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Jill Pioter

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons 2560 1920 SVDP USA

Speaking of pilgrimages, Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

For members of the Society, it is especially in Paris that God’s “grace has shown with particular splendor” on our patrons and founders. Twenty-three Vincentian Pilgrims recently returned from Paris, where together, they walked in the footsteps of those holy people. National Director of Formation Tim Williams generously shared these photos and captions with us, so that we can all share a part of the pilgrims’ journey.

History and Artifacts

The offices of the Council General International (CGI) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul include a museum that is home to important historical artifacts, many of them donated by the family of Blessed Frédéric. Seen here are Ozanam’s academic robes, which he would have worn while teaching at the Sorbonne, and a portrait painted by Frédéric’s brother-in-law, Charles Soulacroix. This portrait was the basis for the Ozanam Mosaic installed at the National Basilica in 2020.

The CGI staff was very warm and welcoming. Pictured is Gonzague de Raulin, special advisor to the President General, showing us the museum.

Bust of Frederic Ozanam

 

 

 

 

 

During his short 40 years on this earth, Frédéric managed to travel quite extensively; including trips to Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and all around France, often visiting existing Conferences, and working to begin new ones, as he continued to do in Italy right up until weeks before his death. It was in this trunk that he packed for all of those journeys.

In the former motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the Chapelle Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, in the presence of Vincent’s body. Also in this building is a small museum containing is a number of artifacts from Saints Vincent, Louise, and Catherine Labouré. Our guide in the museum was Father Andrés Motto, CM, who serves as spiritual advisor to the Council General International (CGI,) and pilgrim Bob Loew acted as his translator for us.

Churches and Chapels

At the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine Labouré had her visions of Mary and the Miraculous Medal in 1830. When St. Vincent’s remains were translated to Paris in April 1830, St. Catherine reported having a vision of his heart on three successive nights in the convent chapel, which she took to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper. His heart is in the Miraculous Medal Chapel today. The pilgrims celebrated Mass here and had time for individual prayer and meditation in the chapel. Outside the chapel, Sr. Paule Freeburg, DC, shares stories of the motherhouse, St. Louise, and St Catherine.

The inside of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes Church. It is beneath this church where Bl. Frédéric is buried, and the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the crypt.

In the courtyard outside, National President Ralph Middlecamp shares some of the history.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Saint-Laurent was the parish of St. Vincent and of St. Louise. Years later, during the sack of Saint-Lazare (home of the Congregation of the Mission) in the French Revolution, several revolutionaries who had found a reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul there brought it reverently to Saint-Laurent for safekeeping — then returned to their looting and pillaging. 

 

Famous for its stained glass, Sainte-Chappelle was originally built as a chapel for Louis IX and was consecrated in 1248.

The famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica sits on the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. It was built in no small part due to the work of the leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who promoted the “national vow” to build this church in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War.

First built in 1758, the Panthéon is and was a very distinctive landmark in Paris. Through France’s many revolutions, it has served alternately a Catholic Church or a civic monument, which it is today. 

 

Across from the Panthéon stands the Church of St. Étienne du Mont. While attending the nearby Sorbonne School of Law, this was Blessed Frédéric’s parish, and it was also home to the first Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Interior of the Church of St Étienne du Mont.

In nearly every church, there is at least one painting or statue of St. Vincent de Paul, who is beloved throughout France. Here, pilgrim Silvia Vargas lights a candle in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which was the Ozanam family parish. Frédéric’s funeral was here, and his daughter Maire would later marry in this church.

All Around Paris

Rue Mouffetard remains the same narrow street that it was in Frédéric and Rosalie’s day. Once a place of great poverty, it is today lined with shops and cafes, and filled with locals and tourists. The pilgrims walked with Blessed Rosalie’s words in our hearts: “Never have a I prayed so well as in the streets.”

Fifty thousand Parisians followed Blessed Rosalie Rendu’s funeral procession from St. Médard Church to this cemetery in 1856. To this day, fresh flowers are always placed upon her grave, and our pilgrims added a bouquet and prayed together on their visit. Known as “The Good Mother of All,” the inscription on her monument reads: “To Sister Rosalie from her friends, both rich and poor.”

The garden at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.

The French government installed a small marker on the side of the building where the first Conference meeting took place on April 23, 1833. 

Currently a fire station, this building was the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity when Blessed Rosalie arrived in Paris.

This sign on the wall in the crypt reads (in Latin): “A.F. Ozanam, unselfish herald of truth and love. He lived 40 years, 4 months, and 16 days. Dedicated by Amélie to her husband with whom she lived for twelve years and by Marie to her father. Live in God and pray for our salvation.”

Parisian Views

A view of Paris from the steps of Sacré-Coeur.

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 856 642 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I have just returned from the Heritage Pilgrimage to Paris, which was originally scheduled for last year as part of our 175th anniversary celebrations. In spite of some challenges, 23 Vincentians from all over the United States were able to walk together in the footsteps of our founders and patrons.

On our pilgrimage, we celebrated Mass at the tombs of Frédéric Ozanam, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Louise de Marillac. Our group prayed at and put flowers on the grave of Sister Rosalie Rendu. We visited the churches where they worshiped, walked the streets they walked, saw where they lived, and visited several small museums containing possessions of these holy people.

A pilgrimage is about more than visiting places. One source defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”

At our final dinner we all concluded that we are returning to our daily life enriched by the experience. An observation was made that these were ordinary people who struggled with life, just like we all do. But being attentive to God, what they did made the world a better place. Someone else shared that the reason we know about Vincent and Frédéric is that they inspired a long line of people who continued to dedicate themselves to carry on what they initiated.

You and I are in that chain of servants to the poor. We must provide leadership to our Conferences and Councils, and invite new members so that these efforts continue to witness to the love of God. Most Vincentians will not go on pilgrimage to Paris, but we all strive to walk in the footsteps of our founders and patrons by continuing the network of friends they inspired, a network which visits the poor in Christ’s name, providing them with material needs and friendship. Those we serve may never know who St. Vincent de Paul or Frédéric Ozanam are, but they know us.

After our Mass in Ozanam’s tomb, we prayed a prayer written by his wife Amelie in that same crypt. Aside from some changed gender roles referenced, it seemed she wrote the prayer specifically for us. The prayer has a timeless and universal message that gave me a deep appreciation of spirituality of the woman who was loved dearly by Frédéric Ozanam.

She prayed, “Dear Lord Jesus who came down from the heavens to this underground vault, to this humble altar, residing now in our hearts, hear our prayer, protect all that we hold most dear on this Earth and, at this time when the future of our country is in the balance, give strength and good judgment to those who wish for Good. Choose fair and measured men to govern us, free of the passions that can blind us, but full of the passion for justice. Have pity, oh Lord, on those who suffer. Relieve their pain and bring back to us that great Christian whom you wished to purify and who may serve you once again.

“Watch over our families, Lord, give our sons the desire to work, give them devotion, the very best guardian of their virtue. Make men of them, so that they may serve their country with honor and serve you with faith. Give our daughters the strength to raise their children well and to carry out their duties graciously. Bestow good health upon us and may none of the people close to our hearts abandon the faith of the Church.

“Oh you martyrs, illustrious prelates, virgin saints, and you my darling one, whose bodies are laid to rest together in this place, pray, pray for us that our wishes be granted, and while we wait for the day when we shall be reunited, fill our souls with strength, peace and love.”

It is a fitting prayer for all Vincentian pilgrims on our journey toward holiness.

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

09-30-21 News Roundup

09-30-21 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

International

National

Help us share the good news of the good work being done in your local Conference or Council! Email us at info@svdpusa.org with the subject line Good News.

More Photos from the 2021 National Assembly

More Photos from the 2021 National Assembly 2550 1700 SVDP USA

You asked for them, and here they are! Another round of photos from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s 2021 National Assembly in Houston, Texas.

If you missed the first round of photos, they can be found here.

To watch a recording of any of the available sessions, click here.

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress 1200 628 SVDP USA

On behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and those we serve, SVdP National President Ralph Middlecamp recently sent a letter to Congress, urging Senators and Representatives to prioritize programs and policies that ensure poor and vulnerable families have access to stable housing, health care, and access to economic opportunity.

Click here to read the full letter, or visit our Voice of the Poor page to learn more.

To learn more about how you can contact your own elected officials about important issues like this, please sign up for our Voter Voice program.

Employees to Wed Inside St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store

Employees to Wed Inside St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store 2560 2014 SVDP USA

Wedding bells are about to be ringing in Marinette, Wisconsin as their local St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) thrift store gears up to be the place two of its employees say, “I do.” Scott Kopish and Laurie Hinkens will wed September 11, 2021 right in the middle of the sales floor in a private ceremony.

According to both of the soon-to-be newlyweds, choosing the location of their nuptials was a no-brainer. “This place (SVdP) has that feel-good feeling,” Hinkens said. “We come to work with a smile on our face every day. That’s a fact.”

“When I was sent here on a light-duty assignment, I walked in and I instantly felt safe,” Kopish said. “I don’t know how I can explain it. I just felt safe and I thought, you know what? We met here. It would be great to get married in this building. I just thought it meant something.”

Kopish and Hinkens are both long-term employees of SVdP who were both struggling physically prior to starting in their roles. Kopish has been with SVdP for over three years, starting through the Worker’s Compensation program due to an injury as a truck driver. Hinkens started nearly two years ago as a volunteer who had recently received a scary health prognosis.

Hinkens said she felt drawn to Kopish within minutes of meeting him, but wanted to warn him of her medical issues.

“When I saw him for the first time, I got a big smile on my face, and boom,” Hinkens said. “But, I told Scott within the first couple days that I started working that my gastro doctor said I had just one to two years to live.”

While Hinkens was physically struggling when she started with SVdP, a lot has changed since then. Her health has drastically improved, but she looks back on the early days of dating Kopish and how his concern pulled her through the hardest times.

“Other employees would say, ‘Scott’s just so scared for you. He wants to help you. He wants to be with you,’ and I had never felt like that before. Ever,” Hinkens said.

That reassurance from Kopish was a building block for their relationship, even though Hinkens wasn’t the only one who felt reassured in their relationship. Prior to meeting Hinkens, Kopish was leaning on his faith to get him through his difficult times as a single father.

“I remember sitting at the picnic table outside of work and praying to God. I said, “God, send me an angel. Send me somebody who is good for me and my daughter. I will not accept any less,” Kopish said. “And then, boom.”

Despite the grim timeline years ago, Hinkens has been improving physically despite all odds. “The pancreas that was almost shot is now better,” Kopish said. “That just doesn’t happen with a pancreas.”

Hinkens says that their relationship and both of their belief in God are two of the biggest reasons she has been improving, both mentally and physically. “We are so far from perfect, but if one of us is down, the other one is up,” Hinkens said. “God has made the relationship like a Lego that fits with another Lego.”

While wedding planning can be stressful, the couple said the process has been easier than they imagined for their relationship. “Everything has been perfect. Whatever perfect is. If it’s not perfect, it’s a hair under it,” Kopish said.

This is the first wedding ever held at Marinette’s St. Vincent de Paul location, and according to Executive Director Ashley McKinnon, it is an important reminder of the nonprofit’s mission.

“Our organization thrives on nurturing individuals who are struggling,” McKinnon said. “Watching the relationship between Scott and Laurie blossom has been truly beautiful. To see people down on their luck, find each other and push one another to grow in a positive way is what we are all about.”

Providing meaningful employment and volunteer opportunities, our 450 thrift stores are a significant driver of the Society’s mission and effectiveness. Local Conferences distribute clothing, furniture, and household goods to people in need through SVdP Stores vouchers, providing a dignified shopping experience. Profits from our stores contribute millions of dollars for Councils and Conferences to assist neighbors in need in their communities.

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service 2550 1700 SVDP USA

More than 600 Vincentians from across the country gathered together for the first time in two years for the 2021 National Assembly. Titled “New Horizons of Hope and Service,” the National Assembly combined Spirituality, Service, and Friendship and provided Vincentians with an opportunity to reconnect and recommit to their faith and mission.

Here are some photo highlights from our time together at the Houston Marriott Marquis.

When the World Shut Down, We Never Stopped Serving Neighbors in Need

When the World Shut Down, We Never Stopped Serving Neighbors in Need 1733 902 SVDP USA

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, it felt like the world shut down overnight. Churches, schools, and businesses closed their doors. No one knew when those doors would reopen — or if they would reopen at all.

But for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and those we serve, shutdowns were never an option. Our 100,000 volunteers from across the country quickly pivoted our service models so that we could safely continue to support our neighbors in need, who were adversely affected by the pandemic.

EWTN Global Catholic Network recently aired a special called Our Faith in Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, illustrating how Vincentian volunteers in Albuquerque, Houston, and Tampa made innovations in how they serve neighbors in need. They’re the stories of just three out of the nearly 4,500 communities we serve nationwide adapted operations to support our neighbors in new and creative ways. Social distancing was essential, but it never changed the Society’s unique person-to-person ministry.

If you missed EWTN’s special, fear not! Watch it here now:

Share it with your Conference, Council, and parish communities!

 

New National Council Headquarters Centered on Faith, Impact

New National Council Headquarters Centered on Faith, Impact 2560 2058 SVDP USA

Two weeks ago, Society of St. Vincent de Paul leadership from across the country gathered again for the first time in more than a year. Their primary purpose was Board and Strategic Planning meetings, though they had another reason to gather as well: to witness the dedication of the National Council’s new headquarters at 66 Progress Parkway in Maryland Heights, Missouri.

While the building serves as day-to-day office space for the National Council staff, it also houses some special spaces for Vincentians who may visit the headquarters.

History Wall

Created in conjunction with Toucan Design and Engraphix Architectural Signage, the National Council’s History Wall is a focal point of the building’s lobby. Sheri Brimer and Melinda Borman of Toucan Design noted their collaboration with a group of National Council staff, headed by Chief Operations Officer Nancy Pino.

Said Brimer, “As you can see by the many photos of [neighbors in need], staff, and volunteers, there is a unified mission that revolves around the five main founding tenets: Humility, Zeal, Selflessness, Gentleness, and Simplicity. And we hope that each visitor comes away with a better visual understanding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and all that it encompasses.”

Pino notes that the installation is more than just a History Wall depicting the Society’s past. Featuring images of not just our founders, but of Vincentians from across the United States serving their neighbors in need, it helps “express the story of our beginnings, who we are — and who we aspire to become.”

The team from Toucan was able to weave together the Society’s past and present, as well as our Essential Elements of spirituality, friendship, and service into one cohesive design.

“The large gold medallion that sits near its center becomes a sort of heart for the piece with light emanating on four sides, which in turn, illuminates the subtle cross shape created by the background spaces. There is a specific flow of St. Vincent’s story from the bottom left quadrant upward and outward to the top right section. The idea of the entire organization branching out and spreading across both time and continents is highlighted here.”

 

The Chapel of Vincentian Members

Directly across from this history wall sits the Chapel of Vincentian Members. National Council CEO Dave Barringer had this to say: “We want to lead with our faith, so a chapel space was forefront in our design plans.”

The balance of past and present flows from the History Wall into the Chapel as well. While the altar is a new piece, the Stations of the Cross, crucifix, and seating came from the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Reclamation Center. Quipped Tim Williams, Director of Formation, “It seems very appropriate that we got so much of the décor from the church’s ‘secondhand store!'”

The stations have an artistic, handmade feeling, especially since the IVX station sign was missing, requiring the team had to create one that would match the existing set.

The space is filled with natural light coming from glass bricks off the building’s V-shaped entryway (which predates our occupancy), and the new altar has a V-shaped base whose shape mimics old glass wall. The overall feeling is one of serenity and harmony.

“Overall we wanted the chapel to have a humble, reflective feel that matches our Vincentian Vocation,” said Pino.

“I love walking in through the front door of the new National Council offices,” says Tim Williams. “As soon as you step inside, you get tangible reminders of our three Essential Elements.”

He added that the chapel “is the spiritual center of this place, and is dedicated to our Vincentian friendship. Right across from the chapel is a wall decorated with images and words from our founders, saints, and blesseds, interspersed with images of our members from all across the country serving people in need tirelessly, creatively, and cheerfully. As a Vincentian, it makes me just immediately feel like part of the great heritage of this Society.”

Adds Pino, “I truly hope that all the Vincentians that visit our National Office enjoy the space and feel both inspired and appreciated.”

Contemplation: The Spirit of Youth

Contemplation: The Spirit of Youth 940 788 SVDP USA

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is blessed with many active youth and young adult members, whose fresh enthusiasm for the Lord’s work infuses all of us with renewed energy in our vocation. Like the first Conference, formed by young men barely out of their teens, we seek out and welcome young members! For the rest of us, though, our own advancing age does not excuse us, as our Rule reminds us, from striving “to preserve the spirit of youth.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]

Blessed Frédéric often invoked the spirit of youth in his speeches and writing, beginning when he was a student. He was acutely aware that others might find him “very rash to propose [his] young man’s ideas,” [Letter 85, to Bailly, 1834] yet he proposed them anyway. He even went so far as to once say that his ideas really were not even his own, but “the echo of the young Christian people among whom I live.” [Letter 97, to Curnier, 1835]

It was Frédéric’s vision not only that a network of charity might encircle the world, but that renewing the faith in young people would carry on throughout their lives, and in turn light a fire in the hearts of their countrymen. Recognizing the Society as “a vocation for every moment of our lives,” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] he believed it could help to prepare “a new generation which would carry into science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar, the unanimous resolve to make it a moral country and to become better themselves in order to make others happier.” [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841]

Throughout his life Frédéric continued not only to call on young people to serve, but to be energized by the fire of the young people in his classes and in the Society, by what our Rule calls their “enthusiasm, adaptability and creative imagination.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]

As Vincentians, we grow together in holiness and in friendship, challenged by youth to greater energy and ambition; tempered by age to seek the achievable; each of us at our stage in life blessed by the gifts of all the others, united in work that is ageless and timeless.

Founded 188 years ago, the Society itself “is not old,” wrote Ozanam biographer Monsignor Louis Baunard. Rather, “it is, and continues to be, young with eternal youth, with the youth of Charity that knows not decay.” [Baunard, 416]

“Life is however not standing still,” Frédéric wrote late in his life, “and I shall have to seize whatever little youth remains…and to keep my 18-year-old promise to God.” [Baunard, 331]

Contemplate

As I grow older, how do I keep my promise to God young?

Recommended Reading

The Frédéric Ozanam Story

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