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  • Writer's pictureEllen Romer Niemiec

My Spiritual Companions - Vincent and Louise

Like many college freshmen, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was signing up for when I began at DePaul University. While I knew about other religious orders like the Jesuits and Franciscans, the Vincentians, and specifically St. Vincent DePaul and St. Louise deMarillac, were largely unknown to me. It’s been over a decade since my college graduation, and even after spending almost a decade with the Jesuits (who I love dearly), my heart was charged and largely remains embedded with Vincent and Louise. 

A Vincentian spirituality for me has been a consistent reminder that being close to others, especially those different from you, who have been marginalized and forgotten, should change you. This is my most and least favorite thing I have experienced. Being changed by others has made me who I am and continues to shape and chisel my soul. But that shaping and chiseling often means that something in me is being chipped away - assuredly for the better - but leaving anything behind can still hurt. When I am in the midst of the challenging parts, when my heart feels most broken, I am also consoled by the ability of the human heart to break open because of human encounter. 

Vincent and Louise both had different plans for their lives that didn’t pan out the way they had hoped. Most people know the name Vincent DePaul because their parish or diocese is part of the St. Vincent DePaul Society, doing charitable works for people made poor who need additional financial and material support. This massive legacy was not what either of them planned, but came as a result of how God moved in their hearts and called them to be with and for those made poor. That call was so impactful it shifted the dynamics of religious life for women. 

At that time, being in a religious order as a woman meant being cloistered, a life of prayer and service away from the world. For Louise, this had originally been something she desired before she married. As she continued to serve the poor in 17th century Paris, she began to envision a new way of committing her life to God and God’s people. Louise and the Daughters of Charity were pioneers in religious life as the first to not be cloistered and to be committed to works of charity. While I have found the gifts of prayer and contemplation to be deeply fruitful in my life, I have also resonated with the desire that Louise and Vincent had to be with those most in need. 

We live in a church and a world with a lot of rules and expectations. Traditions can be living and breathing parts of us, but they can also become calcified. Louise reminds me that what I see before me isn’t what has to be. Louise saw girls who were poor who could instead be educated and cared for. She saw that religious life devoted to prayer and within the confines of a cloister as a beautiful existence, but that there were other ways to live a life dedicated to God. In moments of despair, or simply each day when looking at the news, I need to remember that what I see is not what has to be. Louise and Vincent are a part of tradition that lives and breathes for me, bringing the creativity and vision of the Holy Spirit back to the center and strengthening me to keep building something better. 

We gave my eldest daughter the name Louise for her middle name. We try to talk about creativity and serving those in need with our family. This spirituality for me has developed and evolved in its meaning from when I was singled, to being married, to being a parent. Vincent and Louise showed me early on that evolving in our understanding of how God calls us leads to brilliant new ways of living. Vincent and Louise continue to be my dearest companions in navigating how I follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. 

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