On a windy fall afternoon outside the Arts and Letters Hall, members of the DePaul community gathered to dedicate a new memorial honoring Vincentian priests both at the university and throughout the United States, since the order’s arrival 200 years ago.
Rising about 15 feet and crowned with a clock, the memorial displays its intended purpose on one side while revealing on the other sides the names of 275 Vincentian priests who have worked at DePaul since 1898.
And one thing was clear after the dedication speeches and the ice cream social afterwards: The monument can mean different things to different people.
“We thought among all the celebrations that we will have and ways that we will mark the work that everyone does here, we should take at least one moment and we should honor the work of these men, them and all of them who have come before them,” President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M. said to the roughly 100 spectators, including all of DePaul’s Vincentian priests and brothers, the members of the Board of Trustees, a hodgepodge of faculty and staff and a handful of students, mostly members of DePaul’s sports team.
“And we should create a visual representation that we would have to walk past every time, if only to check our watch against this,” Holtschneider said, motioning to the monument’s clock.
“Let me speak on behalf of the DePaul University community for a moment if I can, and let me say simply to these men: Thank you for your service, thank you for what you do, you are a blessing to all of us, may God bless you in return,” Holtschneider said.
Holtschneider also gave the audience a brief history lecture on how the Vincentians arrived in the United States and to Chicago.
About a decade after the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory in 1803, the bishop assigned to the region decided he needed priests to work there. The Vincentians were his first pick, but they were reluctant to come to the New World from their homes in Italy.
But the bishop was determined, and he asked the residing Pope Pius VII for help. To the bishop’s satisfaction, the pope obliged, issuing a directive that declared, “‘Let my people go,’” Holtschneider said.
The Vincentians were off to the United States, arriving on July 26, 1816 at the port of Baltimore. From there, they traveled west to the Mississippi River, to St. Louis and New Orleans.
By 1875 the Vincentians came to Chicago, shortly after the Great Fire, and settled on the very plot of land where the university is today, Holtschneider said. The priests formed a parish, and by 1898 they created a day college. “And that became us. That became DePaul University,” he said.
“Since that time, for all those years Vincentian priests and brothers have labored here. And they’ve worked their hearts out,” Holtschneider said. “I’m claiming that status today to brag shamelessly about the work of these men, who would never do it themselves.”
After the president spoke, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Francis Kane, stepped up onto the podium.
Kane said the dedication honors many people and many things, from the founding of the university, to the Vincentian’s history in the United States, to the priests themselves.
Kane said the monument “is a clock, and it’s really about time.”
“The dedication of the Vincentians to ordinary people, to the poor and the disenfranchised, is at the root of their charism and at the root of the astonishing growth in development of this great university over the past 118 years,” Kane said.
The monument “is a reminder that it is the responsibility of every student, every member of the faculty, every member of the staff to continue the work of DePaul and its mission to educate men and women, to make this a better world, a world where God’s goodness and grace can flourish,” Kane said.
After saying a prayer, the bishop dipped a gold-colored wand in a bowl and walked around the memorial, flicking water onto each side.
Months before the dedication, and with the bicentennial anniversary approaching, the Rev. Edward Udovic, secretary of the university, knew he wanted to do something to commemorate the date. But he also wanted to celebrate the history of the Vincentians at DePaul. Udovic decided to combine the two, putting the names of the priests on the memorial, “kind of like the Vietnam memorial,” he said.
But there was no list of names, Udovic found. So he headed to the archives and eventually emerged with 275 names of Vincentian priests who worked at DePaul University and the old DePaul Academy. Yet that wasn’t the finishing touch.
“We wanted it to not just be a memorial, because it would be too much like a tombstone,” Udovic said. “So that’s why we added the clock element to kind of make the point that this is about the passing of time. That it’s about the Vincentians who have served.”
Construction began in late spring of 2016, Udovic said, and was finished by early summer. They waited to have the dedication on Sept. 27 so students, faculty and staff could attend the event.
Once the memorial’s dedication had concluded, the ice cream social began, much to the delight of attending students. Even more students showed up just for the ice cream.
Johnathan Grey, a freshman and computer science major, said he was not familiar with Vincentian history before the dedication, but that he had seen “the clock a couple times, and I read the side.”
“Clearly their values have lasted the test of time, and I think that’s really important,” Grey said.
Tania Rodriguez, director of student academic services and one of the staff members at the event, said the monument, for her, honored DePaul’s values.
“I think DePaul embodies the Vincentian spirit, and so what a more wonderful institution to really honor the 200 years by having this monument resurrected here on campus,” she said.
“The fact that they are really encouraging the Vincentian values really speaks volumes to our community and what we do with our students, within the Chicago community itself,” Rodriguez said. “I do think that’s what makes DePaul , DePaul.”