Address from the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., at the inauguration dinner for the School of Public Service
February 15, 2008
Good evening and welcome. DePaul University is honored that you would join us this evening as we officially inaugurate our School of Public Service.
Preparing men and women for public service is nothing new at DePaul. We have been teaching public service courses since the 1970s with the foundation of the Administrative Studies Center by Professor Dominic Parisi, and its reformulation as the Public Service Program in the early 1980s. And of course, the Law School and other parts of the university have prepared and contributed many famous public servants to Chicago, Illinois and the nation, including three mayors, an Illinois Supreme Court justice, many state legislators, and city and county officials, both Democrats and Republicans.
But even that list is incomplete, for it focuses only on those who served at the very highest elected positions. In truth, DePaul graduates have long served the public with great honor throughout our various governmental agencies, nonprofit organizations and non-governmental organizations.
Yet, this is still a new moment for DePaul. Tonight we celebrate the establishment of a new School of Public Service. Within this unit, the university hopes to establish a larger commitment to preparing those in public service, and it wishes to give the faculty of this school the autonomy to develop cutting-edge programs using a professional school model.
The School of Public Service along with its affiliates—the Chaddick Institute and the de Paul Leadership Project—represent a commitment to service that is focused on personal engagement and real-world applications. The Chaddick Institute, for example, is currently playing a central role in a citywide effort to organize centennial celebrations for the Burnham Plan. It is tremendous that our university is so closely engaged with both the history of our city and also with its current planning and development.
The success of our public service program and the creation of the School of Public Service are the results of the efforts of many dedicated faculty and staff. There are three faculty members in particular I would like to acknowledge. Father J. Patrick Murphy, a Vincentian priest who has directed the public service program since 1994 and who has been most instrumental in its development into the School of Public Service; Joe Schweiterman, director of the Chaddick Institute; and Mary McGuiness, director of the William and Mary Pat Gannon Hay St. Vincent de Paul Leadership Project. Your leadership has been a gift to your colleagues, to the students and to public service education. All of us stand grateful to you this evening.
I would also like to acknowledge Bill and Mary Pat Gannon Hay, whose generosity, passion and commitment for the leadership ideals espoused by St. Vincent de Paul led to the creation of the de Paul Leadership Project. As educators and administrators, we can create ideas and shape them into programs; however, we need the passion, generosity and vision of our benefactors to bring plans and ideas to life.
As we celebrate the raising of this wonderful program into a formal school tonight, there are perhaps many things that could be said. Let me focus upon just one: your name. Your name, of course, is not “The School of Public Service.” Your name is “The DePaul University School of Public Service.” You have the name of a Catholic saint on your school.
Statues of Vincent de Paul typically present an image of a man holding an orphan or feeding someone who is poor. Indeed, he spent his life looking after the poor, and it was that work that made him a saint. But those statues do not portray most of Vincent’s typical day—the ways that he actually changed the lives of the poor.
They do not show him negotiating with public officials; trying to get laws changed or written; pleading with judges; raising money from the wealthy; seeking the assistance of the king and powerful cardinals and court officials; writing countless letters of guidance for his far-flung charitable activities throughout France and many other countries; reading financial statements; negotiating contracts; creating powerful coalitions to bring change to the Church and to France; using his royal committee appointments to effect change; winning many battles, losing many battles; traveling and speaking to make sure his works were effective.
Except for Thursdays, which he religiously took off in order to rest and think, Vincent worked six days, from early in the morning to long into the night. Perhaps his statue should have him poring over papers on a desk, or politically working a room or quietly stealing a few minutes to whisper into the King’s ear. None of these are quite as dramatic as holding a child or handing a poor man a piece of bread, but they would be more honest. In truth, Vincent helped more poor people when he was away from them than when he was with them. This well-educated, clever priest learned the system and made it work for the poor. And we made him a saint for it.
There’s something in there for all of us who share the same audacity to serve the public. When we put DePaul on the name of this school, we pledge ourselves to learn the system at its highest levels, to become experts at the ways of making public policy. Then, we must fully honor Vincent’s heart when we put all of our learning in the service of the public good. Not our good. Not our self-promotion, or self-protection, but the public good. We must especially look out for the needs of the poor who have no one to advocate for them. Whatever our position, whatever our title, we honor the name our school—DePaul—when we give those on society’s margins an opportunity to change their circumstances.
And so I congratulate the faculty, the staff, our alumni and students, all who have had a role in bringing this new school to this wonderful moment. May all of us live up to the name we’ve been given, and one day, may the poor themselves meet us at the gates of eternity, glad to welcome us because of the commitment we made to them in this lifetime.
God bless you all, and God bless the DePaul University School of Public Service.