Through my contact and conversations with some of my fellow teachers, I can affirm something that I think is quite evident: education is more than a profession: it is a vocation. Teaching, sharing and transmitting knowledge is a virtue that not everyone is capable of practicing. We know many very intelligent people and we also know that many of these same individuals do not have the gift of knowing how to share that knowledge with their others.
To be an educator one must have, above all, a passion and a taste for what one does. One must also be patient, since the teaching and learning process is slow and depends on the person involved in said process. We know the difference between doing a job because of some duty and doing a job out of love. One can teach a profession (just look at the number of private universities); but a vocation … that cannot be taught or learned because a vocation is part of who one is as a person.
We, Vincentians of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and members of other branches of the Vincentian Family, are born educators. In direct and weekly contact with the excluded members of society, we attempt to be the face and voice of Christ. In this interaction of charity, by vocation, we carry out the task of the educator who exercises his/her activity with love, without worrying about some recompense or any other consideration.
We are Vincentians and educators for love, for charity, for vocation, for Christ, for Mary, for Saint Vincent, for Ozanam and for God. We share knowledge without demands or concessions.
We are educators, yes, but we also learn much from our “apprentices.” We do not return from our home visits – or from any other Vincentian action – in the same condition that we were when we began that activity. We are different, more reflective and, therefore, better. We have been transformed by the process of education, which is a two-way street. Ozanam taught us that great teachers must have the humility to understand that they can learn much from those who are being assisted. After all, they are instruments of God and Saint Vincent called them our “masters and lords”.
So, my dear Vincentians and dear members of the different branches of the Vincentian Family, let us never forget that we are educators by calling and, therefore, we have a great responsibility to proclaim the Word of God to our sisters and brothers who are most in need. We must give them knowledge that is useful and necessary (information about labor and human rights, nutrition, employment, etc.), and we must also share with them knowledge about the demands of the gospel … and in this process we will become holy men and women.
If we do not act like this, we will become nothing more but distributors of alms, and we will not fulfill our mission as baptized Christians and true Vincentian educators.
Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
 Cf. Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009, volume X, p. 68, 215; volume XI, 297, 249; volume XII, p. 4; volume XIIIb, p. 196.