Over its 400-year history, the Vincentian Family has been no stranger to uncertain times. When Saint Vincent’s confrères—scattered, hiding, and hunted in Revolutionary France—faced the loss of their fellow priests, ministries, and motherhouse of Saint-Lazare, they leaned into uncertain and dangerous times, trusting in one another and in the Spirit. Today, we at DePaul University face uncertain times. The summer brought record heat, drought, wildfires, and rains across the globe. In the United States, as in many other parts of the world, economic disparities have left billions of people locked within dehumanizing poverty. The emergence of Artificial Intelligence portends seismic changes in higher education, numerous industries, and most aspects of our personal lives. What must be done?
As we move forward with Designing DePaul, we have an opportunity to help shape the future during uncertain times by responding to Pope Francis’ call in Laudate Deum “… to accompany this pilgrimage of reconciliation with the world.”
Our Vincentian Family is called to respond to these and other challenges with vision and a commitment to equity, sustainability, and nonviolence. And we at DePaul University are uniquely situated to respond. We are rooted in the global city of Chicago. Our faculty, students, and staff represent countries and cultures from across the globe. Our alumni and community partners, situated in places near and far, are engaged in perhaps every conceivable industry. We are a global community, gathered for the sake of the mission, alive in this moment of history to respond to the signs of the times.
As you move through today’s uncertainty, consider how your experiences and gifts can help to shape a more hopeful future. What personal commitments can you implement in your daily life? What institutional changes will you advocate for alongside colleagues? What societal shifts can DePaul University contribute to in solidarity with our global community?
Reflection by: Rubén Álvarez Silva, M.Ed. (He, Him, His), Director for Just DePaul, Division of Mission and Ministry
Near the top of the list for the most frequently referenced quotes from Vincent de Paul is: “It is not enough to do good, it must be done well ….” Today, we take this quote at face value to mean that merely seeking to “do good” is not enough; rather, we must also make sure that we are doing it at the highest level of quality and in a way that is effective and sustainable. Often, we tie this particular quote to the notion of Vincentian professionalism, and the need to work toward continuous improvement in the services we deliver and the way we function together as a community.
The quote itself comes from a conference that Vincent gave to the Congregation of the Mission in 1657. Besides referring to the example and spirit of Jesus, as Vincent often does, he speaks of attending to the quality of who we are and what we do. He points out the ripple effect of our actions, both in the present and for the future, recognizing that what we do in the present impacts life for many who follow us far into the future. In this case, then, Vincent’s focus on the quality of what we do encourages us to build the future on a solid foundation so that those who follow will benefit from the good work we do today. As Vincent says, “The good they’ll do depends in a certain sense on the good we practice!”
The COVID pandemic certainly accelerated changes in the delivery of higher education and in the workplace here at DePaul and globally. While DePaul’s mission has not changed, our current context challenges us to be more intentional about the way we work and teach to provide the highest quality education and service to students, as well as to remain a vibrant workplace and a flourishing community. How can our mission continue to serve to guide these changes in the face of this changing reality to maintain the highest quality in all we do?
When we speak of our Vincentian mission, we are occasionally speaking simultaneously at several different levels. At any given point, our focus may be the why, the what, the how, or the who of our mission. Sometimes, the subtle difference between these dimensions can cause confusion or make it challenging to reach decisions or take actions that all understand to be “grounded in mission,” regardless of their place in the university community.
A robust understanding of our mission involves attention to all four dimensions. Each plays an important role in solidifying a foundation for both present and future success. We stay connected to the deeper purpose behind what we do (the why). We clarify through a mission lens what we are called to do (or not do). We perform our duties and actions with the spirit of personalism, generosity, and service that we understand as central to the how of our mission. We do so in the context of an actively and intentionally inclusive and welcoming community (the who), one that invites ongoing mindfulness, learning, and growth and that always asks, “Who is being left out?”; “Whose voice is not being heard?”; or “Who does not have access?”
Through all the changes we have faced and will continue to face in the days ahead, the quality of what we do remains fundamental to the success of our Vincentian mission. As mission guides our decisions and actions, we seek at the same time for our shared work to be effective and sustainable. At DePaul, our mission and quality are not at odds with one another; instead, they are intricately connected and necessarily rise and fall together.
How might our desire to do what we do well while staying connected to our mission continue to shape the decisions we make about the education we deliver; our daily work life; and our communal practices, norms, and policies?
How do each of the different dimensions of our mission (why, what, how, and who) offer different insights into what “doing all we do with the highest quality” requires?
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Mission and Ministry
Our Biannual Journal is Free and Ready for Download
The year 2020 began an unprecedented era as we faced three intermingled crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, the scourge of systemic racism brought further to light by the murder of George Floyd, and a presidential campaign that highly divided our country. These were frightening, strange times, full of sound and fury yet juxtaposed by a silent, deserted campus. How did these crises change us? How did they impact our work and our relationships? How did we respond as a Vincentian higher learning community? And, given what we’ve experienced, how do we now move forward?
To answer these questions the DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute called out to our university community for materials responding to 2020. As a result, we are pleased to announce the publication of our newest peer-reviewed e-book edition of Vincentian Heritage, “2020 and Beyond: DePaul University’s Community Responds to Crises.” This special issue managed by Prof. Matthieu Brejon de Lavergnée, the Dennis Holtschneider Chair of Vincentian Studies at DePaul University, features an opening from A. Gabriel Esteban, PhD, DePaul University’s president, a theological reflection from Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., vice president of the Division of Mission and Ministry, and a wide variety of contributions from prominent faculty, staff, and university affiliates. From articles, to photos, to poetry, to collections of student artwork, each of these fourteen works is devoted to our Vincentian response to the crises that enveloped us in 2020, and that indeed continues to this day.
We offer this volume of Vincentian Heritage to our DePaul community in hopes that it helps us to better understand the myriad ways all of us have worked to face the challenges of this unprecedented time.
To download the complete book for iPad or PC, please click here.
Individual .pdfs for each article are also available for download here.
Featured in this edition:
“Introduction. 2020: DePaul University’s Community Responds to Crises,” Matthieu Brejon de Lavergnée, Ph.D.
“The Guiding Principles of Leading and Living Through a Pandemic,” A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D.
“A Vincentian Reading of the Pandemic: Hope Beyond All Reasonable Expectation,” Guillermo Campuzano, C.M.
“Creativity Can’t Be Canceled: DePaul Students Express Their Pandemic Experience Through Art,” Lin Batsheva Kahn
“Critical Perspectives on Our Current Moment: An Experiment in Teaching for 2020,” Jane Eva Baxter, Ph.D., Sarah Brown, Jenicel Carmona, Val Carnes, Zoe Espinosa, Randall Honold, Ph.D., Cary Robbins, George Slad, Margaret Storey, Ph.D.
“Online Community Engagement Enhances Service Learning,” Dan Baron, Kaliah Liggons, MPA, David Pintor, Jonathan Handrup, LSW, and Rubén Álvarez Silva, M.Ed
“The Graces of 2020: Catholic Campus Ministry Students Seek Out Blessings Amid a Tumultuous Year,” Amanda Thompson, MDiv, & Dan Paul Borlik, C.M., DMin
“‘Learning Not to Despair of Our Own Age’: The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in This Time of Pandemic,” Timothy P. Williams
“The COVID-19 Pandemic and Homelessness: Depaul International Responds,” J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D.
“Mass Incarceration, COVID-19, and Race as Exposure to Early Death,” Traci Schlesinger, Ph.D.
“Pandemic, Poverty, and Power: Biosocial Ethics of Global Solidarity for Health,” Stan Chu Ilo, Ph.D.
“C-Void,” Amaris Casiano-Zoko
Opening Images Essay, Olga Rozenbaum, Stefania Cosentino
The DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our newest peer-reviewed e-book edition of Vincentian Heritage (Volume 36, Number 1).
Of note, this edition features articles on the lives of François Lallier and Emmanuel Bailly, co-founders with Frédéric Ozanam of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. It also includes a fascinating translation of the newly discovered “Rule for the Hospital of Nom de Jésus,” offering commentary on its historical context and on the caregiving provided there by the Daughters of Charity. Finally, the book concludes with a lavishly illustrated art and architectural study of the history of the Chapelle des Lazaristes, the Congregation of the Mission’s motherhouse church in Paris.
“François Lallier (1814–1886): ‘One of the Pillars of the Building Started’” by Raymond Sickinger, Ph.D.
“Emmanuel Bailly: The Advisor and Friend of Christian Youth” by Ralph Middlecamp.
“‘So that they may be able to live and die as good Christians’: The Early History of the Nom de Jésus Hospital in Catholic Reformation Paris” by Alison Forrestal, Ph.D.
“The Chapelle des Lazaristes and Reliquary Shrine of St. Vincent de Paul, 1850 to 1860: An Exposé of Competing Aesthetic Schemes & Their Resolutions in the Alliance des Arts” by Simone Zurawski, Ph.D.
“I received your letter yesterday; as always, it gave me fresh reasons for praising God. Still, it troubled me a little because, from what you tell me in your last letter, it seems to me you are suffering from something, although you did not state this clearly. Please share with me, Monsieur, your trials as well as your joys.”
Moses (Peace be upon Him) is one of the most important figures in all three Abrahamic traditions, and historically in American culture. The Qur’an devotes more time to the life of Moses than to any other person. In the Qur’anic telling, when Moses flees Egypt and the Pharaoh he arrives in Midian in a desperate situation. He hasn’t had anything to eat other than leaves, is physically drained and exhausted, and he remains deeply fearful that there are powerful forces seeking to capture and punish him. He is separated from all that was once dear and familiar. Moses comes across a large group of men watering their animals at a well, but his attention is drawn to two women who are said to be holding back theirs. Moses approaches them and asks “what is the matter?” After they explain that their father is old and can’t come to the well, and that the men will not let them water their animals, Moses assists them and waters their animals himself. Moses then leaves to rest and pray to God, but this is the beginning of an unexpected blessing that will radically shift the course of his future.
Many of us have experienced, especially in times of loss, anxiety, or other suffering, the blessing of having someone listen to our story or to our feelings. In some cases they may be able to assist us in material ways. At other times, perhaps they can only accompany us in our grief or hardship. Either way, it often feels that sharing our burdens lessens them. This is what profoundly struck me in the excerpt above: “Please share with me Monsieur, your trials as well as your joys.” As Marilynne Robinson says in Gilead, “There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that.” When we are able through words or actions, let those close to us know that they can share with us what is normally kept under the surface, their trials as well as their joys. This can be a powerful step towards creating real community. We strive to make DePaul more than just a workplace. We strive to create a community joined together for the sake of mission. Let us ask ourselves how we can be open to those around us, whether it be students we serve, those we supervise, or the fellow employees we encounter and work alongside.
There are many ways people respond to the brokenness of our world. One of the most memorable characters in literature is found in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House. Mrs. Jellyby fills her every moment with “work” towards an idealistic project in Africa, which she thinks will do enormous social good. Yet this project never comes to fruition. All the while she is ignoring the sufferings of those close to her, including her husband and her own children. In truly listening to the trials and joys of others, that which is under the surface, we begin to discern how we can best respond to those challenges that are within our sphere of influence. We see changes that can be made and realities that can be faced together.
For Reflection: Is there someone in your life with whom you can truly share your trials as well as your joys? Are there people for whom you provide that deep listening? What are some of the reasons we may be reluctant to share with others, or open ourselves to others sharing with us? How can we overcome these barriers to deeper community?
Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Muslim Chaplain and Assistant Director of Religious Diversity and Pastoral Care, Division of Mission and Ministry
 Letter 1823, To Charles Ozenne, Superior, In Warsaw, 1 January 1655, CCD, 5:255.
 Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. As I remarked in a recent interfaith dialogue event about Moses, perhaps they could just as accurately (if not more so) be referred to as the three Mosaic faiths or traditions.
 Moses serves as one of the most popular superhero archetypes in popular culture and historically has been a touchstone for all Americans regardless of their political beliefs.
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
– 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
“Revitalizing our Identity at the beginning of the Fifth Century of the Congregation of the Mission” — Theme of the C.M. XLIII General Assembly 2022
Each year on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, we remember the beginning of the Congregation of the Mission (C.M.). According to St. Vincent de Paul, this happened in Folleville, France, on January 25, 1617, when he preached his “first sermon of the Mission.”(1) Many say that experience with a dying man transformed Vincent’s heart and imbued him with a desire to serve those in need.
This historical event is an important one for DePaul University, though it is not widely celebrated. The Congregation of the Mission (commonly called “Vincentians”) founded our university 123 years ago. DePaul’s history and identity are deeply linked to the values and convictions of the Congregation in the United States.
Originally, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission to provide direct service to all those living in poverty, especially “the most abandoned,”(2) and for the formation and education of Catholic clergy in need of reform. These original intentions have evolved with time, especially over the past 50 years.
Today the Congregation of the Mission works together with many other branches of the Vincentian Family. This wider family includes the Daughters of Charity and other orders of religious sisters, as well as lay members of the worldwide International Association of Charities, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They comprise an ever-growing network of people and organizations who provide direct spiritual and material service, advocacy, and the promotion of systemic change.
In many ways, the primary Vincentian mission along with its communal approach have not changed. To better respond to all kinds of needs Vincent summoned as many as he could, rich, poor, humble, and powerful, and used all means to inspire them to serve people living in poverty.(3) As a Catholic priest, Vincent privileged the image of Christ. Based on the Gospel of Luke, ‘the evangelizer of the poor’ [Luke 4, 16-22], he prompted all his collaborators to help the poor directly and indirectly as Jesus did.
The Congregation of the Mission, from the time of Vincent de Paul, and through his inspiration, recognizes itself as called by God to carry out the work of integrally serving the poor. Officially called “Congregatio Missionis,” they are also called “Vincentians” in Anglophone countries, “Paules” in Spain, “Missioners” in Slavic lands, and in Latin America they are known as “Vicentinos.” The unofficial motto of the Congregation: Evangelizare pauperibus misit me [He has sent me to evangelize the poor] sums up the works of Jesus the Congregation endeavors to follow.
While we celebrate the founding of the Congregation of the Mission in 1617, the official date of its institution is noted to be April 17, 1625. On that day, encouraged by Madame de Gondi, the lords of the Gondi family, in whose territories Vincent de Paul served as Chaplain, signed a contract with him in which they provided funding to support a group of priests to serve impoverished people in the countryside. This act gave needed economic sustainability to the project of the Congregation.
Vincent ultimately created the community he had dreamed of. By the day of his death, September 27, 1660, twenty-six Vincentian communities had been formed: nineteen in France, four in Italy, two in Barbary (Northern Africa), and one in Poland. And, by the time of the French Revolution of 1789, when religious communities were suppressed in France, a great dissemination of the Congregation had taken place around the world, with missions in the Middle East, in Asia, and soon thereafter in the Americas. Especially significant were the Congregation’s missionary efforts in China. Today the Congregation has more than 3,000 members, priests, and brothers, serving in 81 countries. They continue to provide a wide array of services including education, spiritual and pastoral care, direct service to the poor, and socio-political advocacy, while remaining dedicated to systemic change and collaborations that will end poverty and homelessness.
As we know, one of their projects was DePaul University, founded in 1898 to serve the children of immigrants in Chicago who needed both access to education and a chance to escape poverty. Without Foundation Day, DePaul as we know it would not exist. That it does, and that we are now a part of more than two million Vincentian Family members worldwide, is certainly something worth celebrating on the 25th.
1) Conference 112, Repetition of Prayer, 25 January 1655, CCD, 11:162-164.
2) Conference 164, Love for the Poor, January 1657, CCD, 11:349.
Our patron saint, Vincent de Paul, often spoke of cultivating virtues. He believed virtues develop in us through regular and habitual actions. Vincent’s understanding corresponds to an often-quoted piece of popular wisdom that it is easier to walk your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of walking. Vincent clearly had a bias for action. It is not what you think but what you do that is ultimately the most meaningful and consequential.
In light of this, consider the virtue of gratitude. The regular practice of gratitude has been shown to improve physical health, empathy, self-esteem, sleep, psychological health, mental strength, and help you build social connections.1 Better yet, even if you are a person who struggles to feel or express gratitude easily and freely, it is a habit that can be learned and cultivated with practice at any age.
Cultivating gratitude requires the humility to acknowledge that many of the gifts and opportunities in our lives have come to us through others: those who currently grace our lives, as well those who came before us. It may be true that we have worked extremely hard and overcome a lot to get where we are. We can certainly feel proud of our accomplishments. Yet, such pride is not gratitude. We discover and develop gratitude when we humbly recognize the blessings in our lives that make clear our dependence or interdependence on others, or on a divine source beyond us all. Perhaps such gratitude is found when experiencing the natural beauty of the earth, the wonder of the sun and the stars, the generosity of others, or the beautiful uniqueness of a newborn child. For such gifts, we stand in awe and gratitude.
However, this recognition is only part of the process. Taking time to savor our experience of gratitude lights up the brain and warms the heart with positive physical and psychological effects. The full benefit only comes when we communicate our gratitude to those who made these gifts possible. Whether doing so verbally, in writing, or in physical acts of expressing thanks to others, the full power and positive impact of gratitude is realized.
From his religious worldview, Vincent de Paul understood that God is the giver of all gifts, which flow abundantly from a generous love and goodness, and a self-gift made known in the person of Jesus. Vincent expressed the desire “that God may give us the spirit of profound gratitude for so many benefits bestowed on us.…”2
As we approach this Thanksgiving season, may we be filled with gratitude for the gifts we have received, so that we, too, might become a gift for others.
Take a moment to ponder or hold in your heart one person or one recent experience for whom or for which you are especially grateful today. How does it feel to remember this gift? Is there anything about what you have received that can be passed on and shared with someone else? If so, do it today!
The Vincentian Studies Institute is extremely pleased to promote the publication of our colleague and fellow board member’s new work. Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée is a Professor of History and the Dennis H. Holtschneider Chair of Vincentian Studies at DePaul University.
“The Daughters of Charity are today the largest community of Catholic women, with 15,000 sisters in about 100 countries. They devote their lives to serving the poorest in hospitals, schools, and care centers for homeless or migrants, as well as working to promote social justice. Until now, however, the history of the Daughters of Charity has been almost wholly neglected. The opening of their central archives, combined with access to many public and private archives, has finally allowed this to be remedied.
This volume, the fruit of several years’ work, covers the history of the Company from its foundation by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a confraternity of young women to the suppression of the order during the French Revolution. The study, at the juncture of women’s history and religious history, shows how much the Daughters of Charity contributed to the emergence of a new and ambiguous status in post-Tridentine society: neither cloistered nuns nor married women, but “seculars.” The Company has certainly offered a framework that enabled many resolute women to lead lives out of the ordinary, taking young peasant women to the royal court, intrepid hearts to Poland, and, more generally, generous souls to the “martyrdom of charity” among the poor and the ill.”