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06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

My last Servant Leader column on Encounter generated quite a few comments and discussions. That is great, because these columns should be opportunities for us to exchange thoughts and ideas, not just read what someone else has to say.

I wanted to continue the discussion for another week, with a few thoughts and clarifications generated from the exchanges from two weeks ago.

Some people mistakenly got the impression that I was advocating the elimination of the term Home Visit completely and replacing it with Encounter. That is wrong. Home Visits are what they are: Home Visits. All Home Visits are Encounters with those we serve.

But not all Encounters are Home Visits, and that is the point. Our service to people in need goes well beyond the Home Visit, and therefore, we must speak in a more inclusive way about what we do to make sure that we make ALL Vincentians feel welcome and valued in the work they do.

Some people asked why I am even advocating for this new “weird” term. Why do we have to change?

This is my answer.

As Christians, we are called not just to act with charity, but to infuse our actions with the love and presence of Christ. This calling goes beyond mere acts of kindness; it requires us to engage deeply and spiritually with those we serve.

When we talk about charity, the first image that often comes to mind is giving: giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to the homeless. These acts are indeed vital, and Jesus emphasized their importance in the Gospel of Matthew 25. However, Jesus also calls us to a deeper level of engagement. He calls us to see His face in those we serve, to recognize the divine image in every person we encounter. This is the essence of a spiritual encounter in charitable relationships.

A spiritual encounter transforms charity from a transactional act into a relational and sacramental experience. It is not just about what we give but how we give it — and the spirit in which we engage with others. When we allow our acts of charity to be infused with prayer, compassion, and genuine love, we offer more than just material assistance; we offer the healing presence of Christ.

The spiritual encounter in charitable relationships also enriches the giver. When we open our hearts to truly see and engage with those we serve, we too are transformed. We begin to understand the depth of human suffering, resilience, and the beauty of human dignity. This transformation fosters a deeper connection with God, as we become more attuned to His presence in the world around us.

Spiritual encounters in charitable relationships help to break down barriers of prejudice and indifference. When we see others through the eyes of Christ, we can no longer categorize them as “the needy” or “the less fortunate.” Instead, we recognize them as brothers and sisters, equal in dignity and deserving of our love and respect. This recognition compels us to address not just the symptoms of poverty and suffering but their root causes, striving for justice and systemic change, as called for by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

In our work as Vincentians, we can engage in these spiritual encounters through all our many services (not just Home Visits) by being present, listening with empathy, and praying for and with those we serve.

We must understand that every act of charity, no matter how small, can be a conduit for God’s love if done with a pure heart. Blessed Frédéric said, “No act of charity is foreign to the Society.”

As Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Love is the soul of charity, and it is through love that our actions become transformative.

We must strive to make our charitable actions more than mere transactions. We must seek to encounter Christ in those we serve and allow these spiritual encounters to deepen our faith and love. By doing so, we will not only fulfill our Vincentian vocation, but also become true bearers of God’s love in the world, creating a network of charity, grace, and compassion that embraces the world.

That is why I advocate for using the term Encounter when we refer to our work. By calling a meeting between two people an Encounter rather than a Visit, we highlight distinct nuances in the nature and impact of the interaction. An Encounter implies a deeper level of engagement, where the individuals involved might experience a transformative or enlightening moment. Encounters are often seen as pivotal, potentially altering perceptions, emotions, or relationships.

In contrast, a Visit denotes a more planned, routine, or casual interaction. Visits are typically structured and can be social, professional, or obligatory, often lacking the depth of an Encounter. While a visit can certainly be meaningful, it does not inherently suggest the same potential for profound impact or unexpected significance as an encounter. For instance, a visit to a friend’s house might involve catching up and enjoying each other’s company, whereas an encounter with a long-lost friend in an unexpected place might lead to a heartfelt reconnection and emotional revelations. Therefore, the word Encounter emphasizes the extraordinary and potentially transformative nature of the meeting, while  Visit emphasizes the intention, regularity, and social aspects of the interaction.

In the Catholic faith, the concept of an Encounter transcends mere physical meeting to embody a profound spiritual connection graced by God. This belief is rooted in the idea that when two people come together in faith, God’s presence enhances their interaction, transforming it into a sacred moment. This encounter is not just an exchange of words or gestures, but a divine engagement where God’s grace becomes manifest.

If we are honest, we will admit that many of our interactions with the people we serve have become transactions. They have lost all semblance of Encounter, becoming a purely obligatory visit to get in, find out how much the rent/utility/medical/insurance/ bill is, get it paid, and move on to the next one.

At the top of this column, I said all Home Visits are Encounters. The reality is, that is not 100% true. Far too many Home Visits and other special works services, have become no more than secular visits with the sole purpose of getting someone off the call list.

That is why I am so passionate about us understanding the term Encounter and using it to describe what we do.

Because if we do not, we are just going to be another social service agency doing good for people in need — but not doing much to grow spiritually in our service to those people.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

05-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-29-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Dear brother and sister Vincentians, greetings from Anchorage, Alaska!

I am delighted to introduce myself as Andrew Bellisario, C.M., the new National Episcopal Advisor for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. This year, I celebrate 40 years as a Vincentian priest. Next year commemorates the 50th anniversary of my entry into the Congregation of the Mission, founded by Saint Vincent de Paul in 1625. More importantly, next year also marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Congregation of the Mission.

I was born and raised in Alhambra, California, near Pasadena, of Rose Parade and Rose Bowl fame. I attended Vincentian seminaries from 1971 until my ordination in 1984. After ordination, I had the privilege of serving in Vincentian parishes, working with local Conferences of the Society, serving as provincial superior of the Vincentians in the western United States, and being the director of the Daughters of Charity. In 2015, my superiors sent me to Alaska to join the Vincentian International Mission, which serves Spanish-speaking people. To my surprise, Pope Francis appointed me the Bishop of Juneau, Alaska, in 2017 and then, the Archbishop of the newly constituted Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau in 2020.

Our president, John Berry, journeyed to Alaska last year to invite me to serve as the National Episcopal Advisor. Initially, I hesitated due to the distance from what we call “the Lower 48.” However, the Vincentian Family’s call is undeniable. I am here, filled with joy and eagerness, ready to serve you and the Society to the best of my abilities. I eagerly anticipate meeting many of you at the National Assembly in August and was pleased to meet some of you at the Mid-Year Meeting in March.

From Easter to Pentecost, it was my honor to visit numerous parishes in my archdiocese to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation. Traveling in Alaska can be challenging because of limited roads, accessibility, vast areas, and inclement weather. Outside the road system, boats, ferries, and planes of varying sizes are the norm for transportation. Everywhere travels took me this Easter season, I met parishioners excited and ready to “be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Whether it was a parish in Anchorage and Juneau or our many parishes and missions in smaller towns and villages across 125,000 square miles, our people were ready to allow the Spirit to transform their lives as fully initiated Catholics.

We just celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost. Reading the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles fills my heart with excitement. The powerful images of Pentecost remain with us to inspire us and give us hope: a strong driving wind, tongues as of fire, and bold preaching in many languages. The Holy Spirit transforms the once-frightened disciples into bold evangelizing preachers. What a difference the Holy Spirit makes!

The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the divine gift of God’s love, not only guides us but also compels us to act. God’s love urges us to protect the lives of the unborn, children, the vulnerable, and all people. God’s love urges us to expose injustice and strive for justice vigorously. And as we know so well, God’s love compels us to see the face of our Lord in each person who suffers from poverty.

Working for justice in the service of persons who are poor may seem overwhelming. Still, the patroness of the missions and Alaska, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, knew that the love of Christ is our motivation and the answer to our woes. St. Thérèse reminds us: “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”

When we love and serve our masters who are poor, we are following Christ the way Blessed Frédéric, Blessed Rosalie, Saint Vincent, and Saint Louise followed Christ. Our Founders were on fire with the Holy Spirit like those early apostles. May we, too, be on fire, and our flames burn forever intensely with love for Christ in his poor.

Many Blessings,
Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M.

Contemplation: Invitation to Grow

Contemplation: Invitation to Grow 1080 1080 SVDP USA

By Timothy Williams, Senior Director of Formation & Leadership Development

Why did you join the Society of St. Vincent de Paul? And why do you stay? These are two very important questions for every Vincentian to meditate upon from time to time. Membership is a vocation, a calling. Each of us heard a call, but it spoke to each of us differently, based on our own backgrounds, our own motives, our own unique and unrepeatable persons.

Were you drawn by the invitation of a friend, motivated, as we often are, to love what our friends love? We sit through concerts or ball games only because our friend is a fan, and sometimes we also become fans over time. St. Vincent once pointed out an even deeper friendship flows from this tendency, asking, “Can we have a better friend than God? Must we not love all that He loves and, for love of Him, consider our neighbor as our friend!” [CCD XI:39] If you joined because of friendship, is that still the reason that you stay? If you were drawn by something else, have you grown in friendship that keeps you in the Society?

Others, of course, perhaps most of us, heard a call to live our faith in acts of service; we weren’t drawn as strongly to prayer groups or “conference table ministries”. Instead, we wanted, as St. Vincent so famously put it, to “love God…with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows” [CCD XI:32], serving Jesus exactly as he asked us to! After all, aren’t works of charity what the Society is best known for? Yet over time, the work can sometimes be wearying, the calls can be interruptions, the stress we share with our neighbors in need can begin to wear on us. The service may be the reason you joined, but is it the reason you stay? Is it the work itself, or is it something deeper that flows from the work?

Some of us were called by the inspirational example of our patron Saint’s holiness, and truly sought first to deepen our own faith and spirituality by following his example, even as he imitated the example of Christ. If we sought prayer and meditation, we certainly have found it in our Conferences. We are people of prayer. But as you’ve prayed and reflected with fellow Vincentians, have you discovered new levels of friendship? Has your prayer led you to action? Why do you stay?

It is difficult to separate these motives, because they all work so closely together. Our friendship informs our service and becomes part of what we offer to the neighbor. Our encounters with the neighbor, in whom we see Christ, strengthen our faith and spirituality. Our faith grows stronger as it is shared with each other in prayer, reflection, friendship, and service. One of the best ways to continue in this growth is to take the time to reflect on it, and to share our own growth with our fellow Vincentians.

You might say this is essential.

Contemplate

Take some quiet time this week and ponder these questions: why did I join, and why do I stay?

Recommended Writing

Write down your thoughts on these questions, then share them with your fellow Vincentians. Journey together.

05-09-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-09-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By Dave Barringer, CEO

Most of the time, this column is written just for you. This one, however, is written at least as much for the leaders who will come after you, and even the generation that will come after them.

When we don’t take care of something, weird and bad things can happen. Don’t mow your lawn and nature takes over at the first opportunity. Ignore your bills and you can be out on the street. Forget about your spouse’s birthday and, well, let’s not go there!

About once a month I hear of a new situation where a store or other special work was initiated, funded and actively run by the Society for years, but because of inattention to good governance or benign neglect, the “business” slowly changed. The operational purpose may be exactly the same, but now it’s a parish ministry rather than a Society special work. Worse, over time even the parish isn’t involved; it has fallen into the hands of well-meaning but often overwhelmed volunteers who may not even belong to a formal organization. They just wanted to help and now they are running it and feel they own it.

This third-generation operation carries some significant issues. For example, it may still formally be a Society property, thus liable for legal, financial, tax and other obligations. It may still carry the Society’s name and logo on the door even though our local group doesn’t have a leadership or operational role any longer, or even knows of its existence. We can also imagine other scenarios, few of them good, when people give to what they believe is a nonprofit such as the Society but the group isn’t really in the picture. That’s often known as fraud.

From another perspective, our donors and volunteers built that store, food pantry or other special work. Was it eventually sold to another party, or did one or more people just take it over? As Vincentian we give away resources all the time, but not usually an entire business or building! We owe it to those who came before to get value from such a transfer so that we may continue to use those resources to help others. And we owe it to ourselves and future Vincentian generations to keep our name and marks within our current true properties and operations.

How can we avoid all this? With many problems, prevention is easier than a cure, but it still needs to be done on a regular basis. First, every new leader should review each property and special work to ensure that it is properly governed and properly recorded within the Society and the state. Second, check on the board. What do the bylaws call for, and does the reality match the intention? Is the board clearly a Vincentian majority? To whom does the business and chair position report, such as to the Conference/Council President or full board? Who approves new staff positions and major expenses? Third, is there a clear and mutually understood accounting of all the funds? Who is responsible if the operation needs more cash? Where do any revenues and profits go? Which accounts are in play, and are they controlled by the Society? Is it responsible for any solidarity payments to the next level up of the Society? Lastly, if the special work is operating on a parish campus, is there a formal letter from the Pastor with understanding that the Society is paying rent or not, and that the control of the operation resides with the Society and not the Pastor or the Parish Council? This is helpful for the next Pastor as well! The same applies to other landlords, too.

Thinking that “everyone already understands all this” simply does not work. Assumptions get made, habits good or bad become traditions and then culture. And of course, leaders change with their own understandings that may or may not match the official records.

It may seem like overkill to review all this every leadership change. Actually, I prefer that it all gets reviewed every year! Leaders, including all on the board, and even all of the membership deserve to know its full inventory of services, properties, and most of all their responsibilities and obligations. We have seen from bitter and expensive examples that it can all slip away rather quickly without frequent review and renewed understanding by all involved parties.

If you came home one day after a vacation to find another family living in your home, you would be understandably upset. If you had little or no record that you are indeed the owner, paying the mortgage and taking care of the home, you’d be a lot more miserable! As Vincentians, we need to apply the same level of ownership diligence to keep Society assets available to the next generation and beyond of our leaders and those they will serve.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In the South, where I live, the beginning of May signals the beginning of the end of the school year for students. My granddaughter in South Carolina has already had her Prom (yes, she was beautiful) and her Graduation from high school is in a few weeks. For most students in the northern parts of the country, the school year will continue on until at least Memorial Day. But in either case, come early June, most students will be off for the summer and free of the classroom, homework, and getting up early for school.

Some of you may remember the song written in 1932 by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Its most famous line, oft repeated, is “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”

How often do we think about children and summertime — no school, just having fun, no cares in the world — and think they’re “livin’ easy”?

For many, that’s likely true. But for too many others, their summertime is anything but easy living — because for too many children in America today, no school means no breakfast, no lunch, maybe no meal at all for the day. And for too many families in America today, no school means no childcare, no one to watch the kids while a single Mom or Dad tries to work so they can pay the rent or put food on the table or clothes on their children’s backs.

No, the reality in America today is that when school ends many, many families don’t celebrate, take vacations to Disneyland, or cook out in the backyard. They despair, and suffer, and try to hold on.

And that’s why we, the SVdP Councils and Conferences, must exert special effort and energy in the summer to support families in need. And for us that can often be a very big challenge, because our children are out of school, we are traveling, our Church attendance and collection amounts are lower due to vacations. Our need is highest when our human and financial resources are lowest.

Think for a minute about the counterintuitive nature of our work and our effort. I would venture to guess that we devote the largest number of volunteer hours, food drives, and organized Conference activities to two times of the year — Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when you think about it, so is every other charity, church, civic organization, and just about any other organized group you can think of.

What if we tweaked the narrative a little? By devoting a larger effort in the summer, when need is huge, and people aren’t as focused on helping, we could really make an impact on helping people desperate for help.

Think about it. Talk about it. Make a difference.

Maybe you can help make someone’s “summertime livin’” a little easier.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By John Berry
National President

Over the last few months, as we’ve launched our VisionSVdP initiative and begun to conduct our ‘family conversations’ regarding how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA will adapt to a changing world, the feedback I have received from Vincentians across the country has been overwhelmingly positive and excited. People feel that this is the perfect time for us to have these conversations and in many cases, they feel the conversations are long overdue.

From the very first email that went out about VisionSVdP, people have been sending me their thoughts and ideas. Although the process is designed to take place in the Listening Sessions (which begin at Regional Meetings across the country this week), people felt so passionately about the things that they believe needed to be discussed, that they decided to send comments in via email.

Be assured that, if you were one of those people, your comments will be included in the process. But I hope that you will still actively participate in the Listening Session at your Conference, Council, or Region and make your views known. Because your voice matters. Every voice matters.

The number and variety of comments I’ve received have been very interesting. They range from the very specific to the very broad. And that’s fantastic because it is exactly what VisionSVdP is all about — to raise up all thoughts, opinions, and ideas on all aspects of the Society and how we can adapt to a changing world.

This week, the most important phase of VisionSVdP begins. Listening Sessions at Regional Meetings (the Southeast meeting starts Friday) will begin an all-out national network of Listening Sessions at EVERY Conference, Council, and Special Work in the country.

Within the next few weeks, a very simple process for conducting the Listening Session at your location will be sent out. The process is very easy. Some guide rails and guidelines for the sessions will be included. And most importantly, the process for getting the output from the session back to the National Office will be provided. A link to a video from Archbishop Bellisario and a link to a spiritual song and prayer to kick off the conversation will also be provided.

We are asking all Councils, Conferences, and Special Works to have their Listening Sessions completed by the National Assembly in August.

But not everyone is on board. Some people still have doubts about why we’re embarking on this effort. And some people don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Some people are uncomfortable without strict process guidelines, and some people are uncomfortable sharing in a group.

I understand that. And I appreciate that we’re never going to get 100% buy-in to anything we try to do. No one does. That’s just life. Baskin-Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everyone likes chocolate, right?

But EVERY VOICE MATTERS. Even the ones who think theirs doesn’t — or those who don’t want to share theirs — or those who don’t understand why we want to hear it. But it matters. And we need to hear it. And you deserve to have it heard.

So please, put aside your doubts (should you have any), put aside your fears (should you have some), and put aside your hesitancies to participate (should you hold them) and let us know what you think.

Because every voice matters. Every. Single. One.

Peace and God’s Blessings,
John

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-11-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

We take ZIP codes for granted as a mechanism to get our mail from one place to another more efficiently. What started as five numbers to remember later became nine for presumably better service. Recently, I learned that a ZIP code can say quite a bit about you, and even predict how long you will live!

Social scientists now use ZIP codes to recognize how where you live predicts and/or influences your education options, income, housing costs, food insecurity, personal and property crime rates and much more. Living in one ZIP code versus the neighboring one in another city means that you are likely to live ten fewer years! Seems to me that this would be good to know before buying a new home.

Some Vincentians tell me that “there isn’t much poverty where I live.” This may be somewhat true, although if you squint you can see poverty everywhere. Maybe it’s not the homeowners but the working poor who serve them as housekeepers and landscapers, as well as the workers in nearby stores and restaurants. You may not see people who are homeless in your neighborhood, but they are there. And because they are homeless, they may not show up in the address-based ZIP code or Census tract analysis.

Most of us know our area fairly well. We know that one area is that part of town where we don’t want to conduct a home visit. We don’t even want to drive through the area! Another part of town is where the “rich people” live because we see large homes, or where the DINKs (double income, no kids) hang out at happy hour.

When considering how our Conference and Council can make a greater community impact, such studies of Census tracts and ZIP codes can show us exactly where the need is greatest, confirming or surprising us with what we thought we knew about where we live. These maps are usually available from local government, the library and United Way. Overlay these maps with where our Conferences operate, and we can see if resources match the neediest areas. This can then help us determine where we most need a new Conference, where local Twinning can increase community impact, and where we need to focus our services delivery.

Where is the best location for a food pantry? For a low-cost pharmacy? For a shelter or other housing options? Where will systemic change solutions attract the most potential users? We can go where the “customers” are, our neighbors in need, or we can continue to operate where it is convenient for ourselves and wonder why we don’t make much of a difference. Yes, people in need will travel where they need to go for urgent help. Thrift store shoppers who have fewer affordable retail choices will go where required to save money, versus donors who give out of convenience as often measured from the distance between their homes and the collection center.

Geography matters. As cities grow, we see retail centers move from downtown to the suburbs where big boxes proliferate. Downtowns often are where we see food deserts with little or no access to fresh produce. High school and church enrollments shift with the moving of families with school-age children. Yet because our parish has been in the same location for many decades, it can be easy to ignore the changing community and operating environment around us. Then one day we look around and exclaim “Hey, where did everyone go?”

The ZIP in ZIP code originally stood not for zippy service, but for a Zone Improvement Plan. Imagine what we can do as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul if we took those words to heart, adapting to our changing local world to create meaningful zone improvements where the ZIP codes point us to the most need.

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer

In Tragedy, Homes Represent Hope

In Tragedy, Homes Represent Hope 1292 802 SVDP USA

In March of 2023, devastating tornadoes hit the town of Rolling Fork, MS. In the wake of a natural disaster, families living in poverty are often the most impacted, with fewer resources to rely upon.

According to Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of SVdP USA Disaster Services Corporation (DSC), disasters often hit hardest those who are already marginalized, rural, or low-income. In the aftermath, renters are particularly vulnerable, facing a scarcity of affordable housing options.

Collaborative efforts made by the DSC aim to address these vulnerabilities head-on, ensuring that no one is left behind in the recovery process. Shearer and Regional Program Manager Cathy Garcia joined forces with local Vincentians leaders Carrie Johnson-Robinson, Tommy Jordon, and Donavan Guilbeau to assess the impactful work being carried out by the SVdP District Council of Jackson, in partnership with DSC’s local staff and Rolling Fork Rising.

During their visit, the group toured several homes that are part of the Rolling Fork Rising homeowners’ program, which helps transition renters into homeowners. DSC’s local Disaster Case Managers have helped to identify tornado survivors who are candidates for the Rolling Fork Rising homeowners’ program.

Critical to this program is the commitment to financial literacy. Candidates selected for the program undergo a financial literacy program and are equipped with the tools they need to manage their finances effectively and sustainably. Additionally, candidates must meet specific minimum income level requirements to qualify for a low-cost mortgage. This mortgage, comparable to their previous rent payments, not only facilitates homeownership but also contributes to building their credit and breaking the cycle of poverty.

Thanks to donor generosity and SVdP volunteers, DSC is pleased to share that survivor Jamie Herman and her family will be receiving the new home — and they will be paying less for her mortgage than her previous rent! For her, a home is not just bricks and mortar — it represents hope and transformation.

Collaborative efforts like this foster true change and rebuild communities stronger than before. The program in Rolling Fork is a wonderful example of creating systemic change in the lives of disaster survivors.

“Christ’s presence is among us in this recovery work,” said SVdP National Secretary Carrie Johnson-Robinson.

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It has been six months since I assumed the office of National President of the Society. The time has flown by, and it is hard to believe that it has been that long (although to be honest, sometimes it feels like it has been six years!). I have been truly blessed to meet so many of you, and I am looking forward to meeting many more of you as we enter the 2024 Regional Meeting ‘season’ and I get out to many of the meetings.

Since I served on the Board of Directors for six years when Ralph Middlecamp was President, I was aware of what to expect as National President. But I must say that I have been saddened and disturbed by the number of situations that the Board, the Staff, and I have had to deal with in just six short months about individuals, Conferences, and Councils that have needed intervention or disciplinary actions.

As I reflect on these situations, many still ongoing, it has become obvious to me that they almost always stem from root cause failures in one or more of three areas: money, spirituality, or governance. In one case it is usually too much — money. And in the other two, it is usually not enough — spirituality and governance.

The money issues we deal with are not all what you might expect as you read this. They are not all about people stealing or diverting resources. No, most problems we see with money are the improper use of Conference and Council funds in violation of The Rule and hoarding. Coming out of COVID, we were (and are) blessed with bank balances in some places that are exceptionally large, well beyond the needs of the Conference or Council in the short or even medium term.

All too often, what happens is that, in good faith and with good intentions, they decide to see who else they might help. So, they decide to help the Parish get that new roof, or build a playground, or donate to the local Red Cross, etc. These are all wonderful things. The Rule also forbids them. If you have excess funds, reach out and find other Conferences and Councils in your area or beyond who do not — there are A LOT OF THEM! — and give them some help. Twinning is what we do.

Spirituality is another area that underpins so many of the issues I see as National President. Or rather, to phrase it properly, a LACK of Spirituality is what underpins so many issues. And it is not just that we do not focus on spirituality, it is that we focus on the wrong spirituality! If your Conference of Council is not using the Vincentian Spiritual resources provided by the National Formation Team to create your spiritual reflection periods at your meetings, then you are doing it wrong.

We are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are not the parishes’ Adult Education Program. You should not be using the Spiritual Reflection time at your meeting to be focused on those things that are not related to our work as Vincentians. If you need help in putting together a great spiritual time of reflection, contact Tim Williams or Sister Consuelo in the National Office. They will set you up. Oh, and if your Spiritual Reflection period at your meetings is a five-minute reading of the weekly reflection and then ‘on to the business stuff’ please give them a call — you need them!

Governance is the last and most complex area where we see ongoing issues. Governance can be tricky and complicated, and not everyone understands it. As the former Chair of the National Governance Committee, I have a special passion for governance and governance issues. It is an area that can quickly get you into trouble, both legally and internally with the organization. We have a robust and ready Governance Committee led by First Vice President John Hallissy. If you need any support, have any questions, or just want to have what you are doing checked out, contact John.

We can all do things a little better to make our jobs easier. I understand most of you are volunteers — so am I. But that does not mean we should not be doing everything we can to be the best volunteers we can and be doing things right, every time.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-07-25 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This is the last in a series of three Servant Leader columns before next week’s Midyear Meeting that address VisionSVdP.  Today I’d like to explain a little more about how the process will work over the next year, and talk a bit about how you can get involved.

We will formally ‘kick off’ VisionSVdP at the Midyear Meeting in St. Louis with five Listening Sessions. All Midyear attendees will be randomly assigned to one of five groups and will meet for approximately 1 ½ hours. This will occur following a session by me on the process, and after a Keynote Address by the National Council President of Australia, who will speak about the process there, and a Spiritual Retreat by Archbishop Andrew Bellisario, CM, our National Episcopal Advisor.

At the Listening Sessions, Midyear attendees will have a free-flowing discussion about the Society. They will all begin with the same question: What does the Rule, Part 1, 1.6: “Adaptation to a Changing World” mean to you?

From there, they will discuss anything and everything that they want to. Someone at each table will capture everyone’s comments — because every voice matters. Two moderators per room (typically Regional VPs) will then attempt to capture the essence of the discussions; when the entire group reconvenes, we’ll have a conversation about the process. The goal is not to highlight any comments as more important than any other, but to debrief how people felt. Were their voices heard? Did they learn anything? Did anything ‘click’ from the conversation?

This process will repeat itself at the Regional meetings.

So, you ask: What about me? I’m not going to Midyear or the Regional Meeting. How do I get involved??

GOOD QUESTION!  You get involved because we want every Conference and every Council and every Special Work to do this as well. AND WE WILL HELP YOU!

Now, let’s be very open and very, very honest here. We will face many naysayers and people who just want to keep on doing things the way we always have, either because it’s easier, or because they fear change. Then we’ll have the inevitable organizational inertia that will never find the time to schedule the sessions — we’re too busy, we’re too important doing other “real Vincentian work,” etc, etc. They will all resist doing these sessions. WE CANNOT LET THAT HAPPEN.

Engage with the VisionSVdP process at your Conference and in your Council and Region. Become a Champion for the effort! Contact your Regional VP, contact your Council President, contact me. Make sure the process gets to you and is carried out. Because your voice matters.

After all these sessions are held in 2024 (including at the National Assembly in Phoenix), we will start a National Conversation process in 2025 about what we have heard and what it means for how we adapt and change.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

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