“Let’s take renewed resolutions to acquire this spirit, which is our spirit; for the spirit of the mission is a spirit of simplicity, humility, gentleness, mortification, and zeal. Do we have it or don’t we?”
In 1659, Vincent invited his community to reflect upon the distinguishing characteristics, core values, and commitments of the Vincentian mission and to recommit to the essence of its spirit. Vincent understood the importance of reflecting on our actions to inform our understanding of the present, as well as to better craft the evolving future.
The seeds of DePaul’s mission were planted in seventeenth-century France and our heritage begins there. Yet, to paraphrase Vincent, even in these early days he challenged his community to discern “do we have the Vincentian Spirit or don’t we?”
Today, centuries later, each of us is invited to reflect upon similar questions. In what ways is the Vincentian Spirit manifest in our work and community? Where is it lacking? How are we interpreting the spirit of the mission for the reality of DePaul University’s present and the reality of its tomorrow?
In 2020-2021, for the first time in 35 years, DePaul engaged 600 community members in a ten-month-long participatory process to reflect upon who we are and whom we dream of becoming. Our updated mission statement is the result of this inclusive and communal process. Drawing on the same spirit as Vincent, it expresses the university’s current reality, reflects our shared values, and articulates our evolving hopes and common dreams.
Over the next seven days, we invite you to participate in the annual St. Vincent de Paul Heritage Week. In attending one or more of an array of mission-focused events, you will have the opportunity to celebrate our Vincentian Heritage, reflect upon the mission in today’s context, and examine its dynamic, unfolding meaning at both a personal and professional level.
I recently realized that I need to move past my habitual cynicism if I am to contribute to positive and creative solutions in overcoming challenges—in my personal life, in my work life, and as a citizen of our city and world. I am learning that in a society in which emotions increasingly seem to drive behavior, exercising thoughtful agency and intentionality in how we live and respond, regardless of how we feel, can be a great spiritual challenge.
For example, can we choose to be enthusiastic and do so authentically, even when our emotions or life circumstances might weigh us down? And, if so, will it even make a positive difference? To a certain extent the answer is yes, in that our emotional state can often change simply with a shift in perspective. Life habits, like exercise, meditation, or friendship, can also do much to cultivate enthusiasm and gratitude for what is present and possible before us. Our communities also play a vital role in helping us to cultivate and sustain an enthusiastic hope and vision. Moreover, rather than cynicism, in terms of its generative impact enthusiasm certainly tends to be more inspiring and effective in persuading others toward positive action.
Dictionaries suggest enthusiasm involves enjoyment, interest, and an energy or zest for life. Our current day understanding of enthusiasm shares something in common with what Vincent de Paul, in his day, named “zeal.” Vincent said, “if love is a sun, zeal is its ray.” He seemed to see zeal as closely tied to courage and to an abiding trust in Providence, but also as something that one could acquire through lived experience and grace. Vincent once described zeal as the “soul of virtues.” Zeal, for Vincent, was more than mere sentiment; it seemed to involve channeling our own conscious will and giving ourselves over to a purpose beyond ourselves. For him, this larger purpose was what he called “the spirit of the Mission.”
How might we remain enthusiastic or cultivate the virtue of zeal in the face of today’s challenges, both personal and societal? As we witness the most recent destruction in Haiti, the horrific situation in Afghanistan, the pernicious gun violence in our city, the continued havoc caused by the pandemic and natural disasters like hurricanes, or the intractable systemic problems of racism, poverty, and war… and on and on… pain, sadness, and anger are perfectly understandable feelings to be experiencing. How do we get from there to enthusiasm or zeal, and why even bother?
One important reason to move towards enthusiasm is because change, whether at the personal, interpersonal, institutional, or societal level, requires it. If we are to move through and past painful emotions and work towards that which can transform, uplift, and create a new reality, we need the energy and vitality of enthusiasm. We need a certain hope and zest for life and for all that is still possible. At DePaul, as a Vincentian university, we must find a way to inspire one another to embody this “zeal.” It is our mission to prepare our graduates to become “agents of transformation throughout their lives” and to address “the great questions of our day, promoting peaceful, just, and equitable solutions to social and environmental challenges.” We should consider enthusiasm, or zeal, an essential Vincentian virtue for our times.
What are the habits that help you to cultivate enthusiasm or a zeal for life?
How might you help to foster an enthusiasm for the “spirit of the Mission” in your own area of work, or in your circles of influence at DePaul
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate Vice President, Division of Mission and Ministry
What Must Be Done to Confront Global Homelessness? Wednesday, September 22 (11:30 am – 12:45 pm) Student Center 120 A & B
Launching St. Vincent de Paul Heritage Week, faculty, staff, and students are invited to attend a special luncheon on September 22 discussing the questions: “What must be done to confront global homelessness?” How can we better see the problem and advocate for justice? What concrete steps can we take today as we seek a world where everyone has a stake in their community and a place to call home?
Following opening remarks by Fr. Memo Campuzano, C.M., the panel will feature leading experts from two Vincentian organizations at the forefront of the movement to engage with these questions—FamVin Homeless Alliance and Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness.
Mark McGreevy OBE, Group CEO Depaul International and Founder – Institute of Global Homelessness at DePaul University
Lydia Stazen, Director, Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness
Yasmine Cajuste, Project Development Manager for FamVin Homeless Alliance
A vibrant Q&A will follow the panel. We hope you can join us for this discussion in honor of St. Vincent’s Feast Day as part of the St. Vincent de Paul Heritage Week!
St. Vincent de Paul Prayer Breakfast
Vincent: A Man of Possibility and Hope Friday, September 24 (8:30 – 10:00 am) Student Center 120 A & B
The St. Vincent de Paul Prayer Breakfast invites DePaul colleagues, students and friends to pause and reflect on St. Vincent, the namesake of our university and his rich legacy as it is lived out today.
During his lifetime, St. Vincent endured great hardship, and found ways of not only enduring but also overcoming challenges by finding hope and embracing possibility. Even when things seemed insurmountable, he found the strength to move forward. How? What can we learn from his legacy? Is it possible to find moments of goodness, joy, and even gratitude in difficult times?
Come join us for breakfast with keynote speaker Darryl Arrington, Assistant Vice President of DePaul’s Center for Access and Attainment, who will help us explore such questions.
Breakfast will begin at 8:30 am, with the keynote to follow. We hope you can join us!
Vinny Fest Friday, September 24 (2pm – 4pm) Lincoln Park Quad & St. Vincent’s Circle
Students, join us for Vinny Fest 2021, a DePaul tradition to honor and celebrate St. Vincent de Paul’s legacy with fun, games, photos with Vincent, free food, and more! Vinny Fest features student organizations, offices, and departments as they host engaging activities to celebrate our mission in action as a DePaul community. Follow @mmatmdepaul on our socials to stay up to date.
Feast Day Mass Monday, September 27, 12:00 pm Lincoln Park & Loop Campuses
For those wishing to attend Mass celebrating St. Vincent de Paul’s Feast Day, services will be held in the Loop on the 11th floor gallery, and in Lincoln Park in the St. Louise de Marillac chapel.
Feast Day Lunch Monday, September 27, 12:45 pm Lincoln Park & Loop Campuses
Celebrate our namesake’s Feast Day with a celebratory lunch at 12:45 pm. Everyone is welcome!
–In the Loop, join us on the 11th floor terrace in the DePaul Center. RSVP here for the Loop lunch.
–For the lunch in Lincoln Park, no need to register, just come to Catholic Campus Ministry.
Remember, Monsieur that roses are not gathered except in the midst of thorns and that heroic acts of virtue are accomplished only in weakness.
The life experience of Xavier le Pichon, one of the world’s leading geophysicists, has convinced him that care for the weakest among us is what makes us truly human. In essence, le Pinchon maintains that weaknesses, imperfections, and faults are integral to facilitating the evolution of a system or a society. He says: “A system which is too perfect is too rigid because it does not see a need to evolve.”
We find ourselves at a moment in history when our day-to-day reality seems to be evolving by the nanosecond. When aren’t we in a state of flux these days? As we seek to outsmart the pandemic, barely a day goes by without a new advisory directing us to adopt a different behavior Today masks are mandatory, tomorrow, they are not. The day after, masks are highly recommended, then deemed unnecessary, until, of course, the sun comes up to illuminate the wisdom of yet another new day. Booster advisories, social distancing alerts, vaccination updates, the list continues. The ground on which we stand is forever changing at the pervasive ping of a phone or the tenacious twitter of a tweet. The “new normal,” if such a thing even exists, may be the simple reality that we have become a people adrift. The constant shifting of the terrain threatens our equilibrium and unsettles our very core.
During his life, Vincent de Paul weathered a long period of upheaval and turmoil. What seeds of wisdom might his life experience offer us?
Vincent’s approach, as we see reflected in his penned advisory, was to acknowledge that the existence of thorns is necessary for roses to flourish. The lifeblood of the two are interdependent, thus, both are needed for the rosebush to thrive. Yet, Vincent did not stop here. Similar to his countryman, le Pinchon, Vincent suggests that it is the very existence of weakness that creates the fertile ground in which “heroic acts of virtue” must occur. Perhaps, to frame this in more contemporary terms, experiences of weakness and fragility, as hard as they may be to navigate, offer us a unique invitation to demonstrate acts of compassion, love and justice. Indeed, they call us to right relationship and invite us to develop our own humanity.
Vincent developed this wisdom not through a naïve sentimentalized view of the world, but while living through the tumultuous period of the Thirty Years War, and the civil war known as the Fronde. He certainly knew what it was to battle uncertainty and endure upheaval. Moreover, through his experience of caring for those who were poor, he understood firsthand the colossal weight of human need and the complexity of social problems. Yet, in the midst of navigating such rocky terrain, Vincent came to believe that love is always inventive to infinity.
So, today, as we find ourselves barraged by ever-changing news advisories, I invite you to pause and recall a single moment, during the course of the pandemic, in which you felt most fully alive. What role did weakness play in this moment? What may the unsettled ground of today be trying to teach you as you address the questions of tomorrow?
Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Ph.D., Director, Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry
 Vincent de Paul, CCD 2:21-22. Written to Jacques Tholard, In Annecy, 1 February 1640.
As a child growing up in London, before I would head out to school, my mother would often seek to entice us to finish up our breakfast by saying, “Eat up all of your breakfast before you leave. You’ll need energy for the day. It’s like a car; if you don’t give it petrol it can’t run.” Her words still give me pause for reflection these many years.
Where do we find sustenance for life?
In our time the importance of self-care is frequently emphasized. It makes sense. If you don’t take care of your body, mind, and spirit, how can they take care of you?
During their time, in their own way, both Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac embraced such seeds of wisdom. Because their ministry could certainly take a toll and came at a personal cost, these longtime, caring friends sometimes challenged each other and their communities to take a step back to replenish dwindling reserves. Indeed, as Vincent himself knew, “[I]t’s impossible for us to produce good results if we’re like dry land that yields only thistles.”1 After all, “no one can give what he [or she] does not have.”2
How will you replenish your reservoir this summer? As we combat a global pandemic, this question seems all the more poignant now in light of what has been, and continues to be, one of the most challenging periods in living history.
How are you being invited to nurture your mind, body, and spirit? And how will you recharge the spirit within yourself that invites all to flourish? The invitation awaits. How will you respond?
When you see a butterfly fluttering its wings, what comes to mind? For some, possibly the complete metamorphosis from eggs to caterpillar to chrysalis to adult; others might imagine grace and beauty. In the richness of its diverse expressions, nature provides many images of transition and change like the dynamic life of a butterfly. For example, the genus Morpho butterfly includes 29 species and 150 sub-species. Living harmoniously, the size, color, and wingspan of each manifests its unique beauty amid natural diversity. The life and behavior of butterflies teach many lessons if we take time to observe them. Ponder the possibilities.
The royal blue color and dazzling iridescent wings of Morpho butterflies reminds me of the Blue Demons of DePaul University wherein true blue signifies respect, loyalty, and search for truth. As nature is enriched by its diverse expressions, diversity enriches our academic community. When embraced and celebrated, diversity inspires transformation, which butterflies symbolize.
The fleeting, flickering presence of butterflies reveals not only delicate designs but also fragility. Their ongoing fight for survival challenges us to sustain their existence in our world. Created to flourish, human life is also fragile. Human and natural diversity challenges us to live, work, and play together harmoniously—to care for one another, to tend our common home, and to nurture the earth community. Personalism makes that possible.
As a diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community Vincentian personalism enables us to uphold the dignity of everyone. Respect for each person is foundational. Vincent de Paul taught, “Respect is an expression of the esteem you have for the person you respect…Respect has its source in the understanding because it comes from the knowledge of a person’s worth.”1
We honor one another as Blue Demons and show our Vincentian spirit when we wear DePaul blue on Thursdays or at events. Like the Morpho butterfly with its royal blue robe and fluttering wings, Blue Demons wear blue with pride as their DePaul robe of distinction. Vincent de Paul encouraged his collaborators to “Strive always to have the robe of charity” because that signified love of God and love of neighbor.2 Actions, attitudes, and attentiveness to others express our Vincentian values—the spirit of DePaul.
Just as a caterpillar undergoes change and transformation before spreading its wings as a butterfly, what new attitudes, or behaviors must I develop to appreciate and respect others who do not believe or look like me?
In what ways can I participate in cultural transformation for greater equity and justice for the DePaul community? For the global city of Chicago? For the neighborhood where I live?
“Pray as you can, not as you can’t,” said my professor as we students felt torn between different methods, none of which seemed to fit.
“I’ll pray for you and your girls,” I told my friend last week after she was hospitalized with four aneurisms.
“Thoughts and prayers are not enough!” say countless people after preventable tragedies happen and those tweeted words just seem so hollow.
Is prayer not enough? Is there a right way to do it?
I don’t think there is a best way to pray, but in an article on the subject Fr. Robert Maloney, C.M., writes in a clear and practical way about Vincent de Paul’s wisdom on prayer.1 It is very much worth a read, and two things particularly struck me when recently reviewing it.
The first is Maloney’s reminder that “Few things were as important as prayer in St. Vincent’s mind.” Vincent’s Common Rule called for an hour of mental prayer each day, and he spent considerable time giving practical guidance to his contemporaries about praying, much of which is still very timely.
The second point speaks both to those who call themselves Vincentian but don’t have a prayer practice or theistic framework, and to those who pray to connect to God. Four centuries ago, Vincent asserted that (in my interpretation) thoughts and prayers are essential, but indeed are not enough. Maloney relates, “He [Vincent] warns over and over again about regarding prayer as a speculative study. He cautions about its becoming an occasion for vanity or for ‘beautiful thoughts’ that lead nowhere.”
In an article on Vincent and prayer, Vinicius Teixeira Ribeiro, C.M., relates how Vincent cautioned his confreres: “it doesn’t suffice to have good affections, we must go further and be motivated to take resolutions to work seriously in the future.…”2 Ribeiro writes how prayer must be grounded in reality to create “prayerful, thinking and active people.” For Vincent, action was modeled on Jesus as known through the scriptures—serving the poor, leading with humility, working for God’s justice, and acting within a community of others.
I believe that in many ways, as Søren Kierkegaard said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” Yes, I pray for others. I pray for my friend in the hospital and for those suffering from Covid in India. I do think prayer matters and that prayers are “effective” in some real way, though I don’t know exactly how. But these days, I’ve been reflecting on prayer as a channel to change me: to strengthen me to do the things I need to do for justice, pay attention to the world as it really is, and to pause for inner wisdom to ensure that the actions I take are the right ones to the best of my understanding.
“Pray as you can, not as you can’t.” For those who feel called to do so—pray!
And, as we approach the National Day of Prayer on May 6th, know that millions of others across many religious and spiritual traditions are praying with you, and dare I hope, preparing themselves through prayer and thoughtful reflection to also take the right action.
1 Robert P. Maloney, C.M., “Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today – Some Reflections on the Vincentian Tradition,” Vincentiana 39:2 (1995), available online at: Mental Prayer: Yesterday and Today.
– 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
“To leave God for God is not leaving God at all, that is, to leave one work of God to do another, either of greater obligation or of greater merit.”1
As we know, St. Vincent de Paul was a person of great faith who found strength in prayer and the belief that an unfaltering, loving God was active in our lives. So, it may seem a little odd to hear that Vincent once told the Daughters of Charity to leave God. What could Vincent have possibly meant by this?
To understand Vincent’s words, we need to appreciate the context of his theology and how he lived his faith. Vincent de Paul possessed a deeply incarnational faith, which manifested itself in very real and practical ways. In other words, because Vincent believed that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God, the act of serving one’s neighbor was a concrete expression of serving God. Therefore, this belief undergirded Vincent’s words when he told the Daughters that even if they were engaged in meditation, prayer, or spiritual reading, they were to stop whatever they were doing if a poor person sought help from them. As Vincent explained, such an act of service was not to leave God. Instead, it was to engage in a work of God that was of greater obligation or merit than their meditation and prayers. Thus, Vincent is seen to have valued concrete acts of service more than individual acts of piety.
Over the centuries, the seeds of Vincent’s pragmatism have taken root and flourished in myriad ways through the foundation of numerous social service organizations, groups, hospitals, and educational institutions. DePaul University is one of these fruits. Today, one of the signs that Vincentian pragmatism is alive and well is through DePaul’s collective embrace of Vincentian personalism. This practice calls us to serve our students and treat one another with compassion, empathy, and a high level of professionalism. And another sign is our ability to respond nimbly to current issues, as witnessed by our ongoing response to the pandemic.
We are living in a time that continues to be fraught with many challenges and obstacles. Yet amid our tumultuous present, how might an echo from our past still be heard, inviting us in new, innovative ways to answer Vincent’s pragmatic call?
1 Conference 30, The Rules, 30 May 1647, CCD, 9:252. See: CCD Vol. 9
Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Ph.D., Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry.
Many of us believe that now and again it is a good idea to ask, “why am I here?”
Why am I here…why am I here…? Such an innocent question. Such an infinite variety of existential responses. And, though we may never be fully satisfied with our answers, entertaining the question is worthwhile.
Right now, DePaul University finds itself asking institutionally “why are we here?” That question emanated throughout the Mission Statement dialogues undertaken around the university over the fall quarter. And, it continues to challenge us as we respond to the Covid public health crisis and wrestle with its corresponding economic circumstances. Addressing this question will take all the good will, wisdom, and participation DePaul can muster. Thankfully, we have DePaul’s nearly 125-year history to help illuminate our reason for being here today. Beyond that, we have the Vincentian tradition begun by Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their earliest colleagues. How might that heritage be helpful in shaping our answer to the question “why are we here?” Among many possibilities, one comes to mind.
In the spring of 1658, an elderly Vincent de Paul presented his only published work, “The Common Rules of the Congregation of the Mission,” to his community. It was meant to serve as a guide and instruction manual. Not by accident, Vincent chose to begin the first and last chapters of the Rules with the same biblical verse. Taken from the first verse of the Acts of the Apostles, it says Jesus began “to do and to teach.”1 Vincent chose this phrase as the inspiration and model for his missionaries.2 How wonderfully it captures the legacy of Vincent de Paul and how prophetically it names our purpose at DePaul University.
“To do and to teach” calls us to be active and public facing in order to benefit the common good. To do and to teach asks that we be intentional and reflective in learning from our experiences. As community members and collaborators, to do and to teach means giving and receiving respect, joy, and empowerment from one another. We are called to do virtuous work, aspire to the highest ideals, and to pay particular attention to those who are neglected or marginalized. Now and moving forward, to do and to teach means being anti-racist. It means caring for the earth. It means giving our students the most cost-effective, holistic education possible; one that prepares them to succeed. At the same time, it means providing our staff and faculty with a place that is equitable and inclusive; a community wherein they flourish.
Why are you here? To do and to teach! Such a simple question and response. Such transformative, empowering potential.
REFLECTION QUESTIONS: How would you answer the question: Why are you here? How would you answer the question: Why is DePaul University here? How does “to do and to teach” apply to you?
1 “It is worthy of note that both the first and last chapters of the Common Rules open with the same biblical reference, namely to the fact that Jesus ‘began to do and to teach.’” Warren Dicharry, C.M., “Saint Vincent and Sacred Scripture,” Vincentian Heritage 10:2 (1989), 139. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol10/iss2/2/
2 In the Common Rules, Vincent made clear that Jesus began by doing and then followed with teaching. Both pursuits were equally important, with the former shaping the latter, and emphasized the importance placed on experience, action, and incarnation. See Chapter 1, Common Rules: https://via.library.depaul.edu/cm_construles/3
You are invited to join us for Lunch with Vincent on Tuesday, March 2nd, from 12:00–1:00 pm. We will be joined by our colleagues from the Office of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care: Mat Charnay, Jewish Life Coordinator; Minister Jené Colvin, DePaul Christian Ministries; and Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain. Together they will share how each of their Abrahamic traditions empowers them to be anti-racist. Participants will be invited to reflect and share how their values, philosophies, or religions calls and sustains them to be anti-racist.