Servant Leader

03-30-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-30-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This sentence from the Gospel of Matthew was a touchstone that our founders used to remind themselves of the blessing of being together. You can find the phrase three times in letters written by Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and you have likely recited it in the opening prayer we frequently use for our Conference meetings. It is a remarkable statement of faith.

Meetings often have a bad reputation. Most of us would like them to be short and infrequent. Our founders met weekly, and apparently their friendship was graced enough for them to experience the presence of the Divine in their meetings. Two weeks ago, we held our annual Midyear Meeting, and I felt that grace as we gathered together. Reflecting back, what I remember most is that I enjoyed being with friends. Certainly, we had business to accomplish. There were listening sessions, resolutions, panel discussions, and the election of our next International President General.

Now, we are back home with our Councils and Conferences. We have follow-up work to do. This includes finalizing our work on the Standards of Excellence, growing our membership, and setting policies to safeguard the vulnerable neighbors we serve. At our meeting we listened to the questions and concerns your leaders shared about these initiatives, and I am very pleased with the progress we are making. These efforts will provide the strong foundation we need to have in place as we build the future of our Society, and I hope you get involved in making that happen.

I am very grateful for the work our national committees and task forces have done in the past five and a half years. At the Midyear Meeting, I moderated a panel discussion with five committee leaders; they highlighted what their groups have accomplished and what still needs to be done. To advance their efforts, the members of our committees have spent uncounted hours in meetings – many taking place through Zoom. The work of these committees, often meeting behind the scenes, continues to benefit all of us by addressing the challenges of strengthening and growing our organization in the service of our neighbors in need.

Almost all of the plans and resources created by National Council committees are developed to serve the needs of our local Councils and Conferences. These resources are designed to be helpful, but sometimes it may seem like we are just giving you more work to do. Sorry about the latter. Some of the things we do are necessary to maintain the health and reputation of our network of charity and are intended to head off future problems. Please keep in touch with your council leaders and support them as they work on behalf of all of us to maintain and renew the organization we love.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

 

 

03-23-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-23-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

While watching a football game recently, I noticed that one of the linebackers was the same height and weight as myself. Of course, he was built exactly right to play the game, and I’m built exactly right to watch the game from my couch.

With a little more reflection I wondered if after years of struggling with my weight, maybe all along I have been using the wrong scale. I don’t mean that I should replace the one in the bathroom with a truck scale! Maybe it isn’t the number of pounds I carry but what they consist of, you know, like constructed from protein instead of donuts.

Customers are asked all the time to provide data, and we wonder how, or even if, that data is really needed, and how that data makes a difference. We grumble about providing a screen full of data to get a simple request handled online, and grimace when asked for our contact information to make a simple purchase. Not every purchase is a new relationship! We know that soon we will get that new-customer offer email, or yet another customer satisfaction survey.

We are not immune ourselves; we too often ask for more data. We may require at a Society food pantry not just a name to engage courteously with our neighbor in need, but also an address, family size, and everyone’s names, ethnicity, and contact information. Some of this request is driven by the food supplier, government, or donors. How often, though, do we ask ourselves and these outside parties why all this is necessary?

There may be good reasons to know all this, such as to predict future service needs. Perhaps the contact information helps us to follow up with more resources. If the more we ask leads to the more we can do for someone, great! I often wonder if we gather some information but don’t use it, and if we even know why we gather it in the first place. We need to ask “Why?” on a regular basis in the interest of those we serve.

Do we recognize that when someone comes to us for help, it is embarrassing to lay out one’s life to some unknown person? Imagine being homeless or in a shelter and being asked often about our address? Does one feel judged when asked how many children they have and their ages, and feel accused of not being able to support “all those kids?” Does that single mother really need to advertise that there isn’t a male figure in the home in order to get utility or rent help?

A big trend nowadays is to focus on metrics. How do we measure poverty, for instance, presumably to solve it? In these days of mega data, we want to know everything about everyone so that we can slice and dice the data to prove impact. This is useful to some point, but maybe we overdo it. We forget that we Vincentians are here to help God’s children, not to build databases.

It is easier to be intrusive from a distance. When outside groups ask us to collect data, they may not appreciate the one-on-one, personal experience of our Home Visit in creating relationships. We are asked to become their Census-takers.

As for your National Council, we review those darn annual reports, well, annually. You may not be aware that we have reduced the data fields by more than fifty percent in recent years. How did we get so many in the first place? Members keep asking us to add one more question, perhaps not knowing that we already asked it somewhere else, or that we could generate that answer if we calculated some existing responses, etc. Data creep isn’t evil, but it can unintentionally come from ignorance. We need to be vigilant.

Let’s take the time to ask ourselves and others why we need all this data. Can we answer our questions with fewer responses, such as through sampling over time or using group subsets? Can we reduce the number of questions, saving response time and simplifying the experience for everyone? Can we seek to improve the level of dignity for those we serve, rather than the level of information?

This may mean negotiating with those outside concerns. Ask the foundation to reduce their data requests of us in the name of volunteer efficiency as well as dignity. Challenge the food bank forms – you will doubtless have other pantry operators who will support you.

In my career I have “fired” donors who wanted massive information for the dollars they provided, or needed too much “proof” that my organization was even legitimate. When the funding application takes more time to complete than the services it will fund, well, that’s a clue! Let’s choose dignity, of those we serve and ourselves, over chasing data and dollars.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

 

03-09-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

03-09-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Over the years, I have observed a few things about the Conferences that regularly attract new members. Here are three notable characteristics that I see in these Conferences. First, they engage members frequently in activities that involve direct contact with neighbors in need. Second, they pray together and share their personal spiritual journeys. Third, the members enjoy each other’s company and share a sense of humor. I hope all of that sounds like your Conference.

We often focus on the first two points, but we should not underestimate the importance of the third. Last month in his annual Circular Letter, our international president, Renato Lima de Oliveira, announced that this year we would study Jules Gossin, our second international president. Gossin also wrote annual Circular Letters giving advice to the members of the Society.

In his letter dated Nov. 1, 1847, Gossin wrote, “No Conference offends against propriety or charity, because laughter is allowed amongst its members. Sometimes laughter is even excellent: it revives attention, prevents sleep, excites cordiality and appeases too violent discussions. It would no doubt be improper to go to a Conference meeting in hopes of finding or provoking occasions of hilarity. We must, on the contrary, consider attendance at the Conference as a serious duty. But it is no contradiction to consider a Charitable Society quite seriously, and at the same time to yield to the free and communicative gaiety that pervades it at certain times.”

Economic conditions were extremely poor in late 1847. France was in a depression, and revolution was in the air again. In 1847 most of our members were young professional men. Jules Gossin was an older, well-established lawyer and magistrate; like Emmanuel Bailly, he was a bit of a father figure to them. He was very experienced in working with the poor of Paris and knew the challenges our members faced. In this tense environment, he takes the time in his annual letter to encourage them to enjoy each other’s company and suggests that they welcome humor in their meetings.

This is still good advice for us today. The work we do can be difficult and discouraging. We know that we need to have a spiritual foundation for our efforts. We rely on God’s grace to get us through, but our work is made easier when we serve with friends who can find occasions to laugh.

I enjoy studying the history of our founders because I see how they had the same thoughts and struggles that we have today. We are part of a long line of Christians trying to live out our faith by serving our neighbors in need. Gossin shared his lived experience, which can still be meaningful to us today. Here is a gem found in the same letter quoted above, and it’s a piece of advice I have found to be profoundly true: “Of all the consolations which we can afford the poor, the greatest and rarest is that given by our ear, when we listen to them.”

Father figure that he was, Jules Gossin ended this – his final presidential Circular Letter – by encouraging the members to moderate their use of the “pipe, cigar and cigarette” and to “resolve to buy bread every day with what we save.” He observed that “soon we shall be both surprised and delighted at enjoying better health and at having supported some poor person.”

Some form of moderation may be part of our Lenten practice at this time of the year. We can take Gossin’s advice and “resolve to buy bread every day with what we save” to support those needing our help. Let’s also take his advice by making our Conference meetings enjoyable. Does anyone want to share a humorous Lenten story?

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

March 2 — A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

March 2 — A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Sometimes the sign is right in front of you.

The hotel staff would come by to clean the room unless I put the Do Not Disturb sign on my door. Since I had work papers all over the place, I didn’t want the risk of having some or all of them tossed away. While still in the room, imagine my surprise when I heard the knock and “Housekeeping” call at my door. I answered and politely declined the service. I then left for a couple of hours. When I returned, with the sign still on the door, the phone rang. The friendly hotel person said they were doing a “wellness check” on me. Why would they do that? Because the Do Not Disturb sign was on my door for hours. I said that I was okay, thanks, and didn’t want to be disturbed. “Oh, we didn’t know,” she replied. “That’s why I had the sign, the one that says, you know, Do Not Disturb on it.”

Sometimes we read the signs and move ahead anyway.

Joe was pulled over for a traffic stop. “You didn’t stop at the Stop sign,” the officer politely told Joe. “I need to give you a ticket.” “But I know I slowed down,” replied Joe, “What’s the difference?” The officer pulled out his steel baton and began tapping it on the windshield. “Hey, what are you doing? You might chip my glass. Please stop doing that!” implored Joe. The officer smiled, kept tapping, and replied, “You sure you don’t want me just to slow down?”

Every day, we see signs of God’s graces in our lives. We wake up, which in itself is a pretty good start! We see the sunrise. As Vincentians, we get to serve the Lord and our neighbors and feel good about doing so. We make and continue friendships to make life worth living. We have food and drink to nourish ourselves, blessings from God’s goodness. If we look each day, and sometimes we need to look more closely than on other days, we see signs of God’s miracles all around us. Let’s be intentional in our being thankful, instead of focusing on the negatives we let control our spirits without our permission.

Sometimes to see the signs, we need a little help.

When we celebrate Mass in communion with our family and friends, we are reminded through the Gospel and readings of God’s presence in our lives. If we just allow it, faith flows into our hearts. We leave the church refreshed.

So many of our neighbors, and even our family members, have left their faith. For the first time in our country’s history, those expressing “no faith” regardless of their family’s history are nearing the majority. The signs of God and Heaven are all around them, but they either believe that all those blessing don’t flow from a divine presence, that “science” explains everything, or that they make their own luck. They believe that even the miracle of their own human birth is just something that happens in nature by random coincidence; they could have been a blade of grass or a parakeet.

Even the explorers needed a trail guide.

Yes, the signs of a living God are all around us. Maybe, though, some need help to see them. Explorers often use a guide to see what they can’t, the hidden signs and clues provided by others that their destination was ahead of them. Edmund Hillary didn’t ascend Mt. Everest on his own; the Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (look it up) showed him the signs along the way.

At some times in our life we are the explorers, and at others we are, or can be, a guide for others. Often, when we serve as guides we learn a little bit more ourselves, don’t we? What can we do today, even right now, to be a guide for someone we care about? How can we help others to see the signs of Christ we see often? We are blessed to be Vincentians and to undertake a life journey of greater holiness. Who can we bring along with us, if even for a little while, on our journey?

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer
CEO

02-23-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-23-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1080 1080 SVDP USA

Every Christian should visit the Holy Land at least once.  Called the “Fifth Gospel,” Israel’s holy sites make the Scriptures come alive, reminding us that the story of our salvation, culminating in Christ, is not a myth or a beautiful idea, but actual events in specific places at particular historical moments. Having just returned from there with 116 pilgrims, I felt once again the magnetic power of Jesus Christ, whose life, death and resurrection is the center and source of our Catholic faith.

The Garden of Gethesemane, just outside Jerusalem, is a spiritually powerful place for me. The garden contains six olive trees which were there the night Jesus sweated blood in His agony. Inside the church, immediately in front of the altar, is the rock on which tradition says Jesus threw Himself down and prayed that the cross would pass Him by. Of course, we know the Lord accepted His Passion and death on that rock in the end, handing His will over to the Father, and winning forgiveness and salvation for the entire human race.

Whenever I pray in front of that holy rock, I ask the Lord for the grace to hand my will completely over to Him. I must confess I always feel a twinge of fear when I pray that. I am happily willing to give 90% of my will to God, but I also want to keep some back for myself, hanging onto a parachute or an exit strategy, just in case God’s will is too difficult or frightening. We indeed can get ourselves to a spiritual place where we grit our teeth and white-knuckle our way to accept God’s will in our lives, but such a place of joyless, resigned surrender is not good enough.

What I want is to want what God wants because He wants it, to will the will of the Father. That spiritual place is one of freedom, acceptance, peace and docility.  Jesus willed His Passion and death, freely accepting it, embracing the pain, lifting all to the Father, and He did so generously and completely. The Lord’s embrace of the cross in Gethsemane is the fulfillment of His entire path of obedience, which we will hear beautifully on the First Sunday of Lent, when, at the beginning of His ministry, Jesus rejects the temptations of the devil, renouncing any self-seeking or misuse of power, always handing His life over to the will of the Father.

Lent is a spiritually opportune time for us to grow in our obedience and docility to the will of the Father, to reject the temptations of sin and self-absorption, and to expand our heart and spirit through the traditional actions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. By being generous with God and others, we grow in our ability to transcend our own narrow limits and to apprehend the infinite mercy and compassion of the Lord. When I contemplate what Jesus has done for me, when I hold a crucifix and remember that the eternal Son of God traded His life for mine on the cross and has won eternal life and mercy for me, my heart expands and my spirit soars. How can I be stingy when God has been infinitely kind to me? How can I measure what I give to the Lord, when He has blessed me without limit?  How can I reduce my faith to some heavy fulfillment of obligation, when I come to understand that everything in my life is a gift, an undeserved grace?

We do none of our Lenten actions to impress God, to demonstrate our spiritual greatness, or to win the approval of others. Such arrogant attitudes Jesus condemns in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday. (Matthew 6: 1-8) So why do give up things, try harder to be virtuous, and spend more time in prayer during these 40 days? I think of Lent as a clearing out of inner space, so God can act more freely in my life, so there is more of Him and less of me, that my heart is more supple and generous, that I have surrendered my will in little things, and hopefully that will make me more able to be generous and docile in the bigger challenges.

If I can see and accept God’s plan in my life through every detail of events, people, tasks, joys, tragedies, and opportunities that crowd my days, then I am free to live in union with Him, to be His instrument, to serve as His messenger, to be an extension of Christ in the world.

When we look at life through that supernatural lens, we powerfully realize that our work as Vincentians is an extension of the presence and action of God in the world. The Lord powerfully uses us to bring the Good News to the poor, to witness to the radiant dignity of every person, to alleviate suffering with compassion, and to build up the Kingdom of God. Our Vincentian witness is evangelical for it is a proclamation of the Gospel, certainly in word, but most profoundly in deed. For all the good that God accomplishes through us, we give glory and thanks to God!

This Lent, consider inviting someone to join your Vincentian conference. Many people simply need a friendly nudge to consider such a possibility of service. Many Catholics want to serve and love more, but just do not know how. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a beautiful way to live the Gospel and embrace the social teachings of the Church in a very practical and specific fashion. Imagine if every Vincentian brought one other person into the Society!

“For those who believe in the love of God and love him, the most varied circumstances that condition one’s existence are not seen as simply dictated by chance or by the blind laws of nature, but they are all guided by this love. They are occasions and means by which God serves to bring his work of sanctification to completion. He conceals himself behind all the events of one’s life: a given health condition…or some particular cause for disappointment, an unexpected change…He lies behind the particular state of life one has set out on, a sudden trial of a moral nature, or any kind of difficulty found at work. He hides himself behind the fact that we find ourselves to be at a specific place, next to a specific person. Everything, for the one who loves God…acquires positive meaning, because through all these circumstances, one can experience the love of God who wants to guide us toward sanctity.”

Servant of God Chiara Lubich, as published in Magnificat, February, 2023

Bishop Donald Hying

02-16-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-16-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Our mission statement says that we are “A network of friends inspired by Gospel values.” True to the vision of our principal founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, our network of charity has come to embrace the whole world. Administering that global network and making it feel real to Vincentians is the work of the Council General International. To strengthen the bonds of this network, our tradition going back to our first President General, Emmanuel Bailly d’Surcy, has been for the President General to write an annual Circular Letter to all members.

Renato Lima d’ Oliveira, our current President General, has preserved that tradition and recently released a Circular Letter that will be the final of his presidency. You can find the full text here: 2023 PGI Circular Letter.

Please take the time to read the letter. Renato covers many topics of interest to all. The 17 pages of this year’s Circular Letter are organized around seven topics. Brother Renato, who will be leaving his position on September 9th, has given the text a farewell tone, while at the same time sharing reflections on his seven years in office. The letter would be a good topic for discussion at one or two of your Conference meetings.

I am grateful for the tireless servant leadership of Brother Renato, who constantly demonstrates a deep commitment to serving the poor and to growing in holiness. Below, I include a small sample from the beginning and end of his letter.

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

Excerpt from International President General, Renato Lima de Oliveira’s Circular Letter

Praise to our Lord Jesus Christ! Once again, I am delighted to write, for the seventh consecutive year to my dear fellow members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul around the world, as well as to new members, volunteers and staff at our various projects, Councils and Conferences. May our Blessed Lady show us the path of charity promoted so well by Saint Vincent de Paul.

This year, 2023, I end my term of office as the 16th President General International of our International Confederation, an honor for which I was never properly prepared. Only with God’s help was I able to reach the end of this path, with many successes on the basis of our 10-point strategic plan, thanks to the dedicated work of the International Board and the Superior Councils. …

So as I always say: the writing of a Circular Letter is a gift from God for any President General. I hope that members of our Society can reflect on the sections of this Circular Letter, and I count on you for any comments, criticisms and suggestions, by e-mail: cgi.circularletter@gmail.com. …

The Lord Jesus accompanies me throughout my life, in both joyful times and in the difficult times. The good God protects me every day, washes away my flaws, corrects my mistakes, calms my heart, reduces my anxiety, cares for my family, and makes our plans for life prosper. So I always ask the same thing: pray for me, that I may continue in this fine mission as President General for you all.

I also ask prayers from now on for the 17th International President General who will take up their role on 9 September 2023. To my successor, whoever it may be, I promise I will be a loyal and discreet servant, always available when called upon for any task. I urge my successor to remember that our best response to critics is forgiveness, service, love and goodness, giving to God all the difficulties we experience. Only thus will we gain the Paradise which we so long to reach some day.

I wish to express my deep gratitude to the Board of the Council General, who have helped me govern the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in the past seven years. As well as the Board, some 100 members belong to the various departments, committees, vice-presidencies, working groups or missions of the Council General. And at our head office, located in Paris, we rely on our well prepared and experienced members of staff. For Father Andrés Motto, our beloved spiritual adviser, I have no words to thank him for the advice he has given us. I also have to express my special thanks to all the territories forming our Confederation. Without the support of the Superior Councils, it would be impossible to be a good President General. A warm embrace to everyone, and see you soon!

Brother Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th President General International

02-09-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-09-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

What do these famous music albums have in common? Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon,” Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Band on the Run,” Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions,” Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” the Eagles’ “Desperado,” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man?” Among many other well-loved albums, they all were released in 1973. In case you blinked, that’s now 50 years ago!

We still hear songs from these albums on the radio, as TV commercial backgrounds, and of course in retailers and elevators nationwide, even globally. While every generation’s favored music comes and goes, the music from this Baby Boomer period seems particularly lasting.

On the other hand, some of today’s young adults think that the Beatles played alongside Beethoven or Irving Berlin. Chuck Berry is considered more of a “classical music” historical figure than a musical influence.  Some actually believe that Kanye West gave Paul McCartney his big break on a single just a few years ago. What’s old can indeed be new again, or at least a discovery for a new audience.

Earlier this month the Society participated in the Fellowship of College and University Students (FOCUS) giant SEEK event, with more than 17,000 mostly college students gathering in prayer, fellowship, and introduction to Catholic discernment and volunteer opportunities. Our Vincentians and Society staff talked with hundreds of young people about starting Society Conferences on college campuses and how to volunteer either at school or back home in their local Conferences.

A common message we heard is that while the student knew of the Society, and perhaps had a family member who is a serving Vincentian, they had never been asked to participate themselves. I began to think after a few of these conversations that we could grow our Society’s membership if we did nothing more than ask our own children and other relatives to join us!

Our children often learned about our generation’s music by listening to it with us in the car. Along the way, did we forget to tell them, or show them, what we do as Vincentians?

Likely, if you began your own Society service when you retired, your kids were already adults themselves. Their habits including volunteerism may have been formed, largely from their exposures as teens and young adults to what they saw around them. Some children, at any age, have an unintentional blind spot when it comes to their parents. They are certainly influenced by what they see and hear from parents, but they can be more influenced by a teacher, coach, Scout leader, or other adult who gave them a positive experience. Please consider this both as a parent or grandparent, but also in your dealings with young adults in any part of your life. You might not consider yourself a mentor, but your examples, character and, hopefully, your invitation to join the Society, can be incredibly impactful.

On Broadway they say that every performance is someone’s Opening Night, so the actors are encouraged to give their best every time. Don’t we owe our young relatives and friends this same enthusiasm and Vincentian example when we encounter – and invite them – into our Society path to Holiness and service to those in need?

Those albums from 50 years ago still play well today. So too does our mission after more than 175 years!  So roll over Beethoven, and tell Tchaikovsky the news!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader

02-02-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leader 900 900 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

Over the past few years, COVID-19 has meant many organizations’ well-intended plans and initiatives were put on hold or received little attention. For our organization, one such set of delayed efforts were our plans to improve the policies and practices needed for safeguarding vulnerable persons. At the National Council meeting in Houston in August 2021, your delegates approved Resolution 189 – National Safeguarding Policy for all Member Councils. The resolution asks all Councils to create a safeguarding policy that would follow the guidelines provided and also address their local circumstances, paying attention to local laws and the policies of their diocese.

This is not a popular topic to bring up. Creating and implementing a safeguarding policy is complicated, can cost money, and brings a variety of responses from our membership. My own Conference had a member resign when we put a safeguarding requirement in place many years ago. That departing member told us, “So, some priests have been abusing children, and now I have to take a class and have a background check.” Many members had similar reactions to our national policy at first, but I hope we have moved past this attitude.

For the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, not much of our work is directly with children, but all of our neighbors in need should be considered as vulnerable persons. I am sorry to say that we have had credible reports of incidents of that vulnerability being exploited, which reinforces my belief that we need to keep working on this.

The safeguarding resolution we approved details a number of reasons why it is important to have an appropriate policy and effective training. Certainly, we want to prevent abuse and protect those we serve, but having a plan for what to do if something is reported or suspected is an equally compelling reason for having our members well-trained. There are many states in which our home visitors and volunteers are even considered “mandatory reporters.” By law, they are required to report observed incidents of abuse. Do you know whether that includes you? Do you know what constitutes a reportable incident or to whom you must report it? Does this include reporting a neighbor in need whom you have visited? Are you clear about the process you should take if one of our members violates our safeguarding standards?

At the January Board of Directors meeting, we discussed the implementation of Resolution 189 at length, and it is clear to your National Council leadership that this is a complicated matter. Many Councils already have policies and training in place. Some of them were required to do so by their dioceses many years ago. Many others have not even started – finding the effort too complex or maybe too costly, or the resistance from members too significant.

As we move forward, our National Council is looking for ways to support your safeguarding efforts and share best practices. Please support your local leaders as they create and implement your local safeguarding policy. Your Council leadership already has plenty on its plate, and I would encourage some of you to step forward to help lead the effort. Forming a local task force of members who see the importance of this process and are willing to spend time investigating options will help us make the progress needed.

Doing nothing is not an acceptable option. So far, fortunately, we have avoided major lawsuits and harm to our reputation. The time to act is before something happens. Our Church and many other organizations have suffered incredible harm because they were not proactive. From the beginning, our founders realized that our home visits should always be done in pairs. That early practice of safeguarding is still a key element of our protecting vulnerable neighbors in need. Unfortunately, it is not enough in today’s environment.

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

1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

1-12-2023 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 900 900 SVDP USA

Mom passed away years ago, but she left each of us a cookbook of family recipes. Over the Christmas break, I prepared to bake her blue ribbon-winning coconut pound cake for one night’s dessert.  I laid out all of the contents in front of me, followed the directions and eventually had the cake batter ready to put into the oven. That’s when I noticed that I had left out one ingredient – the flaked coconut!

I had used some coconut extract, which is a great invention if you otherwise would need to squeeze actual coconuts, so there was some flavor. And it was still a pound cake. If needed I could have explained that “generic pound cake” was the original intent, not the county fair recipe, but Mom might have struck me down with a spiritual rolling pin! Fortunately, there was still time to add in the flakes, re-stir, and pop it into the oven. Dessert and many calories ensued.

How often do we start on a project, have something change on us, and then we just “make do?” As Society members, we get a great idea, and lay out all of the plans and “ingredients.” Then real life happens, and we no longer have the time, talent or funds we originally envisioned. Or we get so excited about one of the specifics that it changes the nature of the original project. The result is still good, and maybe even very good. What it might not be, however, is Vincentian.

The omission or change of one detail may have had us drift from the parameters of our charism or our Rule. That event may still be an excellent service project, but it became one that any social service agency or nonprofit could have conducted. Sometimes we leave out, or forget, one of our Essential Elements of Spirituality, Friendship, and Service. Yes, it’s a committee meeting, for example, but if it doesn’t have all three Elements, it isn’t a Vincentian meeting.

Fortunately, we have a Society of St. Vincent de Paul recipe and all the basic ingredients right in front of us. It’s called our Mission Statement. Check off the ingredients with me: A network of friends. Gospel Values inspiration.  Growth in Holiness. Build a more just world. Personal relationships. Service to people in need. These are all just as vital as flour and eggs are to a cake batter.

Need some extra flavorings? Look no further than our Society’s seven Cultural Beliefs, and sprinkle as many of them as possible liberally throughout your recipe.

Maybe you are the Bobby Flay of Society activities and don’t need a written recipe. Most of us, however, aren’t master chefs as much as we are technicians who (usually) are good at following directions such as a recipe. We refer as needed to the wisdom and successes of our founders and others who have come before us to create, or re-create, what still works in today’s many local neighborhood “kitchens.” There is always room for new innovations, but we agree as members to stick to our Rule just as bakers rely on their basic formulas to make bread rise. We hope to rise, too!

Just as mom left us her family cookbook so that her descendants could enjoy the fruits – and meats and veggies and desserts – of her labors, trials, and errors over a lifetime, our Society founders and other leaders wrote down for all of us members today what they learned, experienced and envisioned. In my case I can’t remember mom’s recipes, nor can I recite our Rule. I can, however, tell you where it is all written down for me to review when I need it.

When I pulled mom’s cookbook off the kitchen shelf, I could not help but remember her and smile. When I quite regularly pull the Society’s Rule off my office shelf to look up a particular Statute, I smile in memory of Blessed Frederic and all the others who have left us such a rich and powerful legacy of good governance and Vincentian values. Neither are just books; they are blessings!

May your Conference cook up something wonderful, and wonderfully Vincentian, in 2023!

Yours in Christ,

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