National President

09-08-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-08-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

A wonderful Annual Assembly of the National Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society wrapped up last Saturday evening in Baltimore. I want to warn our members who did not attend that we who were there are returning home with many new ideas and zeal for the renewal of our Society. I hope you catch some of that enthusiasm. I am back home writing this column with the intent of featuring the highlights, and I am having trouble – not because of my aging memory but because there were so many of them.

It was not the National Assembly’s most important moment, but for me the most-moving highlight took place during our Friday-morning retreat. With fervor, nearly 800 Vincentians sang “Here I Am Lord” with musician and composer Dan Schutte. They sang “I will go Lord, if you need me, I will hold your people in my heart,” and there was no doubt they meant it.

A close-second highlight also came in song. At the end of an informative and passion-filled speech by Renato Lima de Oliveira, the President General of the Society’s International Council, he led us in Matt Maher’s powerful song, “I Need You Lord.” A song fervently sung and meant by the overflowing crowd of Vincentians made tangible the bonds of friendship we forge as we journey together toward holiness.

The most-important thing that happened at the Assembly was the choice made during Saturday’s Business Meeting, when your delegates chose the two candidates for whom you will vote in the months ahead to be your next National Council President. After listening to talks by the four candidates, delegates chose John Berry and Brian Burgess to advance as the final nominees. I want to thank all four highly qualified nominees for their willingness to serve. More will be shared with you about the voting process in the weeks ahead.

One of the specific initiatives we kicked off at the Assembly was promotion of a revised version of an evaluation of our organization at all levels. Started back in 2009, this evaluation framework is called our Standards of Excellence. We will be asking every level of our organization to engage in this self-evaluation process to ensure our Councils and Conferences are prepared structurally to meet the challenges we are facing in the years ahead. Please take this process to heart and use it to assess your current activity and structure and then to create the plans that will make us a stronger, better Society.

The talks, workshops, and liturgies at the Assembly were excellent. The workshops, especially, gave us much to take home and work on in the months ahead. At the meeting, we also celebrated our accomplishments and challenged ourselves to meet the needs of the changing world in which we serve our neighbors in need. We featured the 20th anniversary of the highly successful Invitation for Renewal Program. We also recognized the work of our Disaster Services Corporation, which has significantly grown its capacity and credibility since we established it five years ago. Thank you to all the organizers and presenters who made this an exceptionally great meeting.

Music always moves me and enriches my prayer life. That may be why hearing hundreds of voices singing “Here I am Lord” together in Baltimore was so powerful for me. I hope you, too, can say, “Here I Am,” and make that commitment to serve, to be a leader and to grow our organization. It is not easy work we do. Our need for being spiritually grounded in that commitment could not have been more powerfully communicated to us than it was by having our very own President General choose to sing, “Lord, I need You, oh, I need You. Every hour, I need You.”

I left the meeting in Baltimore with a desire to work for this Society with a renewed commitment in this last year of my presidency. That’s a commitment to serve all of you as we grow in holiness and live out our Vincentian mission together. Even though you may not have been with us at the National Assembly, I hope you choose to renew your passion for that mission with me.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

P.S. This Friday, September 9, is the Feast of Blessed Frederic Ozanam. Please take time to pray for his canonization, which we hope will occur in the near future.

06-16-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-16-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

In last week’s Servant Leader Column, Renato Lima de Oliviera, our International President, shared some of his thoughts looking back on his presidency. In another year I may write a similar column, but today I want to look forward, not backward. Like Renato, I have 15 more months left in my term of office, and the process of choosing the next National Council President has begun. Succession planning is important at every level of the Society, and we have a National Council process that will provide a six-month period for me and your next president to work on a smooth transition.

Earlier this year I appointed a National Election Committee. The committee is headed by Raymond Sickinger, and its members include Sister Kieran Kneaves, Gladys Hoerner, Mike Syslo, and Tommye Grant (replacing the recently deceased Marie Wicks). CEO David Barringer and I serve on the committee as ex-officio members. I am grateful for this committee of well-respected Vincentians who have prepared the necessary documents and have the duty of overseeing the entire presidential nomination and election process.

A call for nominations of presidential candidates and the details of the process were issued at the Midyear Meeting and were sent to all National Council members. Nominations were due to be postmarked by June 13. As of this writing, four nominations had been received. The names of nominees, their biographies and their platform papers will be provided in the next few weeks, after the committee examines the nominations to verify eligibility.

At the National Assembly in Baltimore, there will be an opportunity to meet the candidates at the Host City Reception. They will each speak at the Saturday business meeting. To reduce the slate to two candidates, your representatives will be asked to vote for the candidates they believe will best serve our National Council.

Following the Assembly, we will conduct a nationwide process that will allow all active members to review the two candidates’ platforms, biographies, and recorded videos, and then to vote at a Conference meeting. The results of this deliberation by members will then inform the vote of National Council Members from each diocese represented. Please look for more information in the e-Gazette about the candidates and the process.

To help us find the right person to be our next president, what I ask all of us to do is to follow the Society’s long-standing practice of praying to the Holy Spirit regularly as our process proceeds. That is what was done when our first president, Emmanuel Bailly, stepped down. Here is the prayer provided to us by the National Election Committee. To download the PDF of this prayer, click here.

The office of National Council president is not an honorific position but is rather a servant-leader role that is both extremely rewarding and quite challenging. I and every previous National Council president will attest to the fact that we did not fully understand what we were called to do when we took the position. Like the rest of our entire vocation as Vincentians, serving as national president is a journey that requires prayerful trust in the Providence of God. It is a journey I have been on with all of you for almost five years. That journey is not finished, but it is time to ask the Holy Spirit to identify who will continue it with us as the next servant leader of the National Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the United States.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

 

04-14-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-14-2022 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

We Vincentians often say that we “see the face of Christ” in those we serve. Do we recognize the crucified people who surround us? Do we stand faithfully by them? How long and how far are we willing to accompany them?

During Holy Week, the Gospel accounts of Christ’s suffering and death are told with a great amount of detail that allows us to see the diverse responses of Jesus’ friends, enemies and followers. I wonder how we would have responded to the events that took place. Maybe we should look at how willing we are to expend the effort and take the risks necessary to stay with Him in the person of the suffering people we meet as Vincentians.

Some of us, like Saint Peter, may deny that we recognize those suffering injustice or poverty. Even though we have met them and been in their homes, we are often unwilling to identify with them or to advocate for their well-being as they suffer. We may not be like Judas and actually betray someone for money, but there are people in our communities who are willing to profit from misery and poverty. Are we willing to challenge those who prey on our neighbors in need?

I may be most like the disciples who would not stay awake and pray with the distressed and frightened Christ before he was taken prisoner. It is not that I am tired, but I often ignore the gravity of the events taking place and rest in the comfort of the status quo. I ignore Christ’s invitation to be alert and pray.

From the cross Christ prayed, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a prayer found on the lips of many in this world. It is the prayer of those now suffering in war, of the refugees at all borders, including our own, of those who are homeless, of those who are ill, and of all living in our midst who suffer poverty in its many forms.

For us, standing at the foot of the cross may be making a home visit, eating a meal with a homeless family, or visiting a prisoner. We will not hear the cry of the poor unless we are willing to step out of our comfort zone. We may not be able to take the cup of suffering from them, but we are invited by Jesus to pay attention, to pray and to accompany them so that they may have hope and know they are not forgotten. As St. Louise de Marillac told the Daughters of Charity, “The love of Christ crucified compels us.”

In these times of suffering, wars and illness, we need to believe in the promise of the risen Christ. We serve in hope. May you and all you love have a blessed Easter.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

Women’s History Month Series – Former SVdP National Council President, Sheila Gilbert

Women’s History Month Series – Former SVdP National Council President, Sheila Gilbert 163 180 SVDP USA

In 2011, the National Council of the United States, Society of St. Vincent de Paul made history when Vincentians elected the first woman to serve as their National President. Her name is Sheila Gilbert, and she served in the role from 2011 – 2017.

Prior to being elected president, Gilbert served as the National Secretary on the National Board of Directors, under President Joe Flannigan, and as a committee chair under President Gene Smith.

Volunteerism

Volunteerism courses through her veins. In addition to her work with the Society, Gilbert has also volunteered as a Girl Scout Leader, PTO President, CCD Instructor, and Adult Faith Formation Coordinator at her home parish.

“It seems like when I see something that needs doing, and I think I can do it, I volunteer,” said Gilbert.

Gilbert first became involved with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul when a Conference was formed at her parish. She also volunteered at the parish distribution center.

Path to Leadership

Her path to leadership within the Society began when she served as the President of the Indianapolis North District Council, and the Archdiocesan Council of Indianapolis. She was the Mideast Region Vice President, and Chair of the National Formation Committee.

While also serving in her various leadership roles within the Society, Gilbert also served on the Board for the Vincentian Family Committee and completed two terms representing the Society on the Ladies of Charity‘s National Board. During her time as SVdP President, she was a “participating observer” on the National Catholic Charities Board.

Gilbert’s volunteer work prior to and during her time as the first female SVdP National President was not without its challenges. “As a woman working for the Catholic Church in a local parish, I often felt a bit ‘second class,’ and some gentlemen in the Society had a tendency to pat me on the head, rather than take me seriously, especially early on.”

Although she was heartened by the encouragement she received when it came to her campaign for President and once she took the office, Gilbert notes that the challenges she faced were like those of any person coming into office, not specifically because she was a woman.

“I never even thought about them as having to do with being female,” Gilbert said.

Advice for Others

Though her term ended in 2017, Gilbert remains very passionate about the Society and about women’s involvement.

“[My] advice: Follow the guidance your heart receives from the Holy Spirit. Talk with people you respect. Take one step forward at a time and don’t be afraid to try,” said Gilbert. “No one ever has all the skills and abilities for any leadership position, but the Holy Spirit knows how to fill in the gaps. Believe that you can rely on God and other Vincentians.

“I became National President because others believed in me more than I believed in myself. Every Vincentian can look around and find someone in whom they see potential and provide the support and encouragement that makes their leadership possible and successful.”

When asked about her hopes for females within the Society as time goes on, she said, “I only hope I won’t hold the title of the ONLY female president.”

 

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