Ralph Middlecamp

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.

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-15-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1368 1387 SVDP USA

There are some subjects that affect us all, even as Vincentians, and I wish we didn’t need to talk about them. This is one of them.

Sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults is very real. We have read about it in relation to some of our most respected institutions; in fact, the greater the organization, the more news it makes. But even though there is no such current news of abuse within the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, we must not assume that it couldn’t happen. Or even that it hasn’t. We know that many cases of abuse, wherever and whenever it happened, are not reported.

Our National Council will consider a national Safeguarding policy next month at National Assembly. This policy will ultimately affect every Vincentian, as well as many others with whom we serve.

Our international leadership recognized the potential for sexual abuse in the work and relationships of the Society because we serve in a multitude of cultures and legal environments. Our work puts us in daily contact with people who are vulnerable because of their financial, housing, family, or other situations which at times become quite desperate. This desperation can lead to others taking advantage of these neighbors in need. The International Council provided a framework from which every National Council, and then local Councils, can create policies and procedures under what globally is called Safeguarding.

Our national group of Executive Directors were already exploring safeguarding practices after seeing how other groups have suffered from the lack of precautions, leading to instances of abuse followed by news reports and lawsuits. Our nation’s Bishops were already requiring Diocesan and Parish safeguarding practices for clergy and parishioners, and even for others using Church properties for their activities. While all of the requirements were directed at the same problem, they often differ from one Diocese to another.

A National Safeguarding Task Force was organized by President Ralph Middlecamp under the leadership of Guadalupe Sosa. This group took the international policy as a framework for its work, and used lessons learned from the Executive Director research, to create a proposed national Safeguarding Policy.

I won’t try to go through all of the policy’s details here, but there are a few overarching points that all Vincentians should consider. First, the national policy is best considered as a set of recommended policies and practices to be included in your local policies. Your local Council policy should be in concert with your Diocesan and state/local law requirements. Any truly “national” policy would have unfairly created conflicts and/or added duplicated requirements for some Councils.

Second, the task force looked first at our Rule. The “two-person” requirement for Vincentian services has many benefits; one is that having two people present with those we serve by itself prevents all types of abusive situations and accusations.

Third, our national policy recognizes the need for protection not only for youth, but also for vulnerable adults however they be defined. In one sense, as noted above, anyone we serve may be considered socioeconomically vulnerable. The policy also seeks to protect our services providers. We want to maintain every Vincentian’s safety in our service environments, and to prevent unwarranted, false abuse accusations that we have seen damage other organizations.

In addition to all of the Vincentian resources and services we provide, first and foremost our friends in need deserve to feel safe and be safe with us. Many of us assume this because we are good people. The news around us, however, reminds us that we can’t take such safety for granted, and we need to spend special attention to keep everyone safe in all the different works and places where we operate.

With the national policy’s adoption, we will focus on providing you with sample local safeguarding policies and best practices. We are already gathering these resources from Vincentian and outside organizations to help you. First though, we need your support. A special webinar will be held next week just for our National Council Members and Executive Directors where we will review the proposed national Resolution and policy and answer questions.

In our recent strategic planning membership survey, Vincentians told us that they are currently required to comply with background checks and fingerprinting among other safeguarding practices instituted for Church volunteers. Expect a similar set of practices for your Vincentian activities now or in the near future. This may appear both inconvenient and perhaps even offensive to you because, again, you are a good person. As good people under God, I pray that all of us will take these steps as part of our deeper relationship with those we serve.  Their safety is a critical first step in our deeper love and support of all their needs.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

National Council Building Dedication Renews Faith and Friendship

National Council Building Dedication Renews Faith and Friendship 633 277 SVDP USA

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.

Ralph Middlecamp

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.”

SVdP History

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.”

SVdP National Council Chapel

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!”

Sr. Kieran KneavesTrue 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!”

 

06-10-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-10-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I am guessing many of you are in Conferences and Councils that are trying to decide when and how we can get back to normal. Please don’t expect me or the National Council to have the answer for what you should do. But I do encourage you to have thoughtful conversations that consider the hopes and concerns of Vincentians and those we serve.

I am vaccinated and am starting to travel and socialize, as are most Americans – and that is great! There are, however, some who either cannot be vaccinated or choose not to be. There are still others for whom the vaccinations may not be effective. How does this affect the way we move forward?

There are many policy questions to consider. When do we start in-person Conference and Council meetings? Do we still wear masks and socially distance at these meetings? When can we start in-person Home Visits? Must our home visitors be vaccinated? Do we wear masks in people’s homes, and do we ask those we visit to wear masks? May we ask people if they have been vaccinated? May we require our employees to be vaccinated, and when can they stop wearing masks?

There are very few pandemic-related governmental prohibitions at this point. So the decisions are yours to make, depending on the circumstances in your community and the risk factors that pertain to your members and those you serve. That will still vary greatly across our nation and even within your community.

As you have discussions about these matters, I urge you to check your facts. There are many misconceptions about privacy laws and HIPAA rules. I am not a lawyer, but if you simply do a web search for “can you ask if someone is vaccinated?” or “can I require employees to be vaccinated?” you will be directed to a lot of good information. You will likely find that there are fewer restrictions than you might have expected, but there are some cautions to observe.  If you are setting policy for employees, you will probably want to check what you find on the web with your attorney.

Recognizing that information and understanding about the vaccines have varied greatly, dozens of Catholic organizations have formed the Catholic Cares Coalition. The coalition’s aim is to promote the common good and amplify the teachings of Pope Francis and the U.S. Catholic Bishops on accepting vaccination as it becomes available, as well as on promoting equitable vaccine distribution. Our Society’s U.S. Council is not part of this group at this point, but the coalition’s website at www.catholiccares.com  provides good information that may be useful to share.

Personal contact is such an important element of who we are as Vincentians. I am eager for our return to being present to one another and to those we serve, but we also want to continue to protect the health of everyone. Just today, I learned that two of my friends on the Board of Directors of our Society’s International Council are in the hospital with serious cases of COVID-19. I am praying for their recovery. This reminds me that the vaccines have not been readily available to much of the world — and that this pandemic is not over.

As you decide what course to take, I suggest that you do not need to make all the changes at once. You can take a few steps and see how it goes. You can revisit the topic a little later and make more operational changes as they seem sensible. Most importantly, be kind and listen. There may be fellow Vincentians who have well-founded fears about unmasking and gathering. They may have vulnerable family members or personal health issues of which you are unaware. So please assume good intentions, and follow our principle of decision-making by consensus. As we carefully move forward, we need to be sure to care for our network of friends.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-22-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

We are in the liturgical season of Easter.  We have come through 40 days of Lent, ending in Holy Week with the observance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

During this past month, I have been pondering the intersection of our liturgical celebrations with what is going on in the world and what is going on in my life personally. The Easter season is one of being open to the unexpected ways in which Christ appears in our lives. Like Mary and the apostles, we consider what do we do now and what do we do next.

My vocation was not always one of service to the poor. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, I took a job as the Liturgy Coordinator at the campus Newman Center. It was on Good Friday in 1975 when I witnessed an unexpected intersection of liturgy with life outside the church walls and even with my personal vocation.

The environment was carefully planned, the music was moving and, of course, the Good Friday liturgy itself was profound. The church was packed, with many people standing or sitting in the aisles. After the first reading, we sat for a minute or two in silence before singing the responsorial psalm. That’s when down the aisle came a man who was about 35 years old, not well dressed, but not dirty or unkempt. He walked to the sanctuary center in front of the altar and began to talk to the congregation.

He said that Christians did good things and that religion was probably very important to us, but he thought we ought to consider how difficult life was out on the streets of Madison. The war in Vietnam was just ending. Returning soldiers were often on the streets and homeless; students were disillusioned, and it was hard to find work. The man said he was dealing with addiction issues and had been occasionally homeless.

The man spoke well. He engaged the crowd, but I wanted him out of there. He was wrecking the whole thing. What should I do? What I did was nothing, and I relied on our pastor to make the call. He sat there and patiently listened for almost 10 minutes, as did more than 700 others.

The uninvited speaker started to talk about how his life had fallen apart and how alienated he was from his family. Then he described how his brother had invited him to come share Easter with his family. He was hopeful that this was the beginning of a reconciliation and maybe an opportunity to start a new chapter of his life. He said he needed about $40 for a bus ticket, however, and was thinking that among all these fine Christians, there must be someone who would be willing to help him.

At that point the pastor slowly walked up behind him, put a hand on his shoulder and invited him to take a chair and worship with us. Father promised to work with him after the service. To this day there are people who are certain we planned the whole thing. They are sure that it was one of those creative things we were known for doing, and many insist it was the most meaningful Good Friday service they have ever attended.

After it was over, I was still upset that a carefully rehearsed and important liturgy was screwed up by a street person. Little did I realize that several years later working with the homeless and addicted would become part of my faith journey. The events of that day were a real-life parable of the world intersecting with the practice of our faith and a carefully planned liturgical celebration.

I remembered this story during Holy Week, while I was considering what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul plans to do as we emerge, I hope, from the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the process of developing our next strategic plan, which will be rooted in living out our Rule and Mission Statement. We need to make those plans, but my Good Friday experience also cautions me to be open to the unexpected. Our neatly organized plans will never match the reality of what will walk into our lives. But we should look for grace in those moments and never doubt Divine Providence.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-15-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

The motivation not to speak up may be because one has nothing to say. It may, however, be because there is so much to say, but one represents so many different opinions.

An emerging and dangerous trend in America is for corporate CEOs to write opinion pieces and jump on television to comment on political and social issues. In apparent attempts at standing for social justice, advancing a cause, or simply to prove oneself relevant and engaged, mostly these executives are only proving the old adage that you can’t please everyone.

Every corporate position seems to bring a boycott, social media furor, and unequal and opposite reactions. Board members, stakeholders, and consumers all ask how the CEO could possibly speak for everyone when it seems that as a country we are divided on, well, everything. I’m not sure that even sliced bread, Mom, or apple pie could bring unanimous consent right now!

In the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, only the National President of a country can “speak for the Society”, and this can be prudently delegated for local issues, during crisis situations, or when the CEO (in countries that have them) is so allowed, usually on administrative issues. This is a precious, protected, and potentially dangerous responsibility. We have all seen instances when a reputation was harmed more by the response than by the originating action.

Our National President Ralph Middlecamp and I routinely get asked to speak up about an issue of great importance to the one making the request. Many such requests are in regard to valid concerns either to Americans, Catholics or Vincentians, and perhaps to all three. Ralph and I could distribute a scathing press release, get on Twitter, or hold a news conference almost daily. Here is why we don’t.

First, we try to “stay in our lane” as the Society. While there are many issues and causes that fall under Catholic Social Teaching, for example, the Society’s sweet spot is in matters that concern our friends in need. While a dotted line could be drawn from almost anything to how it more adversely affects people in poverty, we choose to focus on the more direct issues and impacts. Admittedly this can be a fuzzy line to draw.

Second, we recognize that while all of our members are united in their Vincentian spirituality, they are not so aligned in their politics, social causes, or even their views on the Church. We feel it is disingenuous to speak on matters without hearing from you, and we can for the most part be assured that there is no unified Vincentian opinion. You can speak for yourself without a Vincentian “tag” that inadvertently ties us together against your will.

Third, and just as importantly, when you stand for everything you stand for nothing. Not everything warrants a response. Responsible leaders, and usually the most effective ones, speak more rarely and thus are heard when they do speak. Think about the celebrities and political opinion givers: Are their comments sometimes above, or below, their jobs or relevance in our lives? Haven’t we all at one time asked why we should care about that actor’s opinion, or why the elected representative is commenting on an issue s/he clearly knows so little about? While it is our American birthright to be free to give an opinion, it doesn’t mean we should use it so darn often.

When you see that President Ralph (or me, or our national Voice of the Poor group) has commented publicly on an issue, know that it has been carefully considered in light of the above. Likely there was a discussion first about our specific Vincentian/SVdP stake in the game, our objectives in speaking, and how we think our members will respond. That’s what servant leaders do. Together we don’t want to be just another voice; we want to be your voice.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

03-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-18-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Two weeks ago, I saw a couple hundred of you on my computer screen as I sat at my desk. We were at our National Council Midyear Meeting, and it was good to see the faces of so many friends. Thank you to all our National Council staff and the many presenters who made this a successful virtual gathering.

Once again, we made the best of the situation. The workshops were great, and our Board and National Council met, passed resolutions and started the process of creating our next strategic plan. Many who participated appreciated the opportunity to attend the meeting without having to travel, while many others felt the loss of personal contact. As we move back to holding our meetings in person, I hope that we can continue to find ways to maintain this element of virtual attendance.

It was great to have more than 250 people attend our meeting. I am very aware, however, that as the months pass, our Zoom calls reveal more and more faces I have never met. I find I may not know your interests – or what motivates and excites you. I also may not know what bothers or worries you. We can get our business done virtually, but a network of friends requires fuller presence.

I am very hopeful that soon we can start meeting again in person. Likewise, I look forward to a return to in-person mode for our Home Visits. In my talks at the Midyear Meeting, I strongly encouraged us to begin to prepare for this reopening. If you haven’t already begun to do so, I urge you to start planning for how to revitalize your Conferences. We need new members, and we need to attract people with diverse backgrounds. Talk with pastors and bishops to let them know that we have been active during the past year but that we need their support to renew the Society in the months ahead.

At the National Council we are beginning to develop our next strategic plan, and revitalization will be an important element of it. During coming weeks, you may see a survey requesting your input for our plan. Please respond. Especially after this period of isolation, we need to take the temperature of the organization to help figure out what can happen next.

As I work with the Society on the international level, I recognize how fortunate we are in the United States to have COVID-19 vaccines available to so many of us. Some of the International Board members with whom I serve have no vaccines available in their country and do not expect them for many months.  These countries and their councils of the Society are struggling, and I appreciate those of you who have accepted my encouragement to begin Twinning with our Conferences around the world.

In Wisconsin we had a week of nice, warm weather, but it snowed again yesterday. Spring is close, but it is not here. That reminds me that we cannot assume we are finished with this pandemic. So please be patient, and continue to be cautious and safe. I want to see you in the months and years ahead.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

A Medallion in the Mosiac

A Medallion in the Mosiac 200 258 SVDP USA

On a ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Ireland to the United States in the fall of 1845, a Vincentian priest, John Timon, carried with him a copy of the Rule of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Having met members of this young Catholic lay organization during his travels, he was so impressed with their works and zeal that he wished to share this book with friends back home in St. Louis.

Within weeks of his return, a group of some of the most prominent men in the frontier city of St Louis gathered at the church now known as the Old Cathedral, and held the first meeting of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in the United States on November 20, 1845.

In celebration of the 175th Anniversary of this event, the National Council has published a book, and commissioned a commemorative coin.

Meticulously researched by Raymond Sickinger, Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College, this book includes stories of key people, places, and events in the growth and development of the Society in the United States.

Sickinger, also a biographer of Frédéric Ozanam, tells us about Thomas Mulry, who was instrumental in drawing together the seven Superior Councils into a single National Council, and was elected its first president. His life was a model of Christian charity, and of lay Catholic devotion to inspire us.

From Thomas Mulry through Ralph Middlecamp, the book shares insights about all of our National Council Presidents, their priorities, and the accomplishments of the National Council under their leadership.

The book’s title is taken from another anniversary of the Society, its 100th, when our leadership assessed our history to that point, finding the Society to be ”a medallion in the mosaic of Vincentian works.”

Take some time to be inspired by reading these stories, and add the book and coin to your shelf in celebration of these remarkable 175 years, and in dedication to building the next 175!

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