“We follow the Vincentian philosophy to walk with those you serve and become immersed in their lives. You don’t come to change people; you come to be changed in the process.”
The article from Depaulia Online begins… Arriving on campus as a freshman, Patrick Humpal knew little about DePaul’s Vincentian mission and could not foresee the impact the university would have on his personal goals.On his Service Immersion trip to El Salvador,
“I just wanted to go to a school in a big city with a lot of things to do,” he said.
Those “things to do” focused around a new passion: Service.
Humpal, now a junior, worked with several groups on campus, and his path led him on a 2013 winter break trip to El Salvador through DePaul’s Service Immersion Program, run by the Vincentian Community Service Office in University Ministry.
Humpal witnessed tremendous poverty and hardship, and yet he also met people full of joy, gratitude, openness and faith.
“It had a large impact on my view of the world,” he said. “We went to hear people’s stories, to understand what people are living through there. They were so open about sharing their struggles. They have a wealth of spirit.”
After that trip, Humpal decided to change his life path. He wants to return to El Salvador, and he is rethinking his career, considering human rights law as one option.
“Being there opened my mind and my will to all these things I could see myself doing,” he said.
A transformational experience
Humpal’s experience is in no way unique. With about 170 students traveling each year to work in 17 communities, Service Immersion provides many life-changing opportunities. The focus is to learn from other people and cultures, provide direct service and take time for reflection.
“Students recognize our responsibility to respond to the reality of our world,” said Service Immersion Coordinator Joyana Dvorak. “Many have never witnessed systemic injustices, such as poverty, social inequality or lack of access to education. It really expands their vision that we are a global family and their capacity to work for social justice.”
The program offers nine U.S. trips during spring break and eight trips during winter break. Six of the winter break trips are domestic; one goes to El Salvador, and another goes to Colombia. Each group includes eight to 12 students, a student leader and a staff mentor.
Students often are inspired to change majors, seek further service opportunities or become active participants in social change efforts.
Vincentian Family connections
The Service Immersion Program works as much as possible within the Vincentian family, building long-term relationships with community partners.
“As Vincentians, we shape and form each other,” Dvorak said. “Going to immerse ourselves, going to serve and sharing our gifts and talents are always done in community.”
One long-running relationship, lasting nearly 20 years, is with Resurrection Catholic Missions, which operates programs focused on education, healthcare, social services and advocacy in Montgomery, Ala. Programs include Resurrection Catholic School, Interfaith Community Outreach and the Collegiate Service Program, a unique experience to volunteer at the mission and learn about civil rights history.
Daughters of Charity/Sisters of Charity
Another close relationship within the Vincentian family is with the Daughters of Charity and Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Louise de Marillac and St. Vincent de Paul and devoted to service to the poor.
One winter break immersion site for first-year students is Hubbard House in East St. Louis, Ill. Under the umbrella of Catholic Urban Programs and managed by Sister Marge Clifford, D.C., Hubbard House provides housing, food and program support for groups that volunteer in East St. Louis.
“We serve those who serve,” Sister Clifford said. “We follow the Vincentian philosophy to walk with those you serve and become immersed in their lives. You don’t come to change people; you come to be changed in the process.”
In working with the Daughters, Dvorak said, many students have a first-time encounter with someone committed to a life of simplicity in service to the community.
“The Daughters break stereotypes out of the water with their humor and their stories,” she said. “They are incredible role models for our students—they are re-visioning our Church today.”
Sister Clifford sees a similar process unfold with each student group.
“There is a profound change from the day they arrive to the day they leave,” she said. “As the week goes on, the depth of the questions they ask changes. They ask, ‘How can I help? How can I make a difference?’”
The Service Immersion trip is just the beginning for many students.
“We encourage students to bring change back home and integrate what they learned into their daily lives,” Dvorak said. “They learn how to bring the Vincentian mission and legacy to life in meaningful ways.”