The Our Faith in Action: Today’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul Special Pandemic Edition aired on EWTN last month and is now available to view online.
This special can serve as a great marketing tool for the Society, but the full episode may be too long to show at a SVdP recruitment event or during a Conference meeting.
We have cut the episode down into three shorter segments to be utilized for marketing and recruitment purposes.
To view and download segment 1, click here.
To view and download segment 2, click here.
To view and download segment 3, click here.
We hope you will find these segments useful as you spread the good news of the hard work of Vincentians across the country! If you have any questions, contact Michelle Boyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Formation is not a single thing we do; it is a lifelong process of becoming. In all that we read, in all that we contemplate, in all those we meet, and in all that we do, we are being formed. We can allow ourselves to be formed passively – consuming the pop culture, feeding our appetites – or we can form ourselves deliberately, with a specific end in mind.
In other words, as Blessed Frédéric once wrote, “Life is despicable if we consider it according to how we use it, but not if we recognize how we could use it, if we consider it as the most perfect work of the Creator…” [Letter 136, to Lallier, 1836]
Aristotle proposed that we become by doing: if you want to become a builder, you build. By extension, he argued, if you wish to become virtuous, you do virtuous things; you practice the virtues. [Nichomachean Ethics] St. Vincent echoed this idea when he taught that “the will has to act, and not just the understanding; for all our reasons are fruitless if we don’t go on to [actions.]” [CCD XI:175]
And so, from our earliest days, following the guidance of our families and churches, we learn through our actions how to be better. Our actions form us, and they can form us for better or worse, and this is the core of what we call the Human Dimension of Formation. As Vincentians, we choose our actions more deliberately, more specifically. We choose to serve our neighbors, exactly as Christ asks us to do. If it is really that simple, why does it take a lifetime?
It would be wonderfully easy if our Christian formation could be completed with a single home visit, wouldn’t it? It also would be wonderfully easy if a single trip to the gym would make us fit and slender for life! Simple, it turns out, does not always mean easy. After all, even a clearly marked path may be narrow, or steep.
Each time we serve the neighbor and do so for love alone, we seek to do His will. Our actions bring us closer to God, a little bit at a time. Our actions form us, and transform us, but not all at once.
The Lord tells us, in the Book of Leviticus, to be holy, for He is holy. Christ tells us, in the Gospel of Matthew, to be perfect, just as the Father is perfect. The word “holy” comes from the Old English hāl, meaning “whole” or “complete.” The word “perfect” comes from the Latin perficere, meaning “to complete.”
Christ is the light and the life; He is perfect; He is complete. The rest of us continue in our formation, our lifelong process of becoming.
How was I formed today? What drew me closer to God?
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.
In what parts of my life can I better see and serve Christ??
Vincentian Meditations (especially 4. How Do We Define Ourselves?)
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.
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!
Does the love of God within me shine outwardly through my smile?
Two weeks ago, Society of St. Vincent de Paul leadership from across the country gathered again for the first time in more than a year. Their primary purpose was Board and Strategic Planning meetings, though they had another reason to gather as well: to witness the dedication of the National Council’s new headquarters at 66 Progress Parkway in Maryland Heights, Missouri.
While the building serves as day-to-day office space for the National Council staff, it also houses some special spaces for Vincentians who may visit the headquarters.
Created in conjunction with Toucan Design and Engraphix Architectural Signage, the National Council’s History Wall is a focal point of the building’s lobby. Sheri Brimer and Melinda Borman of Toucan Design noted their collaboration with a group of National Council staff, headed by Chief Operations Officer Nancy Pino.
Said Brimer, “As you can see by the many photos of [neighbors in need], staff, and volunteers, there is a unified mission that revolves around the five main founding tenets: Humility, Zeal, Selflessness, Gentleness, and Simplicity. And we hope that each visitor comes away with a better visual understanding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and all that it encompasses.”
Pino notes that the installation is more than just a History Wall depicting the Society’s past. Featuring images of not just our founders, but of Vincentians from across the United States serving their neighbors in need, it helps “express the story of our beginnings, who we are — and who we aspire to become.”
The team from Toucan was able to weave together the Society’s past and present, as well as our Essential Elements of spirituality, friendship, and service into one cohesive design.
“The large gold medallion that sits near its center becomes a sort of heart for the piece with light emanating on four sides, which in turn, illuminates the subtle cross shape created by the background spaces. There is a specific flow of St. Vincent’s story from the bottom left quadrant upward and outward to the top right section. The idea of the entire organization branching out and spreading across both time and continents is highlighted here.”
The Chapel of Vincentian Members
Directly across from this history wall sits the Chapel of Vincentian Members. National Council CEO Dave Barringer had this to say: “We want to lead with our faith, so a chapel space was forefront in our design plans.”
The balance of past and present flows from the History Wall into the Chapel as well. While the altar is a new piece, the Stations of the Cross, crucifix, and seating came from the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ Reclamation Center. Quipped Tim Williams, Director of Formation, “It seems very appropriate that we got so much of the décor from the church’s ‘secondhand store!'”
The stations have an artistic, handmade feeling, especially since the IVX station sign was missing, requiring the team had to create one that would match the existing set.
The space is filled with natural light coming from glass bricks off the building’s V-shaped entryway (which predates our occupancy), and the new altar has a V-shaped base whose shape mimics old glass wall. The overall feeling is one of serenity and harmony.
“Overall we wanted the chapel to have a humble, reflective feel that matches our Vincentian Vocation,” said Pino.
“I love walking in through the front door of the new National Council offices,” says Tim Williams. “As soon as you step inside, you get tangible reminders of our three Essential Elements.”
He added that the chapel “is the spiritual center of this place, and is dedicated to our Vincentian friendship. Right across from the chapel is a wall decorated with images and words from our founders, saints, and blesseds, interspersed with images of our members from all across the country serving people in need tirelessly, creatively, and cheerfully. As a Vincentian, it makes me just immediately feel like part of the great heritage of this Society.”
Adds Pino, “I truly hope that all the Vincentians that visit our National Office enjoy the space and feel both inspired and appreciated.”
In 2018, a list of Cultural Beliefs was added to our Rule, better defining for us the commitments we make in this vocation. Among them is the commitment to “contribute to the success of our Vincentian work when we support One Society.” [Rule, Part III, Statue 2] Although only added to the text of the Rule in recent years, this ideal of solidarity was dear to our founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
As it has always been, the work of the Society is done by individual members, visiting in pairs to serve the poor in their neighborhoods, and meeting and praying frequently with their local Conferences. With respect for the principle of subsidiarity, Conferences, within the limits of the Rule, govern themselves. It would be quite possible, if you chose, to go a very long time without so much as being aware of any Vincentians from other Conferences. But we are called to choose otherwise!
Even without seeing one another, “what magic there is in words from afar and in the approbation of so great a number of friends,” Frédéric wrote, likening the bonds between Conferences to the living and life-giving bonds between conjoined twins. [Letter 169, to Lallier, 1838] Celebrating a local success in Paris, he was quick to add that “our moral strength…comes from other conferences in Paris and the provinces. This solidarity raises us in the eyes of the world at the same time that it gives us confidence.” [Letter 173, to Lallier, 1838]
Each new member, each new Conference, immediately inherits 188 years of tradition, becomes part of a network of charity spanning the globe in 152 countries, on all five continents. Each Conference, with its local character and concerns, enriches and is enriched by the greater whole. That is why Frédéric cautioned that the Society’s growth is not important without “unity in proportion as the circle widens, each of its points connected with the center by unbroken spokes.” [Letter 137, to Janmot, 1837]
This unity, this solidarity, is the reason we have District, Diocesan, and National Councils, it is the reason we have an annual National Assembly, and the reason we celebrate Vincentian Feast Days together. Following one such celebration, Frédéric marveled that “at the same hour, thirty other conferences established in the farthest removed sections of the country celebrated the same solemnity. How can there not be given some hope to such a strength of association?” [Letter 310, to Amelie, 1841]
As we seek to serve Christ in the person of the poor, we constantly bless and are blessed by our fellow Vincentians, assuring each other “that we are not alone, and that our works and prayers are surrounded with much better works and prayers, which protect them against corruption from without and draws upon them the blessing of heaven.” [Letter 165, to Bailly, 1837]
Do I meet with members from other Conferences, and remember them in my prayers?
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is blessed with many active youth and young adult members, whose fresh enthusiasm for the Lord’s work infuses all of us with renewed energy in our vocation. Like the first Conference, formed by young men barely out of their teens, we seek out and welcome young members! For the rest of us, though, our own advancing age does not excuse us, as our Rule reminds us, from striving “to preserve the spirit of youth.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]
Blessed Frédéric often invoked the spirit of youth in his speeches and writing, beginning when he was a student. He was acutely aware that others might find him “very rash to propose [his] young man’s ideas,” [Letter 85, to Bailly, 1834] yet he proposed them anyway. He even went so far as to once say that his ideas really were not even his own, but “the echo of the young Christian people among whom I live.” [Letter 97, to Curnier, 1835]
It was Frédéric’s vision not only that a network of charity might encircle the world, but that renewing the faith in young people would carry on throughout their lives, and in turn light a fire in the hearts of their countrymen. Recognizing the Society as “a vocation for every moment of our lives,” [Rule, Part I, 2.6] he believed it could help to prepare “a new generation which would carry into science, the arts, and industry, into administration, the judiciary, the bar, the unanimous resolve to make it a moral country and to become better themselves in order to make others happier.” [Letter 290, to Amelie, 1841]
Throughout his life Frédéric continued not only to call on young people to serve, but to be energized by the fire of the young people in his classes and in the Society, by what our Rule calls their “enthusiasm, adaptability and creative imagination.” [Rule, Part I, 3.5]
As Vincentians, we grow together in holiness and in friendship, challenged by youth to greater energy and ambition; tempered by age to seek the achievable; each of us at our stage in life blessed by the gifts of all the others, united in work that is ageless and timeless.
Founded 188 years ago, the Society itself “is not old,” wrote Ozanam biographer Monsignor Louis Baunard. Rather, “it is, and continues to be, young with eternal youth, with the youth of Charity that knows not decay.” [Baunard, 416]
“Life is however not standing still,” Frédéric wrote late in his life, “and I shall have to seize whatever little youth remains…and to keep my 18-year-old promise to God.” [Baunard, 331]
As I grow older, how do I keep my promise to God young?
The sun burned bright in St. Louis on June 11, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees. But it paled in comparison to the outpouring of faith and friendship that flowed out of the National Council office during the dedication of our new headquarters at 66 Progress Parkway.
Though staff began working from the building shortly after its purchase last summer, the pandemic had prevented the larger SVdP community from visiting until now. The day marked a joyous reunion, as Board members and staff came together in person after a year a half filled with many Zoom meetings and a fair amount of uncertainty.
National Council President Ralph Middlecamp noted that the building actually opened in March 2020, but due to COVID restrictions, no one could enter for many weeks.
Once it was safe to enter last summer (socially distant and with masks), a team of staff members, led by Chief Operating Officer Nancy Pino, worked tirelessly to create a space that is reflective of Vincentian values. “Our goal when designing our new space was not only to make it a productive, comfortable, and welcoming environment for our staff, but for all Vincentian visitors,” she said. “The History Wall and Chapel help express the story of beginnings, who we are, and who we aspire to become.”
President Ralph Middlecamp and CEO Dave Barringer welcomed guests to the new headquarters, then Spiritual Advisor Bishop Donald J. Hying and Deacon John Heithaus of the Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis performed the first Mass in the National Council Chapel. Said Barringer, “We have intentionally designed the building to reflect the Society’s mission. Upon entry through our front door, within 25 feet you will see our logo, a statue of St. Vincent de Paul, our Mission statement, a video of Society activities, a wall dedicated to our history and values, and a chapel. Yes, we want to lead with our faith, so a chapel space was forefront in our design plans.”
Middlecamp was pleased with what the National Council team was able to accomplish. “Our new National Office provides a well-designed space for our staff and volunteers as we serve those who serve our neighbors in need,” he said. “It is attractive and functional, and we were able to make the move without any fundraising or decrease in support for the programs we offer. What a great new beginning for us as we look to the future after these months of isolation.”
As a special surprise, the day’s celebration included the dedication of the new Sr. Kieran Library, a fitting tribute to the National Council’s long-time Director of Formation, who gave so much to the Society. Current Director of Formation Tim Williams had this to say: “Friday’s Open House, Mass, and dedication of the new building seemed like a perfect way for us to emerge from the pandemic, and begin our return to in-person meetings. For me, personally, it was a great joy to see the unmasked smile of my predecessor and dear friend, Sister Kieran Kneaves, when we unveiled the name of our new Vincentian library, dedicated to her and to the many years she served us all in this vocation!”
True to the Vincentian value of prudence, the National Council did not use any dollars from member services to purchase the new building, which was funded through the sale of our old building and judicious savings of bequest funds over time. “Our most loyal donors contributed mightily to this day. We thank them,” Middlecamp said.
The new building will serve as a space for collaboration, faith, and friendship for the Society’s 100,000 Vincentian volunteers and the staff who support them, providing the technology and space to sustain our work now and well into the future. In his remarks, Barringer said, “To not only our staff, but also to our Board of Directors, and our Society members, Welcome Home!”