Six days a week, the DePaul soup kitchen in Lincoln Park serves breakfast to hundreds of people in need. Members from across the Chicago community volunteer time in the kitchen nearly each day of the week, but Mondays are reserved specifically for volunteers from the DePaul University community.
In addition to his priestly duties as the chaplain in Catholic Campus Ministry, the Rev. Dan Paul Borlik, C.M., manages DePaul Mondays at the soup kitchen. Whether rolling up his sleeves to help heat meals or leading reflection sessions for volunteers, each week Fr. Dan helps create a meaningful experience for all those involved with the kitchen.
"As someone who is fairly new to this campus community, the greatest part of DePaul Mondays and my time with the soup kitchen has been getting to work side by side with the faculty, staff and students of this university community," Fr. Dan says. "I get to personally witness what and who make this university special. DePaul understands on an institutional level that the mission is not just pretty words."
When the doors of the St. Vincent de Paul Parish church open at 7:30 a.m., anywhere from 50 to 200 guests may walk through the door. Each are greeted by Fr. Dan and other volunteer staff. Then each guest receives a hot sandwich or entrée, a ham and cheese sandwich to-go, fruit and a dessert, and can even order a customized beverage.
"There certainly is a range of people who come to us, in terms of life circumstances," Fr. Dan says. "But for many of them, this may be the one time of day they're treated as normal people; the only time someone tells them a joke or chats about whatever sports game was on last weekend. It's humbling, and really is wonderful to share this experience with the university community."
In addition to wanting to help others by spending time in a soup kitchen, DePaul students can receive class credit. Following their sessions preparing and serving meals, the students seeking credit participate in a short critical reflection meetings, led by trained student leaders and Fr. Dan.
"Transformation is everything," Fr. Dan says. "It's one thing to volunteer and feel good for a day or two, which is fine - for some people that's just the way it is. It's another thing to reflect on your experience and connect that instance to other aspects of your life journey. That's our goal with these small reflection sessions. We want the students to connect their experiences to something deeper."
Following six years as a director of the Congregation of the Mission in Paris, France, Fr. Dan returned to the United States to continue spreading the mission of St. Vincent de Paul. For several years he worked as provincial superior of the Southern Province of the Congregation of the Mission before joining DePaul University in July 2017. Though he enjoys his standard tasks as chaplain, meeting with students and staff, being available for confession and celebrating mass, Fr. Dan notes working with the soup kitchen is one of the more fulfilling of his duties.
"The kitchen is a true example of DePaul living out its mission day to day," he says. "Beyond that, I get to witness and help our community members realize what volunteering is all about. It's about embarking on a journey that is bigger than yourself; not to simply do good things, but to do those good things because you are good."