A Daring Prudence – Systemic Change

by | May 12, 2021 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change

The 22nd successor to St. Vincent, Fr. Robert Maloney, reflects on Vincent de Paul and the founding of a collaborative Family. St. Vincent set in motion so many systemic changes!

[I requested and received Fr. Maloney’s permission to post the text of a presentation I referenced in Time-lapse photography and the Vincentian Family. I offer the following excerpts from his text with the encouragement to read the full text available in 3 languages below.]

A Daring Prudence

St. Vincent was very wise. In the 17th century, an era when wise men and women abounded, his contemporaries regarded him as the wisest person of his time.

Perhaps most of all, we see this “daring” prudence in the founding of a Family that was regarded as revolutionary at that time. It embraced laywomen and men; priests, brothers, and sisters; young and old; well-educated and illiterate; rich and poor. Vincent always regarded 1617 as the date when everything began. Right from the start, he saw his very varied Family as collaborative.


Vincent dared to do what others had tried, but failed, to do. With remarkable creativity, as new needs arose, he founded the Confraternities of Charity, the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, and the Ladies of Charity.

  • The Daughters (and the many communities that sprang from them) were revolutionary in the Church – for the first time in history, sisters moved from cloistered monasteries onto the streets of Paris and into hospitals and schools.
  • He urged the Confraternities of Charity to work closely with the sisters and with the Vincentian priests and brothers.
  • He urged the priests and brothers to work closely with the Daughters.
  • He urged the Ladies of Charity to support all his foundations.
  • And he urged the sisters, the priests and brothers and the confraternities to work in close collaboration with the Ladies.

(In later centuries) the remarkable growth of the Family and its rapid spread throughout the world also led to a diminishing sense of Family and collaboration. The tendency in big groups is to flex their own muscles, to emphasize their autonomy, and to lose a sense of collaboration.


The past is prelude to the future. I suggest to you today that the history of Vincent’s “daring” prudence should inspire in us a collaborative dream.

Pope Francis, in his homily launching the Amazon Synod described prudence in these words:

Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything. Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer. May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence … so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.

St. Vincent had that daring prudence.

Pope Francis reminds us that “we are heirs to those who have gone before us and had the courage to dream.” 

Be inventive in creating a new history, a collaborative history. 

So, I urge you today: have the courage to dream. Work collaboratively with “daring” prudence, as Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Frederic Ozanam, and so many other founders did. They dreamed impossible dreams and made them come true.

  • Envision new and creative ways of serving the marginalized.
  • Revitalize old ways.
  • Create collaborative formation programs.
  • Send Family members to new peripheries.
  • Attack the new enemies of the poor whom Pope Francis has so eloquently described.
  • Work to reverse the destruction of the environment.
  • Labor for systemic change.
  • Combat the unequal and abusive treatment of women.
  • Resist the temptation to maintain the status quo or to treat the past as the ideal time in history.

I’m confident that God will act in and through you who are gathered here today and that, collaboratively, you will create a Family that looks to the past for inspiration, but is also eager to create a vibrant innovative collaborative future in the service of the most abandoned.


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