Vincent’s Secret  Sauce for Change

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

Secret Sauce – “an element, quality, ability, or practice that makes something or someone successful or distinctive”

I don’t know whether Vincent had some secret sauce that would account for the change he brought to Church and society in 17th France. I don’t know whether Vincent was even a cook… although at one level I suspect he may very well have pitched in when needed. I don’t know whether Vincent ever thought of a secret sauce that allowed him to bring about such momentous changes

I do wonder what he might say and even if he would be able to write down much of a recipe. After all, it took him decades to provide his closest followers with their “Common Rule”! ( I admit one of his strengths with other foundations was the specific guidance he gave to people in his various foundations.)

In many ways, I suspect he was often more like many good cooks. Their recipes seem sprinkled with words like “a little bit of this, a pinch of that…” They just seem to know instinctively what to do and when. In other words, their recipes that would not be very specific.

But still, I wondered if thinking a little more I could gain some insight into his secret ingredients and how he used them. If Vincent had a secret sauce what might be the main ingredient? During this time of at-risk populations staying at home I have been thinking a lot about the secret to his success. I finally realized the key ingredient of his secret sauce for change was his imagination!


Imagination was in fact his secret sauce for changing his world.  He looked at the world that most accepted as “That’s just the way it is” massive social inequality, royalty and peasant polarization – all that went with it, especially resignation to the status quo.

He sensed that there was something wrong with this picture. He felt this especially when he viewed this on-the-ground reality against the vision and mission of Jesus bringing good news to the Poor. He asked what we refer to today as the Vincentian question. “What must be done?)

He dared imagine a world where people took care of one another. I doubt he had any other plan than following Providence to provide the answer to what must be done..

This providence led him to inspire some movements that shaped the “influencers” of his age and tapped into previously unrecognized resources.

Tuesday conferences – influencing the “influencers”

Few seemed to have any idea of the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus. Even those who were supposed to be the influencers, the clergy, showed little understanding let alone example. Vincent was painfully aware of the their lack of spiritual leadership. Yet, he imagined a clergy on fire with the Gospel.

But he went further. He asked what must be done.  Enter Tuesday conferences which were a tool to influence the “influencers” (to use jargon from today). I must admit that I thought I knew what these conferences were. Clergy would show up to listen to Vincent give a talk each Tuesday. After some research, I am now embarrassed to realize how far from reality my ideas were. These Conferences were so much more.

IF (notice the “if”) they were invited to become “members” (first clue) of conference, it meant they were invited to a more Gospel way of living out their vocation in their parishes. It meant changing themselves in a daily process. Clergy are called to be front line servants (influencers?) who would lead their parishes by example. This meant so much more than just a token one hour a week. It was more like a somewhat intense spiritual boot camp for priests who wanted to be more effective ministers of the gospel. Meeting on Tuesdays was just one part of their program.

He re-imagined what was necessary to cultivate the “influencers” (I will be sharing more of my discoveries over the coming weeks.)

Lay persons as ministers

When he founded the Confraternities, the Daughters of Charity and the Ladies of Charity he was tapping previously unrecognized resources for mission and ministry . Each of these groups were basically committed lay people. Many forget that the Daughters of Charity are not religious but a “society of apostolic life” just as is the St. Vincent dePaul Society.

Including laypersons in ministry was one of his most pioneering insights. It was doubly pioneering in the fact that he notably included laywomen. Surprising as it may seem, prior to his time, there was no way for women to engage in any kind of ministry of service other than prayer behind the walls and doors of convents.

He entrusted St. Louise with the inspiration and formation of these women. In effect, Louise developed a feminine and lay-oreinted form of the Tuesday Conference program.

What must be done today?

  • Identify and form the influencers in our generation both male and female
  • Inspire generous and gifted laity.
  • Help them recognize how they share in the mission of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.