What are Unaffiliated Lay Vincentians? Considering the declining membership in many branches of the Vincentian Family in the United States, how will the Vincentian mission continue in the twenty-first century? In 2005, Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Senior Executive for University Mission at DePaul University, argued that “by 2023 the Vincentians may well have no physical presence, canonical sponsorship role, or governance role at DePaul University.” His conclusion is based on careful observation of the historical membership trends in the Congregation of the Mission in the United States, going all the way back to their arrival in 1816. It is a trend line that steadily increased over decades until it reached a peak in 1965, and which has been on a steady decline ever since. The membership trends that Fr. Udovic described in 2005 not only pose a challenge to DePaul University, they will also continue to impact virtually every apostolate sponsored by the Vincentian Family in the United States. Despite noted trends of declining membership and a corresponding narrative of decline, there are also powerful signs of growth and rebirth, signs that should not be overlooked. The unaffiliated lay Vincentian experience may well be one of those signs of our times, pointing toward seeds of growth and renewal.
Currently, there is no adequate term to refer to a new generation of people inspired by the Vincentian mission in the United States; therefore, the term “unaffiliated lay Vincentian” (ULV) describes young adults ages 18 to 35 who have had a formative experience with the Vincentian mission either as a student at a Vincentian University, as a volunteer in a post-graduate Vincentian volunteer program, or both. They are unaffiliated because they do not currently have a formal relationship with the Vincentian Family as members of the Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, or Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They are Vincentian because they have been formed in and continue to self-identify with the Vincentian mission in profound ways. It is not an exaggeration to argue that Vincentian universities and post-graduate volunteer programs function as a kind of new Vincentian novitiate for Millennials, a period of initial exposure and formation that helps young adults identify a path of life-long commitment to the Vincentian mission.
Even though many young adults have had a formative experience in this new novitiate, by and large they leave the experience without a community of like-minded and like-hearted people to sustain them, no discernable structure for life-long formation, no rituals to celebrate ongoing commitment, no clear prospects to work professionally in the many apostolates of the Vincentian Family, and no structure of formal membership or ongoing participation in the broader Vincentian Family. They are, in a word, unaffiliated.
DePaul University’s Office of Mission and Values (OMV) commissioned the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University to conduct a survey of unaffiliated lay Vincentians (ULVs). In addition to collecting basic demographic information, the study sought to understand the degree to which ULV’s consider themselves to be spiritual and religious, how the Vincentian mission currently influences their lives, and how they would like to engage with the Vincentian Family in the future. To read the survey findings, please see Scott Kelley and Jessica Werner, “The Future of the Vincentian Charism in the United States: Challenges, Trends, and Opportunities” in the Vincentian Heritage Journal Vol. 32 Iss. 2 (2015). Available at: http://works.bepress.com/scott_kelley/23/
By Scott Kelley, Ph.D.
Assistant Vice President for Vincentian Scholarship,
Office of Mission and Values,