Yesterday was Foundation Day. I walked through the DePaul University Student Center, which was full of tables, and students chatting up the founding of the Vincentian Family by St. Vincent de Paul 405 years ago. They were giving away every kind of tchotchke imaginable—pens, cups, buttons all celebrating the day.
Each year on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, we remember the beginning of the Congregation of the Mission (C.M.). According to St. Vincent de Paul, this happened in Folleville, France, on January 25, 1617, when he preached his “first sermon of the Mission.” His experience with a dying man transformed Vincent’s heart and imbued him with a desire to serve those in need.
This historical event is an important one for DePaul University, though it is not widely celebrated. The Congregation of the Mission (commonly called “Vincentians”) founded our university 124 years ago.
DePaul’s history and identity emerges from the values and convictions of the Congregation in the United States.
Originally, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission to provide direct service to those living in poverty, especially “the most abandoned,” and for the formation and education of Catholic clergy in need of reform.
Vincentians founded DePaul University in 1898 to serve children of immigrants in Chicago who needed both access to education and a chance to escape poverty. Without Foundation Day, DePaul as we know it would not exist. That it does, and that we are now a part of more than two million Vincentian Family members worldwide, is certainly something worth celebrating on the 25th.
I am amazed when I see students “get them”—get the Vincentian values—and take them to heart. They are not just getting a DePaul University education but they share values as they join a 405-year old tradition founded to serve poor people.
The legacy we leave is the life we lead.
J. Patrick Murphy, C.M., Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Public Service at DePaul University and Values Director for Depaul International, an organization that serves homeless people in seven countries.