International

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul

Contemplation – One Heart and One Soul 940 788 SVDP USA

The Rule tells us that “All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection and consultation.” [Rule Part I, 3.10] And that, “In rare circumstances, if consensus cannot be reached the decision may be put to a vote.” [Part III, Statute 16] Doesn’t that just drag things out? Isn’t it faster to vote?

These are the wrong questions! Our goal isn’t to reach the fastest decision, but to reach the right decision; the one that is aligned with God’s will.

The process of reaching consensus, then, is a concrete instance of discernment.

The foundation of consensus in our Conferences is for each of us to let go of our egos, “surrendering our own opinion,” as our original 1835 Rule put it, “without which surrender, no association is durable.”

This concept of surrender, of emptying ourselves, occurs throughout the Scriptures, and is a result of our Vincentian virtue of humility, which St. Vincent taught “causes us to empty ourselves of self so that God alone may be manifest, to whom glory may be given.” [CCD XII, 247] Even Christ “emptied himself” to better fulfill the Father’s will! [Ph 2: 6-8]

There is an old joke that voting is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In a similar way, consensus is like a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. We would never make our friend with the fish allergy go for seafood, and it is obviously better to skip the pizza if another friend just had that for lunch.

When we keep our friendship foremost, our consensus on a dinner destination becomes obvious. Our differing needs and opinions don’t block the road, they light the path.

Just so, in our Conferences, with the bond of our Vincentian friendship enabling us to listen and speak openly, the group’s wisdom and insights will soon distill, revealing to us God’s will in the form of our consensus. Rather than vote fellow members off the island, we all remain in the same boat.

St. Louise often advised that “following the example of the Blessed Trinity, we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons.” [Correspondence, p.771, 1647]

The Divine life, in the example of the Holy Trinity, is a shared life, and our pathway to it also is shared; in service, in spirituality, in friendship, and in consensus.

Cor unum, et anima una!

Contemplate

When have I let my own strong opinions shut down other voices in my Conference?

Recommended Reading

Turn Everything to Love – especially “Listening to God’s Word

Black History Month Series – Mother Mary Lange, OSP

Black History Month Series – Mother Mary Lange, OSP 191 264 SVDP USA

Racism is defined as systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another. Fortunately, this “pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred [the] vision” of Elizabeth Clarissa Lange, a free, French speaking, Black woman.  She walked into her vision around 1813, into Maryland from Santiago de Cuba (born circa 1794). Her arrival in Baltimore coincided with Sulpician priests, Haitian refugees, free blacks, and slaves escaping violence from the French Revolution. In Maryland, they found a haven and home to one of the country’s largest populations of Roman Catholics. Unfortunately, it was also a state that accommodated racism and institutional slavery.

Through the pain of racism, God opened Elizabeth’s heart and spirit to see children of immigrants, unsupervised, and uneducated; she became an eyewitness of injustice in America. Using her own funds and skills, with help from a few friends, she opened her home to educate and house orphaned immigrant children of color. In their collective devotion to intellectual, spiritual, and social development of students, she established the first Catholic School for children of color, providing instruction in a hostile, slave era. Later in 1828, Elizabeth founded the first and oldest, continuously operating school for Black students in the United States, St. Frances Academy.

Despite attitudes of the times, she continued to hear God’s voice and embraced another vision. In 1829, Elizabeth and three ladies (Magdaleine Balas, Rosine Boegue, and Almaide Duchemin), answered their calling, took their vows, under the spiritual direction of  Reverend James Hector Nicholas Joubert, SS (Founder), and became the first female religious order of African descent in the world. After prayerful consideration, they selected the name “oblate,” meaning “one who is specifically dedicated to God or God’s service,” and became the Oblate Sisters of Providence. Elizabeth took the name of Sister Mary (Foundress). They embraced their calling, spirituality, and African identity by including St. Benedict the Moor as one of four special patrons for their religious community.

From the beginning, the Oblate Sisters of Providence confronted the humiliation of racism. Whites avoided them by walking on opposite sides of streets. Sometimes they were forced to walk in muddy streets because whites would not share sidewalks with them. Once Sister Mary almost met death by being pushed into a moving carriage because of racial hatred. They were never called Sisters, but Girls.

As people of color, they were required to sit in the rear of Church, and Holy Communion was offered to them from a different ciborium only after whites had received. Sister Mary knew God would provide, so she persevered, through prayer, to keep her new order vibrant, despite hatred among fellow Christians. Under the leadership of  Sister Mary (Mother Mary Lange), their faithfulness and numbers continued to flourish, and they provided an atmosphere of faith and hope to parents and children degraded by a slave society.

Unfortunately, racism continued to flourish in antebellum Baltimore, too. After the death of their founder, Fr. Joubert, financial hardships mounted. Although educated, with many skills, these Sisters never found opportunities to work beyond that of domestic workers. Also, housing became an issue for them: forced to move several times because of financial distresses; evicted because of their race; and uprooted abruptly for the City to run a street through their property to make them move (early days of gentrification). Unfortunately, their black lives made them vulnerable to unrelenting prejudice. Under the guidance of Mother Mary Lange, when people humiliated them, they prayed. When daily life tried to degrade them as a religious congregation, they served with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Catholic thinking of the day, considered them unworthy to wear veils, usually worn by white religious women, so they wore caps. All attempts to humiliate their religious community failed. Devoted to prayer, they worked hard to survive and gain respect for the Holy habit they did wear. Their habits made them visible, and their service made them indispensable in times of need. Requested to help during a Cholera pandemic that devastated the world in 1832, the Oblate Sisters of Providence chose to listen to God and served as nurses for victims of this disease. Again, God provided, and not one Sister lost their life because of that service. The Oblate Sisters adopted as their motto, “Providence will provide.” Yet the pain of prejudice never stopped.

In face of this relentless racism, many free black Baltimoreans of the times, protested, spoke out against racial discrimination, fought for organized schools and churches, built community institutions, criticized severely slavery, and advocated for emancipation, so did the Oblate Sisters of Providence. As foundress of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, Mother Mary Lange became the first Superior of this religious community. At their pinnacle, membership included more than three hundred Sisters in the United States, Cuba, and Costa Rica. From the beginning of their founding, Providence enabled the Sisters to demonstrate leadership and divine daring in the face of poverty, racism, humiliations, and untold hardships. Documents attesting to the heroic life of virtues, self-empowerment, and works of charity of Mother Mary Lange were received by the Congregation of the Saints in Rome. As she awaits the final word for her beatification and canonization, we pray and remember that she was “endowed by God with humility, courage, holiness and an extraordinary sense of service to the poor and sick…the pain of prejudice and racial hatred never blurred that vision.”

References

02-25-2021 News Roundup

02-25-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL

CGI: Lenten Prayer Celebration for the Vincentian Family, February 28, 2021
IRELAND: Lockdown wedding after Cupid struck at Larne retreat centre

NATIONAL

AUSTIN, TX: Winter storm halts nearly everything but Texas hospitality
COLD SPRING, KY: New St. Vincent de Paul store and food pantry coming to NKY
MIDLAND, MI: Organizations team up to provide furniture to survivors of May’s floods
PHOENIX, AZ: He sought help for his garden. Now he grows vegetables, fruits and fellowship
ST. LOUIS, MO: Aquinas Institute of Theology and the Vincentians of the Western Province enter Cooperative Agreement
WESTON, MA: Weston residents lend helping hand at food pantry

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

Black History Month Series – Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God

Black History Month Series – Sister Thea Bowman, Servant of God 204 254 SVDP USA

“I like to tell folks that I have a little black nun inside of me,” Brother Mickey McGrath said in the introduction to his book This Little Light: Lessons in Living from Sister Thea Bowman. Brother Mickey, an artist, and a 50+ year old Irish American member of the Oblates of St. Francis DeSales, did not get to meet Sister Thea before she died. That didn’t stop her from transforming his life. He experienced Sister Thea through research and conversations with people that knew her. Before ending that same introduction, Brother Mickey stated “I think that God, weary and hoarse from trying, just gave up and sent the unforgettable, indefatigable Sr. Thea Bowman to teach me a thing or two.”

An interview with Sister Gail Trippett revealed that Sister Thea had been her professor while completing her master’s in theology from the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University in New Orleans. Not only was Sister Gail one of her students but she was also one of two nuns invited to share Sister Thea’s Mississippi home once school was completed. One of the most meaningful remembrances from that time spent with Sister Thea was expressed by Sister Gail’s pronouncement “she wanted everyone to find the God inside themselves…She pushed the limits to help people find all they were capable of (doing).”

Sister Gail repeated to me Sister Thea’s testimony about a hometown experience that may have spearheaded her advocacy for people. In Sister Thea’s hometown of Canton, Mississippi there was an elderly black neighbor that walked to mass every single morning. This gentleman had to walk past a white Catholic church to get to the black Catholic church. One morning he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t feel he could make it to the black church. So, he stepped inside the white church to sit down in the back to pray until he could make it back home. The parishioners immediately called the police.  The elderly black man was arrested.

Sister Thea was so upset that she contacted the Bishop to get this man freed from jail. Sister Gail believes this was one of the moments that helped Sister Thea realize that we all have the opportunity to use our voice for others. There were a series of things like that. “Sister Thea knew if God gave her the ability to have a voice that others listened to in such a way that they would change – that’s what she was going to do. What she lived for was to be a servant to God’s plan for her life.” As a child she couldn’t have known that even after death people would listen to her words with both ears — whether they were children, elders, men, women, nuns, priests, bishops, Catholic, or non-Catholic.

Sister Thea Bowman’s address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) included a quote from Malcolm X in which he stated “My folks, most of ‘em didn’t come over here on the Mayflower, they came over here on slave ships in chains.” Sister Thea pointed out that these folks were “proud, strong men and women – artists, teachers, healers, warriors, and dream-makers, inventors and builders, administrators, like yourselves; politicians, priests – they came to these shores in the slave trade. Those who survived the indignity of the Middle Passage came to the American continent bringing treasures of African heritage, African spiritual and cultural gifts – wisdom, faith and faithfulness, art and drama…” She told every person attending the USCCB Conference, “It means that I come to my church fully functioning. I bring myself, my black self, all that I am, all that I have, all that I hope to become. I bring my whole history, my traditions, my experience, my culture, my African American song, and dance and gesture and movement and teaching and preaching and healing and responsibility as gifts to the church.”

Sister Thea Bowman truly described herself when she told Mike Wallace during her 1987 60 Minutes interview, “I think the difference between me, and some people, is that I’m content to do my little bit. Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change. But, if each one would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”

She died from cancer at the age of 52. New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor, whose motto was, ‘There can be no love without justice’, was among the many who saluted her in print. In his diocesan newspaper column, he wrote, “Friedrich Nietzsche said: ‘The world no longer believes because believers no longer sing.’ He didn’t know Sister Thea Bowman, dark nightingale. I am grateful that I did.” He called her a “quintessential woman,” a “quintessential religious,” a “quintessential black…never a whit self-conscious… When Sister Thea talked ‘soul,’ I knew that most of what I had listened to before had been stereotype. For her, ‘soul’ was all the misery of the crucifixion and all the glory of the resurrection.” He said he suspected that no one had a “deeper understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ…Sister Thea was quintessentially a Church-woman.” That’s why, he said, the “Bishops of the United States listened to her so raptly…There was a quiet in her suffering, a dignity, a nobility that never made light of pain, but never treated it as an impossible burden. “That he compared to the crucifixion, which, he said, she accepted,” as a gift beyond measure.

Sister Thea’s father’s father was a slave who achieved a 2nd grade education. Her mother’s mother was a teacher for which the Greenville, Mississippi school she founded carries her name. Theron, her father, was a physician. Her mom, Esther, was a teacher. Sister Thea’s parents named her Bertha. Born in Yazoo, she grew up in Canton, Mississippi. She was brought up in the Methodist church but converted to Catholicism as a pre-teen, as a result of ‘evangelization through education.’ She knew quite early that she wanted to follow in the footsteps of the educators (Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration) at Holy Child Jesus School. So, at the age of fifteen, Bertha headed to St. Rose Convent, the La Crosse, Wisconsin motherhouse of the Franciscan sisters. To honor her father, Bertha took the religious name “Thea”, which means “of God”.

Sister Thea Bowman was an Educator, Evangelist, Singer, Writer, Missionary Disciple, Advocate for Cultural Awareness and Racial Harmony, and Civil Rights Advocate. She received a B.A. in English, Speech, and Drama (1965) from Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Sister Thea received her M.A. in English (1969) and her PH.D. in English Language, Literature, and Linguistics  (1972) from Catholic University of America. She was a co-founder of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University, and the first African American woman to be awarded an honorary Doctorate in Religion by Boston College in Massachusetts (1989). Sister Thea Bowman was a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration (FSPA) and when she was endorsed for sainthood, Sister Thea was still recognized as the first and only African American member of her order. Sister Thea wrote one of the three Prefaces to the African American Catholic Hymnal Lead Me, Guide Me (copyright 1987). Just to reiterate her reference to Malcolm X’s words about African spiritual and cultural gifts being brought to the American continent, the back cover of the American Mass Program says, “During its first two years of use, not a single note of An American Mass Program was written down. Father Rivers had composed the melodies originally for his own inspiration and enjoyment, but later used them to develop a program of active participation in the Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, Cincinnati.” Talk about gifts to the church!

Her prayer card includes the sentence, “Her prophetic witness continues to inspire us to share the Good News with those whom we encounter; most especially the poor, oppressed…”

Sister Thea’s FSPA community instructed her, “If you get, give—if you learn, teach.”

June 1, 2018 Sister Thea Bowman was declared Servant of God.

– Domoni Rouse
St. Rita Conference
Indianapolis, IN

02-18-2021 News Roundup

02-18-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

International

IRELAND: €5m IT fund needed to support disadvantaged children with remote learning – SVP
IRELAND: Pandemic places extra strain on stretched services across Limerick
IRELAND: SvP’s vital work goes on despite impact of pandemic

National

BATON ROUGE, LA: It takes a village to keep Baton Rouge’s homeless warm
DORAVILLE, GA: Doraville Partners with St. Vincent de Paul to provide rent and mortgage assistance
HOUMA, LA: Nonprofit Spotlight: St. Vincent de Paul Society Store of Houma helps people with basic needs

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

02-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

The Collect, or opening prayer, for Ash Wednesday Mass reads, “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.”

I have come to value the Collect, which is a prayer that begins every Liturgy of the Word. It is a prayer written to position us to understand the scripture of the day. Notice that this Ash Wednesday prayer, which liturgically opens Lent, calls this season a “campaign of Christian service.”

This Lent, I am not in the mood to do much fasting. It seems I have already gone out into the desert and have given up a lot. So what value is there to even more deprivation? But this prayer invites me to consider fasting that would strengthen me for a campaign of service. Our Vincentian commitment to a vocation of service certainly has been tested this past year. So maybe this Lent is an appropriate time to rethink and recommit to that vocation. Maybe a new focus on self-restraint and fasting will help me on that journey.

Several years ago, Pope Francis suggested Lenten fasts, even in this year of isolation and deprivation, may improve our ability to serve our neighbors and be credible witnesses to the Kingdom of God. Our Holy Father asked us to:

  • Fast from hurtful words and speak kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and have trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
    Pope Francis (Ash Wednesday 2017)

Let’s all use this blessed season to renew and strengthen our belief in redemption and resurrection, so that we may be signs of hope to those we are called to serve.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

International Twinning – How SVdP Reaches Across Borders

International Twinning – How SVdP Reaches Across Borders 940 788 SVDP USA

Back in 2019, 30 million people in North and South America lived in extreme poverty, which means they were trying to survive on less than $1.90 a day. Then came 2020. It is estimated that an additional four to five million people in North and South America will be forced into extreme poverty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul is uniquely positioned to help our international brothers and sisters in need. We are not a social service agency or a top-heavy disaster organization – we are a global family. The heart of Vincentian service is the Home Visit, where we meet personally with our neighbors in need. We affirm the inherent dignity and worth of each human being and provide whatever help we can. This Vincentian spirit is the same, whether we are in St. Louis, Missouri; Houston, Texas; or Kingston, Jamaica.

Another core tenant of the Society is Twinning, which connects Councils and Conferences who have greater resources with Councils and Conferences who lack the means to carry out their works of charity. This can be done directly within the U.S. through Domestic Twinning; or the National Council also offers the opportunity to Twin Internationally.

Right now, we have over thirty aggregated Conferences and Councils in Central and South America waiting for a Twinning partner. These Vincentians provide basic necessities to people living in extreme poverty. The need is enormous, but their resources are scant. Due to the buying power of U.S. dollars, as little as $100 in Twinning contributions can make a huge difference in the services and care they can provide to their neighbors in need.

The Society’s network of charity reaches around the world. Talk to your Conference about partnering with a Conference in Central or South America. You may be able to give $100 each quarter; you may be able to give $500 every month. The amount and frequency are up to you!

To get started, download an International Twinning Application, and return it to the National Office. Elizabeth Martinez, the International Twinning Coordinator, will help you find a good match with an available Conference. If you have questions or want to learn more about International Twinning, email Elizabeth at emartinez@svdpusa.org or call (314) 576-3993, extension 225.

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God

Contemplation – The Secret Work of God 940 788 SVDP USA

When we think about our Vincentian virtue of humility, it seems sometimes that it may act against the interest of the poor if it results in fewer people donating to the Society. But this confuses humility with secrecy, a point Bl. Frédéric often discussed!

Indeed, while celebrating the rapid expansion of the Society across France in its early years, he noted that “we love obscurity without cultivating secrecy” [Letter 310, 1841]

He emphasized that “humility obliges associations as much as individuals.” [Letter 160, 1837] We must maintain the humble spirit of our founding, just as Vincent once admonished a priest of the mission for referring to it as “our holy company.” Vincentians, like all Christians, seek holiness, we do not proclaim it for ourselves!

Secrecy does not serve the work, or the poor. We work in obscurity, not as servants of an unworthy or illicit cause, but as what Bl. Frédéric called “weak Samaritans,” and what St. Vincent called “unprofitable servants.” Our work is worthwhile because it is truly the work of God!

What robs the poor is when we take personal credit for the God’s work; when we see ourselves as the cause. Our humility as a Society, Frédéric explained, “must exclude that collective pride which so often disguises itself under the name of esprit de corps…”[Letter 160, 1837]

We seek to do God’s will, and we should not be silent about the good that results, but any success we achieve is His alone.

Why wouldn’t we tell that story? Why wouldn’t we want to share this great gift we receive with everybody we know? It is a great story exactly because it is not about us.

There is much pleasure in telling of the humble origin of great things. It is so wonderful thus to reveal the secret work of God.” [Letter 460, 1842]

Contemplate: How can I share our story?

Recommended Reading: ‘Tis a Gift to be Simple by Fr. Robert Maloney

02-04-21 News Roundup

02-04-21 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Vincentians across the United States and around the world are finding spiritual growth by providing person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering. Read some of their stories here:

INTERNATIONAL
NATIONAL

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

Middlecamp Appointed International Territorial Vice President

Middlecamp Appointed International Territorial Vice President 600 685 SVDP USA

SVdP National Council President Ralph Middlecamp has been appointed as the new International Vice President for Solidarity and Special Projects to the Council General International of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

In his new role, Middlecamp will oversee the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s international efforts in the following areas:

  • Twinning, a program connecting Conferences and Councils in developed countries with Conferences and Councils in areas lacking the means to conduct their works of charity.
  • CIAD (the Commission for International Aid and Development), which provides financial assistance to member national Councils who have had a disaster and are providing relief to the victims. CIAD also prioritizes and funds projects submitted by member countries for financial support via resources from member countries with the means to provide assistance.
  • Special Projects.

Says Middlecamp of the honor, “The programs that our Society operates in the United States have been recognized by our international leadership as models of effective service to people living in poverty. I will be privileged to work with our members throughout the world to bring support to their efforts to relieve suffering in their communities.”

“The Society globally shares its resources among its more than 150 national Councils to get help where it is most needed for disasters and development projects,” says USA National Council CEO Dave Barringer. “Ralph has long been a global citizen in his concern and actions on behalf of the poor. He is a great choice to oversee these cost-effective and efficiently-delivered efforts.”

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