Ralph Middlecamp

07-07-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-07-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

During the past several months, it has been my pleasure to attend three regional meetings of the Society and the meeting of the International Executive Committee in Paris. It was wonderful to be with Vincentian friends I have not seen in many years, and to meet new people taking leadership roles in our Society. Sure, we did get many people to participate in the Zoom conferences held during the past two years, but there is nothing like being together, sharing meals, and interacting with workshop presenters and other participants.

In a couple of months, we will have an opportunity to get together in Baltimore for the National Assembly themed “Come to the Water.” Please do come; I hope to see many of you there Aug. 30 through Sept. 3. It will make you a better Vincentian. When I attended my first National Assembly many years ago in Milwaukee, I saw for the first time the bigger picture of this international network of charity. I came home with many great ideas and renewed enthusiasm for our mission. Most importantly, I came home knowing like-minded Vincentians from all across the United States.

The Baltimore Council is working to host a wonderful meeting. We have developed a great program with excellent keynote speakers and dozens of topical workshops that will be led by knowledgeable presenters. I especially want to encourage our East Coast members to take the opportunity to attend. We move this meeting around the country to provide more people easy access to this experience. That is why I attended that first meeting. It was an easy drive for me, and I have not missed many since then.
This meeting will be special because it will be the first time Renato Lima de Oliveira, the President General of the International Council, will be attending our National Assembly. He is an enthusiastic ambassador for the Society everywhere he travels. He will share with us a perspective on what it takes to be a worldwide network of charity. Renato will be with us for the entire meeting; so, you will have many opportunities to meet and talk with him.

Another opportunity you will have at this National Assembly will be to meet and speak with the next president of the National Council of the United States. We don’t know who that will be yet, but all four nominees will be at the meeting. You can talk with them at Thursday’s Host City event or listen to their campaign speeches at the Saturday business meeting. At that Saturday meeting, the National Council Members will vote to reduce the number of candidates to two.

An important part of any National Assembly is our spiritual enrichment. We will celebrate the Eucharist on Friday with our National Episcopal Advisor, Bishop Donald Hying, and on Saturday with Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore. This year, our Friday morning of reflection will be led by Dan Schutte, who has written many of my favorite liturgical songs. Dan was one of the original St. Louis Jesuits and has continued that ministry by composing music and leading retreats.

If you are one of the more than 800 graduates of the Invitation for Renewal program, there will be a special event celebrating the program’s 20th anniversary. Come to rekindle friendships, continue to grow your leadership skills, and renew your Vincentian heart. Those who have not attended may receive some encouragement to do so after learning about the impact Invitation for Renewal has had on so many of our current Vincentian leaders.

A scripture quotation that Frédéric Ozanam and our other founders frequently repeated is, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.” This Gospel passage certainly captures our Vincentian reliance on Christ journeying with us. In Baltimore, however, let’s shoot for “where 700 or 800 are gathered.” We have a great program in place, but what will make our National Assembly truly great is having you there. I think you will have a great time, but please do not regard this gathering as Vincentian tourism. When you get back home, what you will have discovered in Baltimore, you’ll need to share with fellow members, and what you will have learned there, you’ll need to put into practice. So, what’s your next step? Plan to sign up today, and be sure to get the early-registration discount!

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

05-05-2022 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders

05-05-2022 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Last weekend the National Football League held its annual draft of college players. It has become a major sports-media event as team managers take their turns identifying the new talent their teams need to complement their current rosters. Fans are interested in these picks and speculate on the contribution of new players for the future of their teams. Are you a talent scout? Do you work to build the Society of St. Vincent de Paul team by identifying the people in your community who might have the talent your Conference needs?

Who is your replacement? That was a frequent question my friend Mary Steppe would raise in talks when she was the vice president for the North Central Region. None of us can forecast how long we will be in a position to do our Vincentian service. Do you have a roster of talent ready to grow and strengthen our organization?

I encourage each of you, regardless of your position in the Society, to be a talent scout and recruiter. Unfortunately, some Conferences are satisfied with their current roster and don’t feel the need to actively look for new members. If there are enough members to do the work, then why look for additional people? Adding new people might rock the boat. Eventually, however, a once-thriving Conference with that sort of perspective will struggle to maintain a healthy membership.

Too often I have seen Conferences just rely on people to “sign up” at a parish talent day. That is not scouting and recruiting. Instead, try identifying people you think would make good Vincentians, and then talk with them about what the Society means to you. If we value what we do, each of us ought to be recruiting our replacements. For that purpose, nothing beats personal invitation.

The Society’s Rule tells us that our leaders “provide an encouraging atmosphere in which the talents, capacities and spiritual charism of the members are identified, developed and put to the service of the poor and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.”

Mary Steppe was good at providing that encouraging atmosphere and inviting people to take jobs. That is how you can position people to take leadership positions in the future. She pulled me into participating in the Society beyond my own Council by putting me on the National Stores Committee. When I became an Executive Director, she assigned me the task of presenting a workshop on the spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. That first talk I gave was pretty awful, but it set me on a path that would lead me now to being on the International Council’s Historical Commission. This willingness to invite people to take on tasks big and small is necessary if we want to grow the leadership for our network of charity.

Take the opportunities available to grow the leadership of the future. A good team builds on the talent it has recruited. Provide good training, give new members responsibility and invest in their development. I encourage you to send members to your Regional Meeting, to the Invitation for Renewal leadership-formation program, and to our National Assembly. Soon, registration will open for our National Assembly in Baltimore. If you can send some of your members to that meeting, I guarantee they will come back with new ideas and the motivation to see our Society thrive.

Your efforts to build our Society may not be as high-profile as the NFL draft weekend, but I think what you do to scout and recruit our future leaders is far more important for the good of our communities.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

Serving in Hope Recognizes Divine Mercy Sunday

Serving in Hope Recognizes Divine Mercy Sunday 2130 2761 SVDP USA

Our latest issue of Serving in Hope is out now!

This new quarterly newsletter dedicated to sharing inspiring stories of the ways the Society is making a difference in the lives of those we serve. Whether you’re a donor, friend, or Vincentian, you further the charitable mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with your prayers and generosity.

In our latest issue, we’re celebrating Divine Mercy Sunday. Celebrated the Sunday after Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday gives special focus to the gifts of love and mercy given that we receive through Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Vincentians are no strangers to the concept of mercy, sharing it — and receiving it — every day in our relationships with those we serve. You can read stories of Vincentians’ relationship with mercy in our newest issue of Serving in Hope, out now.

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

12-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

12-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I wish each of you a blessed Christmas and pray that you may experience the joy of the season.

The Manual of the National Council of the United States tells us, “Central to an understanding of Vincentian spirituality is the Mystery of the Incarnation, the mystery and grace that God became human. Vincentians expect God in the unexpected: in unexpected people, times, ways and places. God wears a human face. When we see Jesus in others and try to be Jesus for others, the Mystery of the Incarnation comes alive for us.”

I invite you to ponder this profound way of understanding the Incarnation. Let it influence how you understand this joyful season and give meaning to how you live your Vincentian vocation.

As you encounter family, friends, coworkers and our neighbors in need this Christmas season and beyond, I hope you will be blessed with the grace to experience in them the presence of God among us.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles

Current SVdP Leaders Take Inspiration From the Past in Newly Published Articles 1344 1792 SVDP USA

Two articles by current SVdP leaders look back at the Society’s roots, in the latest issue of De Paul University’s Vincentian Heritage Journal. National Director of Formation Tim Williams shares with us two new articles by Ray Sickinger, Ph.D., and Ralph Middlecamp.

François Lallier, Friend of Frédéric, Co-Founder of the Society

As a young law student at the Sorbonne, François Lallier noticed another student speaking out boldly in class, defending the Church against attacks on it by professors and fellow students. After class one day, he saw this young man outside, at the center of a group who were listening to him intently. Lallier took this opportunity to introduce himself to Frédéric Ozanam, and that, to paraphrase the closing line of Casablanca, was the start of a beautiful friendship.

Lallier, along with Ozanam, four other students, and Emmanuel Bailly, would together found the Society of St. Vincent de Paul just a few short years after this meeting, but their friendship would continue undimmed for the rest of Frédéric’s short life.

In an article published in the newest Vincentian Heritage Journal, Raymond Sickinger, Ph.D., National Council board member and Professor Emeritus of history at Providence College, tells the story of this founder using sources most Vincentians have not previously read, including Circular Letters Lallier wrote while serving as Secretary-General, his personal correspondence with his friend Ozanam, his speeches, and other documents.

Lawyer, judge, gentleman, and Vincentian, François Lallier’s story is an important part of our heritage.

Read François Lallier: One of the Pillars of the Building Started

Emmanuel Bailly, Mentor and Co-Founder of the Society

In the Ozanam Orientation, we learn that of the seven founders of the Society, there were six college students and one “older gentleman.” In 1833, Emmanuel Bailly was 39 years old.

National President Ralph Middlecamp, avid student of the Society’s heritage and history, shares in the latest issue of the Vincentian Heritage Journal the fascinating story of Père Bailly, whose offices hosted the first Conference.

Newspaper publisher, businessman, and college professor, Bailly was from a family with strong Vincentian roots, his father having been entrusted with some of Saint Vincent’s papers to safeguard during the French Revolution.

While his business ventures had varying degrees of success, his commitment to mentoring young men and defending the faith were unwavering. Bailly was truly a father figure to the young men who elected him as President of that first Conference, which earned him the nickname Père (father). He also served as Spiritual Advisor, and was discovered to have contributed generously to the secret collections at the early meetings.

It was Bailly’s deep knowledge of the Rule of the Congregation of the Mission that helped him, as co-author of the Society’s Rule in 1835, to guide its basic structure and outline.

Middlecamp’s article offers fascinating details of Bailly’s interesting life, family, and connections.

Read Emmanuel Bailly: The Advisor and Friend of Christian Youth

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons

2021 Vincentian Pilgrimage: In the Footsteps of Our Founders and Patrons 2560 1920 SVDP USA

Speaking of pilgrimages, Pope Benedict XVI once said:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.”

For members of the Society, it is especially in Paris that God’s “grace has shown with particular splendor” on our patrons and founders. Twenty-three Vincentian Pilgrims recently returned from Paris, where together, they walked in the footsteps of those holy people. National Director of Formation Tim Williams generously shared these photos and captions with us, so that we can all share a part of the pilgrims’ journey.

History and Artifacts

The offices of the Council General International (CGI) of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul include a museum that is home to important historical artifacts, many of them donated by the family of Blessed Frédéric. Seen here are Ozanam’s academic robes, which he would have worn while teaching at the Sorbonne, and a portrait painted by Frédéric’s brother-in-law, Charles Soulacroix. This portrait was the basis for the Ozanam Mosaic installed at the National Basilica in 2020.

The CGI staff was very warm and welcoming. Pictured is Gonzague de Raulin, special advisor to the President General, showing us the museum.

Bust of Frederic Ozanam

 

 

 

 

 

During his short 40 years on this earth, Frédéric managed to travel quite extensively; including trips to Italy, Spain, Germany, England, and all around France, often visiting existing Conferences, and working to begin new ones, as he continued to do in Italy right up until weeks before his death. It was in this trunk that he packed for all of those journeys.

In the former motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission, the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the Chapelle Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, in the presence of Vincent’s body. Also in this building is a small museum containing is a number of artifacts from Saints Vincent, Louise, and Catherine Labouré. Our guide in the museum was Father Andrés Motto, CM, who serves as spiritual advisor to the Council General International (CGI,) and pilgrim Bob Loew acted as his translator for us.

Churches and Chapels

At the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, St. Catherine Labouré had her visions of Mary and the Miraculous Medal in 1830. When St. Vincent’s remains were translated to Paris in April 1830, St. Catherine reported having a vision of his heart on three successive nights in the convent chapel, which she took to mean that the Vincentian communities would prosper. His heart is in the Miraculous Medal Chapel today. The pilgrims celebrated Mass here and had time for individual prayer and meditation in the chapel. Outside the chapel, Sr. Paule Freeburg, DC, shares stories of the motherhouse, St. Louise, and St Catherine.

The inside of Saint-Joseph-des-Carmes Church. It is beneath this church where Bl. Frédéric is buried, and the pilgrims celebrated Mass in the crypt.

In the courtyard outside, National President Ralph Middlecamp shares some of the history.

In the middle of the 17th century, the Saint-Laurent was the parish of St. Vincent and of St. Louise. Years later, during the sack of Saint-Lazare (home of the Congregation of the Mission) in the French Revolution, several revolutionaries who had found a reliquary of St. Vincent de Paul there brought it reverently to Saint-Laurent for safekeeping — then returned to their looting and pillaging. 

 

Famous for its stained glass, Sainte-Chappelle was originally built as a chapel for Louis IX and was consecrated in 1248.

The famous Sacré-Coeur Basilica sits on the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. It was built in no small part due to the work of the leaders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, who promoted the “national vow” to build this church in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War.

First built in 1758, the Panthéon is and was a very distinctive landmark in Paris. Through France’s many revolutions, it has served alternately a Catholic Church or a civic monument, which it is today. 

 

Across from the Panthéon stands the Church of St. Étienne du Mont. While attending the nearby Sorbonne School of Law, this was Blessed Frédéric’s parish, and it was also home to the first Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Interior of the Church of St Étienne du Mont.

In nearly every church, there is at least one painting or statue of St. Vincent de Paul, who is beloved throughout France. Here, pilgrim Silvia Vargas lights a candle in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, which was the Ozanam family parish. Frédéric’s funeral was here, and his daughter Maire would later marry in this church.

All Around Paris

Rue Mouffetard remains the same narrow street that it was in Frédéric and Rosalie’s day. Once a place of great poverty, it is today lined with shops and cafes, and filled with locals and tourists. The pilgrims walked with Blessed Rosalie’s words in our hearts: “Never have a I prayed so well as in the streets.”

Fifty thousand Parisians followed Blessed Rosalie Rendu’s funeral procession from St. Médard Church to this cemetery in 1856. To this day, fresh flowers are always placed upon her grave, and our pilgrims added a bouquet and prayed together on their visit. Known as “The Good Mother of All,” the inscription on her monument reads: “To Sister Rosalie from her friends, both rich and poor.”

The garden at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.

The French government installed a small marker on the side of the building where the first Conference meeting took place on April 23, 1833. 

Currently a fire station, this building was the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity when Blessed Rosalie arrived in Paris.

This sign on the wall in the crypt reads (in Latin): “A.F. Ozanam, unselfish herald of truth and love. He lived 40 years, 4 months, and 16 days. Dedicated by Amélie to her husband with whom she lived for twelve years and by Marie to her father. Live in God and pray for our salvation.”

Parisian Views

A view of Paris from the steps of Sacré-Coeur.

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 856 642 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I have just returned from the Heritage Pilgrimage to Paris, which was originally scheduled for last year as part of our 175th anniversary celebrations. In spite of some challenges, 23 Vincentians from all over the United States were able to walk together in the footsteps of our founders and patrons.

On our pilgrimage, we celebrated Mass at the tombs of Frédéric Ozanam, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Louise de Marillac. Our group prayed at and put flowers on the grave of Sister Rosalie Rendu. We visited the churches where they worshiped, walked the streets they walked, saw where they lived, and visited several small museums containing possessions of these holy people.

A pilgrimage is about more than visiting places. One source defines a pilgrimage as “a journey, often into an unknown or foreign place, where a person goes in search of new or expanded meaning about their self, others, nature, or a higher good, through the experience. It can lead to a personal transformation, after which the pilgrim returns to their daily life.”

At our final dinner we all concluded that we are returning to our daily life enriched by the experience. An observation was made that these were ordinary people who struggled with life, just like we all do. But being attentive to God, what they did made the world a better place. Someone else shared that the reason we know about Vincent and Frédéric is that they inspired a long line of people who continued to dedicate themselves to carry on what they initiated.

You and I are in that chain of servants to the poor. We must provide leadership to our Conferences and Councils, and invite new members so that these efforts continue to witness to the love of God. Most Vincentians will not go on pilgrimage to Paris, but we all strive to walk in the footsteps of our founders and patrons by continuing the network of friends they inspired, a network which visits the poor in Christ’s name, providing them with material needs and friendship. Those we serve may never know who St. Vincent de Paul or Frédéric Ozanam are, but they know us.

After our Mass in Ozanam’s tomb, we prayed a prayer written by his wife Amelie in that same crypt. Aside from some changed gender roles referenced, it seemed she wrote the prayer specifically for us. The prayer has a timeless and universal message that gave me a deep appreciation of spirituality of the woman who was loved dearly by Frédéric Ozanam.

She prayed, “Dear Lord Jesus who came down from the heavens to this underground vault, to this humble altar, residing now in our hearts, hear our prayer, protect all that we hold most dear on this Earth and, at this time when the future of our country is in the balance, give strength and good judgment to those who wish for Good. Choose fair and measured men to govern us, free of the passions that can blind us, but full of the passion for justice. Have pity, oh Lord, on those who suffer. Relieve their pain and bring back to us that great Christian whom you wished to purify and who may serve you once again.

“Watch over our families, Lord, give our sons the desire to work, give them devotion, the very best guardian of their virtue. Make men of them, so that they may serve their country with honor and serve you with faith. Give our daughters the strength to raise their children well and to carry out their duties graciously. Bestow good health upon us and may none of the people close to our hearts abandon the faith of the Church.

“Oh you martyrs, illustrious prelates, virgin saints, and you my darling one, whose bodies are laid to rest together in this place, pray, pray for us that our wishes be granted, and while we wait for the day when we shall be reunited, fill our souls with strength, peace and love.”

It is a fitting prayer for all Vincentian pilgrims on our journey toward holiness.

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress

SVdP Sends Infrastructure and Budget Letter to Congress 1200 628 SVDP USA

On behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and those we serve, SVdP National President Ralph Middlecamp recently sent a letter to Congress, urging Senators and Representatives to prioritize programs and policies that ensure poor and vulnerable families have access to stable housing, health care, and access to economic opportunity.

Click here to read the full letter, or visit our Voice of the Poor page to learn more.

To learn more about how you can contact your own elected officials about important issues like this, please sign up for our Voter Voice program.

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.

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