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A Gift that Opened My Eyes To My History

At the time of my 50th anniversary of priesthood, one of my cousins from Germany sent me an extraordinary gift… a chart of my family history. What was really extraordinary was that it included small pictures of each of my relatives going back the last four generations. It takes four 4’x 2’ frames. Obviously, I can only display one frame at a time on my wall.

One of four panels

There is something truly striking about these photos of the most recent generations … the uncanny resemblances between my nephews and nieces in the US and some of their counterparts in Germany. So often I had to do a double-take. The similarities were so great!  People I had never met looked so familiar. They looked like they came from the same womb.

I became aware of how large my family actually was. And I wanted to somehow bring them together for a party so that we could get to know one another!

The Vincentian Family Tree

My earliest understanding of the Vincentian Family was limited to the “Double Family”  – the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. I had no idea of a Vincentian Family beyond that.

My eyes were opened in 1996 thanks to the publication of the ground-breaking study of the Vincentian Family Tree by Sr. Betty Ann McNeill, DC. Then in 1998, I had a week-long experience of this previously unknown family when I was a delegate to the 1998 General Assembly of the Congregation of the Mission in Rome. For a whole week, I was introduced to my Vincentian cousins from all parts of the world. They now had names and faces. I realized we all came from the heart of Vincent and Louise and carried the values of Vincent and Louise.

Since then I have dedicated my life to getting to know my Vincentian Family better… and helping others get to know each other via the complexus of websites under the banner of famvin.org.

Some 20 years later I was moved to tears watching 11,000 plus people gather with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square to celebrate our family heritage in the presence of the relic of Vincent’s heart. Three years later this gathering led to leaders 99 international of the Branches of the Vincentian Family gathering in Rome for the first-ever Assembly of leaders of our Vincentian Family Movement.

The Vincentian Question

The Vincentian Question has always been “What must be done?”. We each have done marvelous things. But it was now asked in a different way. What can we do together that we could not do working in our own silos?

The motto of the AIC successors of Vincent’s very first foundation, even before the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, comes to life… “working together against all forms of poverty”.

Realizing that we can do more together led to the Vincentian Family Homessless Alliance and it’s “13 Houses project”. We now have a commitment to collaborate in the very specific task of building at least 13 facilities for those who are homeless for whatever reason.

Think of it… over 4 million people in 159 counties walk in Vincent’s footsteps. There are 161 congregations and lay Institutes collaborating on one of the major problems in the worldHomelessness!

The words of St. Vincent to the Daughters of Charity continues to echo in our ears:

And that was the beginning of your Company. As it was not then what it is now, there is reason to believe that it is still not now what it will be later on when God brings it to the state on which He has decided.

Quite a history lesson!

This post first appeared on Vincentian Mindwalk

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