In January 2020, Rome will host a meeting of the Superiors General and Presidents of the Vincentian Family. We continue with the series of interviews in order to get to know the protagonists, on this occasion Brother René Stockman, Superior General of the Brothers of Charity.
How and when did the foundation of your community take place?
We are Brothers of Charity, and we were founded in 1807 in Belgium. We were the first congregation after the French Revolution. Founded by a Belgian priest, Peter Joseph Triest, and our first name was the Hospital Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul. In other words, from our very beginning we were in line with the Vincentian spirituality.
It should be noted that our founder established four Congregations, and the first one was the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary. In that instance his purpose was not to found a Congregation but to bring together in Paris some young women to become Daughters of Charity. They were refused entrance because they could not speak French, and thus Father Peter began his own Congregation, the Sisters of Charity. He wrote their rule and brought together Vincentian spirituality and Benedictine spirituality. He gave them the rule of St. Benedict and was attentive to the contemplative dimension. Nevertheless, he combined the contemplative dimension with the charitable dimension of Vincent de Paul. Two years later, he founded the Brothers of Charity and he called them the Hospital Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul, but again he was influenced by Vincentian spirituality as well as by the customs and traditions of monastic life (more specifically, Benedictine spirituality). So we have received elements from the Vincentian and the Benedictine tradition). The primary purpose, objective and mission of the Hospital Brothers of St. Vincent de Paul is to care for the poor (to see the icon of Jesus in the poor) … all of which is in accord with the teaching of Vincent de Paul.
When our founder died, he was called the “Vincent de Paul” of Belgium. Therefore, without any hesitation, we can say that we are a Vincentian congregation that has adopted the Vincentian charism and spirituality.
How does your Congregation/Association reflect the Vincentian charism?
Our preferential care for the poor summarizes our charism, our Vincentian charism. I believe this preferential care of the poor is very Vincentian. That care must be done in a charitable and in a professional manner. When our Founder looked to the Daughters of Charity, he was impressed by two elements: their charity and their professionalism. Both of those elements are very important to us. It led us to develop our ministry to patients with mental illness, who at the time were abandoned by the society, specially in Belgium. At the present time we minister and are present in thirty different countries. We continue to minister on behalf of those who are abandoned (especially people who are afflicted with mental illness and who are abandoned and who in so many parts of the world, are not viewed as human beings). It could be said that those individuals have lost their human dignity and we are ministry is to restore that dignity to them. As we engage in that ministry we must be guided by charity, that is, by love and compassion and mercy … and all of this must be done in a professional manner. As I have continued to read and write about Vincent de Paul, I have come to an understanding of his emphasis on love as a starting point for all ministry. Then from that basic attitude of love one must develop a compassion for those who are in need. Thus, the urgency to minister in an affective and effective manner (and once again, I repeat, all of this must be done in a professional manner. In these ways we reflect the Vincentian charism.
Your hopes and expectations for the Vincentian charism as we approach the meeting of the leaders of the Vincentian Family, scheduled for January 2020, in Rome.
Indeed we are very happy with this meeting that will take place in January of 2020 and are looking forward to it. I can say in recent years I have had many contacts with other groups of the Vincentian Family , and I find it enriching to establish relationships with other branches and to share ministry experiences with them. It becomes more and more clear that we share a common vision and that we are rooted in the same spirituality. So yes I have high expectations for this meeting, especially with regard to exchanging ideas and experiences (seeing how other are developing and living the charism of St. Vincent de Paul). That, for me, is most important. At the same time, a Systemic Change approach to ministry is a real inspiration for us. I know Fr. Maloney, the former General Superior of the Congregation of the Mission. I was elected Superior General in 2000 and so when I came here to Rome he was still Superior General. I have a very good relation with him and I invited him to speak with us about Systemic Change. At one point he he asked me if we would be able to utilize such an approach in our ministry. I am happy to say that we have been inspired now by this new vision by this new interpretation of Vincentian spirituality. At the time of our last General Chapter (2018), we invited Fr. Tomaz to give a presentation on systemic change. We view this approach as essential to all our ministries — in our schools, in our institutions for handicapped, in all our psychiatric hospitals. Therefore, when we meet in January with other Congregations and other groups of the Vincentian Family, I am sure that we will receive new ideas and new elements that can be very fruitful for our ministry.