Depaul International: Igniting Charity Like a Great Fire
An Interview with Mark McGreevy, OBE, Chief Group Executive, Depaul International
By Fr. J. Patrick Murphy, C.M.
What is Depaul International?
Depaul started as a partnership within the Vincentian Family. We develop that partnership through governance and our practical work on the ground. Our services for homeless are cradle-to-grave, including mother-and-baby service in Ukraine, caring for street drinkers in Ireland, teens on the streets in the U.K., people striving to find their way back into society in the U.S., and hospice care for elderly homeless in Slovakia. We intend to follow Vincent sending us to the poorest of the poor.
We have a partnership with DePaul University through the Institute on Global Homelessness, developing leaders and providing advocacy on a global scale. We work with the United Nations around the definition and measurement of homelessness globally. We piloted the first training course for 12 aspiring leaders from developing countries to grow networks and services in their countries. Finally, we set ambitious goals in the Institute on Global Homelessness to end street homelessness in 150 cities around the world by 2030. That year coincides with the end of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Our aim is to bring homelessness to the agenda for whatever replaces the Sustainable Development Goals in 2030.
More than anything though, we are rooted in Vincentian values. In addition to serving the poorest of the poor, we are about action, not words – taking risks for poor people and finding new ways of doing things. We are about innovation to infinity.
How do you connect with the Vincentian family?
Depaul is obliged—by statute—at the international and national levels to invite members of the Vincentian Family to be trustees of our boards of governance. We work closely with the Family on the ground. For instance, in Ukraine and Slovakia, Daughters of Charity are nurses looking after homeless people. In Ireland, Daughters and Vincentian priests visit our projects as chaplains. We also manage assets. In St. Louis, we manage two buildings to house poor people in buildings that had housed seminarians.
In the FamVin Homeless Alliance, we work as the umbrella group that catches projects within the Vincentian Family—street homelessness, refugees and internally-displaced people. It includes working with slum dwellers around the world. We are mapping the work of the Family and creating a plan to grow capacity and lobby on behalf of poor people.
What are the distinctive features of DePaul?
The first thing I say to new staff is, “You’re not part of a 27-year-old charity, you are part of a 400-year tradition.” The heart of everything good at Depaul is the values inherited from our Vincentian tradition. We offer the Vincentian Values Course, now in it’s twelfth year. Every year, 13 to 15 staff members from around the world go to Paris, where we walk the Vincentian Heritage Trail. We follow-up by spending several days teaching leadership modeled on Vincentian values, including leader as servant , visionary, catalyst and mentor. We take the course to the U.S. and Ukraine. We choose to be strongly Vincentian.
What has Depaul accomplished so far?
If we could pick some key facts, we have grown from a very small charity in North London supported by Princess Diana in 1990, serving around 40 homeless young people. Today, we are a charity working in seven countries—the U.K., Ireland, the U.S., Slovakia, France, Ukraine and Croatia—working with more than 22,000 homeless people. In size and scale, Depaul International has grown to over 800 full-time staff and 1,500 volunteers.
What is next for Depaul?
We just opened a charity in Croatia. Currently, there are three or four other countries under consideration. Most interesting, perhaps, is the founding of the FamVin Homeless Alliance. How do we bring together all the projects across the Vincentian Family under one umbrella as a single movement?
How does the Congregation of the Mission fit with Depaul?
The Congregation has been tremendous, especially in the United States. They provided office headquarters to start up in Philadelphia, our existing headquarters at DePaul University. They serve on our boards of governance. They help deliver values training globally. For what the Congregation has already given, we are grateful.
What is your dream?
My dream for the Vincentian Family is that we can help it do two things. We can help it develop its charism of charity in parts of the world where it is not currently evident. We can do like we did in Ukraine—reach into a country where civil society is being destroyed under communism to build a sense of charity and working together for the good of poor people. Many parts of the world suffer from the absence of charity. I want to grow with the Vincentian Family in the poorest parts of the world.
The Vincentian Family is already a significant player as a global leader in delivering charity across the world. My ambition, if you will, is that we find a repository to pool our experience, to reflect on it, and then to act within the big institutions of power around the world like the U.N., the E.U., and the World Bank.
Why do you do this?
Because I am a fool… I was a seminarian in college and theology. I left and came to London to teach. Cardinal Basil Hume encouraged me to volunteer. I did—at a place called the Passage–where I first encountered the Vincentian charism, working with homeless with the Daughters of Charity. I thought their idea of action as a form of spirituality was something missing in my life. I found my vocation was working with the homeless and it continues to get me up every morning even today.
Who is Vincent for you personally?
Vincent is my hero, my inspiration, a man of deep vocation, a visionary, a man who was practical and somebody who had a spirituality based on action. In truth, I think that is the main attraction for me—is that idea of action, doing things for people, especially for poor people. There is a story told by an old monsignor. There are two ways people come to God. The first is that people are very spiritual and come to God reflecting on that spirituality and turn it into action. The other kind are people who feel heavily called to action and on refection become spiritual. I think I fall into that latter category as somebody who needs things to do, then thinks about them—that is how God becomes present to me.
One more thing…
All we ever do within the Vincentian Family is carry the bar, carry it for our lap around, then we have to hand it over. All of us have to reflect on that business of handing it over. It is all about legacy—the one crucial thing: how will our Vincentian charism be present and available to the next generation?