Catherine Laboure is, in my mind, the forgotten Vincentian figure. This saint lived in 19th century France. When Catherine was only 9 years old, her mother died. To help cope, young Catherine took a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary off of her wall, proclaiming, “Now you will be my mother.” This connection with Mary continued throughout her life. In 1830, she joined the Daughters of Charity and on July 19th of that year, the night before St. Vincent’s feast day (during that time period), Catherine was woken from her sleep by a voice calling her to the chapel, where Mary was waiting for her.
“One must see God in everyone.” -Catherine Laboure
Mary appeared to Catherine a couple more times, and each time, Catherine knew Mary was there because she would hear a faint swish of silk from Mary’s clothing. Over the course the next visions, Mary explained a mission to Catherine, which ultimately ended up in the creation of the Miraculous Medal, per direction and design of the Most Holy Mother. After devotion to the Medal gained popularity, Catherine fled the attention and went silent for the next 46 years of her life. In 1876, she was convinced that she would die before the end of the year, which she did on December 31st. Today, the incorruptible St. Catherine can be found in the Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Médaille Miraculeuse (Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal), which is the same chapel where she was visited by Mary. Louise also lays in the chapel. While the modern Vincentian family at large seems to focus mostly on Vincent and Louise, in this chapel, Catherine is the main attraction.
Catherine in Action!
In the winter of 2015, I was tasked with co-facilitating a talk/activity on Catholic Campus Ministry’s Winter Retreat with fellow Retreat Team Member, Elise, on Mary’s role in Vincentianism. Our focus ended up being mostly on St. Catherine and the Miraculous Medal (because duh). After researching this “forgotten Vincentian,” we decided to perform a skit about Mary’s apparitions and the direction to create the Miraculous Medal.
Elise and I most latched onto the detail of the sound of a swish of silk, which we made to include in our skit. I played the role of Catherine talking to Elise, my dear Mother Mary. From her, I was given the image of the Miraculous Medal.
Pilgrimage to Paris
In June of 2015, I went to Paris, France for two weeks as part of an interfaith research trip through DePaul’s Department of Religious Studies. A few weeks before leaving, Rob Gilmore, my staff supervisor in CCM, kept telling me that I needed to check out the “Vincentian sites:” the chapels where Vinny and Louise and Catherine lay. I was not very interested in going to either. Landing in Paris changed my mind, however. One day, the group took a trip to the Shrine of St. Vincent DePaul and the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Seeing Vincent and Louise made their stories even more real for me. Seeing Catherine was a really special moment for me, especially after playing the role of her in a skit.
Just stepping into the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. It was there that I felt home and at peace. I felt connected. I felt that I belonged. I returned two more times to the chapel, once just to visit again, the other time for Mass on Sunday. Each time, I was moved to tears by something I couldn’t quite describe beyond a feeling of peace and joy and contentment.
“When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine.” -Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United
Before these experiences, I had been told for a while that I was part of the Vincentian family as a student at DePaul. However, it never seemed real until that trip to Paris and the visit to the chapel. It was in that moment that my place in the Vincentian family was solidified. I was in it for real and in it for life.
And so it Continues
Over the course of the next two years, I continued to learn about the Vincentian family and spirit, particularly through my role as a student leader within CCM. At monthly formations we learned about a different part of the stories, a different figure, or a different event. I also took two classes within the Catholic Studies Department about Roman Catholic Social Thought in Context: Transformative Models of Vincentian Leadership and the Life and Times of Vincent de Paul. These classes taught me about five different Vincentian leaders, their leadership style, their connections to CST, the historical context of Vincent, and his life as a man. At this point, I think it’s safe to say that I know a fair amount, solely due to the wisdom of people willing to teach me and share stories.
The 2016–2017 school year is the year I believe that I truly started to consciously live out the Vincentian spirit that I had learned so much about. It’s one thing to learn about simplicity, humility, meekness, mortification, zeal, walking with and learning from the poor, working towards systemic change, etc., and another to put them into practice.
Vincentianism in Action
The 2016 Presidential election brought many issues to the forefront of my mind, many that I have feelings about, but had not taken a stance on or action towards. It was with a hurting heart over witnessing what was being said and done that I decided to become vocal.
“Picture to yourself that there are millions of souls with outstretched arms calling you!” -Vincent de Paul
I picked a few issues that I could address verbally and social media-ly (it’s a word now). With these issues, I heard a faint swish of silk. That is to say, something in my heart was calling me to address those things and I knew that I should, that it was right. This has been a large part, this year, in helping me define who I am and what I believe in. An important piece to the characters of the “big” Vincentian figures is that they knew who they were and they took the time to reflect and pray to find that person.
In December I had the chance to travel to Denver as part of a Service Immersion. The focus of the Immersion was on poverty in Denver. The experience that stands out the most to me from that time was when I was at a homeless day center for 2 days, working at the mail and storage counter and clothing room. One time while in the clothing room, a man came in to find a thick pair of socks and new shoes, as his current ones were 2 sizes too small. We found him thick socks and he found shoes 2 sizes too big and he went to work putting them on. When he found a big blister, I fetched him antibiotic cream and bandages. While applying them, he shared how it was his first day being homeless. My heart broke. I didn’t know what to do or what to say.
“Free your mind of anything that troubles you; God will take care of it.” -Vincent de Paul
I still think back on that day and wish I could have done something for him. I wish now I could do more with the issues I am addressing. What this Vincentian family has taught me, though, is that nothing can be done alone and sometimes it’s the small things that matter most. What must be done isn’t always a grand action. Sometimes it takes listening for that faint swish of silk to be lead to what must be done.
Agent 007 for my Vincentian Mission
Through these experiences, I have decided that my mission is to live simply, humbly, zealously, mortifyingly, and meekly to honor and protect the human dignity of others by listening to were the swish of silk is calling me.
Some fun facts about my Vincentian history/interaction:
In 3rd grade I dressed up as St. Catherine Laboure for a Saint report.
I chose the name “Louise” as my Confirmation name, but didn’t really know who she was until coming to DePaul!
I went to the 2016 Vincentian Family Gathering in Poland.
My favorite Louise story is when she “lost” the document to officially form the Daughters of Charity to keep them from being under the direction of the bishop.
I wear almost as much blue as a Daughter of Charity.
This story and others share the Vincentian leadership journey of DePaul University students who have participated in Meet Me at the Mission: Vincentian Heritage Initative.
Tags: DePaul University, Vincentians of Wherever