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

SVdP National Council Welcomes New Chief Advancement Officer

SVdP National Council Welcomes New Chief Advancement Officer 815 823 SVDP USA

The National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul is excited to welcome Ryan Carney as its new Chief Advancement Officer.

Ryan will focus on increased donor engagement, formalizing the communication and fundraising process, deepening engagement with Board members and Vincentians, and increased donor and friend visits nationally.

Ryan is originally from Nashville, TN. He moved to St. Louis to attend Saint Louis University, where he graduated with his degree in Business.

Ryan’s experience with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul began in 2007 when he started working at the St. Louis Council as their first grant writer.

During his time at the St. Louis Council, Ryan held a number of positions including development, formation, training, and programs.

In 2015, Ryan joined the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) as their Director of Philanthropy. While there, he worked with major gifts and planned giving in the Southeastern United States.

In 2018, Ryan was called back to St. Louis and the Society’s St. Louis Council to lead thei

r Development Office, where he worked with St. Louis’s Executive Director, John Foppe to double their annual development revenue.

Ryan has been an involved Vincentian at both the Conference and Council level. He attended Invitation for Renewal and worked with the Vincentian Family in St. Louis. He attended two international Vincentian Family Gatherings.

“I have a passion for the SVdP mission. I believe it is one of the most important apostolates of the Church,” said Ryan. “I am humbled to play a small part in building up the Society and providing resources to Vincentians to serve our neighbors in need.”

Ryan currently lives in St. Louis with his wife, Debra, and their four children, Clara, Mary Kate, Finn, and Jack.

If you’d like to contact Ryan, he can be reached at (314) 576-3993 ext. 213 or by email at rcarney@svdpusa.org.

02-11-21 News Roundup

02-11-21 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:



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.

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

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 299 374 SVDP USA

“Charity must never look to the past, but always to the future, because the number of its past works is still very small and the present and future miseries that it must alleviate are infinite,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

How true those words ring today as we Vincentians face a future fraught with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on our economy, our social interactions, and our ability to serve those in need. After a year in which our Home Visits have more often than not turned into video visits, our ability to serve the needs of the poor through food pantries, feeding kitchens, and thrift stores has been tested, and our volunteer base has been disproportionality impacted by the fear and reality of the COVID-19 virus, we must now look to the future and plan for how we continue our work in a world none of us has ever known, and which we cannot clearly envision.

I think we know that tomorrow will look nothing like yesterday. How many of us, in March of 2020, fully expected that by the end of that summer life would be back to normal? I know I did. Then it wasn’t. And it wasn’t at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or now. The year went by and the world seemed to stand still. But it didn’t – it changed; dramatically.

And we changed with it. We found new ways to operate food pantries, serve meals, visit the poor, and comfort the needy. Our Conferences and Councils used new and innovative ways to raise needed funds to serve the poor. We found new volunteers; younger, more ‘tech savvy,’ more open to innovation and change. They have helped us change in real time for the new future. And what a wonderful thing that is to see!

Now, as we begin to see an end to this pandemic, it is critical that we “never look to the past, but always the future” and begin to make the systemic and structural changes to our Society in this new and changing reality that is our world. We must look at the innovative and creative ways in which we have operated these past months, analyze what worked and what did not work, and then build on the successes. This may cause us some degree of consternation as we are going to have to face the reality that one of our core principles, the Home Visit, probably is not going to look the same.

So, what could these changes look like? One way, I believe that we must make a conscious and concerted effort to increase our collaborative efforts with other organizations who can help us fill the gaps in our charitable ‘delivery model.’ Going to the poor does not always have to be going to their place of residence, as preferable as that may be. We can learn much about the sufferings of those in need by being in their communities and learning from others who serve.  I have seen organizations here in Georgia that have set up service centers in the local communities, using houses of worship and other physical locations to deliver assistance safely with appropriate social distancing and the ability to have better access to the technology necessary to provide access to needed services. Being in the community means that instead of relying solely on the parish property as our ‘base of operations’, we go to the poor where they live; not the house in which they live, but the community in which they live. I believe that will also give us a fuller and more realistic perspective on the challenges and realities that are faced by those we serve. And we can increase outreach and collaboration to become more effective in offering holistic and impactful support.

We also have the unique opportunity to create volunteer and service opportunities for those who in the past may have not considered the Society as they discerned how they wanted to live out their faith. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that in the past we have sometimes (oftentimes) not valued those who want to serve, but do not want to do Home Visits or attend bi-weekly meetings. That has, I believe, left many young people and people with unique and important talents, no choice but to look elsewhere. If we maintain a stance of rigidity and adherence to practices that are not aligned with the reality of tomorrow’s world, we will continue to see a decline in our membership and eventually see that new world reality pass by and leave us behind. The work we do is much too important for us to let that happen. Let us commit to finding new ways to leverage technology, innovation, and new thinking so that we can make a greater and lasting impact.

Some may balk at these ideas and say that we must adhere to the past to maintain our values and principles. But I say we can look to Frédéric for inspiration and guidance on that probable change. “Let us do without hesitation whatever good lies at our hands,” said Frédéric Ozanam.  And what is at our hands today and will be tomorrow is not what may have been at our hands yesterday.

So, let us continue that use of the ‘good at our hands’ to accomplish the one and only thing that matters; “We are here on this earth to accomplish the will of Providence,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

John Berry
National Council Vice President
Southeast Region

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful

Contemplation – What Great Reason We Have to Be Cheerful 940 788 SVDP USA

There is an old expression that “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and I suspect most of us can confirm this from our own personal experience. Nobody wants advice from a sourpuss; many will even decline a helping hand offered from beneath a furrowed brow. As Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in her poem Solitude:

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
Grieve, and they turn and go;
They want full measure of all your pleasure,
But they do not need your woe.

It turns out that cheerfulness is not simply a nice thing to offer but is a necessary component of our Vincentian virtue of gentleness.

It is true that some people, as St. Vincent de Paul once explained, are gifted by God with a “cordial, gentle, happy manner, by which they seem to offer you their heart and ask for yours in return,” while others, “boorish persons like [himself,] present themselves with a stern, gloomy, or forbidding expression…” [CCD XII:156]

But a virtue, our Catechism tells us, is “habitual and firm disposition to do good.” [Catechism:1833] Habits, good and bad, can be changed, and our disposition towards cheerfulness can be natural, or it can be acquired.

St. Vincent reminded his missioners of Christ’s great gentleness through His own sorrows, His own suffering. Throughout His passion “no angry word escaped Him,” and even at the moment of His betrayal He greeted Judas as “friend.” [CCD XII:159]

As in all things, we seek to follow Christ’s example, to accept our own suffering, as Vincent once said, “as a divine state,” confident that our true hope lies in doing His will. And if we truly seek to “serve in hope,” our very countenances should shine with confidence, hope, and good cheer – especially so every time we are blessed to serve Christ in the person of His poor.

As Vincent reminded Louise: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84]

Contemplate: What is keeping me from smiling, and how can I surrender it to God?

Recommended Reading: Vincentian Meditations

Fr. Augustus Tolton

Black History Month Series – Father Tolton: How Persistence Propelled Him to Priesthood

Black History Month Series – Father Tolton: How Persistence Propelled Him to Priesthood 2048 1765 SVDP USA
Black History Month Series
Presented by the SVdP African American Task Force

Father Tolton: How Persistence Propelled Him to Priesthood

“Since the Bible says we ALL were made in the image and likeness of God, “Why isn’t my likeness accepted by others?” “Why aren’t there clergy that look like me?” “Am I inferior?”

These are some of the questions with which many Christian people of color wrestle.

I do not know if Augustus Tolton asked these questions, but I do know he did not allow others’ lack of appreciation for his race to prevent him from being faithful to his master’s call. Thankfully, rejection by society does not mean rejection by God.

Father Tolton came from a lineage of African Americans who had been enslaved. His grandparents Augustus and Maltida Chisley were enslaved by a Catholic family, the Mannings. When the Mannings purchased people as slaves, they had them baptized and instructed as Catholics.

The Chisleys had a daughter named Martha Jane. At 16 years old, Martha was given away as a wedding present (as a piece of property) to a Manning daughter, Susan. Susan married Stephen Elliot in 1849, and the couple with all their possessions moved to Missouri. Martha Jane Chisley would never see her parents again.

Martha Chisley’s new owners, the Elliots, lived adjacent to the Hagers, another Catholic, slave-owning plantation. On the Hagers’ plantation lived the slave Peter Paul Tolton. Martha and Peter married (they required their masters’ permission) and have several children. Their son Augustus was born April 1, 1854.

Life as a married slave was rough. Besides the endless work, the Toltons had the care of their children to worry them. Peter desired a way out of this inhumane life for his family. The thought of them all running away intrigued him but the reality of the brutal physical punishment that owners ordered when a slave was caught paralyzed him. Slave owners often organized groups to hunt people who ran away, with orders to shoot, maim (cut off a foot), or even kill any slave not in chains after night fall.

Tension in the United States around the subject of slavery was at an all-time high. As the nation entered into a civil war, many slaves began to escape to join the Union Army and fight for freedom. One was Peter Paul Tolton. Sadly, Peter and his family would never be reunited.

While Peter was fighting for freedom, Martha received word that the plantation owners might put her children up for sale. Her memories of being dislodged from her parents must have tormented her because she decided to risk her and her children’s lives and run away. By a series of miraculous events, Martha and her children evaded starvation, slave traders, and Confederate soldiers. With the direction of others, the Toltons reached Quincy, Illinois, where abolitionists welcomed and aided people escaping slavery. Martha Tolton found a family to move in with, and soon thereafter she began working at a tobacco factory, making cigars. Nine-year-old Augustus and his brother Charley worked at the factory too.

In Quincy, the Toltons began to attend St. Boniface Church. Most of the parishioners spoke German, so the homilies were in German. St. Boniface’s priest, Father Schaeffermeyer, would summarize in English the homilies for the small group of Black people who attended his parish. Martha sent Augustus to attend the St. Boniface School, at the time an all-white school. Between the bullying of classmates and their parents’ threatening letters to the priest, Augustus’ school life was unbearable. The cruelty from his peers would cause young Augustus to break down crying. Eventually Father Schaeffermeyer and Martha Tolton agreed that it was doing more harm than good having Augustus attend and withdrew him. It would be several years before he would go to school again.

Four years after the St. Boniface debacle, Augustus, then 14 years old and nicknamed Gus, reenrolled in school. This time he attended an all-Black school.

Mary also found the family a new church to attend, St. Lawrence. The pastor there was a strong-willed, determined Irishman, Peter McGirr. Father McGirr had heard about the St. Boniface incident and invited Gus to attend St. Lawrence School. He believed Gus needed a Catholic education and reassured Mary that he would personally see to it that her son would have no trouble from his classmates. Mary agreed to Father McGirr’s request. St. Lawrence School was run by the Notre Dame Sisters, and they saw to it that Gus experienced no trouble at the school.

Father McGriff received plenty of complaints from his parishioners. Like at St. Boniface, the parishioners threaten to remove their students and financial support from the parish. Father McGriff failed to give in to these ploys. Better yet, he responded with sermons about loving your neighbor as yourself. Eventually, the complaining stopped, and Gus began to flourish.

Gus Tolton was a devout young man. He learned the Latin Mass and began serving at daily Mass. Father McGriff and Gus discussed the possibility of him going into the priesthood. Unfortunately, there were no known Black priests in the United States. Several clergy members had shown interest in helping Gus get seminary training, including St. Boniface’s pastor, Father Schaeffermeyer. Though these clergymen’s financial support was noteworthy, Father McGriff couldn’t find one United States seminary that would be willing to accept a Black student. To me, here seems like a good place to give up, but that was not the case for the young Tolton or Father McGirr.

Under Father McGrirr’s directive, Tolton began to train unofficially. Different priests helped tutor the young man. Father McGirr never gave up on the idea of Tolton receiving an official seminarian experience. With the help of another priest, Father Richardt, Fr. McGrirr got Tolton accepted at the Propaganda Seminary in Rome, Italy. Tolton was thrilled!

On February 15, 1880, 25-year-old Gus Tolton left everything and everyone he knew to pursue his dream of being a priest. Nearly a month later, Tolton arrived in Rome. This moment must have been surreal to him. Everything he had endured in life had brought him to this place. Around seventy seminarians from around the world were part of his class. For once in his life, Tolton felt no racial discrimination.

With nothing holding him back, he excelled, and in 1883 he received the Catholic rite of Tonsure. This ceremony celebrated the seminarians’ willingness to become a slave of the people of God. No one may have known better than Tolton what this meant. Tolton also took the Propaganda Oath, pledging that he would be willing to go anywhere he was sent to propogate the faith. Most had believed that Tolton would be deployed to Africa. To his surprise, upon his ordination, he was told that he would be going back to the very place that had rejected him, the intolerant United States. Cardinal Simeoni made this decision and thrust onto Tolton the title “America’s First Black Priest.”

To say Tolton was disappointed with his deployment to the United States is an understatement. He knew the difficulties this decision would cause. Fresh in his memory had to be white Americans’ prejudice and persecution.   And he had to go serve them. Nonetheless, Tolton decided he was going to go back and serve all with the love of God.

On April 24, 1886, Father Augustus Tolton was ordained. Cardinal Simeoni made arrangements for Father Augustus to celebrate his first Mass in the great Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. On June 13, 1886, Father Tolton left Rome and headed back to his home country.

Back home Father Tolton was welcomed with a chorus of cheers from his supporters. Father McGirr had chartered a railroad car to take friends of all races to meet Father Tolton at the train station. Many clamored for Father’s blessing; he made sure to first bless his mother Martha, the woman whose Catholic faith had governed every aspect of his life.

Father Tolton was assigned to St. Joseph’s Church. He led a multiracial congregation and quite often at St. Joseph it was standing room only.  Father Tolton’s assignment left some furious, including Father Michael Weiss. Father Weiss was jealous of Father Tolton’s recognition and used racially charged words when referring to him. Father Weiss hated that white people were giving financially to Father Tolton’s ministry.  Father Weiss used his influence with the bishop to get the bishop to declare that Father Tolton could no longer minister to white people. Only people of color were permitted to attend his services. This decision was financially crippling to St. Joseph’s.

Eventually Father Tolton got transferred to St. Monica’s in Chicago, where he spent the rest of his days. Father Tolton rolled up his sash and got to work. He spent most of his time ministering to the marginalized.

Father Tolton died of heat stroke in 1897, at the tender age of 43. More than 100  priests attended his funeral. Like his services, it was standing room only. Many came to pay respect to the trail blazing, people loving priest from Quincy.

Father Tolton’s impact on American history is undoubtedly profound. His career paved the way for individuals like Cardinal Wilton Gregory, who was just appointed America’s first African American Catholic Cardinal.

Father Tolton’s story is truly inspiring because though he endured many challenges and hardships, he never relented. His ability to push past pain (emotional and physical) to his place of purpose was astonishing. He never gave up on his dream; he never gave up on God! As I learned about Augustus’s life, I couldn’t help but be captured by his and Father McGirr’s resolve.

One can only imagine how much further and what a bigger impact Fr. Tolton would have had if he had not encountered racism from his own Christian brothers and sisters. Nonetheless, this story does highlight the importance of having people in our lives that advocate for and mentor us. Several individuals in Father Tolton’s life joined themselves to him and accompanied him to his dream. We all need individuals that see our God-given gifts and help us find spaces and places to use them. We all should endeavor to seek those in need (and that are often ostracized) and find ways to propel them forward. This is the SVdP way!

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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