What is your educational and professional background?
I was brought up in a French and catholic family, but I spent a large part of my childhood in Morocco. There, I was struck both by the poverty of the urban slums and the generosity of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary. It’s only later, when I worked on the history of the Society of St Vincent de Paul for my PhD, that I discovered that my own parents were part of this strong tradition of Social Catholicism. As a graduate from the Sorbonne, I have been living in Paris for years where I really enjoy the cultural life (specially theaters). Literature is also for me a key for understanding the world, people and their diversity.
What drew you to the Holtschneider chair at DePaul?
Vincentian Providence maybe? My first book examined how 19th-Century Catholics answered to the new social question also known as ‘pauperism’. Lay people, bourgeois, and all men, they differed from the Daughters of Charity. These women religious, from lower social backgrounds, dealt with the needs of care and education. I wrote two books—eight years of my life!—La Rue pour Cloître (The Street as a Cloister, 17th-18th c.) and Le Temps des Cornettes (Cornettes’ era, 19th-20th c.). It was a tremendous opportunity to work in the archives of the congregation as well as helping the Sisters to understand their own heritage, particularly those coming from the Global South.
My encounter with the Vincentian Studies Institute which encouraged my research and the trust of Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M., were also decisive. I had the opportunity to come several times for lectures at DePaul, and I spent a fantastic whole quarter on Lincoln Park Campus a few years ago.
What will your duties be in the chair?
By teaching, I would like to train students to approach social sciences, history and spirituality from a Vincentian perspective and be able to give them a deeper understanding of poverty, poor relief, care and social justice. I like what the Jesuit Michel de Certeau wrote in The Weakness of Believing (1987): “We reorganize the past in terms of the sense we want to give to the present.” Being careful of the risks of anachronism, History can help to respond to present needs, hic et nunc.
I will also support Vincentian research, mainly historical as I am particularly familiar with French and even some European and American sources, but also from a transdisciplinary perspective.
Then, the aim of the chair is to promote Vincentian values at DePaul by working with other staff, faculty and students engaged in that mission.
What do you hope to accomplish in the chair?
I have plenty of ideas! But I want first to take some time to meet colleagues and students to feel the ‘spirit’ of DePaul. Vincent de Paul used to say : ‘Don’t step over Providence’. But his friend Louise de Marillac often answered by pushing him to take decisions! Between those two attitudes, I will start my immersion in September 2019.
Nevertheless, I plan to organize scholarly events (seminars, workshops) based on the chair research program; create activities intended for a non-specialized audience, like conversations with major figures in areas linked with Vincentian topics (such as social justice); bring my experience to Vincentian organizations in the world. DePaul is the major place for Vincentian studies.
What research project are you working on now?
You know, historians physically need contact with primary sources. Arlette Farge, a well-known French scholar, wrote a beautiful and sensitive book, the ‘taste of archive’ (translated under the title The Allure of the Archives, Yale UP, 2015).
When I visit a new place, my wife and children help me not to spend to much time in libraries! So my research projects will probably change when living in Chicago. Currently, I’m working with the Center for 19th-Century History at the Sorbonne on the European correspondence of Frédéric Le Play (1806-1882). It is a contribution to the history of social sciences which dealt with the ways of inventing a new society at the time of revolutions. I was happy to discover that some disciples of Le Play went to Chicago, like Paul de Rousiers, the author of American Life (1892).
Another project I started—Politics, Gender, and Philanthropy—is based on an inquiry about the philanthropic roles of four « first ladies » (Michelle Obama, Bernadette Chirac, Lady Diana and Rania of Jordan). It seems that the age of mediatization creates convergences although political, social and religious contexts are deeply different, contributing to a global culture of gift.