e-Gazette

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-22-24

A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 02-22-24 1200 1200 SVDP USA

God Answers

Imagine a young woman, 18 years of age, alone in solitude after her husband departs for work. She places her infant daughter down to sleep. A nudging from within prompts her to go and look upon her daughter, and she is obedient. She notices her firstborn turning blue. To the touch, she is cold. Breathing is absent. Immediately, she wraps her in blankets, sits in front of a space heater and begins to pray. Eventually she notices the blue fade, feels warm flesh, and hears her daughter cry for nourishment.

Imagine a call placed to a 43-year-old woman by her sister in the middle of the night to inform that their womb bearer had been in an accident, and death was believed to be imminent.

The words my mother spoke to God at 18 are not known to me, because she did not share them. I only know that she prayed for God to alter the circumstance, and He answered. I was embarking upon adulthood when my mother shared the experience. At the time of her sharing, I did not fathom sitting in the Intensive Care Unit of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, praying to God to deliver the same answer He gave my mother, and I don’t believe she fathomed me doing it. God answered me — but I did not receive the same answer.

There is a natural tendency to pray and ask God to alter circumstances. If the circumstances are not altered, there is an urge to state that the prayer was not answered. Indeed, I have often heard people say when the hindsight lens is in view, “I am glad God did not answer my prayer.” In truth, God answers all prayers. Consider the words of the Psalmist: “But God did hear and listened to my voice in prayer. Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer and refuse His mercy.” (Psalm 66:19 – 20.)

God need not alter the circumstances we pray about to answer. God’s answer to prayer could be changing us by allowing the circumstance to remain present. An even greater answer is the one which changes your relationship with Him.

Instead of giving me the answer He gave my mother, God chose to change my relationship with Him.

The mission of our society is: “A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relations with and service to people in need.”

I was unaware of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the time of my mother’s death, but building a more just world through personal service to people in need was not a challenge for me. As a child, I watched and learned from my mother, great-great aunt, those residing in Shelby, Mississippi, and the Oblate Sisters of Providence who came to serve St. Gabriel’s Catholic School in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Serving and giving to those in need was innate for me. It is innate for most Vincentians who accept the calling.

My challenge was intimacy with God. Is it a challenge for you? Growing in holiness is synonymous with intimacy with God. In my spirit, I knew that my mother’s earthly journey had come to an end before I offered the prayer. I offered the prayer because I had no desire to experience the inevitable sorrow. As a result of God’s decision to call me into holiness, I learned that the prayer offered by me was about my natural will. It did not consider God’s will, which is rooted in holiness. Jesus was cognizant of His natural will, but was governed by holiness when He said “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me, still not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22: 42)

The Vincentian vision of a more just world is dependent upon our intimacy with God. So, let’s begin to pursue intimacy with God.

Carrie Johnson-Robinson
National Council Secretary

02-08-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-08-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

There are several topics which immediately start arguments among Vincentians when written about in this space. I wish I could tell you some of them but, you know, it would start the process! However, I will broach one topic because there is an immediate need for some guidance: our logo.

Specifically, I have received recent questions about changing the national Society logo by replacing “USA” in the outer ring with a local identifier, usually a city name. So, let’s dive into some of the rules around this that protect the Society and help us to know who’s who.

First, please recognize that the logo (or “mark” in legal terms) is intellectual property owned by the National Council as a trademark. We have spent literally several hundred thousand dollars to protect its value from outside groups that want to use our name or logo image for their businesses or products. Usually this is a parish, a former Conference that is now a parish group serving the poor, or another Catholic organization that wants to use St. Vincent’s name. We own the rights to use both St. Vincent’s and Frédéric Ozanam’s name for specific business categories such as shelters, food pantries, thrift stores, and generally services for the poor. Another group can use these names in unprotected properties such as hospitals, schools, or even used car lots if they so desire.

If we allow for our logo, the circle with the SVdP letters and an outer ring with “USA” in it, to be changed even by our own members, then legally it becomes more open to changes by outside groups. Considering the economic value our logo has to identify the Society nationally and locally for our goods and services, we need to protect it any way we must to preserve our rights.

If a Council or Conference wishes to make any changes to the national logo, they must have written permission from the National CEO. This helps us to maintain the relevant legal records and places some accountability to preserve the mark as noted above. This is a fairly simple process of exchanging emails with me, including a sample of the desired changes.

What can be authorized? First, I won’t approve any new logo that isn’t a version of our current standard national logo. While we indeed have some of these already in certain cities/dioceses, I truly wish we didn’t in order to maintain a common look and identity for the Society across the country. We could argue the effects, but my position is that alternative logos weaken our brand. Let’s be One Society.

Second, I normally don’t approve a change to our logo for a Conference or a special work. We reserve the city identifiers in the outer ring to Councils, usually with a city/diocese name replacing the USA in the lower part of the outer ring. Separate Conference logos within a Council confuse the public, who may think they are separate legal entities, and often don’t adequately identify the service area anyway. Conferences, stores, and other businesses/service can use a separate name to help identify themselves in text alongside the logo, but not through changes in the approved national logo itself. The exception to this policy may occur when a Conference is separately incorporated, which is uncommon but useful for some liability and other business reasons. The general rule I follow is that altered logos must flow from an incorporated entity, which is usually the Council.

There are also practical reasons for limiting changes. We presently have the event where several parishes, and then Conferences, are merged. There are rules for renaming the new Conference that I won’t go into here, but in some cases the new entity combines the names of the merging Conferences. These longer names won’t fit in the national logo’s available space!

Our Vincentians are certainly creative, so I am also asked for permission to create an event-based logo, such as for a Friends for the Poor Walk. This involves another basic rule for trademark protection, involving legal definitions of an alteration. Basically, no new element is allowed to touch the current logo image such as an added ring, placing the logo on the front of another image like a house, or adding a new element like a hat, angel wings, or whatever. The logo can be placed within such an image, but it can’t touch anywhere, as this is the same legally as an entirely new logo. Before you ask, I don’t approve an outer ring that floats around the current circle, as this is still considered one image.

You may wonder why the CEO needs to be bothered with these details among many other priorities. Ask yourself how you feel when someone calls you by a different name, even if it’s Bobby instead of Robert, or Big Jim instead of simply Jim. Imagine how it would then feel if someone else stole your name and then your appearance! Our Society’s name is important to the understanding of our identity, and in the case of any nonprofit’s logo, our ability to attract volunteers and funds. It all starts with a common identity, including the logo. What’s in a name? Only everything.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-01-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It’s February, the month of Valentine’s Day — and the traditional month of the celebration of love. Exchanges of flowers and chocolates, romantic dinners, and many an engagement will occur on February 14 as people celebrate their love for each other. A day to celebrate love is a good thing, because by focusing on the more personal and intimate love we have for each other, we can hopefully reflect on the universal love that we are called to hold for all.

Love is foundational to our humanity. It is the most important commandment given to us by God. When Jesus was asked what mattered most, he told us; love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Gospel of Matthew 25, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and so many others are all about love. Love for our brothers and sisters in this world.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta left behind a legacy of compassion and selfless service to the destitute. She celebrated love every day for those who had no one else to love them. One of her profound statements that resonates with the human spirit is, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.” In these simple yet powerful words, Mother Teresa captures the profound impact of emotional destitution and the significance of human connection. She captures what our Vincentian Encounters with the people we serve are all about. We are not just delivering food or clothes, or payments of rent and utilities. We are bringing love to those who suffer the terrible poverty of feeling unloved, uncared for, and abandoned.

Loneliness is a silent affliction that can impact even the most prosperous individuals. Mother Teresa, having devoted her life to helping the poor and marginalized, recognized that material poverty is not the only form of deprivation. She understood that loneliness, accompanied by the deep-seated belief of being unloved, could lead to a sense of hopelessness that ignores economic status.

Mother Teresa’s quote speaks to the universal experience of loneliness, a condition that transcends geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic boundaries. Loneliness exists in many ways, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. It is not confined to the elderly or those living in isolation; it can afflict the young, the successful, and those surrounded by a bustling social circle. In our interconnected world, where virtual connectivity often overshadows genuine human interaction, the epidemic of loneliness is rampant, and the consequences are profound. Social factors such as past trauma, social bullying, and social ostracism can dramatically increase loneliness and isolation even among those who seem to ‘have it all.’

The connection between poverty and loneliness, as highlighted by Mother Teresa, extends beyond the material realm. While addressing the physical needs of the poor, she recognized the importance of acknowledging their emotional and psychological well-being. In the impoverished corners of Calcutta, Mother Teresa confronted not only the scarcity of resources but also the profound sense of abandonment experienced by those who felt unloved. Her work was a testament to the belief that alleviating poverty required an integrated approach, one that encompassed not just material assistance, but also genuine human connection and compassion.

That goes to the core of our commitment to the encounters we have with those we serve. To that human-to-human Christ-centered connection. We are not just case workers, although truly we are often in that role. And let’s be clear, there is no negativity to that title or role – it is important and necessary! But we are caseworkers with humanity and human connection and compassion as our guiding star. We are Vincentians who know that it is love that people need as much as material needs, and we can, and we do give them both.

As Vincentians we demonstrate, every day, the transformative power of love and human connection. We demonstrate that in the embrace of love, the impoverished find solace, and the lonely heart discovers warmth. We demonstrate that acts of kindness driven by love, no matter how small, have the potential to alleviate the most profound forms of poverty.

In today’s fast-paced and digitally driven world, where virtual interactions often replace face-to-face connections, the epidemic of loneliness has only intensified. Social media, while providing a platform for connectivity, has also contributed to a sense of isolation and inadequacy. Mother Teresa challenges us to reflect on the quality of our relationships and the depth of our connections. She asks us to prioritize genuine human interaction and empathy over the superficiality of online engagement.

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s quote, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved,” captures in one short sentence the profound impact of emotional destitution and the transformative power of love and human connection. Her life’s work, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor, was a testament to the belief that true poverty extends beyond material lack and encompasses the loneliness that accompanies the feeling of being unloved.

Our work as Vincentians has always been done on that spirit. In the movie Monsieur Vincent, St. Vincent de Paul tells a new Daughter of Charity: “It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them. at all times and under all circumstances.”

As we navigate an ever-evolving world, the words of St. Vincent and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s serve as a timeless reminder of the importance of compassion, empathy, and meaningful human connection in alleviating the most profound forms of poverty.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

01-25-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-25-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 150 150 SVDP USA

“Excuse me if I’m late in writing to you, but it’s the fault of my laziness.”
– Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 If you know me… I am sure you just read that line and laughed to yourself. I constantly find myself running from one thing to the next… and usually late. I stumbled upon this quote on Facebook as I was multitasking: watching a webinar “Successful Strategies to Engage Black Catholic Young Adults,” catching up on emails, and eating my first meal of the day. (Did I mention it is 8:36PM?) I then found myself doing a deep dive through the World Wide Web trying to fact check this quote… because it seemed too good to be true coming from a Blessed. I have always been inspired by how human our Saints and Blesseds were. (Maybe there is hope for me yet… despite my chronic lateness!) Did you know Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was named patron of Vincentian Youth in 2017? In the 1920s, Frassati was a young Vincentian involved in a SVdP Conference. He enjoyed visiting neighbors in need and had an unwavering love for the poor.

Unfortunately, it seems that this quote attributed to Blessed Frassati was one of those quotes inspired by knowledge of him, but not actually something he said. But while reading further, I found this validation, “He was often scolded for being late for meals, but he never revealed that his tardiness was due to feeding the poor, running errands to buy them medicine, or finding widows and their children a place to stay for the night.” Clearly he was not lazy, but doing all he could and as much as he could for those in need. As Vincentians, I know many of us can relate.

It is an honor to be able to write a Servant Leaders column. I promise my procrastination in writing this was not due to laziness, but to prioritizing serving our neighbors in need, as well as filtering through the numerous thoughts I wanted to share with you all.

Starting the year off, some of our young adult Vincentians had the opportunity to attend SEEK — a Catholic event hosted in St. Louis for College Catholic Students. There were over 20,000 young people present. SEEK is the perfect way to start off the new year. The joy of Christ radiates the space with young people passionate to find their way through this crazy world guided by their faith. You may have seen some of the videos on social media about just how generous and selfless some of these young people were. There was a request shared prior to the event, challenging the young adults to “Pack for the Poor.”

Planning ahead isn’t necessarily every young persons’ strength, so during the event, we had a sign with the challenge, “Would you give the shirt off your back?” We thought this was a great conversation starter, and even a way to encourage these young people to return another day with items of clothing that they no longer wanted or needed, as many purchased new items at the gift shops and vendor tables. But, to our surprise, every time we turned around, we saw someone else removing their t-shirt or taking off a layer and leaving it in the pile. It was truly inspiring. Our workshop had a full house, with over 600 young people attending. (I promise you, we spoke to many many young people who are eager to find ways to get involved back home!) Reach out to your local Catholic universities, Newman Centers, Diocesan and Parish Young Adult groups, and young people in parish pews. Invite them to serve alongside you.

As I continue to write this and listen to this webinar on engaging young adult black Catholics, everything they are discussing is the same across the board. If we truly want younger and more diverse members, we need to do better. We need to invite. We need to make space. We need to listen. We need to make new members feel welcome and encouraged. Don’t be afraid of a little change. New ideas and perspectives can inspire and uplift. Let the Holy Spirit be the driving force, and don’t be afraid to invite someone, and don’t be afraid to invite them again. Look even within our own families, our children and grandchildren, our friends, our parishioners. Tonight I received a text from a friend jokingly with an invite for an event, “… I suppose we can just keep going back and forth with these invites, until one of us gives in…” Sometimes it is just not the right time. We have to be understanding and patient; personal invites are always what works. When the time is right, the Holy Spirit will give them the nudge.

Flipping back to my open tab on Frassati, I read on. He encouraged his college classmates in a speech on charity to join Conferences. This brought me back to standing on the stage a few weeks ago talking to our SEEK audience, “I don’t know if you are all aware of these institutions that were so marvelously conceived […]. It is a simple institution suitable for students because it does not involve commitment apart from being in a particular place one day a week and then visiting two or three families every week. You will see, in just a little time, how much good we can do for those we visit and how much good we can do for ourselves.” (Now, most Conferences meet less than once a week!) Honestly, if it wasn’t for these personal encounters with those we serve, I honestly don’t know if I would continue serving as a Vincentian.

There was a time Blessed Frassati was frustrated within his Conference for abandoning a needy family, and so he resigned and joined another Conference. As a Vincentian for almost 10 years now, I can relate to this. Although in my heart, my want to abandon and resign is always outweighed by my passion to help and encourage a change of heart for my Vincentian friends. Although sometimes Conference meetings can be discouraging, I find immense inspiration from the young members in one of the youth Conferences I help facilitate. On their days off from school, they often volunteer at various capacities on projects or offer their time to shadow on Home Visits. Although when first beginning, they didn’t have an understanding of poverty. Throughout the years, through encounters, poverty education, and long discussions, I am constantly impressed by their forward thinking, generosity, and compassion.

In a recent situation, we were presented with an opportunity to help a family with their last steps out of generational poverty. This young mother is embarking on her last semester of nursing school, and is steps away from the finish line, but a health situation set her a few steps back. Something like education can be hard for some to feel as an essential need when others do not have food or roofs. It was encouraging to hear these young Vincentians explain the importance and life-changing assistance we could provide to this family; helping not only this young mother, but opening doors for the future of her two small girls.

It is so frustrating to see how these young people were able to grasp this so quickly, and my Conference didn’t seem to see it at all. I challenged these young Vincentians with some of the responses I received from my Conference, and their responses were so eloquent. This work is not too mature for high schoolers. Young people can begin serving as early as they feel comfortable. The conversations and works may look and sound different, but the younger we begin talking, educating, and advocating, the more young servant leaders are developed. Someone on the webinar remarked, “The Church needs young people and young people need the Church.”

I know the last few columns have been focused on change — Let’s change our mindsets. Let’s change our attitudes. Let’s change our hearts. Let’s change the world.

God Bless,
Kat Brissette
2nd Vice President and National Vice President of Youth, Young Adults, and Emerging Leaders

PS: This message was brought to you Kathleen, caffeine, and the Holy Spirit!

01-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-11-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

This has always been a somewhat personal column between myself and our members, so I’m using it this week to tell you some personal, and Society, news. I will retire as the National Council CEO at the end of this fiscal year. This is not a sudden decision, but rather one that has been quietly in the works for about two years. I chose a time to end my service that would hopefully be the least challenging for our organization, given the National President election a year ago and the change of our Board a few months ago.

Here are quick answers to the usual questions. Am I sick? Thankfully, No. Am I fighting with the President or the Board? Heck No. Am I leaving for another job? Are you offering one? Seriously, No. Can we change your mind? Thanks, but No.

To be very clear, my decision has nothing to do with my relationships with President John Berry or with any of our Board members, or with our path forward. Actually, I have some regrets leaving during all of this planning excitement! Many months ago, John and other Presidential candidates asked me to stay on for at least their first year if elected. It has been fulfilling to have served as Society staff leadership for 11 years and with nonprofits for more than 40 years. I will be 66 this August, so it’s simply a good time for my family to move on to some rest and to other vocations. My plan is to continue my Vincentian service as a volunteer nationally and locally as our leaders wish me to contribute, and of course, to provide whatever support I can to my successor.

Mary Ellen and I plan to relocate to Phoenix to be nearer to our son, the high school science teacher and football coach. I hear that there’s a SVdP Council in Phoenix…

President John and a search committee are beginning the recruitment process for the next CEO. Look for details in upcoming issues of the e-Gazette. Our plan is to have the new CEO formally installed at a Mass during the National Assembly. We chose this time to make the retirement announcement so that the process will have the time necessary for a thorough national CEO search. I certainly will not “name my successor” and have asked not to be on the search committee; however, I will assist in providing experience-based input to the committee as requested and to any inquiring candidates.

Meanwhile, between now and October I will still be here, doing whatever I can along with my staff to serve you and all our members. There is certainly lots to do, so this is not Goodbye quite yet!  See you soon.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
National CEO

 

12-14-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-14-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

As prominent Catholic theologian Kenny Rogers (just kidding) used to sing, “You got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” That’s the lesson for all of us in our government — and some foundation — relationships.  While some good examples certainly exist, many so-called funding partnerships result in exploitation, even if designed at first for the common good. We need to take another look at this relationship.

Government (local or federal) needs, or believes it needs, some service it is unwilling or unable to do by itself. Perhaps it is restricted from doing it by law or regulation. Maybe it doesn’t have the proper distribution resources, such as the reach into specific populations or communities. Lacking this startup money, talent or knowledge, it outsources work to the private sector including nonprofit organizations.  And here is where it gets interesting and dangerous.

The for-profits say “Sure, we can do that for you. But to get it done right, we need some money for infrastructure and overhead, so much for marketing, and because we are a business, we need to make a little money, too.” In the contracting game, even the lowest bidder makes a profit, sometimes at the outset or later under “contract modifications” which invariably appear later.

Nonprofits, however, usually take a different approach. They humbly respond with “We really want to help the same people you do, so we will do what it takes to provide the service. We will prove how good we are by asking for little or even no overhead costs. We will give away some of our resources that we already paid for, and whenever possible, we’ll even use volunteers so you don’t need to pay us too much! Just pay us for our direct costs, even though we probably don’t know what they are.”

With this contracting approach, it’s no wonder why they are nonprofits. They don’t even try to make ends meet.

Government may not listen when the organization hits a snag that may cost more to provide the service. “That’s your problem,” they say, “just be more efficient.” Which sounds kind of funny, coming from the government.

To make matters worse, government may then try to run the nonprofit’s business. Beyond contract specifications which are fairly included up front, sometimes government will add that “if you take our money, you need to abide by these other rules, too.” The rules may be outside of our Catholic beliefs, or what employee benefits need to be provided. There may be added costs in the hiring process or in the audit reporting that aren’t covered in the contract language but are “understood” as a condition of doing the government’s work.

The for-profits do a better job of knowing know when to ask for more or when to quit. Many nonprofits simply accept whatever terms are thrown at them because they feel so vested in the program. They then raise money to support the contract work and its “extra costs” — in effect subsidizing the government!

Lockheed Martin doesn’t run bake sales. And neither should we.

There is a growing awareness of all this by the nonprofit sector. A first step is knowing when you’re the sucker. Yet many nonprofits haven’t yet gotten to a next step of demanding change, or ultimately walking away from a bad relationship. However, there is both hope and precedent. Years ago, some local United Way application requirements and performance measures got so out of hand — combined with fewer dollars promised in return — that many established member nonprofits walked away. We need to remember this lesson of self-respect.

As the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we have some unique strengths when it comes to potential government/funder relationships. We have boots on the ground in the neighborhoods they want served. We have a distribution network of hundreds or thousands of Vincentians, other volunteers and staff as trusted friends with neighbors in need. We can leverage resources, not the least of which is knowledge regarding the poor, to bring to the table. We have effective relationships with landlords, utilities, food and other resources that will save the other party time and money to utilize.

As Vincentians we are humble in our work and values. We aren’t asking government or foundations to help us; we ask for others who have little or no voice. It’s not the time to be humble, but to be strong in our values and abilities to be compensated fairly for the work we are asked to perform.  Otherwise, it’s time to walk away from bad contracts and bad funder relationships.  We can do so respectfully, as is our nature, standing up for ourselves and our need for sustainability to benefit the poor.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-07-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

At Masses on the last weekend of November we all celebrated The Solemnity of Christ the King. The Gospel reading was from Matthew 25:31-46. That is a reading that I am sure every Vincentian is very familiar with. It is my favorite Gospel reading, without a doubt.

In that reading, Jesus articulates, clearly and directly, what we are called to do if we are to be saved at the final judgement. He could not be clearer. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the ill, and visit those imprisoned. Because when we serve those hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, strangers or imprisoned persons, we are in fact serving Him. And when we ignore those people, we are turning our back on Christ.

As I said, Jesus is clear and precise in what he says. He is also clear and precise in what he DOES NOT say. In all my 68 years of hearing the Gospel of Matthew, I have yet to hear a qualifier on those requirements for salvation.

Jesus said, “For I was hungry, and you gave me food.” He did NOT say “For I was hungry, and you gave me food because I lived in the Parish boundaries.”

Jesus said, “For I was naked, and you clothed me.” He did NOT say “For I was naked, and you clothed me because I resided in your Zip Code.

 That reading is something we should be contemplating as we look at the blessings which our Conferences have in money and people. And how we are using those blessings to help not only the people in our Parish or Conference/Council boundaries; but how we are proactively sharing those blessing with other Conferences and Council who may not be as blessed.

Twinning is a wonderful tool for us to serve our Brothers and Sisters in Christ who are not in our immediate ‘service area’.  Twinning gives us a way to share our blessing with others who we may not see through our encounters with people we serve.

But are we being proactive in our twinning efforts, or reactive?  Are we waiting for other Councils and Conferences to contact us, or are we reaching out and asking who needs help? Every time we pray in our meetings, we ask God to help us “Seek and find the suffering and deprived.”  Are we actively seeking ways to share our excess?

Of course, we need to be good stewards of the gifts we are given, and we have to keep some of our funds in reserves to get through unexpected rough times. But once we have an adequate level of those reserves, we should be seeking opportunities to help the suffering and deprived.

As we enter this season of Advent and Christmas, let us dedicate ourselves to being proactive in becoming gift bearers to our fellow Vincentians near and far so that they may seek and find the suffering, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and follow Christ’s call to salvation.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

11-30-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-30-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Be Like Vincent

One of the many things I learned from Deacon Gene Smith, former President of the National Council, is that Vincent de Paul was actually a fundraiser. And not just a part-time, run-of-the-mill fundraiser, but one who set the standard for all of us.

So how do we non-saints (at least, that term applies to me) go about raising money to support our Conferences and those in need? After all, most of us are not professional fundraisers. It starts by creating a culture of philanthropy in your Conferences and Councils. I have seen firsthand how this type of culture can significantly increase funding — but only when people and organizations have the genuine desire to do so.

Where do we begin if we want to “Be Like Vincent?”

First: Become a Storyteller. Not just any storyteller, but someone who passionately shares with others the exceptional work of your Conference and/or Council. Tell people about the single mother you visited this week — how she is working two jobs and is still not able to pay her rent and utility bills because one of her young children has ongoing medical expenses. Talk about the veteran who skips meals in order to pay his rent, and the recently unemployed father who is desperately seeking work. These individuals would likely all become homeless if not for our efforts.

Although we might think we don’t have many stories to share, in fact, the stories are too numerous to count. Take a moment to reflect on the people you have met in just the last few days — I’m certain you’ll recall a story. I have often heard people say, “If only I had known about…. (fill in the blank) I would have gladly helped.” Let’s make sure they do know. We can tell our stories in-person, from the pulpit, during meals with friends and colleagues, in parish bulletins, in local newspapers, emails, mailings — the opportunities are virtually endless. The key is, we have to be willing to share the work we do as Vincentians with others. We simply must.

Second: Ask. Yes, ask. We cannot be afraid to ask others, anyone, everyone, if they would be willing to help a neighbor in need. Our true calling as Vincentians is to ask others to support our work. Some will say no, but think of how wonderful it is when someone says, “I’d love to help.” Not only are we then able to help more people in more ways, but we have also given the donor the opportunity to experience the joy and the satisfaction that comes with helping another person.

Few things bring as much fulfillment as knowing that our efforts made a real difference in the life of another. While I can still get nervous when asking someone for a gift to support St. Vincent de Paul, reciting the simple prayer “Come, Holy Spirit” reminds me that this is not about me. It’s never about me. It is between God and the other person. And even when someone says no, I’ve come to understand that many times, a no is simply a “not today.” Often at a later date, we receive a gift from that initial “no,” and it is sometimes far greater than anything we would have imagined.

Third: Say Thank YOU. Showing appreciation and gratitude — sharing with a donor how she or he made a “real difference” in the life of another person. Saying Thank YOU in person, on the phone, via email, and maybe best of all, through (multiple) handwritten notes, is essential. It is almost impossible to show too much gratitude, yet very easy to show too little.

I have never heard a person express unhappiness for being thanked multiple times. But I can’t begin to count the number of times when someone shared disappointment about being overlooked. An unexpected thank you letter, especially months later after a gift, provides another opportunity to “story tell” about how an individual’s contribution helped change lives and/or save lives. This is one of the greatest blessings we can provide to our donors. Additionally, showing genuine gratitude goes a long way toward helping secure future gifts, larger gifts, monthly gifts, planned gifts, and even estate gifts.

Creating this culture of philanthropy isn’t difficult, but it does take a real commitment. It doesn’t require an advanced degree or a high-priced consultant to be successful — what it does require is a Vincentian desire, to Be Like Vincent, to continue his legacy, and to become our own hero using the three steps to guide you:

  • share stories
  • ask others
  • show gratitude.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from the movie A League of Their Own, when Tom Hanks (Jimmy) tells Geena Davis (Dottie; who just informed him that she was quitting the baseball team he manages because it got too hard):

It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

If every Vincentian told one story each week (just one) and asked one person each week to support our mission (just one) and wrote one thank you letter each week (just one) — countless new individuals would become part of our Vincentian family, enabling us to serve more people. We would change our community. We would change our country. We would change our world. Think of how proud Vincent de Paul would be with each of us.

Please let me know how you are doing. Call or email me, I really mean that. I can be reached at (480) 556-7122 or szabilski@svdpusa.org.  I’d love to hear from you, learn from you, and offer any thoughts or suggestions as each of us strives to “Be Like Vincent.”

Advent and Christmas blessings, and a prosperous New Year — may this be one of those resolutions we really do keep.

God Bless,
Steve Zabilski
2nd Vice President and Chair of the National Development and Communications Committee

11-22-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-22-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

We tend to think of Thanksgiving as uniquely American, and in some ways it is. Over 400 years ago the Pilgrims in the Plymouth colony shared a harvest meal with the people indigenous to the area. Who knows, maybe there were turkeys involved. We do know that first Thanksgiving helped bring people together; it helped build relationships.

Over 200 years later in the midst of the destruction of the Civil War, President Lincoln declared a national day of thanksgiving, again trying to unite the nation. It wasn’t until 1942, during World War II, that Thanksgiving Day was declared a national holiday, again uniting the country.

But “thanksgiving” didn’t start in America. Gathering around a table to give thanks has been part of our Christian tradition since the time of Jesus. The last meal Christ ate with his apostles on Holy Thursday night was a thanksgiving celebration. The word “Eucharist” is Greek for “giving thanks.” We continue to give thanks each time the Mass is celebrated.

We, as Vincentians, have much to be grateful for. Personally, I am grateful for my now deceased parents, my wife and sons, as well as my friends. I have a good career, as well as my health — that is a lot, but there are other things for which I am also grateful.

As each of us live our lives, we are instinctively searching to find our place in the world. We each have a place where God wants us to be; our mission is to find it. Some people do, sadly some do not. We Vincentians are uniquely blessed in that we have found our vocation through the Society. We are where we ought to be, with our Vincentian friends, nourishing our spiritual growth through service to our neighbors in need.

Whether we serve through Home Visits, visiting those without homes where they are, helping at a homeless shelter or food pantry, or serving the Society in other ways, we are all doing the same thing together — building relationships with those who need it most.

Notice I didn’t focus on the material which we may provide. That is important, but not paramount. What is most important, and for which we should be most grateful, is the opportunity that is given to us to listen to those who may not have been truly listened to in years, to form friendships with those who may have no friends. Even if our Conference is low on funds, just being present can be the most valuable gift.

Vincentians visit those in need in pairs. We do the work together, so we can lean on each other. The task before us may be large, but nobody is expected to do it alone. We give thanks for our Vincentian friends with whom we share the burdens. We cannot do it all ourselves, but together we can do almost anything.

As we gather around our Thanksgiving Day tables, in addition to all the other thing we recall, let’s be thankful for finding our vocations as Vincentians.

Peace and God’s Blessings,
John Hallissy
1st Vice President and Chair of the National Governance Committee

11-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

11-15-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Next week, we start what is the traditional year-end holiday season that extends through early January.

Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Years. Food, prayer, presents, parties, and football. Usually a lot of food, a lot of presents, a lot of parties, a lot of football. More than enough food and parties to cause a lot of us to begin that new year with another new diet. More than enough presents to tempt us to cut up those credit cards and swear off debt. And more than enough football…. well actually, there is never enough football.

But is there enough prayer? Is there ever enough prayer?

The thing about holidays and Holy Days is that they focus us on prayer, gratitude, and spirituality. But what about all those other days that aren’t Sunday Mass days or holidays? When it’s bitter cold in mid-February and the car is stuck under a snow drift, do we pray? Or maybe — do we curse? When it is 115 degrees with 89% humidity in August, do we pray — or do we curse? When it’s just a plain ole normal day where nothing especially went right or wrong, do we pray? Or do we just let it go by, untouched by our spiritual selves? I admit, I’ve been on the wrong side of each one of those questions more times than I wish I had.

St. Vincent de Paul said, “Give me a man of prayer and he will be capable of everything. He may say with the apostle, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me.’”

As Vincentians, we are women and men of prayer. And through that prayer, service, and friendship, we seek to grow in holiness and become closer to God and each other. Our meetings open and close with prayer. In our gatherings, we reflect and pray on scripture and other spiritual discussions. We sometimes pray with those we serve; we always pray FOR those we serve. Prayer is central to being a Vincentian.

So today, I pray that you and your families are blessed with happiness and peace this holiday season. I pray for those gone from us this past year who won’t be sitting around our Thanksgiving tables or won’t have presents under the tree. I pray today for an end to the war, violence, and hatred that has exploded across the globe. I pray today that civility, listening, and understanding return to our conversations and interactions in society. And I pray that those we serve find hope, healing, and relief from suffering.

And finally, I pray that when the holidays are over, the tree is back in the attic and it’s a normal boring Tuesday, that I pray. That day — and every day.

Peace and God’s blessings,
John

John Berry
National President

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