History

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles 1344 1792 SVDP USA

Two articles by current SVdP leaders look back at the Society’s roots, in the latest issue of De Paul University’s Vincentian Heritage Journal. National Director of Formation Tim Williams shares with us two new articles by Ray Sickinger, Ph.D., and Ralph Middlecamp.

François Lallier, Friend of Frédéric, Co-Founder of the Society

As a young law student at the Sorbonne, François Lallier noticed another student speaking out boldly in class, defending the Church against attacks on it by professors and fellow students. After class one day, he saw this young man outside, at the center of a group who were listening to him intently. Lallier took this opportunity to introduce himself to Frédéric Ozanam, and that, to paraphrase the closing line of Casablanca, was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Lallier, along with Ozanam, four other students, and Emmanuel Bailly, would together found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul just a few short years after this meeting, but their friendship would continue undimmed for the rest of Frédéric’s short life.

In an article published in the newest Vincentian Heritage Journal, Raymond Sickinger, Ph.D., National Council board member and Professor Emeritus of history at Providence College, tells the story of this founder using sources most Vincentians have not previously read, including Circular Letters Lallier wrote while serving as Secretary-General, his personal correspondence with his friend Ozanam, his speeches, and other documents.

Lawyer, judge, gentleman, and Vincentian, François Lallier’s story is an important part of our heritage.

Read François Lallier: One of the Pillars of the Building Started

Emmanuel Bailly, Mentor and Co-Founder of the Society

In the Ozanam Orientation, we learn that of the seven founders of the Society, there were six college students and one “older gentleman.” In 1833, Emmanuel Bailly was 39 years old.

National President Ralph Middlecamp, avid student of the Society’s heritage and history, shares in the latest issue of the Vincentian Heritage Journal the fascinating story of Père Bailly, whose offices hosted the first Conference.

Newspaper publisher, businessman, and college professor, Bailly was from a family with strong Vincentian roots, his father having been entrusted with some of Saint Vincent’s papers to safeguard during the French Revolution.

While his business ventures had varying degrees of success, his commitment to mentoring young men and defending the faith were unwavering. Bailly was truly a father figure to the young men who elected him as President of that first Conference, which earned him the nickname Père (father). He also served as Spiritual Advisor, and was discovered to have contributed generously to the secret collections at the early meetings.

It was Bailly’s deep knowledge of the Rule of the Congregation of the Mission that helped him, as co-author of the Society’s Rule in 1835, to guide its basic structure and outline.

Middlecamp’s article offers fascinating details of Bailly’s interesting life, family, and connections.

Read Emmanuel Bailly: The Advisor and Friend of Christian Youth

SVdP National Council Mourns Loss of Former National Council President

SVdP National Council Mourns Loss of Former National Council President 422 602 SVDP USA

The National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul is saddened by the recent loss of former National Council President, Joe Mueller. He passed away on Saturday, October 9 peacefully surrounded by family.

Joe is survived by his loving wife of 61 years, Nancy; his children, James (Angela) Mueller, Chris Mueller, Greg (Lisa) Mueller, and Anne (Matthew) Mueller Nichols; as well as his adoring grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

Joe “grew up a Vincentian.” Born in Richmond Heights, MO on March 19, 1935, he was introduced to the Society when his father took him on Home Visits with him when he was a child. Joe’s father was President of the Little Flower Conference in St. Louis.

Joe joined the Little Flower Conference when he was just 21. In 1976, he and his wife Nancy helped reactivate the Mary Queen of Peace Conference in Webster Groves.

“SVdP is one of the few organizations that goes out and has direct contact with people in need. Nancy and I just feel that the Lord has blessed us, and we must share it with others,” Joe once said about his work as a Vincentian.

“For me, Joe Mueller was the model of a dedicated Vincentian and a Servant Leader.  The renewal of our National Council began under his leadership. In his term as National President, the first National Stores Committee was formed and I was privileged to be appointed as a regional representative. Attending National Assemblies, I knew the Society was in good hands with a president who was articulate and had a warm sense of humor. The memory of Joe I most cherish however, is not his years at the helm of our Society but the humble dedication to serving our neighbors in need that I witnessed,” said current SVdP National President, Ralph Middlecamp.

“When in St. Louis, I often went across the Mississippi River to East St. Louis where my friend Joe Hubbard managed to keep our Society alive serving one of the poorest communities in America. On one of those visits I stepped into the back room of the store and there I saw Joe and his wife Nancy sorting clothing. After he was our president, Joe Mueller came there often to work in the store and serve lunch. We greeted each other as friends but in this chance meeting he and Nancy gave me the gift of witnessing what it means to be a servant leader in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. I already miss Joe but his example of servant leadership will continue to live in my heart.”

Joe spent his career as a practicing attorney. Beyond his Conference membership, he has served the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as National President (1993-1999) and International First Vice President (1999-2005).

Visitation and Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, October 16 at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church located at 676 W. Lockwood Rd., St. Louis, MO. Visitation at 8:30 AM with Mass to follow at 10 AM. Internment at Resurrection Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please donate memorials to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul St. Louis Council at www.svdpstl.org

Joe and his Vincentian heart of service will be greatly missed. Our prayers go out to Nancy, his family, and all those whose lives he touched. Rest in Peace, Joe.

To read Joe’s official obituary, click here.

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.

Contemplation – We Do Not Have Two Lives

Contemplation – We Do Not Have Two Lives 940 788 SVDP USA

We understand our Vincentian vocation to be a lay vocation, not religious or clerical. Yet the laity are called to much more than charitable works and attending Mass on Sundays. Indeed, in Apostolicam Actuositatum, Pope Saint Paul VI said that as “sharers in the role of Christ as priest, prophet, and king, the laity have their work cut out for them…” That sounds like a very tall order, but to learn how we may fulfill this calling, we need look no farther than the example of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

Frédéric lived his faith in every part of his life. He felt God’s presence in friendship, writing to his mother that it “makes one love more than ever a religion that makes all its children equal and gathers together the great and the small who… inspire you with so much love for humanity.” [Letter 55, to his mother, 1833] He saw and served Christ in his friends.

Advising his friend on marriage, he explained that “in your wife you will first love God, whose admirable and precious work she is, and then humanity, that race of Adam whose pure and lovable daughter she is.” [Letter 107, to Curnier, 1835] In his faithful devotion as husband and father, Frédéric saw and served Christ in his wife and daughter.

For most of his adult life, Frédéric was a college professor, where he believed he and his Catholic colleagues should strive “to fulfill our vocation as professors in a Christian manner and to serve God in serving wholesome teaching…” [Letter 516 to Foisset, 1843] He never shied from defending the truth, yet in doing so, he never offended anybody. Frédéric saw and served Christ in his profession.

As a proud Frenchman, Frédéric served in the National Guard during the 1848 revolution and ran for a seat in the legislature that same year. Through his newspaper, L’Ère Nouvelle, he offered commentary on social issues of his time, always seeking to mediate social tensions, and to remind his fellow citizens of their obligations to one another. Indeed, he once went so far as to say that this was “the possible usefulness of our Society of St. Vincent de Paul.” [Letter 137 to Janmot, 1837] Frédéric saw and served Christ in his fellow citizens.

Frédéric anticipated Pope Saint John Paul II’s teaching that for the laity there “cannot be two parallel lives,” one spiritual and one secular. [Christifidelis Laici, 59] He even explained it using similar words:

We do not have two lives, one to seek the truth, the other to practice it,” he wrote. [Letter 1143, to Hommais, 1852] “It requires so little to be an excellent Christian, all you need is an act of the will.”

More importantly, he lived his faith in all the parts of his life: in work, in family, in friendship, and in charity. He is for us, and for all Catholics, a role model of the Apostolate of the Laity.

Contemplate

In what parts of my life can I better see and serve Christ??

Recommended Reading

Vincentian Meditations (especially 4. How Do We Define Ourselves?)

Contemplation – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You

Contemplation – Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You 940 788 SVDP USA

“Come Holy Spirit, live within our lives,” we pray to open every Conference meeting, asking to be strengthened by the first fruit of the Holy Spirit: love. But let us also pray for the second fruit: joy!

Love sometimes means doing things we do not want to do, putting the needs of another before our own. For Vincentians, this is often begins with an interruption – we’d like to finish our meal, enjoy the weekend, or just relax and watch television, but the poor are calling. We don’t begrudge the poor their needs, of course, but we can sometimes adopt an unfortunate mindset; a grim sense of duty, a commitment to do the work, no matter how difficult or even unpleasant it may be at times.

After all, St. Vincent calls us to love God “with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.” It sounds like hard work, this whole love business! We know that it’s worth it, but who smiles while plowing the field?

We do!

Reflecting on the grace of God above both the splendors and hardships of earth, St. Louise once asked, “Why are our souls not in a continuous state of joy and happiness?” [Sp. Wr., p. 774] As Robert Barron, Bishop of Los Angeles, sometimes explains, God’s love exists only in the form of a gift; once we receive it, we give it away, only for it to be replenished. So for every act of charity, for every gift of love, it is we who are receiving. Why would we not be filled with joy?

The Lord loves a cheerful giver. Blessed Frédéric advised his brother Charles to “bring a joyful dedication to the works” of the Society. [Letter 314 to Charles Ozanam, 1841] We serve not out of duty, not for reward, but for love alone, so that we may “draw nearer to Christ, serving Him in the poor and one another.” [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

This is the truth that ultimately should bring us such joy that we can hardly contain it: we are in the presence of the living Christ! It is in giving that we receive, and in giving to the One whom we adore that we are filled with joy.

And the Lord loves a cheerful giver!

Contemplate

How can I let go of cares and smile?

Recommended Reading

‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple

08-12-2021A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

08-12-2021A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

As Vincentians we often marvel at the founding of our beloved Society, and how a small group of college students took decisive action to put their faith to work in helping local neighbors in need.  It was truly a blessing from God to organize anything in the tumultuous period in Paris, especially doing so with young men (speaking as a former one myself). We may forget, though, what I think was even a greater miracle!

By the year 1845, the Society was operating far outside of Paris and even France, having a Council in nine other countries including our own and in places as diverse in language and cultures as Turkey, Scotland, and Mexico. We must remember that this was in the days before the Internet, so anything that “went viral” was probably limited to an actual disease!  Yet a Society devoted to God and helping the less fortunate spread by word of mouth, traveling founding members, and then their followers and supporters.

It would have been quite normal, as it is today, to start a campus ministry, have some fun and do good things with the original group, and ultimately disband when the founder graduated. College groups form and disband every day. So too do nonprofits even today, with literally thousands formed each year just in the United States. Most don’t have the people or financial resources to last very long, and some depend on the charism of their founder to keep the zeal alive. When he or she departs, often without a named successor or a continuing shared purpose, everything unravels.

So what a miracle we are part of as members of a Catholic, lay, apostolate with more than 800,000 global members in more than 150 countries – and still regenerating its members and mission activities despite wars, pandemics, economic depressions, and so many other challenges, some global and some neighborhood.

In your community, perhaps there were once multiple parishes and several Society Conferences. Today some may be gone as part of Diocesan restructuring, demographic shifts, and the aging out of Conference leaders. Do not despair! Certainly the original purposes for the Society still exist. The poor are still with us. And we still need to grow in our own faith. The essential elements of Friendship, Spirituality, and Service are just as relevant today as ever.

What is missing may be exactly what Blessed Frederic and his friends discovered. Anyone and everyone can complain about a need, but who steps up to fill it? They did. And so can we.

Let’s look again at our founders’ example. When they moved to a new city or even a new country, they joined a new parish and started a new Society Conference.  They shared their founding documents, such as bylaws, freely with clergy and laypersons in hopes that this information could be used to start the Society elsewhere. It did here, with the shared bylaws of Ireland, created just a year prior to our founding!

We are called as Catholics and Christians to follow the examples of the Apostles, to be evangelizers of Christ and the Word. As Vincentians, let’s follow as well the examples of our early founders and others who upon their travels started new Conferences and recruited new members. They may not have stayed to lead the groups; no, they shared the Rule and their zeal to encourage the Society to grow anew. Good crops can come from far-flung seeds, especially such seeds of hope and love for the poor.

Even though we have nearly 4,500 U.S. Conferences, there are still around 8,000 more without a Society presence. Are you visiting a parish while on vacation? Visiting family members out of state? Running away from family after being stuck with them for over a year? (Just kidding. Sort of.) Share the joy you receive when you see the face of Christ in your Vincentian service.

Somewhere out there, parishioners just like us, any local Society Council, and probably a Pastor concerned for his local neighbors in need, will welcome your inquiry about starting a new Conference. If a Conference is already there, offer to visit and share your Vincentian experiences. Let’s get viral!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

08-05-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

08-05-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

We aren’t out of the woods quite yet, but we can at least see the clearing ahead of us.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S. has seen a lot since our 1845 founding. We are blessed that with every war, every pandemic, and every Depression, recession, and other disasters both man-made and natural, we have bent perhaps but not broken in our service to God and our neighbors in need. We pray and then we persevere.

While the story of our pandemic period is full of sadness, turmoil, and uncertainty, it is nevertheless a story of Vincentian spirit and service that deserves to be told and to be remembered. It’s our nature to say “Well, that was that” and move on to the next challenge, the next family in need, and our next Conference meeting. Before we forget these past 18 months and all the changes we went through, including most notably the forced isolation from each other, we should reflect on the experience and how, as individuals and as the Society, we too are changed.

This weekend (Friday at 5:30 PM and Saturday at 2:30 AM Eastern), a special pandemic edition of “Our Faith in Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul” will air on EWTN. Set those DVRs!  It’s a 30-minute look inside our Vincentian experience and how our members and Conferences continued in their formation journeys and in their service to neighbors in need. While cost, time, and travel considerations limited our filming to just three cities and Councils, this is really the story of all of us. If you squint just right you will see your Conference’s innovation in its food pantry, your Council’s changes in its thrift store, your fellow member’s continuing of Home Visits in unique ways, and maybe even yourself in the way you found the inner strength to just keep going.

If only our own members see this show it will be a success! Many of us did not know about the challenges overcome in different ways in Conferences across the country. The show gives us pause to reflect, and then to celebrate our common stubbornness, uh, I mean perseverance to serve in the face of chaos everywhere around us. Be proud; we are still here!

We don’t need a TV show, however, to educate ourselves. No, our communities and our supporters – parishioners, clergy, foundations, business partners, and others – deserve to see our story, too. They made our work possible with prayers, materials and financial support, and often during this period, new collaborations. While other social service and faith-based organizations pulled back, we stayed. We stayed in touch with our most vulnerable neighbors. We stayed in prayer with our parishes, clergy, and each other. We kept meeting, kept serving, and kept looking for how else we could serve God and share His love in our communities when it all shut down. The show tries to pull all this together in just 30 minutes. It’s a half-hour I ask you to share widely.

My hope is that each of us can share the show in a Conference meeting, parish gathering, annual dinner, or donor meeting. We own the show content, and will have it available through our website as soon as the broadcast rights clear in the next week. Trust me, EWTN will also appreciate the sharing as well!

To be clear, we all know that we don’t serve as Vincentians in order to get earthly credit; our rewards are more eternal. That recognized, we do need to tell our story more to recruit new members and to continue the public support we require for us to continue our works. Humility is a virtue. Sometimes, though, we need to remind everyone, and yes even ourselves, that we do good work and that our communities can depend on us to be there in good times and bad.

The pandemic resulted in Vincentian innovation, some of which will become lasting change. The pandemic challenged us to ask if “the way we have always done it” is now the most effective way for today and tomorrow. As we tell our story through the EWTN presentation, National Assembly workshops and otherwise, perhaps it will inspire us to consider even more changes, still consistent with our Rule while also consistent with today’s needs and service environments.

The “pandemic special edition” may drive innovation discussions in your Conference and Council. We wish that it didn’t take a pandemic to have these conversations! We appreciate nonetheless that God has blessed us with our journey together out of pandemic darkness to a new day in His service! Still here!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation – The Light of the World

Contemplation – The Light of the World 940 788 SVDP USA

Have you ever noticed that in virtually every picture of St. Vincent de Paul, he is smiling? Just a small, gentle smile with a twinkle in his eye that reassures us, puts us at ease, and makes us smile, too. Wouldn’t a permanent smile like that be a great gift for all of us to share?

Vincentians take great pride in loving God “with the strength of our arms, and the sweat of our brows,” [CCD XI:32] but we should always remember that ours is a vocation of gentleness! We may indeed work up a sweat at times, and even get our hands dirty, but ours are ultimately works of love, not feats of strength. We are moved by a tireless desire to love not only affectively, but effectively.

This distinction was made by St. Francis de Sales, who profoundly influenced Vincent. Affective love, Vincent taught, comes from the heart; it helps us to feel God’s presence, and fills us with warmth and affection. Love is effective, though, when we provide for the needs of others because of the love of God; when we serve, one might even say, for love alone. [Rule, Part I, 2.2]

Effective love, then, is an act of will; to will, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, the good of another. [Summa,II-II, Q27, A2] That sounds like work! But even as we do the work, the deep, abiding love of God that warms our hearts should shine through us in gentleness and kindness. Deeply inspired by St. Francis de Sales’ example of gentleness, Vincent testified for the cause of his beatification, saying that “his abundant, gentle goodness overflowed on those who enjoyed his conversation because of the example of his devotion.” [CCD XIIIa:91]

Gentleness, like all the virtues, must be both internal and external. When we are filled with the spirit and love of God, Vincent explained, we can hardly help but smile. In turn, we will offer our hearts with our “smiling face and cheerful disposition.” [CCD XII:156]

When we smile, it is sometimes said that we are “beaming,” or that our faces “light up.” And why shouldn’t they? We serve in hope, and our smiles are a visible sign of the hope and love that we bring with us. Perhaps this is part of the light Christ taught us not to hide under a bushel, but to shine before others.

Vincentians love God with the strength of our arms, but loving our neighbor begins with a smile, and we can smile without even breaking a sweat!

Contemplate

Does the love of God within me shine outwardly through my smile?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

Many Vincentians are downright tenacious in their desire to serve both God and our friends in need. While this is usually a virtue, we must be careful, too. I am asked daily about how we can keep our members safe. Two otherwise incongruous subjects are at the forefront of member conversations; I share them with you.

First, we hear daily – if not more often – about changing requirements, requests and threats regarding COVID re-emergence and new variants. This leads Vincentians to ask how and when they can serve and “what is National requiring” in regard to staying safe. This question is usually about Home Visits, but more recently relates as well to our upcoming National Assembly.

As Vincentians per our Rule, we follow the law. If local authorities require you to stay home, wear a mask, or swing a chicken over your head to ward off a virus, do so. If your Bishop asks his local Catholics to take specific precautions, we strongly recommend that the Society follow this direction, too. National Council will not have guidance that overrules local Church or government decisions. While we all want to get back to normal Home Visits that are conducted where our neighbors live, we need to do so safely even if – for now in some places – this means still conducting visits temporarily by phone.

As for National Assembly, we stay in touch with the Marriott where the meeting will be held next month, and they stay in compliance with local government and industry standards. The Society will comply with the resulting hotel requirements. This has the potential to change every day, so we can’t give you direction today. Anyone registered for the meeting will be sent email information before we travel to Houston.  I can tell you that the Society on its own will not require that everyone be vaccinated, nor will we (unless required by law) ask for proof of vaccination. We trust our members to do the right things. If anyone wants to wear a mask even if not required, you are certainly welcome to do so.

The National Assembly for the most part will not be conducted virtually online because of the large expense. The National Business Meeting on Saturday is the exception, and our National Council Members can either send a live-person proxy for voting or vote electronically during the meeting. Many other general sessions and workshops will be recorded for your viewing and sharing in days or weeks later on our website.

We are not taking these actions to ask you to be afraid to come! In fact, we really want you to join us after our meeting last year needed to go virtual, and we look forward to a grand reunion! We will, though, do everything we can to help you be safe at our meeting. I am writing this column while on an airplane, and it seems reasonable to expect we will be wearing masks on planes and in airports for at least another month. With changing rules everywhere, I always keep a mask in my pocket!

The other questions about member safety are in relation to our pending Safeguarding policy. This will be considered by the National Council at the aforementioned National Assembly Business Meeting. While the safeguarding focus is primarily and deservedly on the people we serve, we should consider as well the potential for safeguarding among and for our members. Vincentians, and anyone, can be victims. Further, we have learned from schools, volunteer organizations, and the Church that an organization’s members can be wrongfully, and even intentionally, accused of sexual abuse and other safeguarding violations. As our leaders discussed briefly in a national call this week, the Society is not immune. Yes, we have learned of accused abuse situations in our Society’s past. These remain possible today. The proposed Safeguarding policy recommends that every Council develop a local policy in accord with local laws and Church requirements of its parishioners. The focus is on those we will serve, but in doing the right things for those in need whom we love, we also protect our own members. The Rule’s requirement for Home Visits to be conducted in pairs, for example, wasn’t perhaps created with safeguarding in mind but this alone largely prevents both abuse situations and the accusation of abuse.

In our fervent desire to serve, let’s please not forget to take care of ourselves and our fellow Vincentians. Sometimes it feels like we have yet another requirement forced upon us every day, whether it be another report to complete, training, fingerprinting or some other action that delays our service and seems to accuse us of doing or even thinking of something unsafe or unsavory. Good people must take unnecessary precautions because bad people, and bad viruses, do exist. Let’s think of all this in the context of keeping those around us safe, and as part of our sacrificial service to God. Considering the alternatives, they are small sacrifices in order to do His work.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership

Contemplation: Our Call to Servant Leadership 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think of leaders, we are acculturated to envision military commanders, heads of state, celebrity CEOs, and the like; dynamic, charismatic, larger than life. Leaders, we are taught, are “large and in charge.” It is difficult, then, for most of us to believe that we can be that person; that we are called to leadership. But if you are a Vincentian, you are called.

Rather than the province of kings and generals, ours is a special type of leadership, modeled for us by Christ Himself. Most memorably, in the Gospel of John, Christ washed the feet of the disciples, afterwards explaining: “You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”

In a passage that was a favorite of St. Vincent’s, Christ further explained the role of a leader, saying, “let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.”

A Vincentian servant leader, such as a Conference President, is not called to be the boss or the commander. Rather than making all the decisions, Presidents fulfill the decisions of the Conference members.

In 1651, one of Vincent’s confrere superiors wrote to him, complaining of the men in his care, even going so far as to complain that he “preferred to direct animals rather than men.” In reply, Vincent explained that this approach “is true of those who want everything to give way to them, nothing to oppose them, everything to go their way, people to obey them without comment or delay, and, in a manner of speaking, to be adored.”

But that, Vincent explained, is not our way. He reminded the missioner that leaders should “consider themselves the servants of others, who govern in the light of how Our Lord governed.” [CCDIV:181-182]

Christ could have come to us as a king, a warrior, or a man of wealth. Instead, as Frédéric pointed out, he “was hidden for thirty years in the workshop of a carpenter.” [Complete Works, Lecture 24, quoted by Gregory] He “did not come to be served but to serve…” [Matthew 20:28]

In the Society, the person does not seek the office, the office seeks the person. [Manual, 35] Servant leaders are called less to be something, than to do something; we are called not to be “large and in charge,” but instead, to be small, and for all.

Contemplate

Am I called right now to servant leadership? To be an officer, committee chair, or something else?

Recommended Reading

Characteristics of a Vincentian Servant Leader

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