By: Joseph V. Agostino, CM
During the months of April and May 2018, I crisscrossed Europe to meet with members of the Vincentian Family, and most especially with the Superiors General of the various congregations which comprise the Branches of the Vincentian Family.
Fr. Emile Ghali was able to accompany me throughout my sojourn in France and Belgium to both help me find my way around the countries and to translate for me during my meetings with the Superiors General. We spent close to three weeks going from one end of France to the other in the midst of alternating days of train strikes!
A great benefit of spending this time in France was the opportunity to meet Congregations that we had little to no information about and to connect them to both the international Family as well as to the French National Council.
A wonderful surprise was our meeting with the Sisters of Christian Union of Saint-Chaumond. Generally unknown to the Vincentian Family, this congregation was founded by St. Vincent de Paul himself with Mme de Pollalion in 1652. She was a member of the Ladies of Charity (AIC) with Louise de Marillac and was invited by Vincent to establish this community (originally known as the Ladies of Providence). Vincent presented their rule to Queen Anne. The French Revolution decimated them. It is only since 1917 that they are in the process of refounding themselves and assuming their rightful place in the Vincentian Family.
The last two congregations we visited (the Missionary Sisters of the Gospel, founded 2014, and the Sisters of Christ–Union Mysterium Christi, founded 1976) are living testimonies to the fluidity necessary if we are to truly be a Vincentian Movement. Both congregations were born out of mergers of four to seven different groups. Each has a blend of spiritual traditions, and is proud of each one. But each also sees the advantage of collaborating with the international Vincentian Family in its service of those living in poverty. The VF must understand that Vincent may not be THE ONLY patron of a group…..and “Vincent exclusivity” is insufficient grounds for discerning who does or does not qualify to be a Branch of the Family.
Many of the lessons learned in France were similar to those in Austria-Germany. In addition, some things struck me as more particular to the French Vincentian Family experience:
- Their need for support from the (international) Vincentian Family for growth in the Charism was almost constantly expressed during each visit.
- There are any numbers of creative services being offered to those in need through the works of the congregations. They were quite proud to share them with us. And we were quite vocal in asking them to also share their stories with the rest of the Vincentian Family.
- A number of these congregations spoke of their “lay associates.” This is not a grouping which exits across every Branch of the Vincentian Family, but it is certainly another manifestation of the Charism among us.