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A mission born of compassion

In a small park in Paris, near the site of the former St. Lazare, the first Motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), there is a statue of Vincent de Paul with the words inscribed “Que j’ai peine de votre peine!”
(DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
In a small park in Paris, near the site of the former St. Lazare, the first Motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), there is a statue of Vincent de Paul with the words inscribed “Que j'ai peine de votre peine!" [How sorry I am about your suffering!] (CCD, 1:138.) The original words of Vincent are drawn from a letter he wrote to Louise de Marillac, probably in the year 1631. From among all the possible words in his more than 30,000 letters, these were chosen because they reflect something essential and enduring about what his life communicated and what it continues to symbolize.  

Vincent de Paul's deep compassion for the suffering of others was at the very heart of his life, the person he became, and the many works he undertook and inspired in others. The Vincentian spirit and mission we seek to embody and sustain in our work at DePaul University has at its very core, therefore, a heartfelt compassion for the pain and struggles of others. At our very roots, we are a community who cannot remain emotionally distant and unaffected in the face of what we see and experience.

The recent shooting in the nearby suburb of Highland Park on July 4 echoes the hurt of other recent mass shootings, and also struck home in a particular way with the loss of DePaul alumni, Kevin and Irina McCarthy, as shared with the university community last week. Left behind is their orphaned child. We hurt for this child and other victims of this horrible event. In fact, as a Vincentian community, we intentionally allow that wound to resonate. We don't run from it or push it aside. We let it linger in our minds and hearts and inspire us to action. 

Just in the past two months, we have heard the tragic and very public stories of other mass shootings, such as those in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas. Furthermore, we learn far too regularly of the loss of many young people in the Chicago area, often due to gun violence. Even more troubling to us as a Vincentian community is the fact that the victims of violence are so often from historically marginalized communities already suffering in multiple ways from the harm of historic and systematic prejudice and inequity. We are a hurting and troubled nation. There is deep pain at the heart of a human community that is torn and divided. Like Vincent de Paul, we feel this hurt. We don't run from it.

As much as we may desire to find comfort and peace of mind, we choose to allow the pain and suffering caused by the world's violence and injustice to touch our minds and hearts, because this is the intentional choice born of compassion and love “inventive to infinity."(CCD, 11:131) Like Vincent de Paul, our compassion shapes the way we orient our lives and inspires our sustained mission in and for the world. It is integral to our identity as a Vincentian community.

Yet, like Vincent de Paul, we are more than just people. We feel deeply, and we are builders of a human community prepared to do the work of forming and inspiring a more just and caring society. As an educational institution and as a civic institution in a major metropolitan community, we have the opportunity each day to contribute to an active response to our world's pain and suffering through our life and work at DePaul. Born of a deep and heartfelt compassion for those who suffer, may we find a way to be builders of a better tomorrow through the education we deliver, the service we provide, the way we treat each other, and the hard work we put into doing well whatever good we can do each day. This will not take the pain away, but it will transform it through creative acts born of love.