An Invitation With Your Name On It

DePaul staff at Nuevos Vecinos

It has long been a tradition at DePaul to hold service days during which students, faculty, and staff participate in community-based projects all over Chicago. Service is in the DNA of any Vincentian institution, and service days are just one small way in which we live out this commitment.

Every year the Division of Mission and Ministry dedicates a day for faculty and staff to engage in service projects identified by our community partners as a need or priority. On an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon in early February, approximately twenty-five faculty and staff visited four sites in the city to participate in projects as diverse as sorting clothes for newly arrived migrants, organizing emergency supplies in a food pantry, and accompanying those with special needs with their daily chores.

Having spent a few hours at the sites, the group then returned to campus to enjoy a nourishing Chartwells lunch followed by a meaningful conversation with peers, wherein we reflected on the activities of the day, the people we met, and the stories in which we had played a small part. In addition to some deeply poignant moments when we wrestled with existential questions regarding equity and the injustice in our city and our world, participants deepened old friendships and established new ones. Everyone seemed to revel in a moment of joyful appreciation to be part of an institution that prioritizes such engagement. As I scanned the reflection circle at the end of the day, I found myself thinking that Vincent would be very proud.

Afterwards, I thought the day was over as I made my way to the Fullerton El. But it wasn’t.

Upon arriving at the train platform, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a DePaul colleague who had participated in the service day. It was great to see her, and we used our ride together to talk about the activities of the day and to get to know one another on a deeper level. We found that we lived in the same neighborhood, and we had some friends in common. We were also getting off the train at the same stop.

Our journey north had already proved to be a lively one after a couple of surprising events that would not have been out of place in a dynamic novel. But then our train shunted to a slow halt at Wilson, and we stopped moving. After what seemed to be a short eternity, a message started scrolling in neon print on the digital announcement board. It stated that, due to a medical emergency, the train would remain at Wilson until EMTs could arrive. In that same instant, I noticed three CTA staff members huddling together around a passenger, who was sprawled out along the row of seats at the front of the car, seemingly unresponsive.

I found myself unsure of what to do next. However, without missing a beat, my DePaul colleague jumped to her feet and hurriedly approached the CTA staff. She said, “I’d like to help. I’m medically trained. I’d like to see him. I can help.” She crouched down so she could be on the same level as the man. Resolutely, she asked him, “Sir, are you ok? Can you hear me? Can you open your eyes? Don’t worry, we are going to take care of you. The ambulance is coming. You will be okay. I will stay with you.” After checking to see if he was still conscious, she gently touched his hand and stayed close to him the entire time while the emergency services were on their way. She was determined to let him know he wasn’t alone. When the ambulance whisked him away, he was still unresponsive.

Where this passenger went, we do not know. Who he was, we will never know either, but in that moment, the meaning of Vincentian personalism could not have been clearer. This man, who had been on the train for at least forty-five minutes and was seemingly unresponsive for most of that time, had been ignored by his co-passengers. When the ambulance arrived, his condition did not bode well. If someone had intervened earlier, his situation may not have been so dire. Yet my colleague had jumped into action. She had felt called to see how she might help him. It wasn’t the technicalities of her medical training that seemed to be the most important in that moment though. Rather, it was how she accompanied him with care and compassion in his hour of need. Getting down to his level, gently ministering to him with attention and love, and even holding his hand at one point, reminded me of the best of our Vincentian mission.

I had thought that our service ended when we left the service sites earlier that day. Yet watching my colleague respond to a stranger, perhaps in his moment of greatest need, with a kind word and small gestures that demonstrated that he wasn’t alone was perhaps the most profound demonstration of Vincentian personalism that I had witnessed the entire day. I was in awe, and I was reminded of the words of Saint Vincent that we had reflected on at the closing of our service day: “Let’s keep this lamp always lit in our hearts.”[1]

Every day, there are invitations in our life that ask us to focus on what really matters. Sometimes, this may involve reaching out to another in need and taking the risk to step outside our comfort zone and respond with an act of compassion. While we may never know how such an act may be received, if we listen deeply, we may find the courage to trust the truth of our actions and respond.

That day, I had the good fortune of being with someone who didn’t hesitate when she heard that call. I witnessed a small act of great love in that moment, demonstrated by a DePaul colleague whom I had just met.

I am thinking about that formative moment still, and today, I feel moved to share it with you and ask how you are being invited to demonstrate Vincentian personalism.

Reflection Questions

  1. Can you think of a moment when you felt called to respond to a stranger by an act of compassion? How and why did it stay with you?
  2. What act of compassion might you be invited to share at DePaul today that could lighten the load of a colleague? How will you respond?

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, PhD, Director of Faculty and Staff Engagement, Division of Mission and Ministry

[1] Conference 198, “Seeking the Kingdom of God (Common Rules, Chap. 2, Art. 2),” February 21, 1659, CCD, 12:116. Available online at https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/.

Putting People First

Have you ever had this question floating around in your mind during an encounter with another person:

How can I possibly prioritize the person in front of me, when … (you fill in the blank)

… I have so much to do and am already overwhelmed with many other things?

… I’m already late for my next appointment?

… I have a task to complete in meeting an imminent deadline?

… this encounter doesn’t feel as important to me as other things I feel I have to do?

Perhaps such a situation has occurred with a student, with a colleague, or with a person passing on the street. Maybe it’s during the workday on the way to or from a meeting, before or after a class … or maybe a similar situation will occur during an upcoming family holiday event!? I know that many times I have struggled with these types of situations. (And, as a theologian, I might add so were the priest and the Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan!)

Over and over in my life and work, I continue to re-learn that putting people first may require letting go of my compulsive drive to achieve more, to fast-forward past the present to some ideal future, or to follow some other metric of “success.”

There are many reasons why being present to the person before us can seem difficult or less important than some other tasks we feel must be completed urgently. This hypothetical example may seem quite trivial in relation to the many larger challenges we face. Yet, being present to the other, for the other, and with the other may be the most foundational building block of creating a workplace and a student experience where people feel recognized, valued, and joyful. This is Vincentian personalism in practice, and sometimes it can mess with our plans and timetables.

The way in which we are present to one another has a significant impact on the kind of community we are and thus to our institutional ethos. It impacts the felt experience people have within the DePaul community, whether they feel seen and cared for, and perhaps whether or not they thrive.

Vincent de Paul’s spirituality was what Catholic Christians speak of as “incarnational.” That is, he believed that faith is ultimately made evident in concrete action. Vincent spoke often of virtues, which are essentially the consistent embodiment of our aspirational values. He was skeptical of abstract ideals that did not find their way into lived practice. In fact, what he most revered in the person and life example of Jesus was that Jesus incarnated the presence and love of God. Vincent believed we are called to do the same. Furthermore, he suggested, Providence accompanies us in the process, helping us toward the realization of the mission entrusted to us.

As an institution bearing Vincent de Paul’s name, we are challenged to prioritize people. In our mission statement and in how we go about our life together, we strive to value and affirm the sacred dignity of all in concrete ways. Therefore, the encounters, actions, and decisions that unfold in our life, work, and study are inherently meaningful. Each is an opportunity to put what we most value into practice. Each is an opportunity put people at the center, especially those who may be impacted by our way of being together, our decisions, and our actions. Each can help us to remember that ultimately our work is contributing to a community and society that helps all people thrive.

We are not perfect. Sometimes we fall short. We’re not always ready for the situation. Sometimes our personal habits, practices, or leadership styles must be adapted to better make care for one another possible. Sometimes we lose sight of what’s most important. Or, it may be that some institutional policies, procedures, job descriptions, or goals need to be critically examined and adapted to better enable such care.

Whatever it may be, our Vincentian mission calls us to make the accompaniment and support of people the heart of what we do and how we do it.

Clearly, we will continue to earnestly strive for larger and very important goals, such as greater justice and equity in our society and world, the sustainability of our planet, an end to violence, and the alleviation of poverty. These remain our end goals and larger vision. Yet perhaps what we manage best along the way, amid our daily journey, is that next encounter with the person before us or that next action that may impact other human beings in our care. In these situations, and in your approach to your life and work at DePaul, how do you—how do we—put people first? As an educational institution, isn’t that what we are most about in the end?


Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP for Mission and Ministry

Vincentian Personalism and the Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Personalism … gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[1]

Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the most inspiring and influential figures of the twentieth century, not only in the United States, but throughout the world. As is the case with most if not all such heroic figures, any careful study of King’s life shows that while he was indeed a unique figure in some ways, he did not accomplish anything alone. His achievements were done in cooperation with countless other people, a few who are famous to us and many unknown to us. As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 16, we are not only honoring him as an individual but also those countless people and the principles for which they stood and sacrificed.

In reflecting upon the ideas and ideals that drove Dr. King and that he communicated to us in both words and deeds, it is compelling for us here at DePaul to note Dr. King’s connection to personalism. We at DePaul, especially in the context of our mission, speak often of Vincentian personalism as a driving force in both the “why” and the “how” of what we do. Personalism is not a term that we take directly from Vincent but one that we have found fitting to describe the core values he lived and, perhaps even more so, the values that the men and women who have served the organizations he founded lived out under his inspiration and guidance. As a philosophical or theological term, it has been used in different ways by many different thinkers starting in the nineteenth century.[2] There are deep connections between Kingian and Vincentian personalism.[3]

As my opening quote illustrates, Dr. King’s understanding of personalism was at the heart of his understanding of the world. In a way that resonates with Vincent’s understanding and with our commitments here at DePaul, personalism defined how Dr. King saw God and how he saw human beings. Each human person was filled with dignity and worth. For King, as for Vincent, this dignity was honored more in practice and in relationship than in abstract philosophy or even theology. King famously hoped that after his life he would be remembered not for his education or awards but as someone who “tried to love somebody …to love and serve humanity.”[4]

For Saints Vincent and Louise and other Vincentians, just as for Dr. King and the countless other leaders and participants in the African American freedom struggle, the sacred insights of personal encounter and individual dignity led to a realization of the need for organization and movement for systemic change.[5] Above all, it led to an understanding that the material and spiritual needs of individuals can only be met in community. DePaul University has the size, resources, and organization to serve many people well. Still, at our best, our students experience DePaul through personal relationships in which they feel seen and honored, relationships in which they feel that they belong.[6]

Dr. King popularized the vision of a beloved community where the dignity of all could truly be honored. He identified the primary obstacles to making this a reality amid the evils of poverty, racism, and militarism.[7] The practice of personalism can give us not only a “why” and a “how” but hope and a deep faith in the purposefulness of our work. We embrace challenges along the way, profoundly trusting in the destination of our journey.

What inspirations do you take from the legacy of Dr. King, personally and professionally?

What challenges do you think these concepts invite us to address as DePaul?


Reflection by: Abdul-Malik Ryan, Asst. Director Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Muslim Chaplain

[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 100.

[2] See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. “Personalism” by Thomas D. Williams and Jan Olof Bengtsson, 2022, https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/personalism/ and Wikipedia, s.v. “Personalism,” last modified December 27, 2022, 10:50, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personalism.

[3] King and Vincent would both see all of these concepts as rooted in their shared Christianity and in the teaching and example of Jesus (peace be upon him), but the concepts have also been resonant and inspiring to many who are not Christian, including myself.

[4] See King’s sermon, The Drum Major Instinct, which he gave on February 4, 1968. For more on this, see: https://www.africanamericanreports.com/2018/01/transcript-martin-luther-king-jr-drum.html.

[5] As Guillermo Campuzano, C.M., shared last year, “The systemic racial justice of Dr. King’s utopia is a Vincentian issue that we embrace from our own convictions and for our vocation. His dream is not strange to us. Our Vincentian sociology, theology, and anthropology naturally bring us to this cause. We are on the move, marching with God for a world free of hate.” See Campuzano, “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘We are on the move now… Our God is marching on,’” The Way of Wisdom (blog), January 10, 2022, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2022/01/10/rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr-we-are-on-the-move-now-our-god-is-marching-on/.

[6] On the complementary relationship between Vincentian personalism and professionalism, see Mark Laboe, “Both/And: Vincentian Personalism and Professionalism,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), November 8, 2021, https://blogs.depaul.edu/dmm/2021/11/08/both-and-vincentian-personalism-and-professionalism/, and Edward R. Udovic, C.M., “Two Sides of One Vincentian Mission Coin: Personalism and Professionalism,” The Way of Wisdom (blog), January 10, 2019, https://‌blogs.‌depaul.‌edu/‌dmm/‌2019/‌01/10/two-sides-of-one-vincentian-mission-coin-personalism-and-professionalism/.

[7] “The Triple Evils,” The King Philosophy, The King Center, accessed January 5, 2023, https://‌thekingcenter.‌‌org/about-tkc/the-king-philosophy/.

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.

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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/