Volunteers

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

Employees to Wed Inside St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store

Employees to Wed Inside St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store 2560 2014 SVDP USA

Wedding bells are about to be ringing in Marinette, Wisconsin as their local St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) thrift store gears up to be the place two of its employees say, “I do.” Scott Kopish and Laurie Hinkens will wed September 11, 2021 right in the middle of the sales floor in a private ceremony.

According to both of the soon-to-be newlyweds, choosing the location of their nuptials was a no-brainer. “This place (SVdP) has that feel-good feeling,” Hinkens said. “We come to work with a smile on our face every day. That’s a fact.”

“When I was sent here on a light-duty assignment, I walked in and I instantly felt safe,” Kopish said. “I don’t know how I can explain it. I just felt safe and I thought, you know what? We met here. It would be great to get married in this building. I just thought it meant something.”

Kopish and Hinkens are both long-term employees of SVdP who were both struggling physically prior to starting in their roles. Kopish has been with SVdP for over three years, starting through the Worker’s Compensation program due to an injury as a truck driver. Hinkens started nearly two years ago as a volunteer who had recently received a scary health prognosis.

Hinkens said she felt drawn to Kopish within minutes of meeting him, but wanted to warn him of her medical issues.

“When I saw him for the first time, I got a big smile on my face, and boom,” Hinkens said. “But, I told Scott within the first couple days that I started working that my gastro doctor said I had just one to two years to live.”

While Hinkens was physically struggling when she started with SVdP, a lot has changed since then. Her health has drastically improved, but she looks back on the early days of dating Kopish and how his concern pulled her through the hardest times.

“Other employees would say, ‘Scott’s just so scared for you. He wants to help you. He wants to be with you,’ and I had never felt like that before. Ever,” Hinkens said.

That reassurance from Kopish was a building block for their relationship, even though Hinkens wasn’t the only one who felt reassured in their relationship. Prior to meeting Hinkens, Kopish was leaning on his faith to get him through his difficult times as a single father.

“I remember sitting at the picnic table outside of work and praying to God. I said, “God, send me an angel. Send me somebody who is good for me and my daughter. I will not accept any less,” Kopish said. “And then, boom.”

Despite the grim timeline years ago, Hinkens has been improving physically despite all odds. “The pancreas that was almost shot is now better,” Kopish said. “That just doesn’t happen with a pancreas.”

Hinkens says that their relationship and both of their belief in God are two of the biggest reasons she has been improving, both mentally and physically. “We are so far from perfect, but if one of us is down, the other one is up,” Hinkens said. “God has made the relationship like a Lego that fits with another Lego.”

While wedding planning can be stressful, the couple said the process has been easier than they imagined for their relationship. “Everything has been perfect. Whatever perfect is. If it’s not perfect, it’s a hair under it,” Kopish said.

This is the first wedding ever held at Marinette’s St. Vincent de Paul location, and according to Executive Director Ashley McKinnon, it is an important reminder of the nonprofit’s mission.

“Our organization thrives on nurturing individuals who are struggling,” McKinnon said. “Watching the relationship between Scott and Laurie blossom has been truly beautiful. To see people down on their luck, find each other and push one another to grow in a positive way is what we are all about.”

Providing meaningful employment and volunteer opportunities, our 450 thrift stores are a significant driver of the Society’s mission and effectiveness. Local Conferences distribute clothing, furniture, and household goods to people in need through SVdP Stores vouchers, providing a dignified shopping experience. Profits from our stores contribute millions of dollars for Councils and Conferences to assist neighbors in need in their communities.

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service

2021 National Assembly: New Horizons of Hope and Service 2550 1700 SVDP USA

More than 600 Vincentians from across the country gathered together for the first time in two years for the 2021 National Assembly. Titled “New Horizons of Hope and Service,” the National Assembly combined Spirituality, Service, and Friendship and provided Vincentians with an opportunity to reconnect and recommit to their faith and mission.

Here are some photo highlights from our time together at the Houston Marriott Marquis.

09-02-2021 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders

09-02-2021 A Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

It was a pleasure to gather in Houston last week with more than 600 Vincentians for the 2021 Assembly of the National Council of the  U.S., Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We listened to excellent presentations, participated in wonderful liturgies, socialized with friends old and new, and conducted the National Council’s business. Thank you to the Houston Council, our national committee members, and the national office staff, who all did an outstanding job to make this event a success during what remains a difficult time.

Of course, most of you reading this did not attend. Let me tell you, however, how you can benefit from what we did at this Assembly, and how you can use it in your Conferences and Councils.

The keynote addresses at the Assembly were all video-recorded and will be available on the National Council website within the next few weeks. The presentations by Bishop Donald Hying, Dr. Jaime Waters, and Rev. Dennis Holtschneider were outstanding. I hope all of you will watch these presentations personally, but they could also be used well communally to enrich a Council gathering or retreat.

The committee meetings and workshops at the Assembly covered a wide range of topics at the forefront of our strategic efforts. Some of these workshops will be available on our website. Even for the Assembly sessions that were not recorded, the work done at this meeting will be in evidence as new materials are produced to help grow our Society.

At the Business Meeting of the National Council, your representatives passed two important resolutions. The first was phase two of our National Strategic Plan. The second was a resolution approving a document on the protection of vulnerable persons. Passing these resolutions was significant, but with both of these measures, it will be even more important to do the work of implementing them at every level of the Society. Expect to hear more about these two subjects from your local leadership and in this E-Gazette.

These few observations only scratch the surface of the experience that helped renew our enthusiasm for the work of our Society and our dedication to it. Let us also commit to revitalizing the Society through the fruits of this National Assembly. On Sunday, we left the meeting faced with the reality of a hurricane about to bring destruction and flooding to many of our communities, even as others were already suffering from fire. Of course, we all are surrounded by the impact of COVID-19, as well. So let us pray for the health and safety of all our family and friends – and especially the Vincentians who attended this meeting.

One final note: Frederic Ozanam’s feast day is next week on September 9. I ask you to observe the day in some special way. Continue to pray that this will be the year that the Church recognizes his cause for canonization. In so many ways, he is a model the Catholic laity can look to on our journey of faith.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National President

Contemplation: Through the Glass

Contemplation: Through the Glass 940 788 SVDP USA

Our Rule calls us to “seek out the poor,” [Rule, Part I, 1.5] but why should we need to seek them out? Aren’t they looking for us?

Vincentians know that it is difficult to ask for help. With gentleness, we often reassure our neighbors in need that we are glad they have called us, and glad that we can help. We also know that material assistance is not the most important thing we can offer, and not the most important thing that anybody needs.

The suffering of poverty is much deeper than lack of food or shelter. Imagine yourself in poverty, walking down the street, on your way to a job that might just cover your bills, but can’t possibly cover anything more. A thousand other people are there with you on the sidewalk, none of them knowing what you are going through. Glancing through the glass as you pass a café, you see the smiling faces drinking $8.00 coffee that you know you can’t afford, and you begin to feel that maybe the coffee just isn’t for you. But it isn’t just the $8.00 price tag – it is the growing feeling that the community that surrounds you, filled with comforts and leisure that seem so out of reach, is a community that simply does not include you.

We are created to live in community – all of us, and each of us. When material poverty leads us to believe we are not only deprived but forgotten, that is true poverty; poverty in spirit.

We seek out the poor not because they are difficult to find. They are right there, on the other side of the glass, seeing us with our coffee, and believing we don’t see them. We seek them not because they need us, but because we need them; because we have been promised by our Savior that whatsoever we do to the least among us He will receive as if done for Himself.

With a cup of coffee, a warm embrace, and a prayer of hope, we welcome the poor into community; not seeking any reward for ourselves, but because we can see them, and they “are for us the sacred images of that God whom we do not see…” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1836]

We should need no special urging to seek out the poor. From inside our warm café, we need only to see through the glass, and then face to face, the one we have been seeking all along.

Contemplate

Are my eyes open to His presence?

Recommended Reading

The Spirituality of the Home Visit

Contemplation: Chopping the Wood

Contemplation: Chopping the Wood 940 788 SVDP USA

Trust in providence is central to our Vincentian vocation. This means more than simply trusting that “everything will be okay.” It means trusting that if we do His will, the outcome will also be His will, whether we understand it completely or not.

In our Conferences, doing His will means we gather together in His name, we serve Christ in the person of His poor, we love the neighbor as ourselves, we treat him with mercy, and we are generous with our time, our talents, our possessions, and ourselves. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1]  It may seem frustrating, at times, when it seems that our help…doesn’t help. But what is the outcome we seek?

St. Vincent taught that “God does not consider the outcome of the good work undertaken but the charity that accompanied it.” [CCD I:205] Charity, the love of God, is our purpose. The true outcome we seek is the full flourishing and eternal happiness of all persons, [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] which we know is not in our control!

Just as Christ wept for God’s mercy to deliver Him from the agony of the cross but submitted to the Father’s will, Frédéric Ozanam wrote down his own lament on his fortieth birthday. Bedridden with the illness that would take his life a few short months later, he poured out his wishes to “grow old alongside my wife, and to complete my daughter’s education.” Still, he said, “I am coming if you call me, and I have no right to complain.” [Book of the Sick, Prayer from Pisa]

Trust in providence is most important exactly when it is most difficult. Frédéric expressed during his own suffering, that it might become “a source of merits and blessings,” bringing with it “those inexpressible consolations which go hand in hand with [God’s] real presence.” [Ibid]

Ours is a ministry of presence; not only our physical presence, as true friends with those in need, but our presence as a sign from a loving God, who sent us to the neighbors to sit with them, to listen to them, to pray with them, and help in any way that we can. We bring what material assistance we can, but we seek most importantly to bring some part of God’s “inexpressible consolation.”

Trust in providence is not passive; it is actively doing God’s will – tirelessly, devotedly, and for love alone. To paraphrase an old Frank Clark “Country Parson” saying, “Trust in providence is what makes you feel the warmth of the hearth while you’re outside chopping the wood.”

So perhaps, if we are to “to bring this divine fire, this fire of love” as St. Vincent calls us to do,[CCD XI:264] we’d best keep chopping the wood.

Contemplate

Do I tire too easily while chopping the wood?

Recommended Reading

The Book of the Sick, by Frédéric Ozanam

08-19-2021 News Roundup

08-19-2021 News Roundup 1200 1200 SVDP USA

With 100,000 Vincentians across the United States and nearly 800,000 around the world, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides 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.

08-19-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders

08-19-2021 Letter from Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Children are going back to school soon. Summer is quickly coming to an end. In past years, this time is when we would be looking at calendars and plotting out activities for the coming year for our Councils and Conferences. It may be hard to get interested in planning this year, since we have seen so many plans abandoned in the past 18 months. Even though there are many uncertainties as we look forward, I suggest we need to provide some focus to our efforts by making plans for what comes next.

At our National Assembly next week in Houston, we will be introducing the next phase of our National Strategic Plan. We are not calling this a new plan because much of the proposed plan builds upon the document that was approved three years ago. Half of that plan’s life span has been lived out under the shadow of the COVID pandemic. Still, we accomplished many of the plan’s elements, and some its parts would have been difficult to accomplish even under ideal circumstances. We are keeping the five focus areas of the original plan and concentrating on what can realistically be accomplished in the next three years.

I believe revitalization is the priority embedded in almost every aspect of the plan. I hope it is your priority, too. I hope there will be parts of the National Council Strategic Plan that you will embrace and include in your planning process. It is up to you, however, to look at your Council or Conference and assess what needs to be done to contribute locally to revitalizing our Society and fostering its growth.

The National Council has many resources to aid you in this effort. You will find these tools on our national website. That site has always had a wealth of resources – maybe too many, often poorly organized. Good news: this week you received an email announcing the launch of our improved member website. Please check it out, and use the material provided to create a plan to bring new life to our Society.

During these months of isolation, our committees have been active, and none more so than our Growth and Revitalization Committee. Under the leadership of Rita St. Pierre, Jeanne Harper, Cathy Garcia and Julie Witzel, the committee has provided webinars and updated materials for you to use. There will also be a revised Invitation to Serve program available in the months ahead.

I am certain that almost every Conference in the country has lost members in the past year. Now is the time to invite new people to join us. I suggest contacting pastors and bishops as you make these plans and asking for their help and suggestions. You will find new material on the website that you can share with your clergy to help them appreciate the value an active Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers a parish and a diocese.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam is known as the principal founder of our organization not because it was solely his idea but because he was its most passionate promoter. From early days in 1833 to the last months of his life, Ozanam was recruiting members, starting Conferences and encouraging the revitalization of Conferences that were losing their “primitive spirit.” You can be a founder, too. Invite others to share this vocation that you love. Invite them to serve their neighbors in need, to grow spiritually and to find a community of friends in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

Contemplation: Neighbors in Deed

Contemplation: Neighbors in Deed 940 788 SVDP USA

Although we do not mean it to, giving material assistance to people puts them at a disadvantage; they “owe” us something they likely will never repay. The fear of indebtedness often makes asking for help more difficult. Even when we are in very dire straits, we don’t want to impose, we don’t want to be burdens, and we don’t want to be indebted.

Yet on nearly every home visit, we meet a neighbor with a light bill, rent, or other need, and not enough money to pay for it. The math is simple; what else can we do?

“Help honors,” Blessed Frédéric taught, “when it may become mutual.” [O’Meara, 229] He went on to explain that this means offering not only material help, but a kind word, a handshake, some encouragement – all those things that we may one day need, as well.

As our Rule puts it, “Vincentians should never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.14] Or, as Blessed Rosalie Rendu put it, “They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you can bring them.” [Apostle in a Top Hat, 57]

How many times can we hear “you are the only ones who called me back” before we realize that this personal connection is the whole point?

In other words, a home visit is not a math problem. It is the beginning of a “relationship based on trust and friendship.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9] This is why we don’t visit “clients.” There is nothing mutual in a relationship with a client; it does not “honor.”

It is good to use the right words, but using the words is not enough. After all, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Christ did not ask us simply to call each other neighbors, but to be neighbors, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

To have a neighbor, you have to be a neighbor. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. To have a brother or sister, you have to be a brother or sister. Our brothers, sisters, neighbors, and friends don’t owe us a dime. They repay us fully with their handshakes, their prayers, and their friendship.

And for those things, we are all neighbors in need.

Contemplate

How can I become a better friend?

Recommended Reading

Mystic of Charityespecially 6. Home Visits in the Vincentian Tradition

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

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