Home in the Midst of Uncertainty: My Vincentian Story
Four years ago, I sat on my big comfy living room couch with a notebook on my lap, a pen in my hand, and a deep uncertainty in my heart. I was writing a pros and cons list for which college to attend, a lifesaving technique for the indecisive high school senior that I was. I can still see that piece of paper, and the words “mission-driven” written in DePaul University’s pros column. I did not know it at the time, but the pull that I felt toward the mission of this university was about to take me on a journey that I could have never predicted, and one that I know will continue to unfold even as I walk off campus with my degree in hand in a couple short months.
I do not know exactly what it was about the mission of DePaul that captivated me before I had actually experienced it in action, but something about it just felt right, like the answer to a question that I did not know I was asking myself. That was enough to get me to take the leap and leave small town Indiana to experience all the challenges and charms of the city.
From the very moment I began my time at DePaul, my understanding of the Vincentian mission started to form. I guess that’s inevitable when you sign up for a Discover Chicago class entitled “Tracing the Steps of St. Vincent de Paul.” Though I wish I could say that my reason for signing up for this class was altruistic and pure, I was actually just late and could not get into the course about food in Chicago. I now believe that it was “divine providence” that led me to that course.
It was in this course that I first heard the Folleville story, learned about the Vincentian values, and began to see the way that people were serving with in the city of Chicago at places like Marillac House and St. Joseph Services. It was a class that explored who Vincent de Paul was and what his life means in a contemporary context. Little did I know, I would take a course with very similar content years later, as I prepared to embark on the Vincentian Heritage Tour.
While I can easily say that my Discover Chicago course made me feel connected to the university and sparked my interest in the Vincentian way, it was not until I began doing service and engaging in dialogues about social justice that my Vincentian story grew wings and took off. Now, I feel at home in the Vincentian mission, captivated by a wholesome and genuine approach to justice that prioritizes the inherent dignity of every human person.
When I think about key moments in my journey as a student and leader, my mind is flooded with faces, places, conversations and feelings. Throughout my past four years at DePaul, my Vincentian journey has been interwoven into all of my experiences. From my service immersions trips to Los Angeles, Cincinnati and Macon to doing service in the DePaul soup kitchen or on the South Side at Su Casa to discussions of social justice that began in my classrooms and found their way to my living room as I wrestled through “what must be done?” with my roommates and friends.
In Los Angeles, I met a man named Willy taught me to simply bring who I am and what I love to my service. It was this trip that really shook my understanding of poverty, and systemic inequality. It influenced what I chose to study and where I still hope to go in the future.
My academics have allowed me to connect the Vincentian mission to broader discussion of social justice. Though I did not expect the classroom to be a source of my Vincentian formation, it has been integral. Discussions of sustainable development and uncovering previously silenced voices in history consistently reaffirm the Vincentian cornerstone of recognizing human dignity.
My time in the Vincent and Louise house has challenged me to live out some of the values that St. Vincent identified, like humility, simplicity and mortification. I have been learning how to engage in radical hospitality and how to live in true and authentic community. I am seeing the way that the broader Vincentian mission allows our journeys to intersect in beautiful ways.
I found myself subtly reminded of some of these people, places and experiences as I walked the streets of Paris on the Vincentian Heritage Tour. This trip, quite literally allowed me to “trace the steps of St. Vincent de Paul” and bring my DePaul experience full circle.
One moment that stands out to me occurred in the church of St. Nicolas des Champs, the site of Louise de Marillac’s lumiere experience. The plaque on the wall of the church describes her experience, saying that, “in an instant, my mind was cleared of its doubts.” Being in the very space that changed Louise’s life forever was surreal. She had an experience there that reaffirmed her dedication to her faith, though she did not know what this would look like. Knowing that she was human, full of doubt and hesitation gives me comfort as I enter a new season of life, saturated with uncertainties.
In some ways, the VHT feels like a lumiere experience, as it reaffirmed my love for the mission of St. Vincent and St. Louise, and it gave me the inspiration to continue working for justice. Meeting the Daughters of Charity and meeting with Andrew at DePaul France reminded me that I am part of a family whose reach is wide and passion is deep. For that, I am both thankful and proud.
As my time as an undergraduate at DePaul winds down, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that divine providence led me into the Vincentian family. As I move on past this season and begin working on my career, I will continue to be guided by the Vincentian mission. My desire to work for justice in the field of economic development and urban planning is a direct result of the things that I have learned and experienced during my time at DePaul.
I cannot unsee the poverty of Skid Row in Los Angeles, I cannot unlearn about mass incarceration or gentrification in Chicago, and I cannot forget the countless people and stories that I have encountered along the way. Instead, I hope to let these things guide the way that I look at the world. I hope that they challenge me to always look beyond the surface to truly understand what is occurring in the world, or to get to know another human being for more than their immediate and obvious characteristics. I will use the things that I have learned from the Vincentian family, both past and present, to keep me motivated in my career, my community, and my relationships.