Can We Choose Enthusiasm?

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.”[1] 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.”[2] 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.”[3]

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.”[4] 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

[1] Conference 211, The Five Characteristic Virtues (Common Rules, Chap. II, Art. 14), 22 August 1659, CCD, 12:250. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vincentian_ebooks/36/

[2] Letter 460, To Pierre Escart, in Annecy, 25 July 1640, Ibid., 2:84. See: https://‌via.library.‌depaul.edu/‌vincentian_‌ebooks/27/

[3] Conference 211, Op. Cit., 12:251.

[4] See: DePaul University Mission Statement

DePaul, we have great work ahead!

The statues in Saint Vincent’s Circle are decorated with protective face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, April 30, 2020, on the Lincoln Park Campus. (DePaul University/Jeff Carrion)

Almost exactly one year ago, I left Chicago for Iowa. I was planning to be gone for just a few days and never guessed my stay there would last a full 12 months. Feelings of isolation and despondency, familiar to many during this pandemic, had been growing in me since the spring of 2020. More and more, life was restricted to my cozy, lonely one-bedroom apartment. But, at my mother’s home in Iowa there was space, and I could work. I felt cared for, grounded, safe, and welcomed. Looking back, I knew then as I do today how fortunate I was to have that lifeline.

Now, one calendar year later, I have returned to Chicago and to my same cozy apartment. I am grateful for the support I received, humbled by the events the world has been through, and cautiously optimistic about the new school year. I have also re-learned something powerful: human beings need to feel safe, grounded, and cared for to flourish. We need community and we need to feel welcomed in the spaces that are our homes and workplaces.

I believe this life lesson is one that Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac knew well. In her voluminous correspondence we see that Louise was constantly encouraging her community members to live and work together in “great union and cordiality.”[1] In an updated version of the original Constitutions written by Vincent for the Congregation of the Mission, Vincentians are called to live and work in communities “animated by love…supporting one another especially in difficulties.”[2] Finally, DePaul University’s own Mission Statement reminds us that “Guided by an ethic of Vincentian personalism and professionalism, DePaul compassionately upholds the dignity of all members of its diverse, multi-faith, and inclusive community.”[3]

What, then, should this key component of Vincentian spirit look like at DePaul during this most pressing moment in time? Together how can we help to make all members of our community—students, staff, and faculty—feel safe, grounded, and cared for so that we are all able to flourish? A few thoughts come to mind.

People’s health and well-being must continue to be our top priority. In all our endeavors we need to be flexible and responsive to this commitment. Vincent de Paul once said “love is inventive to infinity,”[4] and the challenge to be lovingly creative in what we do is more necessary than ever. Also, we must work together in a spirit of collaboration and mutual support. This requires very deliberate listening, effective communication, and receptiveness to new ideas, especially by those in positions of authority over others. It must be practiced by teachers and students, supervisors and supervisees, leadership and community members. Finally, everyone—especially our students, but including our staff and faculty—must feel truly welcomed and secure, while provided with the necessary support and resources to flourish at DePaul.

The task ahead will not be easy; it is one thing to say these things but another to bring them to life. However, I reaffirm my faith in the talent and integrity of the DePaul community, and believe that our university mission and values will help us navigate whatever challenges lay in front of us. I am hopeful and prayerful that the great work we have committed to do will bring out the best in what we all give.

Questions for Reflection:

In your role at DePaul, how might you listen more intentionally, act more caringly, and lead more creatively to contribute to an environment where all may flourish?

What do you need in your life right now so that you may flourish?


[1] Spiritual Testament, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 835. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/

[2] Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation of the Mission (1984, English trans. 1989), 17. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/cm_construles/23/

[3] See: DePaul University Mission Statement 2021

[4] Conference 102, Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.

 

Reflection by:  
Tom Judge, Chaplain/Assistant Director
Faculty and Staff Engagement
Division of Mission and Ministry

Seeds of the Mission: 14 East Magazine

The Power of Story 

In the Vincentian family, the practice of learning and sharing people’s stories is sacredVincent, Louise, and all the legacy figures who came after them made a conscious effort to see those whom society made invisible. They started a quiet revolution by taking the time to see them and uplift their dignity. They centered the voices of those who were silenced by unjust systems and rooted their ministry in the simple question, “What do you need?”  

To make a person feel seen and valued is to make a person feel human. By working with those we serve rather than working for them, we uphold human dignity and build mutual relationships. Vincent and Louise collaborated with those they served to give them the tools to fulfill their human potential. 

The stories in our community matter, especially the voices that are ignored. It’s also important to continue to listen to and learn the stories of our Vincentian family members. Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM reflects in a keynote address to the Vincentian Family: 

…when we read Elizabeth Ann’s life, or Louise’ correspondence, or the wisdom of Frederic Ozanam, it’s important to see them as flesh-and-blood real human beings.  Not some idealized figures in an idealized history.  Vincent and his contemporaries had to figure it out on their own.  They didn’t have a model to copy.  Those who came after Vincent had to figure it out on their own too, because the world changed and they had to figure out how to serve the poor in their times and countries.   

We study the past not to copy, but to take heart from it, and to bring the values and purposes forward into a new time and place.  We too have to figure it out for this time and place, but we are now part of the story.  That’s what Vincent understood.  He was continuing the love of Christ for the poor, and wanted us to do the same.  We are continuing the Lord’s and Vincent’s service.  We are part of the story now.  Someday, they’ll study what we did in our time.  We’ll be part of this history. 

14 East Magazine contributes to the history at DePaul in a powerful way. During Spring 2019, when DePaul quickly went remote due to COVID-19 pandemic, 14 East Magazine staff saw a need to create an accessible way for students to stay up-to-date on the most important news. They created a new weekly newsletter about how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the DePaul community and how students, faculty and staff are coping with university changes. Through the DePaul COVID-10 Updates newsletter, these DePaul students continue to put into practice the power of using gifts and talents to contribute to a community and respond to ever changing needs. To sign up for the newsletter go to https://depaulcovid19updates.substack.com/  

Seeds of the Mission: Ruben Parra

Because we are Catholic…All are welcome!  

At DePaul, we understand Catholicism to be an invitation to foster a universal human family. It is because of our Catholicism, not despite it, that we value interfaith dialogue and spiritual exploration. Throughout DePaul’s history, our Catholic, Vincentian identity also led us to admit immigrant populations, women, and students of color before many other universities across the country.  

From the very beginning, Vincent made it clear that love for the “most abandoned” was the central focus of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. In a conference in January 1657 Vincent preached on the importance of the love for poor:  

God loves the poor, consequently, He loves those who love the poor; for when we truly love someone, we have an affection for his friends and for his servants. Now, the Little Company of the Mission strives to devote itself ardently to serve persons who are poor, the well-beloved of God; in this way, we have good reason to hope that, for love of them, God will love us. Come then, my dear confreres, let’s devote ourselves with renewed love to serve persons who are poor, and even to seek out those who are the poorest and most abandoned

Our Vincentian tradition places unheard stories at the center of the narrative. It calls us to hear the needs of those who have been made poor and marginalized and to respond with compassion, solidarity, and justice. Daughters of Charity today speak about “need not creed” guiding their response. The ministries of the Daughters of Charity around the world serve the most vulnerable without judgement or exclusion. The Vincentian tradition highlights communities’ assets and strengths so that those who are poor may be agents of their own transformation.  

Vincentians not only welcome but also seek out those who are invisible and forgotten. Because we are Vincentian, because we are Catholic, all are welcome. 


  1. 64. Love for the Poor, January 1657, CCD 11:349

 

The Streets as a Cloister: History of the Daughters of Charity

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.”

ISBN Number: 978-1-56548-027-8. 668 pages. Available at Amazon.com or directly from the publisher: The Streets as a Cloister

To read an interview with Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée about his new book and the Daughters of Charity, please see Crux: Taking the Catholic Pulse

Vincentian Heritage Journal Vol. 35, No. 2

The DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our newest peer-reviewed e-book edition of Vincentian Heritage (Volume 35, Number 2).

Of note, this edition includes a significant new translation, never before published, of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s testimony on the virtuous life of Vincent de Paul. The document, at one time thought lost, follows after those prepared for the canonization process and offers insight from a man who knew the saint during his life. The book also advances our new design and features the following articles:

  • “Pa, Ma, and Fa: Private Lives of Nineteenth-Century American Vincentians,” by John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D.
  • “Bishop John Timon, C.M., Sisters of Charity Hospital, and the Cholera Epidemic of 1849,” by Dennis Castillo, Ph.D.
  • “Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Vision of Ecological Community. Based on Elizabeth Bayley Seton: Collected Writings, Volume Two,” by Sung-Hae Kim, S.C.
  • “BOSSUET: Testimony Concerning the Life and the Eminent Virtues of Monsieur Vincent de Paul (1702),” Translation and additional annotation by Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Ph.D.

To download the complete book for iPad or PC, please click here.

Individual .pdfs for each article are also available for download here.

Celebrating the Vincentian Legacy of Frédéric Ozanam

Each year on September 9th, the worldwide Vincentian family celebrates the Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853), the nineteenth-century French, lay Catholic leader, widely considered the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Society is now an international confederation present in 150 countries with over 800,000 members in 47,000 Conferences and 1.5 million volunteers and collaborators. It serves the needs of over 30 million people all over the world.

Ozanam was a French literary scholar, lawyer, journalist, and equal rights advocate in Paris. He was recognized as a skilled writer, orator, thinker, social activist, and model of faith oriented toward outward action. Following the practices of Saint Vincent de Paul and inspired by his faith, Ozanam served the poor and destitute of Paris. He especially saw the power of bringing students together to study Vincentian principles and engage with those who were marginalized and poor.

While a student of law and literature in Paris, he founded the Society in 1833 with a group of friends who gathered regularly to grow in their faith and visit the poor. With the help of the older Emmanuel Bailly, who brought his own experience of socially engaged Catholicism, they provided vouchers for bread and wood to those in need. Inspired by the gospel message of love, they provided instruction and gave of their time and presence to serve the disadvantaged.

Later, as a professor at the prestigious Sorbonne, Ozanam became a renowned scholar and intellectual. He dedicated his life to understanding what Catholicism offered civilization. Committed to the principles of democracy and social justice, he became a journalist at L’Ère Nouvelle (The New Era), advocating for social reform and a governmental regime of liberty, equality, and fraternity that included the less fortunate. Frédéric was also devoted to his wife, Amélie, and their daughter Marie, whom he loved dearly. His integration of his professional life with his personal and spiritual life, along with his simple yet open style of engagement offers us a model of servant leadership today. Frédéric Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II during World Youth Day in 1997.

 

In the summer of 2020, DePaul University renamed one of its residence halls in his honor.

To learn more about Frédéric’s legacy and his contributions to understanding our shared Vincentian mission, explore some of the following Vincentian Heritage resources:

Blog Reflections:

Podcasts:

Articles featured in the Vincentian Heritage Journal:

 

 

The Daughters in Tanzania: Working Toward Systemic Change

“The Sisters are women who stand up for women’s and girls’ rights.” – Mary, 15-year-old graduate of the December Rescue Camp, Tanzania, East Africa.1

Last week we invited you to reflect on how charity should be an essential part of transformative action and the vital relational and affective dimension of justice. This week we’ll explore this theme through the example of an initiative of the Daughters of Charity in Tanzania focused on eradicating the practice of female genital mutilation. The Daughters’ unique approach combines ministering to those impacted by this practice, intently listening to their stories, and purposefully integrating their work with signs of the times to advance systemic change.

The Association for the Termination of Female Genital Mutilation (ATFGM) is an organization founded by The Daughters of Charity in Tanzania in 2008. It was created at the request of the local bishop, parents, and girls in the community seeking protection from this practice. The ATFGM runs a “December Rescue Camp” which affords a safe space for girls seeking to escape the practice. And, while such protection meets an immediate critical need, the focus of the camp is equally devoted to education and awareness. During the last decade, more than 2,500 girls have attended.

The Daughters also understand that in moving towards eradicating female genital mutilation, they must take into consideration multidimensional realities such as tradition, social stigma, and the economic implication for practitioners. Thus, beyond ministering directly to the girls, the Daughters work with parents, elders, schools, communities, and practitioners. They also target boys who will become future husbands and fathers. Additionally, they help former practitioners attend a government college to learn entrepreneurship skills, and eventually find work when they have graduated.

The work of the Daughters in Tanzania reminds us once again that the Vincentian approach to justice necessitates addressing immediate need while working toward broader systemic change.

As we think of the work of these Vincentian family members, what resonates with you about their approach? What challenges you? What can we learn from their approach that may inspire our work at DePaul today?


1) Meghan J. Clark, “Charity, Justice, and Development in Practice: A Case Study of the Daughters of Charity in East Africa,” Journal of Moral Theology 9:2 (2020), 11; at: https://jmt.scholasticahq.com/article/‌13334-charity-justice-and-development-in-practice-a-case-study-of-the-daughters-of-charity-in-east-africa

 

Reflection by: Siobhan O’Donoghue, Faculty and Staff Engagement Director, Mission & Ministry

Connecting Charity with Justice

Responses to injustice based only on charity may readily be maligned for not addressing the systemic issues that cause suffering to be perpetuated; yet, properly understood, charity should be seen as an essential part of transformative action and as the vital relational and affective dimension of justice. The word charity derives from the Latin, caritas, and can be better understood as a generous and self-giving love. It reflects an understanding of love as a sustained virtue and not as a fickle or thoughtless passion.

Frédéric Ozanam, influential lay leader and founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, understood that acts of charity enabled insight into the plight of the poor and oppressed, and facilitated more substantive and transformative social change. His beliefs resonate with those of Vincent de Paul and others within the Vincentian tradition. Ozanam emphasized personal relationships as fundamental to both affective and effective social action and transformative service. This Vincentian personalism, as we have come to know it, recognizes the unique circumstances of individual people, while concurrently working toward broader, systemic change. Ozanam’s words on the power of experience help us understand this piece of Vincentian wisdom:

The knowledge of social well-being and reform is to be learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor’s man garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind. When the conditions of the poor have been examined, in school, at work, in hospital, in the city, in the country… it is then and then only, that we know the elements of that formidable problem, that we begin to grasp it and may hope to solve it.[1]

As you consider social issues that must be addressed in our time, how do you maintain a personalism consistent with our Vincentian mission? That is, how can you better recognize and respond to the unique personal circumstances of those affected, while also working at the same time for systemic change that addresses the root causes of their suffering?

How might this Vincentian approach apply given the context of your work in higher education? How might DePaul University better reflect such a way of being?


1) Raymond L. Sickinger, “Frédéric Ozanam: Systemic Thinking, and Systemic Change,” Vincentian Heritage 32:1 (2014), 8. Free to download at: https://‌via.‌library.‌depaul.‌edu/‌vhj/‌vol32/‌iss1/4/

 

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

 

DePaul’s former Clifton-Fullerton Hall was renamed Ozanam Hall this past summer. See the Newsline Article from July 23, 2020 for more information. 

 

Changing Attitudes and Changing Structures: Walking with Frederic Ozanam

Today, most of us are familiar with the concept of systemic and structural change. In the context of 17th Century France, however, in which Saints Louise and Vincent lived, the idea of systemic change had yet to be developed. Instead, during this period, any efforts to improve the situation of those living in poverty tended to focus on solving the immediate material needs of the person in front of you. Given this context, the contributions of Vincent and Louise were notable and ground-breaking for their time in the way they went beyond addressing the immediate demands posed by poverty, to the level of organizing charitable efforts at a structural level. Not only did their labors lead to more effective and efficient forms of service delivery but they continue to shape the professions of health care and social work centuries later.

If we fast-forward two centuries to 19th Century France, a deeper appreciation of the world as a complex interrelated system was evolving. It was during this time that Frederic Ozanam, a 20-year old student studying at the Sorbonne, was one of the principle founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833.  Ozanam helped recruit students for this lay Catholic organization to serve the poor in the slums of Paris, and at the same time regenerate French society to create a more just world. Indeed, after years of revolution and at the dawn of industrialization, Ozanam’s vision was to create “a community of faith and works erasing little by little the old divisions of political parties and preparing for a not-too-distant future a new generation which would carry into science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar, the unanimous resolve to make it a moral country, and to become better themselves in order to make others happier.”[1]

Thus, during this period, even though the terms systemic change and systemic thinking were not yet in common parlance, Ozanam’s ideas were infused with the seeds of such concepts. Indeed, for this Vincentian family member, if solutions for poverty were to be found, both individual lives and societal forces had to be transformed.

Today the Society of St. Vincent de Paul continues on a global scale. It is currently comprised of more than 800,000 members in 153 countries. While the Society has grown and changed over the years, its mission has not: to serve those on the margins, and shape a more just and compassionate world.

In 2006, Reverend Gregory Gay, C.M., then Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, founded a Commission to promote systemic change as a way to end poverty, building upon the strong Vincentian foundation dating back to the time of Vincent and Louise. He called all members of the Vincentian Family to engage in strategies to help end poverty through systemic change as an essential dimension of living out Vincentian virtues and values in today’s context.

In light of this call and reading the signs of the times in our world today, how might you be hearing a similar call in your professional work at DePaul or in your personal life to improve the larger systems that impact the lives of those who are poor or marginalized?  Given the problems that confront our society, what inspiration might the example of Frederic Ozanam offer as we seek to construct a more just world?

Note:   DePaul University’s former Clifton-Fullerton Hall was recently renamed Ozanam Hall.  See the Newsline Article from July 23, 2020 for more information. 


[1] Dirvin, Joseph I., CM.  Frédéric Ozanam: A Life in Letters. Society of St. Vincent DePaul, Council of the United States. 1986.  “Letter to Henri Pessoneaux,” 13 March 1840. p. 178

 

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