What Is the Vincentian Family’s Best kept Secret?

Best kept secrets

Who can forget the “treasure map” of  Robert Louis Stenson’s Treasure Island? There are certainly lots of best-kept secrets. They range from the secret ingredient in Coco-Cola to how to fold the Hapsburg Napkin pictured below. And who can forget the “treasure map” of Treasure Island?

The “Hapsburg Napkin” – Do you know how to fold this?

The way napkins are folded at Austrian state events is a closely guarded secret that only two people know who pass it on to someone else before they die.

Closer to home… for many years we have referred to the Church’s Social Teaching as its best-kept secret.

Sssh! The Vincentian Family is not without its best-kept secrets.

Many people were surprised that the Eastern Province Miraculous Medal Facebook page has 3 million followers.

Here is another major secret.

Rather than read about it in words just look at the following treasure map. Click on the picture to open the map to this treasure trove of readily accessible insights about what makes Vincentians tick.

A picture worth a thousand links

Just click on the graphic to access this treasure map! (Please be sure to bookmark it or you may not be able to find it again!)

Click on the graphic to be taken into the cave of treasures!

What’s in a Name?

In a reflection that first appeared on FamVin, Fr. Pat Griffin of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, reflects on the importance of our names. He takes it a bit further in asking a question about our respect for the names of those we serve.

Recently, I participated in a day of reflection. The speaker spoke about the meaning and expressions of love.  She told about a class of children who were asked to describe how they knew that they were loved.  One of the children said that she could tell that she was loved by the way that the other said her name.  If I remember nothing else from the day, I will remember that story.  I know its truth.  I feel the way in which it pulls me deeper into myself even as it demands that I look outwards towards others.

There were seven children in my family—five boys and two girls.  Growing up, those not familiar with my family would frequently confuse our names.  I could be Michael, Johnny, Timmy or Danny as well as Patrick—thankfully, I was rarely Eileen or Kathleen.  I confess to some annoyance when someone got my name wrong. I liked it when people remembered me as me.  I recall how my name was spoken in many different tones and in various circumstances, but I remember best of all the way in which someone who truly knew me uttered it with love.  This other wanted my attention and urged me to draw closer.

Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” has a number of memorable lines.  One that stays with me flows from the lips of Juliet as she describes her love, Romeo. Though they are from warring families, Juliet proclaims: “What’s in a name. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Though I understand the meaning of the statement in context, I also want to argue with it. A name is a precious and personal possession.  It describes the other as a unique being and invites a reflection on all that makes the other an individual.

In the Old Testament, God reveals the Holy Name YHWH to the people Israel.  This title describes and calls upon the Almighty.  Out of reverence, the Jewish people did not say this name aloud.  In the New Testament, the community comes to recognize the name of Jesus as sacred.  Remember Paul’s Phillipian Hymn:

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.  (Phil 2:9-11)

Clearly a name is important as we address our God as well as our brothers and sisters.  When we speak the name of another, we can express our love, respect and reverence for that child of God or we can have a host of less worthy intent.  That realization draws me to be more attentive to the way in which I use people’s names—how I address them and how I speak about them.  I would like people to know my love for them by the care with which I use their name.

When I bring these thoughts into our Vincentian world, one idea stands out:  we need to know the poor by name.  The marginalized among us cannot simply be the featureless other, but a human being whom God created in the divine image and likeness.  Our Maker has associated the divine self with them in a particular way. When I name the poor, I reflect that awareness and love.

“Mary did not know it was Jesus.” John 20:15

How often do we not see Jesus right before our eyes? “Mary did not know it was Jesus.” John 20:15

Mary did not expect to see Jesus among the living

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping…she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus…She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”

We know the story. But how could Mary not have recognized Jesus? One very strong possibility of why she did not recognize Jesus was that, in her grief, she did not expect him among the living.

Vincent did not expect to see Jesus among the living

For the first third of his life, it seems Vincent de Paul did not expect to see Jesus among the living. He was focused on the details of his life. Certainly, he believed in Jesus. But was it the Jesus he read about in the pages of the Gospel? Or was it the Jesus in the person the people he met?

We know that he came to see Jesus in every person he met.

Do we expect to see Jesus among the living?

Recently, Fr. Tomas Mavric, President of the Vincentian Family, urged the followers of Vincent to engage in Fatih sharing during our Lenten Pilgrimage to the Heart.
It seems quite providential that the team at cmeast asked 40 ordinary people some weeks ago to share their experience of seeing Christ among the living.

Enter into these very brief experiences of sharing their faith and share your faith in your circle of friends and family. They offer many examples of seeing Jesus in your life.

Click to subscribe to this very brief videos

Mary Knew the Ordinariness of Life

Recently I was called on to preach the Monday Miraculous Medal Novena. The topic assigned was Mary and the Poor. My first inclination was to focus on her amazing Magnificat.  As I prepared my reflections I remembered that Mary knew the ordinariness of life. Yes, she is the mother of Jesus. But we can not forget that she was a mother in the historical circumstances of her day. She was poor and because of that her faith and yeses are all the more a model for us today.

Mary lived an ordinary life and responded with extraordinary faith! (Image from FreeBibleImages)

Mary and the Poor – Let’s not forget Mary WAS poor

I am often in the sanctuary of the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. Lately, I find myself distracted by the 20-foot paintings of Mary at the Annunciation and the Birth of Jesus above the tabernacle wall and the amazing replica of the Pieta when I look to my left.

In the two huge paintings nothing is out of place. Mary looks completely at peace. There are no wrinkles in her robes. Even the shepherds/peasants seem dressed up.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Mary lived a simple life of relative ease and had everything under control

When I turn to the Pieta, I see a mother who has not aged in thirty years! I wonder whether she might have had an “immaculate complexion”… But she is clearly in pain at the suffering and death of her son.

In both directions, Mary is frozen in time, a time sometime in the late Middle Ages or the Renaissance.  Or, more to my point today, she seems to be outside time and the messiness of life. Is that why such paintings are used on Christmas cards?

It then dawned on me that the artist pictured Mary in the circumstance of his imagination rather than the circumstances of a young Jewish teenager 2000 years ago.

Then it hit me. She was herself poor! She faced what so many of us face in life, she was a real person.

The scriptures give us some wonderful insights into her spirituality, but it is only recently that we have we gotten a sense of the historical Mary, the Mary who lived in poverty… just as so many do in the world today.

The circumstances of her life

She belonged to the peasant class. Their life was grinding, with a triple tax burden: to Rome, to Herod the Great and to the temple.

She was probably about 13 or so but she certainly did not have a cell phone or someone to drive her to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

She was a peasant. We forget she walked the hill country of Judea by herself while pregnant, gave birth in a stable using a feeding trough as a crib, as today poor refugees use cardboard boxes and other homemade artifacts as makeshift beds for newborn infants.

When she made a four- or five-day journey on foot to Jerusalem once a year or so, she slept in the open country like other pilgrims. At home she struggled to make do.

She was a mother who lived through the ordinary trials of raising a young boy. (Yes, Jesus was once a young boy who had to grow… in wisdom, age and grace!)

Her mother’s heart may have been bursting with pride that he was drawing people to follow him as he preached the good news of the kingdom to her friends and neighbors. But her mother’s heart broke as she watched him plotted against by the church of her day, unjustly accused, beaten mercilessly … and nailed to a cross.

What did she feel when she saw a confused bunch of men hiding in an upper room while trying to make sense of their disappointment?

All of these forgotten truths about Mary do not show up in most artists imagination.

As I prayed about her real life, I realized more clearly than ever her amazing faith!

She was not a daughter of privilege in her life. I can see clearly now that she knew the messiness and stress of life… she was human, one of us.

She was an ordinary teenager who God looked on in very her ordinariness and choose to be the mother of Jesus. Just as her Son, she had to grow in wisdom, age and grace.

She was not unlike so many women in thousands of villages as they exist today in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Her daily life and labor were hard. With Joseph, she raised Jesus in oppressive circumstances, struggling to pay the taxes by which the rich became richer at the expense of the poor. As with the vast majority of people in world history, most of Mary’s difficult life went unrecorded.

Knowing all this I feel closer to her.

What was different about her? What was different about her was that when God called in the ordinariness of life, she answered with deep faith… not knowing what it would mean and how much her mother’s heart would be broken.

She was one of us. She lived in messy times, she did not understand but she trusted in her God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of her life.

Looking beyond the Christmas card Mary allows me to see more clearly that she is not only the mother of Jesus but why the church constantly reminds us she is a model of faith for today in the messiness of our lives.

Mary and the Poor. Let’s remember that Mary was poor… like us… and models for us responses to God’s call in the ordinariness of our lives.

Mary was faithful in the midst of the ordinariness and confusion of her life.

She said yes in her confusion at the Annunciation… and countless other yeses in the midst of her life.

That both comfortsand challenges me in the ordinariness and confusion of my life.

(For a more in-depth expression of these ideas, visit an article written by former Superior General Robert Maloney, CM in America Magazine. “The Historical Mary”)


Landing the Kingdom

“Landing the Kingdom” (Mk 4:26-34) us the title of Fr. Tom McKenna’s bi-weekly reflection on FamVin. He offers a challenge to name and recognize the imprint of grace in the reality of our lives.

Jesus’ words and parables show a deep love for reality all around him. A careful observer, he puts much of this world into his proclamation, painting his Good News with colors from the daily lives of his hearers. To convey the irresistibility of his Father’s Kingdom, he images the hidden seed sprouting under the ground. To highlight its tiny beginnings, he draws on the minuscule mustard kernel which grows into the largest plant in the garden. With imagination and creativity, he opens his listener’s eyes to the New Era already breaking into their old one.


Vincent de Paul shows much the same instinct. More than one person has commented on the broad range of metaphors from everyday life salted through his writings. In an article on freedom, Fr. Robert Maloney details Vincent’s image-conscious approach, delivering his message through familiar objects such as silk thread, trees and carriage horses. In another place, Fr. John Rybolt catalogs the menagerie of animals Vincent drew upon to illustrate his points — all the way from barnyard cows, sheep, dogs and cats over to the more exotic whales and lions. Like his master, Vincent wanted people to find the divine presence inside the boundaries of everyday experience.


A recent book about preaching was titled Naming Grace. It depicts the homilist’s primary task as sifting through the events of modern-day life and then picking out places in it where grace has made its imprint. In line with Jesus’ and Vincent’s approach, this counteracts a tendency to distance the Holy Spirit from life as we know it.  The Kingdom of God is in our midst, all three insist, and naming its movements as they circle through present-day experience furthers this claim. The homilist with eyes to see spots that presence stirring in the world and sets it inside topography hearers can recognize.

Immersed in life on the margins and expecting to find the face of The Lord in it, members of Vincent’s family resonate with this real-world approach. Not bound by the written page, the gospel they enact takes on flesh in the ordinary round. Messengers who tie links between it and everyday living bring color and impact to its power. With such imagination, we follow behind The Lord and indeed behind Vincent — whose creativity “extends to infinity.”

Lenten Pilgrimage to the Heart

Fr. Tomaž Mavrič, C.M., (President of the Vincentian Family) invites us on a  Lenten Pilgrimage to the Heart via Spiritual Direction – Sacrament of Reconciliation – Faith Sharing


Some highlights… [See Full Text ]


Dear members of the worldwide Vincentian Family,

May the grace and peace of Jesus be always with us!


As we enter the season of Lent, it is with overwhelming inner joy that we offer thanks to Jesus for this holy time of the year that helps us understand and see with the eyes of the heart His never-ending gestures of mercy toward us, toward others, toward the whole of humanity.


We continue our reflection from previous letters on the elements that shaped Vincentian spirituality and led Saint Vincent de Paul to become a Mystic of Charity. In the most recent Advent letter, we reflected on one of the principal founts from which Vincent drank as a Mystic of Charity: daily meditative prayer, daily meditation. In this Lenten letter, I would like to reflect on other founts that made Saint Vincent into a Mystic of Charity: spiritual direction, the sacrament of Reconciliation, and faith sharing.


I invite all of us to make of this Lent a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage to the heart, to Jesus’s heart and our own. If the two hearts meet, if the two hearts are filled with the same thoughts and desires, all the acts that follow, at any given moment of our lives, will be holy acts. Jesus will fill our hearts with His presence even in the smallest areas, and our hearts will become hearts according to His heart.


 Spiritual Direction


Spiritual direction, as an aid on our life’s journey, means  speaking simply and  confidentially with a spiritual director about our joys and sorrows, our daily struggles, and our successes and failures. Few things are more helpful in dealing with intense feelings, concerns, and problems than a “soul friend,” who understands us and knows the pitfalls along the road on which we are walking. The struggles we experience regarding delicate matters, like sexuality, are often embarrassing, but “honest talk” with a mature director is usually the wisest first step in handling them….

The Sacrament of Reconciliation


The sacrament of Reconciliation is the celebration of God’s mercy toward each of us. It is a ritual dialogue that embodies: 1) God’s continual outreach to us in merciful forgiveness and 2) our recognition of how much we need God’s mercy. It promises peace to those who admit their sins humbly.


Speaking the truth in simplicity is essential in the sacrament of Reconciliation, just as it is in spiritual direction. We go to confession so that we might lay our sins simply before God, confident that God’s healing love comes to us through sacramental signs. The quality of our relationship with a confessor will depend largely upon the transparency with which we reveal ourselves. It is imperative, therefore, that such a relationship be characterized by free self-disclosure and by the avoidance of maintaining “hidden corners” in our lives…

Faith Sharing

Through the centuries, various models of faith sharing emerged. Different spiritual fathers imparted a method or steps to help us listen to God’s Word, be open to receiving it into our hearts, and receive inspiration from the Spirit to understand what Jesus is telling us personally through a certain passage. Then, in all simplicity and humility, we share it with the group, the community. It is “holy ground” where we feel safe, not judged, not criticized, but heard, accepted as equals, as we are at that moment in our spiritual journey. In that kind of environment, in that kind of community, in those kinds of faith-sharing gatherings, we deepen our relationship with Jesus, ourselves, and others…


After offering some very practical steps for faith sharing he concludes…

Together we embark on a “pilgrimage to the heart.” Deeper reflection on spiritual direction, the sacrament of Reconciliation, and faith sharing and their adoption as our regular “companions” assure us that our pilgrimage will attain its objective: to unite Jesus’ heart and our own heart in order to reach the heart of all people as more effective evangelizers of the Poor.

[See Full text ]

The Abuse Synod – A Tale of Two Meetings

A Tale of Two Meetings – World Youth Day, Abuse Synod

Two World Youth Days?

There was the first tale of the recent World Youth Day. This was the one that appeared in international media focusing mainly on what was said on hot button issues of their home country.
The other tale of World Youth Day took place in the minds and hearts of the people who were present and impacted by the experience. In a clear case of under-reporting, the stories from the participants themselves focused on the impact their experience had on them. These stories spoke of life-changing impacts.

Two Abuse Synods?

Let me say something up front. As I read the media reports of the recent meeting of the world’s Bishops  I was disappointed and frustrated. However, there was part of me that has wondered whether there were two Abuse Synods.

The reporting on the one synod features all the things that did not happen at the Synod. Perhaps these could come under the heading of first reactions. In what might be the beginning of a more considered analysis, we might have second thoughts or a view of the synod from within.

A recent edition of La Croix,  a highly respected and world-leading, independent Catholic daily, provides food for thought. (See below)

What happened in the minds and hearts of the participants and why

Here are some quotes from this series of articles.

Changing mindsets and Culture

  • In an achievement that would have been impossible just a few short years ago, Pope Francis has succeeded in his efforts to develop a much greater level of awareness among the world’s bishops, many of whom who were a long way from sharing his vision.
  • The pope is convinced that processes are more important than blunt decisions. And through patience he been able to change the collective state of mind in the space of a few short days
  • The bishops’ growing awareness of their common responsibility for abuse and its management should now enable the Church to make much more orderly progress both against abuse and cover ups.

Child abuse at the Global level

Personal accounts of survivors impacted mindsets

  • Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg said, “I had to close my eyes, they were filled with tears,” adding, “it is absolutely necessary that we listen to these accounts.”
  • The President of Bishops of the European Union said that watching and listening to participants, he had witnessed a gradual evolution and improvement, thanks to the personal testimony given by survivors. “Bishops are changing. I can feel it in the way we are sharing and talking to one another,” he said.

Video statements by Bishops of the impact of victim testimonies

The Impact of Women

  • Women, though only few in number, also played a major part in what happened these last days in Rome.

There were only 9 major presentations to the entire assembly. Women gave three of them. Two of these women were mothers. One of the three represented women religious in Africa where there is a strong current of denial.

Each of these women offered serious challenges, See  also Crux Women who took star turns at Pope Francis’s recent summit

See more on each of the speakers

Significant actions to come.

In his post-meeting review Fr. Frederico Lombardi revealed some immediate actions  I expect these to have a powerful impact on turning around the ocean liner of clericalism.

  • A new Motu Proprio from the Pope “on the protection of minors and vulnerable persons”
  • A Vademecum to help bishops around the world clearly understand their duties and tasks
  • Creation of task forces of competent persons to help episcopal conferences and dioceses that find it difficult to confront the problems and produce initiatives for the protection of minors

My unofficial translation of the above

  • A motu proprio is usually when the pope wants to change or enact church rules
  • A vademecum is a guideook for getting things done.
  • Task forces presumably will aid in getting things done. (This process began on Monday, February 25!)

La Croix (subscription required)

In our continuing coverage of this historic event, La Croix‘s Rome correspondent Nicholas Senèze offers his analysis of the “abuse summit” and why it marks a monumental shift for the Church.

In another article, we explain how the four-day gathering inside the Synod Hall at the Vatican changed the hearts and minds of some of the more reticent bishops.

One of the major reasons for that was the testimony offered by abuse victims, both inside the hall and on the sidelines of the summit.

Another was the prophetic and powerful voice of women who, though only few in number, also played a major part in what happened these last days in Rome. We have reports on those aspects as well.

Niagara Faculty Member’s Mission to Explain Vincentian Saints

A Niagara Faculty member seems to have anticipated a recent letter from the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission urging Vincentians world-wide to renew and deepen their relationship with Vincentian Saints, Blessed, Venerable, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family around the world as models of the Vincentian charism and spirituality. 

In a recent article in the National Catholic Register, Saints You Should Know About, Kevin Di Camillo writes

One of the blessings of teaching at Niagara University, founded by the Vincentian Fathers, is that one is surrounded by buildings named after saints—and not surprisingly, more often than not, these saints are Vincentians.

Niagara’s central building is “Saint Vincent’s Hall” after the founder of the Lazarists (yet another name for the Vincentians), Saint Vincent de Paul. I’ve written about him here. The nearby De Marillac Hall is named after St. Louise de Marillac, his co-foundress of the Daughters of Charity.

He then goes on to explain other buildings on campus whose namesakes may not be as well-known.

St. Francis Regis Clet

But there are other buildings on campus whose namesakes are not as well-known. For example, Clet Hall was named for Saint Francis Regis Clet (pronounced “Clay”)… he sought and was granted permission to travel to China—that most impenetrable of anti-Christian countries—to bring the Good News.

Fr. Clet adopted the dress and mien of the locals, going so far as to grow a “Fu-Manchu” beard-and-moustache in order to embed himself in his adopted Chinese culture—a culture he lived in for three decades. From 1790-1820—nearly a full generation—Fr. Clet worked unceasingly to bring the Christian message to China…

St. Catherine Labouré

Also on Niagara’s campus is Laboure Hall, named after Saint Catherine Labouré (1806-1876), who was known the world over for her visions and the “Miraculous Medal.”

It’s been said that, until the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, no sacramental since the Holy Rosary itself had had such an immediate and far-reaching impact on the Church—and none had ever been diffused in such incredible numbers, with tens of millions of medal wearers all over the world…

St. John Gabriel Perboyre

Another building named for a Vincentian Saint is Perboyre Hall, after St. John Gabriel Perboyre, (1802-1840). Like St. Francis Regis Clet, St. John was a Frenchman who became a missionary to China. He followed both his brother, Louis, and his Uncle, Jacques, into the Congregation of the Mission….

The impact of a Niagra education on two future saints.

He concludes by pointing out that there is Our Lady of the Angels Chapel—the very chapel where two classmates, Ven. Nelson H. Baker and Ven. Michael McGivney (the founder of the Knights of Columbus)—prayed. Though they are not members of the Vincentians, they are alumni who are perhaps en route to canonization as I wrote of here.

[Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.]

What Makes Me Tick?

Have you ever asked the question what makes me tick?

This can be a pretty daunting question. What does it even mean, ‘to tick’? It’s not the same as feeling happy. It’s deeper, more involved. It’s that thing deep down that inspires and pushes you. It’s the thing that makes you feel really, well, you.

What made Vincent tick?

Fr. Tom McKenna of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission writes…

Vincent de Paul is surely interesting. Coming from modest means, he wound up mobilizing tens of thousands of people to follow his vision: a world in which the people on the bottom rung of society are singled out, valued, and helped. When the saint died, the preacher at his funeral claimed that he had changed the face of the Church in his time.

Not many people would be described as having changed the face of the Church in their time. So the question of what made Vincent de Paul tick is one worth exploring.

The following 4-minute video offers a possible answer to the question “What Set Vincent’s Heart on Fire?

The text is an excerpt drawn from “A Heart on Fire 400 Years Ago Shaped Our Church Today” which originally  https://cammonline.org/jan25anniversary/ 

Visit the FamVin YouTube channel for the first 4 segments of the video presentation.