John Berry

07-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-18-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Recently, at the Midwest Regional Meeting, I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to The Most Reverend William Joensen, Ph.D, the Bishop of Des Moines, Iowa. In his after-dinner remarks, Bishop Joensen spoke about Frédéric Ozanam and the idea of “charitable disruption.” It was a fascinating talk (as you would expect from a former University Philosophy Professor)!

I think, in these challenging times, it’s proper and important to reflect on charitable disruption and what it means in relation to our mission as Vincentians and charitable volunteers driven by a commitment to Catholic Social Teaching.

But I want to go a step further and talk today about two powerful concepts that have shaped the very essence of charitable work: Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble. These are not mere terms, but foundational principles that guide us in serving those in need.

Charitable Disruption, as espoused by Blessed Frédéric, is a call to action. It is not enough to provide for the immediate needs of the poor; we must also address the systemic issues that perpetuate poverty. Ozanam recognized that charity must go beyond the act of giving. He said, “Charity is the Samaritan who pours oil on the wounds of the traveler who has been attacked. But it is justice’s role to prevent the attacks.”

This profound statement encapsulates the dual nature of our mission: to heal and to protect.

In the same vein, Good Trouble, a term coined by the late Rep. John Lewis, a stalwart of the civil rights movement, encourages us to question and challenge the status quo when it perpetuates injustice. Lewis believed that getting into Good Trouble was necessary for the advancement of society as a whole. It is a reminder that sometimes, to do what is right, we must be willing to disrupt the peace. Lewis used Good Trouble to describe the necessary and righteous actions taken to confront injustice.

Lewis believed that sometimes, in order to create a more just and equitable society, we must be willing to disrupt the status quo and challenge unjust systems. Good Trouble is about standing up for what is right, even when it is difficult or unpopular.

Both concepts are intertwined in their call for proactive engagement in the fight against injustice. They urge us not to be passive bystanders — but active participants in the quest for a more equitable world. As Vincentians we embody these principles through our efforts. We provide not only material assistance but also companionship, hope, and love.

Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble are not easy paths to tread. They require courage, conviction, and a deep sense of faith. They ask us to look beyond our comfort zones and to take risks for the greater good. But remember, as Vincentians, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are the modern-day Samaritans, pouring oil on the wounds of society and standing up to prevent further harm.

Blessed Frédéric founded the Society with a vision of transforming society through acts of charity. Ozanam believed that charity was not merely about giving alms, but about addressing the root causes of poverty and injustice. He saw charity as a form of disruption — a way to challenge the status quo and bring about systemic change.

Ozanam’s concept of charitable disruption calls us to go beyond the surface level of charity. It urges us to engage with the marginalized, to understand their struggles, and to advocate for their rights. This form of charity is not passive; it is active and transformative. It disrupts the complacency of society and calls for a deeper commitment to justice and solidarity.

Lewis’s message of Good Trouble aligns closely with Ozanam’s vision of charitable disruption. Both call us to be courageous in our pursuit of justice and to recognize that true charity involves challenging the structures that perpetuate inequality and suffering. Good Trouble is not about causing chaos for its own sake; it is about creating constructive change that uplifts and empowers the oppressed.

At their core, both charitable disruption and good trouble are about love in action. They remind us that charity is not just about alleviating immediate needs but about addressing the systemic issues that create those needs. They call us to be proactive, to seek out opportunities to make a difference, and to be willing to take risks for the sake of justice.

As Catholics, we are called to embody these principles in our work. We are called to be disruptors of injustice and creators of Good Trouble. This means not only providing direct assistance to those in need — but also advocating for policies and practices that promote social justice. It means listening to the voices of the marginalized and standing in solidarity with them.

Why are these concepts so integral to our work? Because true charity is about more than just meeting immediate needs; it is about transforming lives and communities. When we engage in Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble, we are working to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble remind us that our faith calls us to action. They challenge us to move beyond our comfort zones and to be bold in our pursuit of justice. They remind us that charity is not just about what we give but about how we live our lives in service to others.

So, what can we do to put both these concepts into practice?

  1. Educate Ourselves. To effectively engage in charitable disruption and Good Trouble, we must first educate ourselves about the issues facing our communities. This means listening to the experiences of those who are marginalized and learning about the systemic factors that contribute to their struggles.
  2. Advocate for Change. Charity is not just about direct service; it is also about advocacy. We must use our voices to speak out against injustice and to advocate for policies that promote equity and inclusion.
  3. Build Relationships. True charity is rooted in relationships. We must take the time to build genuine connections with those we serve, recognizing their dignity and worth.
  4. Be Courageous. Engaging in Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble requires courage. We must be willing to take risks and to stand up for what is right, even when it is difficult.
  5. Reflect and Pray. Our work must be grounded in prayer and reflection. We must seek God’s guidance and strength as we strive to live out our call to charity and justice.

Let us be inspired by the lives of Ozanam and Lewis. Let us be disruptors of charity in the sense that we challenge ourselves and others to go beyond mere giving. Let us get into Good Trouble by advocating for policies and practices that uplift the marginalized. And let us do so with the love and compassion that is the hallmark of our faith.

In closing, I encourage each of you to continue your noble work with renewed vigor. May you find strength in the knowledge that your actions are a testament to the power of faith in action. May you always carry with you the spirit of Charitable Disruption and Good Trouble, knowing that through them, you are truly serving Christ.

Thank you for your dedication, your compassion, and your willingness to serve.

Peace and God’s blessings,


John Berry: How Can We Help Families on the Brink of Homelessness?

John Berry: How Can We Help Families on the Brink of Homelessness? 1080 1080 SVDP USA

“Many…people at risk of homelessness today would have been, in simpler times, ‘the working poor,'” writes SVdP National President John Berry.

“But as families and communities have broken down, the burden of providing has shifted onto frailer, lonelier shoulders. And as inflation continues to wreak havoc on families’ budgets, more and more single-parent families stand on the brink of homelessness. One car wreck, hospital stay, or layoff can dislodge a family from a home and put them out on the streets.”

Read John’s full piece in Newsweek.

07-03-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-03-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

As we gather to celebrate the 4th of July, our nation’s Independence Day, we are reminded of the founding principles that have shaped our country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These ideals, deeply embedded in the fabric of our society, are not just lofty aspirations, but calls to action that resonate profoundly with the work and mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. As volunteers, our tireless efforts to serve those in need reflect these principles in their most tangible and compassionate forms. Today, let us explore how our efforts embody these values and why they are essential as we work to uplift and support our community.


The right to life is fundamental, and it encompasses more than mere existence. It speaks to the dignity and sanctity of every human being. In the words of St. Vincent de Paul, “Charity is the cement which binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Our commitment to providing food, shelter, medical care, and spiritual and emotional support ensures that those we serve can live with dignity and hope. Each meal served, each bed provided, and each listening ear offered is a testament to the value of every life.

Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, once said, “The poor are your masters. You are the servant.” This profound statement reminds us that our work is not merely charity but a recognition of the inherent worth and dignity of those we assist. By seeing Christ in those we serve, we affirm their right to a life of dignity and respect.


Liberty, the second pillar of our national ethos, is not just about political freedom but the liberation from all forms of oppression and poverty. True freedom involves the ability to make choices, to have opportunities, and to live without fear or want. The services provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul — ranging from job training and education to financial assistance — are crucial in empowering individuals to break free from the chains of poverty and dependency.

St. Vincent de Paul said, “Go to the poor: you will find God.” This call urges us to see our work not just as aid, but as a partnership in creating freedom for those we serve. By providing resources and support, we help those in need to reclaim their independence and autonomy. It is through this empowerment that we honor the spirit of liberty, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to forge their own path and achieve their full potential.

The Pursuit of Happiness

The pursuit of happiness, a cornerstone of the American dream, is a universal aspiration. It is the desire for a life filled with joy, purpose, and fulfillment. For many of the individuals and families we serve, happiness can seem elusive amidst the struggles of daily life. However, our compassionate service creates a ripple effect that can transform lives and communities.

Blessed Frédéric Ozanam believed deeply in the power of compassion to bring about social change. He once stated, “The knowledge of social well-being and reform is learned, not from books, nor from the public platform, but in climbing the stairs to the poor man’s garret, sitting by his bedside, feeling the same cold that pierces him, sharing the secret of his lonely heart and troubled mind.” This intimate encounter with those we serve fosters a sense of community and belonging, essential ingredients in the pursuit of happiness.

By addressing both immediate needs and systemic issues, we help create an environment where individuals can thrive. Whether it is through our encounters with neighbors in need, advocating for social justice, or simply offering a smile and a kind word, our efforts contribute to a society where happiness is within reach for all.

As we celebrate this Independence Day, let us remember that the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just historical ideals but living commitments. Our dedication to the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a powerful expression of these values. In our hands, in your hands, the promise of our nation comes alive, bringing hope, freedom, and joy to those who need it most.

St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frédéric Ozanam have given us a rich legacy of service and compassion. Their words and deeds continue to inspire us as we work towards a more just and loving world. This 4th of July, as fireworks light up the sky, let us also light up the lives of those we serve, carrying forward the timeless principles that make our nation great.

May God continue to Bless you for your unwavering commitment and for embodying the true spirit of Independence Day. Through your work, you ensure that the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not just celebrated but lived every day.

Happy 4th of July!

Peace and God’s blessings,

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Grant’s Pass Vs. Gloria Johnson

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Statement on Supreme Court Decision in Grant’s Pass Vs. Gloria Johnson 552 552 SVDP USA

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul expresses concern regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson. By ruling in favor of the plaintiff, the Supreme Court has signaled that local governments can make it a crime for someone to live outside and unsheltered if they have no home.

“Reasonable people may and will disagree about this decision, but the fact of the matter is it doesn’t get to the heart of the homelessness crisis,” said John Berry, National President at Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “Neither stricter nor more lenient criminal laws sufficiently address the problem — which has vastly more to do with skyrocketing housing costs and inflation than it has to do with how local governments regulate homeless encampments.”

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul currently maintains a network for homeless prevention through rent assistance with an outlay of over $60 million. These programs typically involve home visits, personalized resources, engagement with landlords, crafting a “Stability Plan,” and financial assistance in making rent and paying utilities. These programs usually work alongside local governments, putting homelessness prevention ahead of policing in addressing the roots of homelessness.

“These temporary assistance programs work — and produce long-lasting effects while reducing the economic and social strain of homelessness on cities, towns, and counties,” said Berry. “But more than dollars, homelessness prevention programs like ours save lives and dignity. While City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson helps call attention to the severity of our homelessness crisis, we must work together to restore stability and dignity to neighbors living on the edge of homelessness.”

According to a recent study conducted by Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities (LEO), persons who received an average of $2,000 in emergency financial assistance were “81 percent less likely to become homeless within six months of enrollment and 73 percent less likely within 12 months.” In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul will continue unabated to pursue positive outcomes like these across the country.

06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-20-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

My last Servant Leader column on Encounter generated quite a few comments and discussions. That is great, because these columns should be opportunities for us to exchange thoughts and ideas, not just read what someone else has to say.

I wanted to continue the discussion for another week, with a few thoughts and clarifications generated from the exchanges from two weeks ago.

Some people mistakenly got the impression that I was advocating the elimination of the term Home Visit completely and replacing it with Encounter. That is wrong. Home Visits are what they are: Home Visits. All Home Visits are Encounters with those we serve.

But not all Encounters are Home Visits, and that is the point. Our service to people in need goes well beyond the Home Visit, and therefore, we must speak in a more inclusive way about what we do to make sure that we make ALL Vincentians feel welcome and valued in the work they do.

Some people asked why I am even advocating for this new “weird” term. Why do we have to change?

This is my answer.

As Christians, we are called not just to act with charity, but to infuse our actions with the love and presence of Christ. This calling goes beyond mere acts of kindness; it requires us to engage deeply and spiritually with those we serve.

When we talk about charity, the first image that often comes to mind is giving: giving food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to the homeless. These acts are indeed vital, and Jesus emphasized their importance in the Gospel of Matthew 25. However, Jesus also calls us to a deeper level of engagement. He calls us to see His face in those we serve, to recognize the divine image in every person we encounter. This is the essence of a spiritual encounter in charitable relationships.

A spiritual encounter transforms charity from a transactional act into a relational and sacramental experience. It is not just about what we give but how we give it — and the spirit in which we engage with others. When we allow our acts of charity to be infused with prayer, compassion, and genuine love, we offer more than just material assistance; we offer the healing presence of Christ.

The spiritual encounter in charitable relationships also enriches the giver. When we open our hearts to truly see and engage with those we serve, we too are transformed. We begin to understand the depth of human suffering, resilience, and the beauty of human dignity. This transformation fosters a deeper connection with God, as we become more attuned to His presence in the world around us.

Spiritual encounters in charitable relationships help to break down barriers of prejudice and indifference. When we see others through the eyes of Christ, we can no longer categorize them as “the needy” or “the less fortunate.” Instead, we recognize them as brothers and sisters, equal in dignity and deserving of our love and respect. This recognition compels us to address not just the symptoms of poverty and suffering but their root causes, striving for justice and systemic change, as called for by Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

In our work as Vincentians, we can engage in these spiritual encounters through all our many services (not just Home Visits) by being present, listening with empathy, and praying for and with those we serve.

We must understand that every act of charity, no matter how small, can be a conduit for God’s love if done with a pure heart. Blessed Frédéric said, “No act of charity is foreign to the Society.”

As Saint Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Love is the soul of charity, and it is through love that our actions become transformative.

We must strive to make our charitable actions more than mere transactions. We must seek to encounter Christ in those we serve and allow these spiritual encounters to deepen our faith and love. By doing so, we will not only fulfill our Vincentian vocation, but also become true bearers of God’s love in the world, creating a network of charity, grace, and compassion that embraces the world.

That is why I advocate for using the term Encounter when we refer to our work. By calling a meeting between two people an Encounter rather than a Visit, we highlight distinct nuances in the nature and impact of the interaction. An Encounter implies a deeper level of engagement, where the individuals involved might experience a transformative or enlightening moment. Encounters are often seen as pivotal, potentially altering perceptions, emotions, or relationships.

In contrast, a Visit denotes a more planned, routine, or casual interaction. Visits are typically structured and can be social, professional, or obligatory, often lacking the depth of an Encounter. While a visit can certainly be meaningful, it does not inherently suggest the same potential for profound impact or unexpected significance as an encounter. For instance, a visit to a friend’s house might involve catching up and enjoying each other’s company, whereas an encounter with a long-lost friend in an unexpected place might lead to a heartfelt reconnection and emotional revelations. Therefore, the word Encounter emphasizes the extraordinary and potentially transformative nature of the meeting, while  Visit emphasizes the intention, regularity, and social aspects of the interaction.

In the Catholic faith, the concept of an Encounter transcends mere physical meeting to embody a profound spiritual connection graced by God. This belief is rooted in the idea that when two people come together in faith, God’s presence enhances their interaction, transforming it into a sacred moment. This encounter is not just an exchange of words or gestures, but a divine engagement where God’s grace becomes manifest.

If we are honest, we will admit that many of our interactions with the people we serve have become transactions. They have lost all semblance of Encounter, becoming a purely obligatory visit to get in, find out how much the rent/utility/medical/insurance/ bill is, get it paid, and move on to the next one.

At the top of this column, I said all Home Visits are Encounters. The reality is, that is not 100% true. Far too many Home Visits and other special works services, have become no more than secular visits with the sole purpose of getting someone off the call list.

That is why I am so passionate about us understanding the term Encounter and using it to describe what we do.

Because if we do not, we are just going to be another social service agency doing good for people in need — but not doing much to grow spiritually in our service to those people.

Peace and God’s blessings,

John Berry
National President

06-06-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-06-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

Over the last year, you have heard me speak and write often about the ‘Encounter.’ Regrettably, some people are uncomfortable about my use of that term, as they seem to feel that it takes away from the traditional emphasis of the Society on the term ‘Home Visit’ as what they perceive as the heart and soul of our Vincentian calling.

So, I think that it’s important to explore the term Encounter and hopefully put any concerns to rest. Let’s first look at The Rule.

In Part I of The Rule, under the first major heading “Purpose and Scope of Our Service,” Section 1.2, it is stated “Members show their commitment through person-to-person contact.’ Section 1.3 is titled “Any form of personal help.”

The third major heading under Section 1 of Part 1 of Our Rule is titled “Our Personal Encounters with the Poor.” Part I, Section 1.7 is titled “Prayer before Encounters or Visits.”

So, we’ve established from The Rule that our Founders envisioned an inclusive network of charity. (Hey, sounds like Frédéric!) We don’t see the restriction of “Home Visit” anywhere. Encounters are certainly visits, and visits are clearly a preferred way of meeting the poor, but Encounter can be more than a Home Visit, and a visit can take place anyplace — not just a home! The type of Encounters and the types of visits we are called to make are not defined in The Rule because the Founders were smart enough to realize that the face of poverty was constantly changing — and how we had to address poverty had to change, too.

Just look at Part 1, Section 1.6, Adaptation to a Changing World: “…new types of poverty that might be identified or anticipated.” Our Founders weren’t about to say you had to do X, Y, or Z to do Vincentian work’ because they didn’t know if things would be completely changed in the next 10 years — or even the next year.

That is why we must stop talking, judging, and labeling each other in language that is exclusive. We must start using language that is inclusive and true to the intent of the foundation of the Society. We need to stop saying that our ministry is rooted in the Home Visit. It is not. It is rooted in the Encounter.

Did Frédéric and the Founders do Home Visits? Yes! Were those Home Visits critical to their formation and the creation of the Society? Yes! Does that mean you can’t undergo formation as a Vincentian without doing a Home Visit? No!

But does that mean you can undergo formation as a Vincentian without a Christ-centered, human-to-human interaction? Without Encounter with our Neighbors in need? NO! NO! NO!

Let’s go back to The Rule.

The Vincentian vocation is to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Members show their commitment through person-to-person contact. Vincentians serve in hope.

We have to understand that Encounter — the Christ-centered, person-to-person contact that is our vocation — can be conducted in many ways. There are many ways to conduct visits in different places. What characterizes a visit? Spirituality, friendship, listening, caring, support.

In today’s Society in the United States, Encounters can occur in someone’s home, in a special work, at a Parish, at SVdP offices, in a homeless shelter, and other places. But the need for valid, Vincentian, personal contact must be part of the Encounter for it to be appropriate.

Lining people up at the Parish in front of a table and collecting utility bills that the Conference is going to pay is not Encounter. That kind of interaction is degrading people in need.

Talking to people from behind glass walls is not Encounter, it is bureaucracy. Handing out a food bag without a private conversation and discussion of a neighbor’s situation and need is not Encounter, it is simply just another agency. Giving out clothes in the Thrift Stores is not Encounter; understanding why the person needs the clothes and what we can do to help them not need them next time is.

The most important thing that we must all remember is that we serve people — and our service to people is based on respect, love, and our knowledge that Christ sits in the middle of any relationship we have with another human being. Our Encounters with those we serve, and those we serve with, must always be based on those understandings.

Let’s lose the old language of exclusion and start using the new language of inclusion. But when we do, let’s make sure that we are using it to describe the true Vincentian Encounter that is our vocation, not a modern-day corruption of the beauty of the Christ-centered person-to-person Encounter that is the real heart and soul of our Vincentian calling.

Peace and God’s blessings,

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-16-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

On Monday of this week, I spent the day in meetings at the Vatican in Rome. Working alongside Juan Manuel Gomez, the President General International of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and CGI Board Member Sebastian Gramajo from Argentina, we had three meetings: first with Monsignor Luis Marin de San Martin, Undersecretary of the General Secretariat of the Synod, then with Maria Lia Zervino, Institutional Director of World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and lastly with The Secretary of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, and Fr. Patrio Salgat of that office.

Each of these meetings was vitally important to the work of the Society, both here in the United States as well as globally. The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development was established by Pope Francis in August 2016. The work of the Dicastery, as directed by Pope Francis, is to express the Holy See’s concern for issues of justice and peace, including those related to migration, health, charitable works, and the care of creation.

The Dicastery promotes integral human development in the light of the Gospel and in the tradition of the Church’s social teachings. The Dicastery also expresses the Holy Father’s care for suffering humanity, including the needy, the sick and the excluded, and pays special attention to the needs and issues of those who are forced to flee their homeland, the stateless, the marginalized, victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the imprisoned, the unemployed, victims of contemporary forms of slavery and torture, and others whose dignity is endangered.

That mission certainly sounds a lot like what we do as members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, doesn’t it?

This meeting was important in helping us understand how we can work more closely with the Church and the Bishops in supporting the work of the Holy See in areas such as Integral Human Development.

Similarly, our meeting with the Office of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations was very informative, as we learned about the work of the Church in helping to empower and lift women out of poverty across the world. SVdP USA does an incredible amount of Twinning and project support overseas, and it was good to hear about project work being done through the Vatican. Additionally, the Vatican is looking for our support in some of the work they want to do in the United States, especially around poverty, women, single mothers, and other areas. We will be honored to help!

The meeting with the General Secretariat of the Synod was very interesting and enlightening. We had a wonderful discussion about VisionSVdP, and team at the Vatican were thrilled to hear about what we are doing! They had a lot of questions about our reasons for launching the effort, and were excited that we were modeling our efforts on the theme of Adapting to a Changing World.

One of the things that Msgr. San Martin kept emphasizing was the changing technology of the modern world and how we must adapt not only our processes and procedures, but also our approaches, to ensure we do not lose the spiritual closeness in the drive to technical efficiency and the electronic world. He was speaking my language! He was saying what I have been saying since I first put myself forward as a candidate for National President.

While we can, should, and will change and adapt our systems and our technology to make ourselves more effective and efficient as an operating organization, we cannot, must not, and will not ever lose the human-to-human, Christ-centered Encounter that is the foundational basis of who and what we are. At our core, at our spiritual center, at our faith grounding, we are people serving people through a process of encounter: Encounter in a Home Visit, a food pantry, a thrift store, a pharmacy, a housing program, a shelter, a prison visit, any of the many special works we provide.

My visits to the Vatican helped to define further areas and opportunities for collaboration and cooperation between SVdP and the Holy See to support people in need in the United States and internationally. Those visits also helped to reinforce to me the outstanding work of the Councils and Conferences across the country in support of our neighbors in need and in alignment with Catholic Social Teaching.

Peace and God’s blessings,

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-02-24 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

In the South, where I live, the beginning of May signals the beginning of the end of the school year for students. My granddaughter in South Carolina has already had her Prom (yes, she was beautiful) and her Graduation from high school is in a few weeks. For most students in the northern parts of the country, the school year will continue on until at least Memorial Day. But in either case, come early June, most students will be off for the summer and free of the classroom, homework, and getting up early for school.

Some of you may remember the song written in 1932 by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess, “Summertime.” Its most famous line, oft repeated, is “Summertime and the livin’ is easy.”

How often do we think about children and summertime — no school, just having fun, no cares in the world — and think they’re “livin’ easy”?

For many, that’s likely true. But for too many others, their summertime is anything but easy living — because for too many children in America today, no school means no breakfast, no lunch, maybe no meal at all for the day. And for too many families in America today, no school means no childcare, no one to watch the kids while a single Mom or Dad tries to work so they can pay the rent or put food on the table or clothes on their children’s backs.

No, the reality in America today is that when school ends many, many families don’t celebrate, take vacations to Disneyland, or cook out in the backyard. They despair, and suffer, and try to hold on.

And that’s why we, the SVdP Councils and Conferences, must exert special effort and energy in the summer to support families in need. And for us that can often be a very big challenge, because our children are out of school, we are traveling, our Church attendance and collection amounts are lower due to vacations. Our need is highest when our human and financial resources are lowest.

Think for a minute about the counterintuitive nature of our work and our effort. I would venture to guess that we devote the largest number of volunteer hours, food drives, and organized Conference activities to two times of the year — Thanksgiving and Christmas. But when you think about it, so is every other charity, church, civic organization, and just about any other organized group you can think of.

What if we tweaked the narrative a little? By devoting a larger effort in the summer, when need is huge, and people aren’t as focused on helping, we could really make an impact on helping people desperate for help.

Think about it. Talk about it. Make a difference.

Maybe you can help make someone’s “summertime livin’” a little easier.

Peace and God’s blessings,

John Berry
National President

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-18-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

By John Berry
National President

Over the last few months, as we’ve launched our VisionSVdP initiative and begun to conduct our ‘family conversations’ regarding how the Society of St. Vincent de Paul USA will adapt to a changing world, the feedback I have received from Vincentians across the country has been overwhelmingly positive and excited. People feel that this is the perfect time for us to have these conversations and in many cases, they feel the conversations are long overdue.

From the very first email that went out about VisionSVdP, people have been sending me their thoughts and ideas. Although the process is designed to take place in the Listening Sessions (which begin at Regional Meetings across the country this week), people felt so passionately about the things that they believe needed to be discussed, that they decided to send comments in via email.

Be assured that, if you were one of those people, your comments will be included in the process. But I hope that you will still actively participate in the Listening Session at your Conference, Council, or Region and make your views known. Because your voice matters. Every voice matters.

The number and variety of comments I’ve received have been very interesting. They range from the very specific to the very broad. And that’s fantastic because it is exactly what VisionSVdP is all about — to raise up all thoughts, opinions, and ideas on all aspects of the Society and how we can adapt to a changing world.

This week, the most important phase of VisionSVdP begins. Listening Sessions at Regional Meetings (the Southeast meeting starts Friday) will begin an all-out national network of Listening Sessions at EVERY Conference, Council, and Special Work in the country.

Within the next few weeks, a very simple process for conducting the Listening Session at your location will be sent out. The process is very easy. Some guide rails and guidelines for the sessions will be included. And most importantly, the process for getting the output from the session back to the National Office will be provided. A link to a video from Archbishop Bellisario and a link to a spiritual song and prayer to kick off the conversation will also be provided.

We are asking all Councils, Conferences, and Special Works to have their Listening Sessions completed by the National Assembly in August.

But not everyone is on board. Some people still have doubts about why we’re embarking on this effort. And some people don’t understand how it’s supposed to work. Some people are uncomfortable without strict process guidelines, and some people are uncomfortable sharing in a group.

I understand that. And I appreciate that we’re never going to get 100% buy-in to anything we try to do. No one does. That’s just life. Baskin-Robbins sells 31 flavors because not everyone likes chocolate, right?

But EVERY VOICE MATTERS. Even the ones who think theirs doesn’t — or those who don’t want to share theirs — or those who don’t understand why we want to hear it. But it matters. And we need to hear it. And you deserve to have it heard.

So please, put aside your doubts (should you have any), put aside your fears (should you have some), and put aside your hesitancies to participate (should you hold them) and let us know what you think.

Because every voice matters. Every. Single. One.

Peace and God’s Blessings,

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders

04-04-2024 Letter from Servant Leaders 1200 1200 SVDP USA

It has been six months since I assumed the office of National President of the Society. The time has flown by, and it is hard to believe that it has been that long (although to be honest, sometimes it feels like it has been six years!). I have been truly blessed to meet so many of you, and I am looking forward to meeting many more of you as we enter the 2024 Regional Meeting ‘season’ and I get out to many of the meetings.

Since I served on the Board of Directors for six years when Ralph Middlecamp was President, I was aware of what to expect as National President. But I must say that I have been saddened and disturbed by the number of situations that the Board, the Staff, and I have had to deal with in just six short months about individuals, Conferences, and Councils that have needed intervention or disciplinary actions.

As I reflect on these situations, many still ongoing, it has become obvious to me that they almost always stem from root cause failures in one or more of three areas: money, spirituality, or governance. In one case it is usually too much — money. And in the other two, it is usually not enough — spirituality and governance.

The money issues we deal with are not all what you might expect as you read this. They are not all about people stealing or diverting resources. No, most problems we see with money are the improper use of Conference and Council funds in violation of The Rule and hoarding. Coming out of COVID, we were (and are) blessed with bank balances in some places that are exceptionally large, well beyond the needs of the Conference or Council in the short or even medium term.

All too often, what happens is that, in good faith and with good intentions, they decide to see who else they might help. So, they decide to help the Parish get that new roof, or build a playground, or donate to the local Red Cross, etc. These are all wonderful things. The Rule also forbids them. If you have excess funds, reach out and find other Conferences and Councils in your area or beyond who do not — there are A LOT OF THEM! — and give them some help. Twinning is what we do.

Spirituality is another area that underpins so many of the issues I see as National President. Or rather, to phrase it properly, a LACK of Spirituality is what underpins so many issues. And it is not just that we do not focus on spirituality, it is that we focus on the wrong spirituality! If your Conference of Council is not using the Vincentian Spiritual resources provided by the National Formation Team to create your spiritual reflection periods at your meetings, then you are doing it wrong.

We are the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. We are not the parishes’ Adult Education Program. You should not be using the Spiritual Reflection time at your meeting to be focused on those things that are not related to our work as Vincentians. If you need help in putting together a great spiritual time of reflection, contact Tim Williams or Sister Consuelo in the National Office. They will set you up. Oh, and if your Spiritual Reflection period at your meetings is a five-minute reading of the weekly reflection and then ‘on to the business stuff’ please give them a call — you need them!

Governance is the last and most complex area where we see ongoing issues. Governance can be tricky and complicated, and not everyone understands it. As the former Chair of the National Governance Committee, I have a special passion for governance and governance issues. It is an area that can quickly get you into trouble, both legally and internally with the organization. We have a robust and ready Governance Committee led by First Vice President John Hallissy. If you need any support, have any questions, or just want to have what you are doing checked out, contact John.

We can all do things a little better to make our jobs easier. I understand most of you are volunteers — so am I. But that does not mean we should not be doing everything we can to be the best volunteers we can and be doing things right, every time.

Peace and God’s blessings,

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