Mission and Values > Programs > Vincentian Mission Institute > Current VMI Cohort > Denise Mattson

Denise Mattson


Educated as a journalist and employed at several news agencies before applying my journalism skills in the world of public relations, I joined DePaul in 1990 on the media relations team and have worked in PR and executive communication ever since. I left my role as Associate Vice President for Public Relations after 20 years to become Special Assistant in the Office of the President, where I develop strategic planning and trustee communications.

I keep my hand in media by contributing occasionally to blogs and websites, including Huffington Post, Ragan’s PR Daily, the Institute of Global Homelessness and the Chicago Foodie Sisters. I am the author of “The Rise of a Dynamic Urban Planner: The Living Biography of Elizabeth Hollander,” the story of Chicago’s first woman planning commissioner.  I have a bachelor’s degree in mass communication with a sociology minor from Illinois State University and a master of arts in liberal studies from DePaul.

Why DePaul?

The university’s values, culture and mission all resonate with me.  They inspire meaningful activities to write about and interesting ways to participate in the action.  Advocating for the transformative power of education every day makes me feel like my work matters. I would not derive the same satisfaction if my job were to expound upon the latest power tool on the market or have to position new banking fees in a positive light. I need to believe in my work and use my talents for good. Work without inspiration is transactional labor. That’s not me. I work to create change. DePaul is a place that motivates people to do their best because our students’ futures could be compromised if we didn’t. Our work at DePaul makes a difference.     

Why VMI?

About 10 years ago I participated in a senior leadership heritage tour of Vincent’s France and read the Bernard Pujo biography. Previously, I knew of Vincent’s legacy, but not much about his life or how he crafted the movement that became his legacy. I understood why Vincentian hospitals and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul sprang from his work. But I did not see the path from “Charity’s Saint,” who deployed priests to the countryside and served people in the streets, to creating universities in his name. Perhaps I was looking for the Jesuit history in the Vincentian storyline. When I read the book, I saw how Vincent learned the necessity of recruitment and admission programs, fundraising, alumni relations, PR, financial and legal protocols, strong policies and the practice of business ethics. The parallels to how the university uses these strategies to set students on a more prosperous path were everywhere.  

Separately, I served on the board of the Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative, which empowers Haitians through sustainable economic development. The experience made me an eyewitness to the kind of poverty Vincent saw in the streets in his day, because, sadly, Haiti has not progressed much from a similar condition. Just as there was tremendous wealth in France in the 17th century, there is tremendous wealth in Haiti, but not for most people. I hope VMI will prepare me to be better able to address such disparities as I encounter them.