Almost exactly one year ago, I left Chicago for Iowa. I was planning to be gone for just a few days and never guessed my stay there would last a full 12 months. Feelings of isolation and despondency, familiar to many during this pandemic, had been growing in me since the spring of 2020. More and more, life was restricted to my cozy, lonely one-bedroom apartment. But, at my mother’s home in Iowa there was space, and I could work. I felt cared for, grounded, safe, and welcomed. Looking back, I knew then as I do today how fortunate I was to have that lifeline.
Now, one calendar year later, I have returned to Chicago and to my same cozy apartment. I am grateful for the support I received, humbled by the events the world has been through, and cautiously optimistic about the new school year. I have also re-learned something powerful: human beings need to feel safe, grounded, and cared for to flourish. We need community and we need to feel welcomed in the spaces that are our homes and workplaces.
I believe this life lesson is one that Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac knew well. In her voluminous correspondence we see that Louise was constantly encouraging her community members to live and work together in “great union and cordiality.” In an updated version of the original Constitutions written by Vincent for the Congregation of the Mission, Vincentians are called to live and work in communities “animated by love…supporting one another especially in difficulties.” Finally, DePaul University’s own Mission Statement reminds us that “Guided by an ethic of Vincentian personalism and professionalism, DePaul compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.”
What, then, should this key component of Vincentian spirit look like at DePaul during this most pressing moment in time? Together how can we help to make all members of our community—students, staff, and faculty—feel safe, grounded, and cared for so that we are all able to flourish? A few thoughts come to mind.
People’s health and well-being must continue to be our top priority. In all our endeavors we need to be flexible and responsive to this commitment. Vincent de Paul once said “love is inventive to infinity,” and the challenge to be lovingly creative in what we do is more necessary than ever. Also, we must work together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual support. This requires very deliberate listening, effective communication, and receptiveness to new ideas, especially by those in positions of authority over others. It must be practiced by teachers and students, supervisors and supervisees, leadership and community members. Finally, everyone—especially our students, but including our staff and faculty—must feel truly welcomed and secure, while provided with the necessary support and resources to flourish at DePaul.
The task ahead will not be easy; it is one thing to say these things but another to bring them to life. However, I reaffirm my faith in the talent and integrity of the DePaul community, and believe that our university mission and values will help us navigate whatever challenges lay in front of us. I am hopeful and prayerful that the great work we have committed to do will bring out the best in what we all give.
Questions for Reflection:
In your role at DePaul, how might you listen more intentionally, act more caringly, and lead more creatively to contribute to an environment where all may flourish?
What do you need in your life right now so that you may flourish?
This is a time of creativity and innovation. We are emerging from a global pandemic with new eyes to see. While acknowledging the privilege that Americans have access to vaccinations, we see the disparities and dysfunction of our nation and systems. We have a chance to change the way we operate in the world. Will we seize this opportunity? Will we use our creativity and innovation to make a difference?
We have seen incredible innovation and ingenuity in how we approach our struggling world. The adaptations we have made to meet our needs virtually have been amazing! I have been in awe of the graduation celebrations on campus and the creativity used to help our community celebrate the achievements of students. There have been so many unique ways we have connected and celebrated, mourned, and symbolically held one another during this trying year. Let us continue to dream big of what could be.
In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis says: “The world is always being made. Paul in his Letter to the Romans 8:22 says creation is groaning from birth pangs. God wants to bring forth the world with us, as partners, continually. He has invited us to join Him from the very beginning, in peaceful times and in times of crisis—at all times.”(1)
We are invited to be co-creators in the world. Just like, together with God, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac became co-creators by answering the call to be innovative, so must we. Our Vincentian charism invites us to create a just world. Louise and Vincent did that through responding to the cry of the poor. They created communities of people to do that very thing. We, too, are called to respond to the cry of the poor in new and creative ways while ensuring all are seen as valuable and needed.
So, I invite us to embody the Vincentian virtue of zeal. Zeal propels our creativity and innovation in the direction of change. Vincent describes zeal this way:
Zeal, consisting in a pure desire to become pleasing to God and helpful to our neighbor: zeal to spread the kingdom of God and zeal to procure the salvation of our neighbor. Is there anything in the world more perfect? If love of God is a fire, zeal is its flame; if love is a sun, zeal is its ray. Zeal is unconditional in the love of God.(2)
Let us dream over the summer. And, let our Vincentian zeal flow from a space of creativity and love for all people as we accompany one another on this journey of life.
How can I use my creativity and innovation to reach out to my community? What ways can I work towards a more just human community and world?
1) Prologue of Pope Francis, Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020).
2) 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250.
Reflection by: Amanda Thompson, Director, Catholic Campus Ministry, Division of Mission and Ministry
– On the 361st anniversary of Louise de Marillac’s death, 15 March 1660 –
God, who created “every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it… saw that it was good.”(1) Our Creator also sowed seeds of the mission in the hearts of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their associates.(2) Those seeds of hope developed into the Vincentian Family which fulfils the Vincentian mission around the globe. In their conferences and writings, Vincent and Louise frequently referred to grains and seeds, particularly the mustard seed. Most religious traditions embody “seeds of the Word.”(3) In seventeenth-century France, Christians understood the allegorical use of the mustard seed as the “word of God” in the Parable of The Sower in Sacred Scripture.(4)
Raised in the rural marshlands of the Landes district of Gascony, not far from the Pyrenees, young Vincent de Paul learned to work the land and care for flocks of sheep. Before he left the farm at fifteen to attend school in Dax, Vincent probably helped his family plant hard-shell seeds of millet. When “cooked in a pot and poured into a dish,” this nutritious staple resembles fluffy mashed potatoes.(5) Memories of rural life remained vivid to Vincent, especially when he spoke from experience and referred to the “Good country folk…[who] sow their seed and then wait for God to bless their harvest.”(6)
After moving to Paris, Vincent shifted from an agrarian focus to priestly service. He realized that relationships and events are like seeds. Each contains covert energy. Through his relationship with the Gondi family, Vincent discovered a spiritual poverty among the peasants residing on the family estates. When learning of their situation, Mme. de Gondi asked “What must be done?” This good woman planted the first seed of the mission. Her query and Vincent’s zeal produced the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Priests and Brothers) in France in 1625. The first mission preached by Vincent at Folleville in 1617, “has always been considered as the seed for all the others to follow.”(7)
Months later at Châtillon, after visiting the home of a family where illness prevailed, Vincent grasped both their need of assistance and the full extent of material poverty. His awareness became a root for creativity and practicality to grow into action as organized charity.(8) At Vincent’s invitation, women of the town “joined forces to take their turn to assist the sick poor,” thus forming the first Confraternity of Charity. This seedling would develop branches, initially in Paris. Soon, pastors replicated this model throughout France.(9)
In 1623, another event in Paris embedded seeds of hope deep within a distressed wife and mother seeking interior peace. Louise de Marillac had an extraordinary experience of light (or lumière), which freed her from anxiety and doubts. Inner peace permeated the core of her being. Aware that she would “live in a small community” and “help her neighbor,” Louise “did not understand” how that would be possible since “there was to be much coming and going.”(10) As a widow several years later, Louise began to assist with Vincent de Paul’s charitable works. Recognizing her potential, in 1629 Vincent sent Louise to Montmirail as his deputy. This was the first of many supervisory visits to the Confraternities of Charity.
Marguerite Naseau, a woman from the countryside, learned that volunteers were caring for sick and impoverished people through the Confraternities of Charity in Paris. She heard Vincent preaching and shared her desire to render such charitable services.(11) Perceiving that this encounter held a seed of great value, Vincent sent Marguerite to Louise de Marillac, now his collaborator. Louise formed the women who desired to commit themselves to be servants of the sick poor, and Marguerite became the first Servant of the Sick Poor. Together, Marguerite, Louise, Vincent, and the first sisters planted the seeds of mission, which developed into the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1633. The Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu was the next foundation established in Paris in 1634.
As a Catholic priest and man of action, Vincent de Paul proclaimed the word of God like seeds sown in the hearts of his listeners awaiting their moment of grace.(12) For persons in need, Vincent was generous and practical. His benevolence included “money, food, clothing, medicine, tools, seed for sowing, and other necessities to sustain life.”(13) A master of dialogue and diplomacy, Vincent responded to the grace of the moment, believing that God speaks through events, encounters, persons, and sometimes grains of millet.(14)
Elizabeth Seton used the image of sowing “the little mustard seed” in reference to her own Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.(15) She reminded the women that “Every good work…we do is a grain of seed for eternal life.”(16) In a meditation comparing heaven to a mustard seed, Louise de Marillac wrote, “I am “well aware that this seed contains great strength within itself, both in its capacity to multiply and in the quality it gives to everything that is seasoned with it.”(17) Her deep desire was that the “seed may grow to its full perfection.”(18) Vincent would have certainly affirmed the important role of each person in collaborating to plant and nurture seeds of the mission to flourish.
Believe me, there is nothing like being faithful and persevering for the greater good once we have committed ourselves. May we be faithful to the mission of DePaul University in following the “way of wisdom.”(19) Let us be persons of integrity who honor the dignity and humanity of everyone, and let us embrace our responsibilities to one another and the common good. The result will be that we shall grow in virtue and God’s grace as the tiny grain of mustard seed grows into a large shrub over time.(20) I pray that the DePaul University community collaborates to transform society—to eliminate racism and eradicate oppression—so that mutual respect, justice, compassion, and peace may prevail for all people.
How familiar am I with the energy of seeds? Their potential? What seeds have I planted? Nurtured? Harvested?
How sensitive am I to inner prompts that invite me to reflect on and recognize the veiled wisdom in unplanned events and providential encounters?
What helps me realize that an event or comment contains a powerful seed of hope or truth? How do I acknowledge its presence? How willing am I to respond by taking practical action?
As a member of the DePaul University community, what seeds would I like to plant? Seeds of hope? Seeds of equity? Seeds of respect? How could I nurture the growth of more seeds of the mission?
View the Seeds of the Mission Campaign Postscript
1) Genesis 1:11-12.
2) Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vols. 1-3 (Vincentian Studies Institute, 1993), 2:31. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/abelly_english/4
3) Ad Gentes, §15. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html
4) Luke 8:11.
5) Cooked millet has a fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor. See Conference 13, Imitating the Virtues of Village Girls, 25 January 1643, CCD, 9:70. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/
6) Ibid., 73-4.
7) Abelly, Life, 1:61.
8) Conference 23, Maxims of Saint Vincent, “Order in the Service of Charity,” CCD, 12:383.
9) Document 1248, Foundation of the Charity in Châtlllon-Les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3.
10) A2, Light, in Louise Sullivan, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac (New York: New City Press, 1991), 1. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/
11) Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9: 194; Conference 12, The Virtues of Marguerite Naseau, [July 1642], CCD, 9:64-6.
12) Abelly, Life, 2:99.
13) Cf. Ibid., 1:204.
14) Letter 704, To Bernard Codoing, 16 March 1644, CCD, 2:499.
15) 7.117, Elizabeth Ann Seton to Antonio Filicchi, 16 September 1817, in Regina Bechtle, S.C., and Judith Metz, S.C., eds., Ellin M. Kelly, mss. ed., Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings, 3 vols. (New City Press: New York, 2000-2006), 2:508. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/seton_lcd/
16) 10.2, Red Leather Notebook, Maxims, Ibid., 3a:488.
17) A.37, “Heaven Compared to a Mustard Seed,” in Sullivan, Spiritual Writings, 803.
19) Proverbs 4:11.
20) Conference 162, Repetition of Prayer, 19 November 1656, CCD, 11:346.
Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry
The DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute in the Division of Mission & Ministry is pleased to announce the online publication of four volumes of additional Vincent de Paul texts. These supplement the fourteen volumes of Correspondence, Conferences, and Documents of Saint Vincent de Paul, published in French a century ago by Pierre Coste, C.M. The translator and editor of these new works is John E. Rybolt, C.M.
These fully searchable, free to download pdf e-Books offer more than 650 additional texts compiled by Fr. Rybolt since the final translated volume of Coste’s collection of Vincent’s writings was published in 2014. They represent over 4,000 pages of letters, conferences, and documents which are largely unknown, at least in translation. Gathered over several years thanks to the contributions of many scholars, they appear here in their original languages of French, Latin, and Italian, followed by an English translation.
The four new volumes comprise one each of correspondence and conferences, and two volumes of documents. The Vincentian Studies Institute presents them as an open-ended collection, allowing for additional texts to be added as they come to light, as well as corrections and updates. Finally, it is anticipated that translations of these new materials will become available in other languages and thus further facilitate their use throughout the worldwide Vincentian Family.
We are making these new texts available to download for free on Via Sapientiae, the institutional repository of DePaul University. This repository hosts a wide variety of the V.S.I.’s publications and collected works and is utilized by thousands of scholars and interested readers worldwide each year. Click through to access each new volume of the collection:
“Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s will; let that be your lesson.” 205, Indifference, 16 May 1659, CCD, 12:197.
How long does it take for people to really learn something? To gain not just knowledge, but true wisdom? Does it happen in an instant? Or, does it require a lifetime?
How about six weeks? That’s the length of time it’s been since DePaul University closed its campuses in response to the coronavirus, and since our governor ordered everyone to stay at home for everything except essential activities. We have all been challenged by this global pandemic that threatens our health, forces us to stay socially distant, and upends so many of our daily routines. Have these circumstances taught us anything? Are there lessons to be learned from the many feelings—whether anxiety or boredom, loneliness, frustration, fear, or gratitude—we may have experienced at any given moment during this past month-and-a-half?
Vincent de Paul, no stranger to adversity and challenge, once told a group of his followers: “Go, learn how to free yourself and to be open to God’s will; let that be your lesson.” (CCD, 12:197)
Now is a good time to pause and heed Vincent’s counsel. Just for a moment, take a step back, free your mind, and ask “what lessons have emerged for me as a result of this trial? What truth am I being called to recognize?” If you listen to yourself, the answers to these questions will arise from within. And, they’ll be worth remembering long after this crisis passes.
We want to learn from you. If you are willing, please share the wisdom you may have gained in your experience of the coronavirus pandemic. Mission and Ministry will compile the responses we receive and share them with our university community. Thank you.
Reflection by: Tom Judge, Chaplain for Faculty/Staff Engagement, Mission and Ministry
Connection Café: What’s in your COVID Journal?
Join us to share the wisdom you have gained and to listen and learn from others.
Wednesday, 4/29, 3:30-4:15 pm
For DePaul’s faculty/staff writers, poets, prayers, and thinkers of any level. What are you reflecting on, learning, and discovering while hunkering down and adapting your routines and lifestyle? Join us to hear the thoughts of your colleagues, and to share some of your own insights on what you may have discovered during this time. To register:
Part of our work with the Interfaith Scholars is to make moves to draw people closer together through our different faiths. Our purpose is to transcend differences and better understand one another and the role that our faith plays in our day to day lives. One of the ways that the scholars do this is by creating what we call Vincentian Moments. These moments take an aspect of each faith tradition and draw a comparison to an aspect of St. Vincent Depaul’s teachings.
The first installment comes from Scholar Thano Prokos who decided to on his own background in the Greek Orthodox Faith.
St. Vincent says,
“Our Lord humbles in order to raise up, and allows the suffering of interior and exterior afflictions in order to bring about peace. He often desires some things more than we do, but wants us to merit the grace of accomplishing them by several practices of virtue and to beg for this with many prayers.”
In “Taking the More Excellent Way,” Fr. Anthony Hughes talks about the story of St. Mary of Egypt and uses it to explain on how we make use of personal suffering. He argues that our trials and suffering are the things that make us grow and we become beautiful human beings.
St. Vincent stresses the same idea, that when we are humbled in our lives it’s our duty to rise back up. What both men are saying, is that the hardships we face are not necessarily what we should focus on. We shouldn’t be consumed by our grief. Rather, it’s important to focus on what the next step is. How do we respond to tragedy? Both men encourage a detachment from the experience of grief and a focus on the divine through prayer.
Vincent asks us to say our own personal prayers to God with the hope that our prayer focuses our attention on what is good and how we can strive to be better. Fr. Anthony asks us to pray for others, particularly those who hurt us. The goal of this practice is less “divine intervention” but more to remind us that those who hurt us are every bit as human as we are. It changes our perception of them from the evil other into someone that we can be compassionate towards in the hopes that in the future, we can demonstrate our growth by meeting hostility with love.
Thanks to DePaul University’s college of Computing and Digital Media (CDM), there is a readily accessible archive of Vincentian images. This has grown since its beginning in 2008 to have the largest collection of these images. We began with St. Vincent images, and then added St. Louise de Marillac, various Vincentian persons (mainly members of the Congregation of the Mission, including portraits of bishops and their coats of arms), and Vincentian places. Under the heading of Louise de Marillac are images pertaining to the Daughters of Charity.
These images can be downloaded freely. When it is not clear whether the images are copyrighted, I attempt to note that ambiguity in the description of the images.
I am always grateful for new images that I receive. Most recently, I was given a large collection of Vincentian images produced in Poland and most of these have been added to the image archive. The total is now more than 10,000, of which some 5400 are of St. Vincent. There have to be many more that are not recorded, and for this reason I am constantly searching for new ones. I have a dedicated e-mail address for these contributions: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A continuing source of new images is Fr. Edward Udovic, who is developing an extensive collection of Vincentian holy cards at DePaul University. They now number well more than 500 just of St. Vincent. Their range and variety are amazing.
Two recent additions to the image archive are worth noting. The first is an icon print of St. Vincent with the child Jesus holding on to the cross. This is the work of a Santa Fe, New Mexico, artist, Tomas Urrea, done in 2008. Fr. Robert Maloney kindly sent in a copy. The work is carefully done, but sentimental. In keeping with iconographic practices, the saint’s name appears in Greek: ho hagios Vintsensios ho Paulo; and the name of Jesus appears in its traditionally abbreviated form, IC XC (I[esu]s CH[risto]s). I don’t know where the original is.
The second is a photograph of a tomb sculpture of a Daughter of Charity ministering to a sick woman. It has been identified as coming from Costa Rica, but its exact location is unknown, as is the sculptor. It is beautifully carved out of white marble and has apparently not suffered from its outdoors location.
Any help in gathering new images will be appreciated. They don’t have to be beautiful. The interest here is to illustrate the vast amount of Vincentian iconography. Also welcome will be corrections or updates on images, along with suggestions for a better presentation.