The Collaborative Instinct

by | Feb 21, 2024 | Formation, Reflections | 3 comments

There have been times in both the history of the Jewish people and in our own Church when there was a wide dividing line between the clergy and the rest of the believing people. It was almost as if the two were in separate containers, each one clearly segregated from the other. These times have not been the most productive ones for carrying out the one mission God gave to everyone. Set off from each other, misunderstandings, suspicions, inefficiencies and even rivalries sprang up and blunted the overall impact of the mission.

Scenes from both the Old and New Testaments tell a different story.

In the Book of Kings (8:1-7), all of the Jewish people under King Solomon, and not just the priests, come together to pick up those two stone tablets given to Moses and then carry them up to Jerusalem. They cooperate in this venture to establish the Temple which houses the Ark of the Covenant. In Mark’s gospel (6: 53-6) when Jesus and his disciples land on the lake shore, the people of the countryside collaborate with them to transport all the sick in the area to the places where Jesus can meet and cure them.

In these and many other instances, we see God’s mission being carried out more effectively when clergy and laity cooperate.

If there’s a Saint in the history of the Church who picks up on this kind of collaboration, it’s our own Vincent de Paul. To spread the gospel, he brought together all the members of the Church in its common mission. His approach is especially evident in the different societies of lay people he founded to work along with his brothers and priests in bringing the Good News and Good Deeds of Jesus gospel to the people of his day.

This instinct to gather everyone together in the service of the Church’s mission carried on after his death. A shining instance of this was the work undertaken in the poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Paris by a Daughter of Charity from Vincent’s community, Sister Rosalie Rendu. Drawing together like-minded lay men and women, she spearheaded a whole array of wide-ranging efforts to alleviate the frightful conditions among the slum dwellers of that city.

Her example inspired any number of lay Catholics to join her effort. And notable among them was our own Frederick Ozanam, the founder of the organization we know today as the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It was especially to Sr. Rosalie that he and his colleagues looked for example and inspiration.

The point is to underline how cooperation among all the members of the Church furthers the Church’s mission to bring the Lord’s Good News to all.  Collaboration and not separation, clergy and laity working with and not separately from one another, is a tested formula for apostolic effectiveness and indeed rich discipleship.

We in St. Vincent’s Family are solidly within this tradition of lay-clergy cooperation. Followers over the years have included the Ladies of Charity, the Vincent de Paul Society, Daughters and Sisters of Charity, the Vincentian Marian Youth Association, the Vincentian Solidarity Office, to name just some. These world-wide organizations stand witness to this predilection of Vincent to gather all ranks of believers in the service of the Church and especially its outreach to the poor of this world.


  1. Ross

    “Collaboration and not separation, clergy and laity working with and not separately from one another.”

    Thanks for this, Tom. It brings to mind Father Thomas Augustine Judge, C.M. Says of him Vincentian Encyclopedia:

    “Seeing the overwhelming task before him [in Alabama], and believing that everyone has a missionary role to perform, he asked for lay volunteers from the North to come and help him in his work.

    “The challenge he presented to these volunteers was not to become priests or Sisters, but to remain lay men and women who could go into the towns, homes, schools, and workplaces to help alleviate suffering among the materially poor and spiritually abandoned.”

    • Tom M

      Ross, Perfect quote! Thanks

      • Sister Jane Burger

        Excellent review of Vincent’s vision and leadership! So Synodality was present in his leadership and has been, providentially, alive for centuries!
        Thank you, Father Tom’
        Sister Jane Burger, DC