Systemic Change – Doing the Next Right Thing

by | Oct 19, 2016 | Systemic change

see-judge-act-facebook-actNot many people can be credited with changing the face of their country. Vincent was such a person. At his funeral, it was said that he changed the face of France. The point of this reflection is that he accomplished so much by simply by seizing the day and doing the next right thing.

He was not what we would call today a “systems thinker.” Practical peasant that he was, he can be better be described as a “systems doer.”

What did Vincent do to change the face of France?

He renewed parish life across France, shaped generations of clergy, organized charity whether in ordinary parishes or areas devastated by the ravages of ongoing wars. He also founded organizations that became ongoing instruments of systemic change. In doing all this he raised consciousness of the sufferings of the poor and marginalized and involved laity in all his endeavors.

Acting on underlying causes

How did he do this? He was constantly going upstream addressing underlying causes as he understood the dimensions of the problem better. Look for example to how constantly adapted his strategies in addressing the spiritual poverty he encountered.

He experienced the lack of faith in the parish but realized it was due to poor catechesis. So he preached what today we would call parish renewals.

But he quickly realized the need for follow-up after the mission. This meant improving the quality of the clergy in place. Initially, he held what were called “Tuesday Conferences” for the more promising clergy. These were his early attempts at continuing formation.

He listened to God’s voice in events and people. Most importantly, he followed providence step by step. Once he discerned events in the light of God’s will he just did it. He “seized the day” and put aside all differences, all fears, all worries, and just went for it.


Fr. Amyot concludes describing Vincent’s method of proceeding :

  • viewing reality with the eyes of an apostle and discerning the true needs of those who were poorest and most abandoned
  • confronting this and seeking responses with inventiveness, courage and confidence in God
  • diversifying, ceaselessly adapting and gearing down his action, seeking numerous collaborations: priests, consecrated women, and laity
  • simultaneously pushing forward evangelization and assistance or promotion of the poor, giving priority now to one, now to the other, but always linking them closely.

Recommended further reading

d’Inville, Emeric Amyot C.M. (1997) “Seeing and Discerning the Challenges: From St. Vincent’s Eyes…To Ours,” Vincentiana: Vol. 41: No. 4, Article 3.

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Fr. Robert Maloney presents the sweeping breadth of his activities in an article published in America Magazine.