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The more I learn about St. Vincent the more I am amazed at his openness to new ways of living his commitment to “Bring Good News to the Poor”.  Some twenty years ago I came across a saying that summed up so much of his inventiveness.

Centuries ago, a Japanese poet, Basho, wrote “I do not wish to imitate what the great ones of the past did. I would rather seek what they sought.”

The insight fits Vincent, and the early Daughters of Charity, in so many ways. It also challenges us today to be as open as they were.

Vincent proposes Marguerite Naseau as an example

St. Vincent, nine years after her death, proposed Marguerite Naseau, DC, as a model. He said she “was the first Sister who had the happiness of pointing out the road to our Sisters, both in the education of young girls and in nursing the sick.”

In 1642 Vincent said:

Moved by a powerful inspiration from Heaven, the idea occurred to her that she would instruct children and so she bought an alphabet but, as she could not go to school for instruction, she went and asked the parish priest or curate to tell her what the first four letters of the alphabet were. On another occasion, she asked what were the next four, and so on for the rest. … Little by little she learned to read, and she then taught the other girls of her village. She afterwards made up her mind to go from village to village instructing the young, accompanied by two or three other girls whom she had taught.

What we can learn from her today

Marguerite was someone who saw a need.

Her vision, her goal, was to help village girls of all ages become literate. And make no mistake about it, it was a radical vision for her day, a day in which people were dealing with survival needs and some were starving. In this, she stands in a long line of people who look beyond immediate needs. 

She sought advice and trusted in providence.

She did not rely on herself alone but sought advice. She asked Vincent about her idea. He responded, “Certainly, certainly, my daughter, I advise you to do so.” She then sought help in acquiring the skills she needed for her ministries.

She attracted others to work with her in fulfilling her vision.

She exemplified the command of Vincent, “We should assist the poor in every way and do it both by ourselves and by enlisting the help of others. To do this is to preach the gospel by word and by work.”

Creative Fidelity

Vincent sought what Jesus sought. Marguerite sought what Jesus and St. Vincent sought. By her example, she challenges us to respond today to seek what they sought.

Marguerite Naseau also stands firmly in an ecclesial tradition that does whatever it takes to make God’s love visible and known.

I suspect this is part of what Vincent had in mind when he wrote,

“And that was the beginning of your Company. As it was not then it is now, there is reason to believe that it is still not what it will be when God has perfected it as he wants it.”

A question for is not what Marguerite did then but what would she do today, how would she seek to serve today.

How open are we to

  • New needs?
  • New ways of meeting these needs?

(If you wish to pursue further implications, please visit a lengthy reflection I prepared for the 2001 General Assembly of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. “Marguerite Naseau—Pointing to Cyberspace?”

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk

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