Beyond Unions – Up Close and Personal – I write today, not about unions and workers rights but what Vincent can teach us about something “up close and personal ” – looking out for our coworkers.

This is Labor Day weekend in the United States. Usually, my thoughts go with the flow of so much that is written in connection with Labor Day. The plight of labor today, the need for structural protections, etc. This year I found myself thinking more up close and personal. I am thinking about our co-workers in ministry and those we live with.

J. Patrick Murphy writes in Mr. Vincent

St. Vincent wrote to one of his managers that he had heard complaints that he was serving bad food and cheap wine. He told him to serve good food and wine to those doing the work of serving the poor.

Lesson: Take care of your people; celebrate small successes.

I recall a moving article about the humanness of St. Vincent that listed many instances in his life in which he expressed his concern for his co-workers.

Samplers of Vincent’s concern

In November 1642 he wrote to Bernard Codoing in Rome:

“I’m worried about your heavy work-load and I’m afraid you’re overdoing things mentally and physically. In God’s name, Father, take care of yourself. (II, 315-6)

One of Codoing’s successors in Rome was René Alméras and he too, apparently, tended to overdo things; Vincent’s advice to him is along the same lines, but with some more detailed instructions:

“Don’t overdo things, don’t be in a rush, don’t take things too much to heart, don’t stick too long at the same thing with too much concentration, and lastly, give up all activities apart from your duties as superior and whatever you’re able to get in the way of relaxation.” (IV, 139)

On November 9, 1649 he wrote to Mathurin Gentil, the treasurer in the seminary in Le Mans. He writes as though he were referring to another house of the congregation, though, in fact, he was referring to Le Mans; he used this device on other occasions as well:

“I’ve heard of one of our houses where the bad food served is having a detrimental effect on bodies and minds. Now, if the bursar, who goes to this extreme of economy under the pretext of cutting down expenses, does not manage things better after my warning and the letter I sent him, I’ll be forced to replace him by someone who has a proper idea of how to feed the community, as is done in Saint Lazaire and elsewhere; because otherwise many confrères fall ill. Since you’re in the same sort of job, Father, I tell you all this so that you’ll be careful to avoid such an abuse and will serve good bread and good meat, and won’t sell off the good wine and serve the worst, and in this way you’ll give the community no reason to complain of miserly treatment”. (III, 504-5)

Vincent celebrated successes.

Vincent was good at letting confrères know how pleased he was to see them, particularly when they were taking a break after a spell of hard work. In August 1646 he wrote to Louis Gallon:

“Thanks be to God for the good news, the hope you give us that you’ll be coming here soon for a rest after your hard work. You’ll be very welcome, Father, and I’ll be more than glad to receive you. Come along, Father, without delay; I promise you we’ll take special care of your health and you’ll be master of the house, saying and doing whatever you please, and I’m especially at your service, having always loved you with more affection than my own father”. (III, 32)

Getting as practical as Vincent:

  • Do we ever think of the needs of our co-workers and those we live with?
  • Do we take time to celebrate our successes?
  • And a traditional Labor Day question… are they being paid a just and living wage.

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