Ralph Middlecamp

09-28-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-28-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

This is my last Servant Leader column as your National Council President. It has been my privilege to have served you in this role for the past six years. Thank you for your support and prayers.

The columns I have written over these years have been reviewed and edited by my friend Ernie Stetenfeld, who succeeded me as CEO of the Madison Council. When I retired, I asked if he would continue to edit my writing, which he has done faithfully. I am grateful to him for that favor. When he would send the review copy back to me, he frequently commented on what he liked about the column and always provided a “track changes” version. Sometimes, I would ask what it was he liked since there were more red changes than the black original in his revisions, to which he responded that “it had good bones.” Thank you, Ernie; you made me look good.

Ernie is just one of a whole cast of Vincentians that I was privileged to serve with during my term. We had an excellent Board of Directors, and I am especially grateful for the work of the Executive Committee: Vice President Brian Burgess, Treasurer Jim Dodd, Secretary Guadalupe Sosa, and CEO David Barringer. In addition to the Board, we have been well served by our many committees and the staff at our National Office. As David Barringer pointed out in this column last week, in spite of having to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, we accomplished a lot in the past six years because of this great team.

Certainly, the next few years will be crucial to the future success of our organization. The Society in the United States is well-positioned to succeed under the leadership of John Berry and his newly appointed Board of Directors. I have confidence in his leadership and the ongoing guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Please use the tools we have made available so that we build upon a firm foundation. The most important of these resources are the Standards of Excellence. Continue to use them to be sure we have good governance of our Society and are following the best practices they detail. We also have dozens of excellent training materials available, as well as a revised Vincentian Pathway tool to help our members access the guidance they need most. Please use these materials; if you do, we will have a stronger organization — one better prepared to welcome new members and to serve our neighbors in need effectively and compassionately.

Some have asked what I will do with my newly acquired free time. I hope to enjoy having fewer commitments, less email and fewer meetings. As was announced at the National Assembly several weeks ago, however, our new International President General, Juan Manuel Gómez, has appointed me as the Vice President of the International Council General. I am grateful for his trust in me to contribute to the success of the International Council, which will involve continuing my work with international twinning and disaster aid. Beyond that, I suppose my work, like that of any vice president, will include “other duties as assigned.”

As I wrap up these six years, I look back on the importance of Vincentian friendship. The friendships I have found in the Society over 35 years have sustained and inspired me. Those friends are now spread all over the world. I hope your vocation in the Society is built on what is now very well-articulated in our new Mission Statement. We are: “A network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”

This Mission Statement reveals the heart of how our founders understood the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Living in separate cities four years after founding the Society, Frederic Ozanam wrote this to his friend and cofounder Auguste Le Taillandier: “As each of us grows older, may we also grow in friendship, piety, and zeal for good!”

That is also my parting wish for each of you, my friends: “As each of us grows older, may we also grow in friendship, piety, and zeal for good!”

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

SVdP National President Ralph Middlecamp Honored With Special Tribute

SVdP National President Ralph Middlecamp Honored With Special Tribute 790 427 SVDP USA

Outgoing National President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Ralph Middlecamp was recently honored with a special video tribute commemorating his time in office. Colleagues and friends shared memories and reflected on Ralph’s servant leadership.

You can watch the video here, then share your own tribute to Ralph in the comments.

07-06-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

07-06-23 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I have a question for everyone who is a Conference President: Have you visited your pastor yet this year?

If not, this is a good time to make an appointment for a meeting. Summer can be a little slower around the parish, and if you have a new pastor, you’ll certainly want to meet him before he gets busy with all the activities of the parish after Labor Day.

Some Conferences misunderstand the need to stay in touch with the parish because of the independence of the Society from the Church. From the earliest days of our Society, however, our founders kept in touch with the pastor of their parish. Frédéric Ozanam’s roommate, Armand Chaurand, would meet the pastor of St. Etienne du Mont after Mass every Tuesday morning to report the activity of the young Conference and take the pastor’s concerns to the meeting that evening. There are pastors who overstep the bounds of their relationship with the Society and try to take control, but if that is a problem, maybe regular communication will help them understand us better.

You might not think it is necessary to meet every year. You may assume your priest knows what you are doing, but I think most pastors would benefit not just from a report on what you did last year, but also by discussing your future plans, what you are doing to attract new members, and how your members strengthen their spiritual lives. Thank the pastor for his support and ask if he has any suggestions or concerns. I hope a pastor would want to know that the poor in his neighborhood were being cared for by his parishioners. Let me share a few best practices I have heard about for this visit.

When you make the appointment, be clear that you want to update him about the work of the Conference and that you welcome his advice on how the Conference is working. He should know that there is no other agenda for this meeting. We need to be clear with pastors that we are not a parish ministry — meaning that we choose our own leaders and control our activity and finances. This does not mean, however, that we should avoid consulting the pastor about what we are doing and asking for his advice. After all, we are usually meeting in parish space, often get some funds from the parish, hope to publish Conference information in the bulletin, and are always looking for new members from the parish. The pastor can be a big help in all these matters.

I suggest getting your pastor a copy of the Member Handbook before the meeting, if you have not already done that. It is a great summary of who we are. He might take the time to read it and have a better understanding of us in advance of the appointment. Give him copies in English and Spanish so he can understand that we will welcome all parishioners as members and that our resources support that effort. There are other materials that could be offered, such as a copy of one of the Serving in Hope modules. Don’t bring more than a couple of items at any one time, however. Too much material at once tends to overwhelm and risks nothing being read.

Of course, bring a report to share statistics summarizing the work of the conference, and be sure to tell a few meaningful stories — making sure to keep identities confidential. I would also suggest emphasizing that the principal purpose of the Society is the spiritual growth of our members. Your pastor may think we are just another nonprofit service organization, but we hope he will be delighted that his parishioners are part of a well-organized Society that emphasizes the spiritual formation of its members as they put their faith into action.

Finally, take time to listen. Ask for advice. Ask if he knows any good prospects for membership. Ask if he will come to a future meeting or celebrate a special Mass for the conference. If criticism is offered, don’t be defensive, but say you will seriously consider his suggestions. In the days after the meeting, send your pastor a thank you letter, which could summarize intended follow-up on any issues raised.

We are not a parish ministry, but we are members of parishes. We owe our pastors respect, and we are strongest where this relationship is nurtured with regular communications. The priests in Paris knew our founders; so did the archbishop. Even the Holy Father, Pius IX, knew Frédéric Ozanam and the Society. We need the support of the Church, and — honestly — the Church needs us, Catholics who have a strong faith and who are living out the Gospel call to see Christ in the faces of our neighbors in need in the parishes where we live.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-19-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

September 30th is a long way away. That is when my six-year term as National Council President ends and someone else steps into the office. Last Friday we learned who that will be. The National Council Election Committee counted the 107 ballots submitted by your Council representatives and informed the Board of Directors that on October 1st, John Berry will become the 14th President of the National Council of the United States.

The election process began last summer with the nomination of four highly qualified candidates. In September at our National Assembly, the field was narrowed to Brian Burgess and John Berry. For the past several months, all members of the Society had the opportunity to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice. Just as our founders did when they chose Jules Gossin to succeed Emmanuel Bailly, we prayed during those months that the Holy Spirit would direct our discernment. We trust that God’s providence has supplied the leadership we need for the future of our Society in the United States.

An eight-month transition period may seem long, but there’s much to accomplish during this time. In the months to come, I will be working with our current Board to continue the work we have been doing for the past five years, while John will have time to evaluate the organization’s needs and recruit new officers and board and committee members. It is important for him to have this time to put together a new team of servant leaders that is diverse, talented, and representative of the members of our Councils and Conferences across the country.

In 1844, after the Society’s first President, Emmanuel Bailly, resigned, Frederic Ozanam described the qualities he thought the next President should have. Frederic wrote: “He must have the habit of devotion, the spirit of true fraternity, the experience of good works; he must join the zeal which founds with the prudence which preserves; he must be able to maintain the Society in the paths of simplicity and prudent liberty along which God has led it.”

I have known John Berry for many years, and I am confident that you will find him to be that servant leader Frederic Ozanam described. Please join me in asking the Holy Spirit to guide John as he prepares to take office.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

09-29-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-29-22 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 720 720 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

It is the time of the year when hurricanes make headlines as they leave suffering and damage in their wake. I ask you, your Conference, and your Council to consider contributing generously this month to our National Council Annual Disaster Appeal. This is the best and most effective way to get disaster aid to our members working in the United States in cooperation with our Disaster Services Corporation and to provide disaster relief throughout the world through our international structure. This appeal allows us to respond quickly to requests. It also provides funds for disasters that may not make the headlines in your local media. Our Conferences in those areas often need our help just as much as those located where a major hurricane strikes.

Once again, this month in Puerto Rico, such a hurricane struck. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul will be working through our members there to provide assistance to their neighbors in need. We are just starting to get communications from our members in Puerto Rico and are waiting to hear how we can help.

But, as I was writing this, another hurricane was headed toward Florida — with unknown consequences. This illustrates the reason why we have one annual collection that can then be used as we learn the actual needs our Vincentians identify after disasters.

The Society’s Disaster Services Corporation (DSC) gives us excellent capacity to serve after a disaster. The DSC constitutes a knowledgeable team to provide training for our members and to secure private and governmental grants that greatly expand the ability of the Society to serve in these situations. The support the National Council provides for the DSC’s efforts is largely funded by this Annual Disaster Appeal.

In the past year, the DSC has helped Councils in every region of the country respond to floods, tornadoes, wildfires, and hurricanes. The success of this appeal last year meant that we did not have to keep sending out fundraising requests for every one of these efforts. I suspect you would become annoyed with the National Office if we did that.

This appeal will also support the international relief provided by the Society through the Commission for International Aid and Development (CIAD). My position as a vice president on the International Board of Directors is responsible for these grants, and I can assure you that this assistance is very much needed to support the work of our members throughout the world. I also can assure you that the use of the funds is monitored closely, with appropriate reports for accountability.

Again, a single appeal allows us to fund response to many disasters you will never hear about. The single appeal also avoids funds being designated to a country without the capacity of members there to use donations that well-meaning councils might otherwise send.

Before committing funds to a particular disaster, it is important to be certain the local Councils have the people and capacity to put our donations to work. Days before Hurricane Fiona stuck Puerto Rico, a Southeast Region team — led by John Berry, Isabel Darcy and Pam Matambanadzo — were on the island working with our members to strengthen our presence there. While they were in Puerto Rico, they observed that people still have not recovered from Hurricane Maria five years ago.

When major disasters strike, the need for assistance can last for many years. Long after the reporters have left, our Vincentians will be there helping their neighbors.

Please be generous in supporting this campaign. Frédéric Ozanam saw the Society as a network of charity. The network he envisioned has come to embrace the world. It is at its strongest and most caring when we support the work of Councils and Conferences of our Vincentian sisters and brothers faced with relieving the unforeseen suffering of a natural disaster. Finally, let us all be committed to praying regularly for the safety and emotional health of all those who are suffering from the results of these storms and those who are dedicated to bringing them aid.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

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

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