Both/And: Vincentian Personalism and Professionalism

The great genius and the challenge of the Vincentian way lies in simultaneously bringing together a keen attention and care for the dignity and uniqueness of each person, particularly those who are marginalized, with a zeal to do good well: that is, to improve systems that are ineffective and to innovate thoughtfully and creatively to best meet current needs. In the Vincentian tradition, the ongoing question—What must be done?—requires the integration of the affective and relational dimensions of our humanity with the effective, pragmatic, and systemic dimensions of the social challenges that we face. This both/and approach was at the source of Vincent’s transformative, generative, and long-lasting mission, which continues today through our work at DePaul University as well as in the work of those who serve in the larger Vincentian family.

When we reflect on the fruitful tension or balance between these two equally important characteristics of our Vincentian mission—whether these are seen as personalism and professionalism, affective and effective, interpersonal and systemic, or charity and justice—and the particular problems we face in our work or in broader society, we see how often one is favored or valued over the other. We may find, quite frankly, that it is much easier to sustain a driving focus on excellent performance and achievement at the expense of compassionate care and attention to the unique circumstances of each individual. On the other hand, it may be simpler to be permissive, flexible, and accommodating without regard for maintaining high standards of consistent quality and excellence. At a university like DePaul, the tendency to collapse the creative tension between these two characteristics in favor of one or the other may happen in the workplace, the classroom, the boardroom, or the playing field. Discerning the best approach in any given situation requires careful thought, a discerning heart, courageous patience, and the wisdom of experience, which is so often gained by drawing on the insight and support of others.

Maintaining an integral approach, bringing in both “sides” of this Vincentian way, is not easy. Perhaps this is why Vincent and Louise and those who followed them made a habit of regular meditation and prayer and lived and served within a community of belonging and accountability as they sought to fulfill the mission entrusted to them. When facing complex problems or social issues, there are no one-size-fits-all solutions or clear roadmaps that can steer us around the collective care needed to balance Vincentian personalism and professionalism. Vincent would tell us that “wisdom consists in following Providence step by step.”[1]

In what ways do you attend both to Vincentian personalism and professionalism at the same time in your individual and collective work at DePaul? What are the habits or strategies that you and your team have found to do so?                     

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


[1] Letter 270, To Bernard Codoing, Superior, in Rome, 6 August 1644, CCD, 2:521. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/27/.

 

Join us for these upcoming programs focused on bringing together Vincentian personalism and professionalism:

Vincentian Mission and Management: Walking the Talk   

Thursday, November 11th, 3:00 – 4:30 pm

Virtual Event

Register Here

Our cherished Vincentian mission at DePaul is made real in the daily actions implemented, decisions made and relationships formed by those who make up the university community – and that especially includes those who manage other people and play a distinct role in helping to establish and maintain the working environment and culture enabling all to flourish. This program is designed specifically for managers at DePaul to gather with other managers who regularly ask themselves how our Vincentian mission can inform and guide them in what they do and balance Vincentian personalism and professionalism. After some introductory comments and ideas shared by experienced managers and Mission Ambassadors, Darryl Arrington and Hiwote Tamrat, there will be an opportunity to raise questions and glean from the wisdom of those gathered. Based on interest, we will consider future ways to provide ongoing support to managers around the practice of mission integration in their daily work as managers at DePaul.

—–

Sustaining the Mission

November 16, 3:30 pm to 5:00 pm

Virtual event.

This virtual workshop from Mission and Ministry is focused on the practice of “mission integration,” that is, ways of applying DePaul’s Vincentian mission to one’s daily life and work at DePaul. Participants will be invited to reflect on how they might be agents or leaders for mission in their areas of responsibility and influence.

Registration: Sustaining the Mission Fall Quarter 2021

Seeds of the Mission: Tyneka Harris Coronado

Vincentian Personalism 

Coined at DePaul in the 1970s, the term Vincentian Personalism refers to the Vincentian family’s dedication to human dignity and holistic care. St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac approached their work with a person-first lens. They saw each person they encountered, whether rich or poor, as God’s beloved creation. This was evident in their commitment to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those on the margins.  

Vie Thorgren, a Vincentian leader in Denver, Colorado, says, “There is no such thing in the Vincentian family as someone who does not belong.” To Vincent and Louise, nobody was invisible. They recognized the worth and gifts in each person they encountered and sought to create a sense of belonging for those who were often forgotten or excluded from the narrative.  

In this sense, we strive to foster a sense of belonging at DePaul. We hope that every student, staff, and faculty member who is part of the DePaul community feels seen for their whole personhood. A DePaul education goes beyond intellectual development and seeks to cultivate holistic growth. We hope that each student who graduates from DePaul understands their larger sense of purpose in the world beyond their resume, degree, or job title. We are spiritual as well as academic, personal as well as professional. 

Servant Leadership 

In 1977, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.(1) This book invited readers to turn their understanding of leadership on its head and imagine an effective leader as someone who approaches their work with humility and selflessness rather than emphasizing power. Greenleaf’s research articulated foundational qualities of leadership similar to those with which Vincent approached his work. Some of these qualities include the following questions: 

  • Do those served grow as persons?  
  • Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?  
  • What is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, not be further deprived?(2) 

Servant leadership is rooted in active listening. For the Vincentian family, this means building relationships with a community, hearing their stories, and understanding their needs before taking action. As Vincentians, we do not seek to “fix” but rather to be in solidarity. This requires asking the questions, “What do you need? How can I be of service?” before taking action. It is a way of rejecting the false sense of savior-ism and seeking instead mutual, meaningful relationships. 

In the article, “Servant Leadership in the Manner of St. Vincent de Paul,” J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., writes, “Vincent came to servant leadership through prayer and scripture. He was inspired, for instance, by the passage from Luke: Earthly kings lord it over their people. Those who exercise authority over them are called their benefactors. Yet it cannot be that way with you. Let the greater among you be as the junior, the leader as servant.”(3) 

Servant Leadership seeks to dismantle inequitable power structures and place people on even ground. Murphy goes on to write, “Vincent turned the church upside down (we truly can think of it as an inverted pyramid) to put the poor on top with the rest of (society) in service and support.”(4) We see this lived out in the structure of the Daughters of Charity. Instead of being called Superior Generals, as many leaders are called in Catholic faith communities, the Daughters refer to their community leaders as Sister Servants.  

Servant Leadership is inseparable from Vincentian Personalism; both are bound up in the way Vincentians see and treat people. A Vincentian leader is concerned not with authority but with the wellbeing and dignity of those in their care. 

——————————————————————— 

1) Robert K. GreenleafServant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), 335 pp. 

2) J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., “Servant Leadership in the Manner of Saint Vincent de Paul,” Vincentian Heritage 19:1 (1998), p. 122. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol19/iss1/7/  

3) Ibid., 123. 

4) Ibid., 124. 

The Soul of Good Leadership

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

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

Practicing Charity on the Way to Justice

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

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

Two sides of one Vincentian Mission coin: Personalism and Professionalism

 

To any member of the Vincentian Family, the question “What must be done?” is a familiar one.  Vincent cautioned us by advising that whatever it is, it must be done well.  Yet, this begs the question: What does doing it well mean?

Here, Ed Udovic, C.M., explores the mutually indispensable aspects of Vincentian Personalism and Vincentian Professionalism that continue to guide us in our mission to increase the measure of charity and justice in our world “well.”

Vincent de Paul as Mentor

 

When leading the Congregation or advising individual members, Vincent de Paul acted from spiritual principles as well as an understanding of psychology. He believed that everyone should follow God’s will by loving others and helping them to imitate Christ’s example of charity. By doing this, each served as a mentor to one another. He guided from both a paternal and fraternal perspective. While discipline and judgment were sometimes necessary, he more often dispensed advice and wisdom. Humility, empathy, gentle persuasion, suggestion, affirmation, and flexibility were the cornerstones of his leadership.

“Vincent de Paul as Mentor” is an article published in the Vincent Heritage JournalVolume 27, Issue 2, Article 1 (2008) which is available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol27/iss2/1/