Channeling Grief into Love and Service

Photo courtesy of Maura Sullivan

“Love one another, bear with one another, support one another, and be united in the Spirit of God.”1     Vincent de Paul

April is a weird month for me and has been for a long time. On a sunny spring day twenty-two years ago, gun violence overturned my life, my family’s lives, and the lives of everyone in my community. I was a student at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999. While I cannot articulate fully the impact of that day on my life, I would like to share a little about how it shaped me. I write this also as our country today repeatedly reels from gun violence in all its insidious forms, from police shootings of unarmed persons of color, to mass shootings, to communities daily experiencing the traumas that come with gun violence in their neighborhoods.

I’m sharing this deeply personal and private part of myself because in so many ways it led me to DePaul and to the work I do in the Division of Mission and Ministry.

As a high school student struggling to process the emotions involved in experiencing significant trauma, I discovered the joy I felt in helping others as so many helped my community in the aftermath of our tragedy. That joy led me down many roads, including the one that leads to DePaul. I connected my faith to service and helping others and ended up working in ministry in higher education. I helped students passionate about service as they processed their experiences, sometimes connecting service to their faith and spiritual journeys as well. Along the way, I have learned a thing or two, discovered more just ways of connecting with communities, and been reminded that because of the color of my skin, I have had opportunities to process my trauma that people from some communities never get.

The work I currently do in the Division of Mission and Ministry involves coordinating Vincentian Service Day (VSD), what I like to think is one of DePaul’s greatest traditions. Last year, when our world was first rocked by the pandemic, I couldn’t imagine moving Vincentian Service to a remote event, yet we did so successfully. Now, it’s one year later and we are about to have our second remote VSD. Though we have remained physically distant and we may be feeling the sting of ongoing physical isolation, community is still very real and very necessary. We can “love one another, bear with one another, support one another” much like the Columbine community did for each other in 1999.

We all have our own stories, our own motivations, our own reasons for being on the paths we are on. I hope my story will lead you to consider participating in DePaul’s 23rd annual Vincentian Service Day. On Vincentian Service Day, you can channel whatever you may be feeling after more than a year of grief and anger into service, and into a way of loving and supporting one another.

Registration closes for Vincentian Service Day tonight, Monday, April 26th at 11PM. For more information about participating, visit: http://serviceday.depaul.edu; or email: serviceday@depaul.edu.


1 Letter 1930, To Several Priests of the Mission, [Around October 1655], CCD, 5:441.

Reflection by: Katie Sullivan, Ministry Coordinator, Vincentian Service & Formation, Division of Mission and Ministry

Vincentian Service Day brings students closer to community – News – The DePaulia – The student newspaper of DePaul University

 

DePaul students and faculty participated in DePaul’s annual“Vincentian Service Day” May 4, where students

Courtesy of Taj Simmons: DePaul students garden outside of the Zakat Chicago Community Center dur- ing Vincentian Service Day May 4. This is the 13th year the community service event has been held.
Courtesy of Taj Simmons:
DePaul students garden outside of the Zakat Chicago Community Center dur- ing Vincentian Service Day May 4. This is the 13th year the community service event has been held.

volunteer at sites across Chicago in a super-charged day of service. DePaul volunteers cheerfully flocked to McGrath Arena at 8 a.m. on Saturday where they partook in some interfaith prayers and were sent off to their respective service sites. The cheerful demeanor of all those present was derived from the knowledge of the good they were doing in their community.

 

DePaul’s Jewish Life coordinator, Matthew Charnay, took a moment to describe the idea behind Vincentian Service Day.

 

“It is something that staff and students look forward to all year. The chance to get out into the community and do work with your fellow classmates is such a positive experience,” said Charnay. “The ability to stand in solidarity with not only peers, but fellowChicagoans, people of faith and standing together as a community, not just a school community but a world community, is a highlight for the entire university.”

 

It seems that Charnay voiced exactly how DePaul students feel about this day. “(Vincentian Service Day) is important because it teaches DePaul students to look beyond themselves,” said Taj Simmons, DePaul junior andVSD team leader. “Too often in college we become self-absorbed and block out what’s going on all around us, and Vincentian Service Day really gives us a chance to go beyond what we know.”

 

Simmons also noted how much it has expanded over the years.

 

“It’s grown so much since I was a freshman. My first year, all of the service groups started inside of the (St. Vincent de Paul church) before leaving for their work. Going from that to the quad last year to McGrath Arena this year is just an amazing leap forward. I never thought there would be so many people dedicated to taking action to keep Chicago as glorious as it is, but now that I know there are, I can’t help but feel elated.”

 

Charnay echoed Simmons’ sentiment in regards to the day’s steady growth over the years. “We keep expanding the number of service sites that we visit and this year we even had students and families come to DePaul for activities.  It will only continue to grow. When you have such a great program and everyone involved can see the wealth of positivity and justice that is the end product, it makes it very easy to keep growing that program. I can only see it getting bigger in years to come.”

 

The community members who benefited from this day had positive things to say as well. Laila Muhammad, director of Zakat Chicago Community Center gushed about DePaul students who planted a vegetable garden at the community center. “The students were very helpful. The garden really brightened up the area,” said Muhammad. “It’s something that will continue to benefit the community. Last year when we had the garden, a boy had never had red lettuce before, but now he asks for it like candy. It can change a person’s life and encourage more nutritious eating.” In this way, one day of service can have lasting effects on a community.

 

“I think (the service day) is great,” said Muhammad. “I think that it shows DePaul’s understanding of the holistic approach to education. You can’t just teach in the classroom, you have to go out and experience life.”

 

That appears to be precisely what DePaul’s Vincentians in Action are hoping to achieve. Indeed, Charnay said “It is one thing to talk the talk, but when we give students the outlet to walk the walk of service, they have a chance to experience firsthand the mission that drives this university to new heights.  To take something theoretical (and) intellectual such as the ‘dignity of every human life’ and make it tangible, the lesson is better received, and it gives students time to reflect on their work.”

Vincentian Service Day brings students closer to community – News – The DePaulia – The student newspaper of DePaul University.

By Anne Malina

Published: Sunday, May 12, 2013

Updated: Sunday, May 12, 2013 20:05