integrity,
or consistency in character.
And, what makes me love
this quality
about you
is when I can imagine you
in your day
relating with,
and appreciating
all people just the same,
whether they were
the richest of the nobles,
the poor galley slaves,
or the most needy people
on the streets of Paris.

I respect the fact that
you did not seem
to try too hard
for the well-to-do
or for those who would bring you benefit,
nor too little
for the poor and the outcast.
To all
you spoke your truth
and brought your best intentions and care.
You were yourself, and
they were to you
all God’s children,
gifts unto themselves,
potential bearers of Providence.
And so, it became your mission,
to see the other side of the scarred coin,
and to become
a humble servant to all
who needed your care.
You did what you could do
and invited others
by name
to do the same.
You did not waste time
nor energy
on that which was illusory.
You took steady, forward steps
with what was given or revealed to you
and towards what was possible.

that virtue you admired most,
is the one I love most in you,
and the one I most desire in myself,
for I believe
(as I imagine you did as well)
that as we become more fully
who we truly are –
authentically, humbly –
the more often and more clearly
we reflect
and the more
we allow
the care that
our God
desires to bestow
on all people
to be born
in us.

Mark Laboe serves as DePaul’s Associate Vice President for University Ministry.  He wrote this poem in 2014 in honor of Vincent’s birthday and shares it again this week to commemorate Vincent’s upcoming birthday.


Interested in celebrating Vincent’s birthday with the DePaul community?  Join the Office of Mission and Values on Friday, April 24th at 2:30pm as they hold a celebration for St. Vincent’s birthday in Catholic Campus Ministry (Suite 104 of the Lincoln Park Student Center).