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DePaul Library exhibition aims to place Vincentians into ‘arena of American history’

CHICAGO This year, the Congregation of the Mission — Vincentian priests — will be celebrating their 200th anniversary in America and the Richardson Library at DePaul University is mounting a large exhibit to mark the milestone.

The exhibit titled “
The Bicentennial Celebration of the Vincentians in America,” is co-sponsored by DePaul’s Office of Mission and Values and will feature more than 50 objects in two separate displays.

The first presentation, “
God as Compass, Rudder, and Pilot: The Missionary as a Pioneer,” details the journey of the Vincentian missionaries, from their start in Rome in 1815 to the their eventual settlement at St. Mary’s of the Barrens in the Missouri Territory in 1818.

Its sister display, “
Knowledge and Salvation: The Missionary as a Man of the Enlightenment,” explores books in the Richardson Library Collection from the first American Vincentians and the influence of the Enlightenment — an intellectual movement in Europe during the late 17th and 18th centuries emphasizing reason and individualism rather than tradition — on the missionaries.  

“There really is a mix of materials that make up both parts of the exhibit. Many of the items are manuscript letters and documents, meaning that they are literally one-of-a-kind documents written by the missionaries themselves,” said Vincentian Librarian Andrew Rea.

Andrew Rea, DePaul's Vincentian Librarian, places a small wooden chalice into a display case as he prepares for an exhibit of Vincentian artifacts at the John T. Richardson Library. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)
Andrew Rea, DePaul's Vincentian Librarian, places a small wooden chalice into a display case as he prepares for an exhibit of Vincentian artifacts at the John T. Richardson Library. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

The items on display speak to the Vincentian purpose of the American mission, and to the Vincentian values of charity, humility, zeal and simplicity,” said Rea. “They also reflect the values of the missionaries themselves, which informed how the American province has historically been run and how it differed from the provinces in Europe.”

Priests making American history

The exhibition will feature artifacts, letters, documents, maps and books that were either owned by Vincentians and part of their first library, or are significant to the journey and experience of those first American Vincentians, noted Rea. The majority of materials on display are held in DePaul University Special Collections and Archives as part of the Vincentian Studies Collection, but items from the St. Louis Archdiocesan Archives and the Vincentian Curia Archives in Rome are also featured.

“While the exhibit acknowledges the religious vocations and motivations of the Vincentian missionaries, we are hoping to cast the priests in a light beyond their role as men of the cloth and placing them into the larger arena of American history,” said Rea.

According to an essay written by the Rev. John Rybolt, C.M., in conjunction with the exhibition, the Vincentians opened six seminaries in America in the mid-1800s. In addition to opening seminaries and schools in America, Vincentians staffed parishes as administrative units. A sustained focus on missions in the United States developed in the early 20th century as many parishes began requesting them.

Although Vincentian priests were expected to provide these travelling missions, it entailed debilitating work. Difficult travel, undeveloped infrastructure and primitive accommodations, days and nights spent preaching, teaching and hearing confessions, and visiting the sick and elderly was a ministry best suited to the young and healthy, Rybolt wrote.

Following Vincent’s model

The leading principle of the Vincentians has been to incarnate Vincent de Paul’s spirit, or “charism,” in the parishes they set up, explained Rybolt, DePaul Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence. Vincent’s concern for the poor and marginalized is the religious and pastoral key to Vincentian lives today.

The same perspective has grown in Vincentian universities, such as DePaul which was founded in 1898. Known for their diversity in faculty and student body, Vincentian universities strive to encourage and welcome first generation college students to work for undergraduate and graduate education, and reach out to those unable to afford higher education, Rybolt detailed in his essay. Vincentians understand education as a major route out of poverty, and they endeavor to make Vincent de Paul alive in all the members of the university communities.

An opening reception will be held Sept. 28 from 4-6 p.m. in Special Collections and Archives in the Richardson Library, 2350 N. Kenmore Ave., on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus. The opening will feature remarks from Rea and the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president of DePaul University. The free exhibition will be open to the public through March 2017.


Andrew Rea

Media contact:
Jon Cecero