Telling the Story of our “Our Ordinary Saints”

Brother Mark Elder’s mural “We Are DePaul 2″ composed of miniature faces of members of the DePaul University community.

Practicing what I preach? It just dawned on me that, in at least one instance, I actually practiced what I preached. A few weeks ago I asked Do we tell the stories of our ordinary saints?  God seemed to put me to the test. God asked me to tell the story of Fr. Robert Vignola, CM, an ordinary saint.

Fr. Bob Vignola left a request that I preach at his funeral. I was both honored and intimidated when I was asked. I had lived with him in three different community houses over a period of 35 years. So I knew plenty of “Viggie” stories! But I also suspected something about him that might not have been evident. I suspected I knew what motivated him in his legendary near-compulsion to be giving things to people. We never really talked about that. But as I prepared to speak at his funeral a light went on.  I realized that he embodied a forgotten truth about Vincent.

Recently our Superior General has been asking us to rediscover a forgotten truth about St. Vincent. In his words, St. Vincent was a “Mystic of Charity.” Fr. Mavric also wrote a reflection on how Mother Teresa told the story of a contemporary Mystic of Charity, Janez Frančišek Gnidovec, CM. Reading his reflection prompted me to raise the question of whether we tell the stories of the saints next door.

Pope Francis recently reminded us of “the saints next door”. In an age where we seem to be obsessed with tearing down and belittling, do we tell the stories of the “saints next door”?

We may not be asked to provide testimony for an official recognition of holiness. But shouldn’t we be celebrating rather than denigrating?

Let’s tell the stories of the “Saints Next Door”

I realized I was now being challenged to tell the story of a ‘mystic of charity” and a saint who lived next door.

So let me tell you briefly the story of Fr. Bob Vignola.

He found God in the people and events around him. His “visions” were Christic.” He saw Christ in the face of the poor.

His “visions” as a mystic consisted in gazing into the eyes of the poor person and seeing the suffering humanity of Jesus.  The “revelations” he received as a mystic came from the cries of the poor
. Keep in mind that another great theologian, Karl Rahner, speaks of a “mysticism of daily life.”

… Bob was profoundly aware of presence of the ultimate reality we call God. He was a visionary who saw, as Vincent reminded us, the other side of the dented coin.
 He walked among us as “mystic of charity.”

Thank you, Bob, for living out in your special way the practical mysticism of Vincent, the mystic of charity. You are what Pope Francis recently described as the “saint next door”.

But keep in mind it is not enough to tell the stories of the “saints next door”. We are challenged to live them.

Let us each take from his life a memory of his example his fidelity to Jesus wash one another’s feet and “pay it forward”.

The question for us as brother, uncle, fellow Vincentian whether in vows or in spirit, is “are we as open as Fr. Bob was to the revelations of Jesus in our encounters especially with strangers who are poor and marginalized.

Let’s try looking around us.

Full text of the homily

More information on the world largest image of Vincent created by Br. Mark Elder

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with how we are living up to the mission of St. Vincent de Paul, and how you can help.