Servant Leaders

06-03-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

06-03-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

Of our beloved Society’s three Essential Elements, perhaps the one that suffered the most in the last pandemic year was Friendship. Fortunately, we continued with the Element of our Service with creativity and adaptation at all organizational levels. We also continued in Spirituality even when relying on online Masses and virtual Church and member gatherings in prayer and reflection.

Friendship, we discovered, is best served in person. We know from our own families that while phone calls, an occasional card or letter, and now video chats are all nice, nothing surpasses being together in person — usually over a good meal. And sorry, but there simply is no such thing as a virtual hug.

This is why I am so pleased to share with you that our 2021 National Assembly is planned as an in-person event! Our Society’s national family was last together two years ago in Denver, with a smaller gathering of around 300 of us to celebrate the new Frédéric Ozanam mosaic installation at the National Basilica in Washington, DC back in January 2020, though it seems even longer ago.

Excitement is building, and so is the agenda for a fantastic National Assembly to be held August 25-28 at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in downtown Houston, Texas. Both hotel and Event registrations open today! Here are just a few highlights from this year’s agenda:

  • Keynote Presentations by Dr. Jaime Waters, Ph.D., a professor of Scripture, African American Catholic Women, and Catholic Studies at DePaul University and writer of a weekly scripture commentary for America magazine; and Dr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, President of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, and previously COO of Ascension Health and President of DePaul University.
  • A spiritual retreat presented by our National Episcopal Adviser, Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison WI.
  • Workshop tracks in Formation and Development, and individual workshops on a wide variety of Vincentian subjects — 25 in all!
  • A Host City event on the Marriott’s rooftop pool — with a lazy river shaped like the state of Texas! — hosted by the SVdP Archdiocesan Council of Galveston-Houston.
  • National Business Meeting, Board of Directors meeting, and lots of national committee and task force meetings.
  • Wednesday pre-meeting workshops for Stores and Disaster Preparedness.
  • Exhibitor Showcase — resources for many aspects of your Vincentian experience.
  • A national Best Practices Poster Session — developed by you.
  • Much, much more!

We all recognize that COVID restrictions for travel and meetings are changing daily. We are working with the hotel and city/state authorities to provide you with a safe National Assembly experience. It’s too early to announce any masking, distancing, or other requirements just yet. We can announce that our workshops and general sessions will be recorded for viewing soon after the Assembly, both for those who can’t attend and to share with others as you gather so many good ideas for action back home at your Council and Conference!

For more details on the 2021 SVDP National Assembly, here are the links:
Registration Link
Hotel Link

Watch for updates in the e-Gazette. I look forward to seeing you again, and rekindling our so-essential Society friendships!

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

05-27-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-27-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1920 2560 SVDP USA

In June 2008, I attended the 2008 Western Region Meeting in Boise, Idaho.  I was not alone.  There were 225 other Vincentians along with me. During the time I spent there, I met with many Vincentians and discussed a wide variety of topics.  I also put on a workshop and facilitated two open forums where anything and everything could be discussed.  One theme came up over and over again in those discussions.  This is also a theme which is continually asked today as well.  How do you get the Conferences and the members to adhere to or comply with the Rule?

This is a tough question. And it requires a tough answer. People, in general, have mixed feelings when it comes to rules and regulations. They usually will admit to the value of them. They usually will admit to the need for them. And they normally agree that compliance is necessary; that is, until they want to do something that does not really correspond to the rules. Then, it becomes harsh and too restrictive. They did not join the Society to follow the rules. They joined the Society to do some good and do not want to be bogged down with meaningless do’s and don’ts. We hear this stuff all the time!

I can go into a long, drawn out dissertation on why rules and regulations are important; but that will get us nowhere. I can take a military point of view and say that, if one soldier steps out of line, the war will be lost. Nobody is going to buy that. I can talk about unity of thought and action; but that cup only holds a limited amount of water.

It truly boils down to one thing. Ask yourself one question: Am I a Vincentian? To be a Vincentian, you have to make a commitment. Here is where the rub comes in.  Commitment! Being a Vincentian calls for a number of things to be accepted and come into play.

Being a Vincentian means accepting who we are, what we are about, what we do, and how we do it. Being a Vincentian means more than helping people in need: it means growing in holiness, striving to grow closer to God; it means growing closer to our fellow Vincentians; it means serving God through serving those in need; it means a blend of all of the above.

A number of years ago, when searching for the answer to a question, I was referred to John Simmons, former National President of the Society, the guru.  If you wanted to know anything about the Society, he was the man to go to. John said that, if you call yourself a Vincentian, you want to meet as often as possible with your fellow Vincentians, you want to learn about the Society, you want to understand what this is all about, and you want to help it grow. It is that simple.

If I want to do my own thing, follow my own rules or no rules at all, I can start my own special work or organization. Then, all I have to do is get other people who want to join me to follow my rules.

I am a Vincentian. I am committed to who we are, what we do, and the way we do it. Complying with the Rule not only makes sense, it is something I want to do.

Mike Syslo
Chair, National Governance Committee


05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-20-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

This Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has always had a special devotion to the Holy Spirit. We begin many of our meetings with this familiar prayer: “Come, Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love. Send forth your Spirit, and new life will be created. And the whole face of the earth shall be renewed.”

Emmanuel Bailly led our founders in a similar prayer at their first meeting in his newspaper office in 1833. The main difference was that they prayed it in Latin.

Since our founding, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has relied upon the Holy Spirit to guide our journey. For the past 188 years we have been asking the Holy Spirit to live within us and strengthen us. We need this loving grace every time we go on our home visits and whenever we work to lift someone out of poverty. Those of us in Servant Leadership positions must ask for such grace regularly. We pray for the new life the Spirit creates, and we await the renewal of the world that this new life brings.

Change is never easy. So why do we pray for it almost every time we meet? Do we really want the whole face of the earth to be renewed? Most of us are pretty comfortable with how things are now. Sure, we are committed to creating a more just society, ending racism and eliminating poverty, but couldn’t we do that without the disrupting the whole face of the earth?

This past year has illustrated that many of the problems with which we have struggled during the pandemic are systemic. Disparities in healthcare, lack of affordable childcare, challenges of workplace safety, difficulty in accessing education – to name just some systemically rooted problems – have all caused extra hardship in the past year. Added to these difficulties, we have had to face the issue of how racism multiplies suffering in many communities.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been talking about the need for systemic change for several years. That desire to renew this world is what inspired our founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam to envision the establishment of a network of charity and social justice encircling the world. We are heirs to that vision.

I appreciate all the resources that have been provided virtually during the past year by our Voice of the Poor Committee and by our Multicultural and Diversity Committee. Each group has helped us focus on these systemic issues. As we come out of this period of isolation, we need to commit to actions that will transform systems that enshrine injustice or promote disparity.

I don’t think it is possible to significantly reform these systems without the Holy Spirit renewing the whole face of the earth. I also believe that change starts with us as individuals. I will need to discover the changes I need to make to participate in a community that is loving and just. As our Rule states, we are journeying together toward holiness. So, this Pentecost, let’s keep praying, “Holy Spirit, live within our lives, and strengthen us by your love.”

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
SVdP National President

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

05-13-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 275 287 SVDP USA

Why should I care?

We all ask this at some point when we learn something new, and especially when it challenges our assumptions and what we think we believe. We want to stay in our comfort zone. We believe that we act as we always have, and may not realize that our views and knowledge change even when we don’t think about it. Little by little, it all then changes how we behave.

It feels that recently, we have all been asked to think more, and differently, about matters such as identity and race, health and safety, politics and citizenship, and rights and responsibilities. Even though we have been more isolated during a pandemic, media and new voices have brought us, or even forced us, together to see and perhaps to understand.

Why as Vincentians should we care about all this?

I suggest two reasons, both rooted in our mission. First, the way we accomplish our mission is through our relationships with, and service to people in need. Every time we hear of a new call for action, or a voice longing even simply to be heard, we should ask how this may be a part of our work with our neighbors. They don’t look the same, or come from the same cultural or personal backgrounds, even if they now live in the same neighborhood. What may be the impacts of personal identity, incarceration, citizenship, mental health, and so many other factors we hear in the news? If we learn more, won’t we be better able to communicate, have more empathy, and ultimately better serve others? We deepen our Vincentian relationships, and thus our ability to make real contributions to the lives of our neighbors, if we take the opportunities before us to understand.

Second, our Vincentian charism and mission call us to increase our own holiness. Sainthood is our goal. (To be clear, though, it isn’t a campaign!) In order to improve the lives of others, we need to better ourselves — in our knowledge, education, and then ultimately attitudes and personal actions. This set of improvements is not a one-time activity; it is lifelong learning. It leads to personal, spiritual evolution in our service to God and to others.

Today we often see any subject through one of two polarized lenses, especially in media and social media. I suggest we not choose just one, but try to absorb the topical points from multiple sources. As a college Journalism major, I was trained to read 6 – 7 newspapers (remember them?) daily, and was constantly surprised how the same story appeared so differently according to which paper reported on it. The media have changed today but the lenses remain the same. Yes, we could choose one that fits our current beliefs and remain comfortable. Or, we can seek out multiple, often contrasting views, and likely find the truth somewhere in the middle.

All those views out there may clash with each other, and with our existing view of the world in which we live. However, there is something stimulating about our ability to keep growing in our mindfulness and spirituality at any age. We can choose to hunker down in our mental caves, avoiding new discomforts. As Vincentians, however, we choose to listen and then discern, because we do indeed care.

Yours in Christ,
Dave Barringer

04-08-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-08-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1829 2560 SVDP USA
This week’s letter was written by Raymond Sickinger, National Board Member

Recently I heard one of the members of my Conference comment that the pandemic had proven that we needed to look to the future to serve those in need better by offering better services. Although I absolutely agree that we must look to the future and discover better ways to help others, I was also a bit concerned  by this remark. I was concerned because the focus seemed to be placed only on service and appeared to ignore the primary reason for the Society’s existence—growing in holiness by serving others as Christ would serve. Too often, with the best of intentions, we can confuse the means with the end.

In 1836, Frédéric Ozanam wrote to his friend, Louis Janmot, the following remarks: “Both men and the poor we see with the eyes of the flesh; they are there and we can put finger and hand in their wounds and the scars of the crown of thorns are visible on their foreheads; and, at this point, incredulity no longer has place and we should fall at their feet and say with the Apostle, ‘Tu est Dominus et Deus meus.’ You are our masters, and we will be your servants. You are for us the sacred images of that God whom we do not see, and not knowing how to love Him otherwise shall we not love Him in your persons?” (Letter of Frédéric Ozanam to Louis Janmot, Lyon, November 13, 1836). Frédéric knew how spiritually vital it was to meet those in need face to face.

From its inception, the Society has emphasized “person to person” service, whether that be at a food pantry, at a thrift store, or on a Home Visit. Of course, the home visit is a hallmark of our Society, and is an intimate part of our heritage. It is, so to speak, the ultimate person to person experience. In fact, many in the Society with whom I have spoken have missed visiting those in need in their homes during the pandemic. As one Vincentian told me, “I feel this great void.”

Person-to-person service of whatever kind must always help our members to deepen their faith and their friendships. As Frédéric Ozanam told his dear friend, Léonce Curnier, in 1834, “[T]he strongest tie, the principle of true friendship, is charity, and charity could not exist in the hearts of many without sweetening itself from outside. It is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity. So it is in our own interest first of all that our association has been established, and if we assemble under the roof of the poor, it is at least equally for them as for ourselves, so as to become progressively better friends.”

It was during visits to those in need in the streets of Paris that Ozanam and his friends became connected by bonds of charity to one another and to those in need.  It was after such visits that they reflected on what they had seen and what special works might provide relief. They drew closer to Christ by seeing his face in those they served. They became better persons by imitating Christ, the Servant Leader. As the Catholic Catechism tells us: “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God [1822].”

As we look to the Society’s future and the active role it will play, I simply caution us never to lose sight of the primary purpose of the Society, whose essential elements of spirituality, friendship, and service are intimately, and necessarily, connected.  Otherwise, we chance losing the very soul of who we are and becoming simply another not for profit helping those in need.

Yours in Christ,
Raymond Sickinger
National Board Member

04-01-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

04-01-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1920 2400 SVDP USA

The ultimate consequences of sin and death are perpetual solitude and eternal separation from God. To save us from all that, God sent His Son, born in our likeness, fully divine and fully human, to suffer and die on the cross. Through that astonishing sacrificial gift of self and the glory of the Resurrection, we are redeemed, forgiven and promised a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus leads us into an eternal relationship with the Father and bestows His own identity on us, as we become beloved children of God. These truths summarize the amazing good news of our Catholic faith.

We have all certainly tasted solitude and separation this past year. The impact of COVID has been far-reaching: hundreds of thousands of people facing sickness and death, massive unemployment, no public Masses for months, children not in school, elderly folks completely shut off from family and friends, spikes in depression and suicide. Vincentians have not been able to make Home Visits in a moment when they were needed the most.

Yet, in the midst of such tragedy and difficulty, people have responded with generosity and compassion. Telephone calls, Zoom sessions, curbside pick-ups of food, clothing, and medicine are practical and loving ways that Vincentians have superseded the obstacles of the pandemic. Priests, deacons, religious, and lay ministers have reached out, often heroically, to offer sacraments, prayer, blessings, and human comfort to our isolated and struggling brothers and sisters.

All of this compassionate and zealous effort is fruit of the Vincentian spirit which seeks to find and love our suffering brothers and sisters, to behold the face of Christ in them, and to serve their needs as we would literally treat Christ Himself. This putting the Gospel into living action is the heart of the Vincentian apostolate.

In His public ministry, Jesus ministered in His divine power, healing, preaching, forgiving, and feeding through His unique gifts as the Son of God. How shocking to behold the Lord on the cross, where He becomes the wounded, rejected, thirsty, suffering, and dying One, seemingly powerless and even abandoned by God. Yet, in that moment, Jesus was never more free and powerful, as He won salvation for us by embracing everything within us that was broken, sinful and dead. As we contemplate the Passion, death, and Resurrection of Christ this week, we ask the Lord to break open our hearts, to feel in a deeper way His tender mercy and to know ever more profoundly how we are loved.

Thank you for the good work you do as a Vincentian, giving witness by your words and deeds to the mighty compassion of Christ. Especially this past year with its unique difficulties and crosses, your radiant presence in the Church and the world makes a profound impact for the common good, especially those we are privileged to serve directly, as we touch Christ in His distressing disguise. On behalf of the bishops of the United States, I offer you our prayers, blessing, and thanks.

Yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Hying
National Episcopal Advisor

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-11-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 299 374 SVDP USA

“Charity must never look to the past, but always to the future, because the number of its past works is still very small and the present and future miseries that it must alleviate are infinite,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

How true those words ring today as we Vincentians face a future fraught with the uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact on our economy, our social interactions, and our ability to serve those in need. After a year in which our Home Visits have more often than not turned into video visits, our ability to serve the needs of the poor through food pantries, feeding kitchens, and thrift stores has been tested, and our volunteer base has been disproportionality impacted by the fear and reality of the COVID-19 virus, we must now look to the future and plan for how we continue our work in a world none of us has ever known, and which we cannot clearly envision.

I think we know that tomorrow will look nothing like yesterday. How many of us, in March of 2020, fully expected that by the end of that summer life would be back to normal? I know I did. Then it wasn’t. And it wasn’t at Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or now. The year went by and the world seemed to stand still. But it didn’t – it changed; dramatically.

And we changed with it. We found new ways to operate food pantries, serve meals, visit the poor, and comfort the needy. Our Conferences and Councils used new and innovative ways to raise needed funds to serve the poor. We found new volunteers; younger, more ‘tech savvy,’ more open to innovation and change. They have helped us change in real time for the new future. And what a wonderful thing that is to see!

Now, as we begin to see an end to this pandemic, it is critical that we “never look to the past, but always the future” and begin to make the systemic and structural changes to our Society in this new and changing reality that is our world. We must look at the innovative and creative ways in which we have operated these past months, analyze what worked and what did not work, and then build on the successes. This may cause us some degree of consternation as we are going to have to face the reality that one of our core principles, the Home Visit, probably is not going to look the same.

So, what could these changes look like? One way, I believe that we must make a conscious and concerted effort to increase our collaborative efforts with other organizations who can help us fill the gaps in our charitable ‘delivery model.’ Going to the poor does not always have to be going to their place of residence, as preferable as that may be. We can learn much about the sufferings of those in need by being in their communities and learning from others who serve.  I have seen organizations here in Georgia that have set up service centers in the local communities, using houses of worship and other physical locations to deliver assistance safely with appropriate social distancing and the ability to have better access to the technology necessary to provide access to needed services. Being in the community means that instead of relying solely on the parish property as our ‘base of operations’, we go to the poor where they live; not the house in which they live, but the community in which they live. I believe that will also give us a fuller and more realistic perspective on the challenges and realities that are faced by those we serve. And we can increase outreach and collaboration to become more effective in offering holistic and impactful support.

We also have the unique opportunity to create volunteer and service opportunities for those who in the past may have not considered the Society as they discerned how they wanted to live out their faith. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that in the past we have sometimes (oftentimes) not valued those who want to serve, but do not want to do Home Visits or attend bi-weekly meetings. That has, I believe, left many young people and people with unique and important talents, no choice but to look elsewhere. If we maintain a stance of rigidity and adherence to practices that are not aligned with the reality of tomorrow’s world, we will continue to see a decline in our membership and eventually see that new world reality pass by and leave us behind. The work we do is much too important for us to let that happen. Let us commit to finding new ways to leverage technology, innovation, and new thinking so that we can make a greater and lasting impact.

Some may balk at these ideas and say that we must adhere to the past to maintain our values and principles. But I say we can look to Frédéric for inspiration and guidance on that probable change. “Let us do without hesitation whatever good lies at our hands,” said Frédéric Ozanam.  And what is at our hands today and will be tomorrow is not what may have been at our hands yesterday.

So, let us continue that use of the ‘good at our hands’ to accomplish the one and only thing that matters; “We are here on this earth to accomplish the will of Providence,” said Frédéric Ozanam.

John Berry
National Council Vice President
Southeast Region

02-04-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

02-04-2021 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 1119 630 SVDP USA

Click here to read the full letter from SVdP International President General Renato Lima de Oliveira.

Praised be our Lord Jesus Christ! My dear members of Saint Vincent de Paul Conferences around the world, I first wish to ask for the abundant blessings of Our Lord Jesus Christ on you, and for our Blessed Lady to be with everyone, particularly those in need whom our Society helps, whether in special works or in Conferences.

I am very pleased to be writing to you all again, for the sixth time since I was elected as 16th President General of the Society o St. Vincent de Paul, with this Circular Letter for 2021. It has been the custom since 1841 for the Presidents General to write Circular Letters addressed directly to the members, covering important matters on the Vincentian agenda, or for guidance to improve the work of the Conferences, special works, and Councils.

This past year has been a time which will be marked out in the history of humanity as one of the worst‐ever health crises, affecting millions of lives, as well as leading to countless negative consequences for the economy of countries and of the whole world, increasing poverty, unemployment, and vulnerability in society. The poor have been worst affected. The number of refugees around the planet has increased. Students have been unable to attend class. Religious believers have not been able to attend worship or receive the sacraments. People cannot embrace or greet each other properly. Families are separated, in order to avoid large gatherings. Conferences and Councils cannot hold regular meetings. Many people in need have no help from governments or charitable organizations. It has been a very difficult year, and we will not have good memories of it.

In this Circular Letter of 2021, a year for rebuilding and new beginnings, I want to address some matters on which we all need to reflect, so that our work for those who suffer can be improving all the time. The ideas and questions I am going to cover here are also intended to alert us to the way our Councils operate, as their only purpose is to provide services for the grassroots.

I humbly suggest that this letter should be divided into blocks or topics and read in short sections at the meetings of Vincentian conferences. I would be delighted to receive comments, criticisms and suggestions about the content of this Letter, as well as proposals for the coming years. We have set up an e‐mail address for this, which you can use.

Despite the 2020 health crisis, we have managed to continue work on several initiatives, set up in the International Strategic Plan (2016/2022), and we have also added new aspects, giving greater energy to our management. In the area of training, there have been dozens of on‐line events, which have helped expand the capabilities of our members. In the field of communications, the Council General’s website has been completely redesigned, and is much more attractive, informative, and user‐friendly. Our “Ozanam Network” newsletter is always full of content, news, and training materials.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, Council General did not slow down for a minute. On the Council General’s web page, we publish all the administrative actions we have approved, so that the Confederation can get through this sad time for humanity. We have granted extensions to the terms of office of several Superior Councils. We have increased our international aid, sending additional resources to many nations (over 300,000 euros to some 70 countries). My main concern is the health (physical and mental) of our members, and of course the harmful effects of this crisis among those in need (especially children, young people, and the elderly), the unemployed and those who have lost hope. Covid‐19 is a terrible illness, but even worse than this are the panic and fear the illness has aroused.

As regards canonisation of Blessed Antoine‐Frédéric Ozanam, with God’s grace the work of the Vice‐Postulator in Brazil has not been delayed, and at the moment the process is already with the Postulator in Rome, beloved Father Giuseppe Guerra (priest of the Congregation of the Mission), who will continue with it at the Vatican. The Brazilian phase was fairly quick, even with the health restrictions in force, over an 11‐month period of intense work and investigation. I ask all members of our Society to stay firm in hope of the canonisation, becoming truly devoted to Ozanam. Similarly, our Conferences must prepare properly to welcome a new group of interested people after the canonisation, who will join us on the same path to holiness, in the steps of Ozanam through Vincentian service to those in need.

We were delighted to declare the 14th August as INTERNATIONAL DAY FOR FEMALE MEMBERS, honouring Ozanam’s devoted wife, Amélie Soulacroix, who dedicated her life, especially in old age, to taking care of his legacy, his biography, image, objects, and writings. This date has had an excellent response from all the SSVP around the world, and many countries have celebrated this new Vincentian date, even during the health crisis. It is a proper homage to the role of women in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. And, the more we know Amélie, the closer we can come to Frédéric.

In April 2021, close to Ozanam’s birthday , with God’s grace, we are intending to open the new head office for Council General in Paris, along with the official opening of the “Ozanam Museum” and an exhibition about the seven founders. It will be a very special moment for our Society, since from now one we will have a headquarters which is twice as large as the previous one, properly organised for the growth of the Society over the next 50 years. I want to thank again the members of the Commission who studied the economic viability of this step, and especially all the countries who voted in favour of buying the offices, in a historic, unanimous vote at the Oporto assembly (Portugal), in 2019.

At the Plenary Assembly of Council General in 2020, we approved some important documents for the SSVP. The first of these was the “Child Safeguarding Protocol,” a statement protecting children who are involved with Conferences and Vincentian works. We signed a cooperation agreement with the International Center for Formation (CIF) of the Congregation of the Mission, which will allow us to improve our training in terms of the anthropology of people in need and the theology of Saint Vincent.

We awarded the “Charity in Hope” medal to the Jesuit Refugee Service, for its amazing work carried out all over the world. Last year, we also marked 100 years since the declaration of the independence of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul by the Vatican, and 95 years since the opening of Frédéric Ozanam’s beatification/canonisation process.

I end this section with the subject of Council General’s finances. Because of the health crisis, which has led to a serious economic crisis, many countries have slightly reduced their annual contributions to Council General, forcing us to rescale our procedures and adapt to the new, more restricted circumstances. I do not know if everyone is aware that Council General’s finances are maintained through the generous donations from Superior Councils. For this, fifteen years ago saw the creation of the “Concordat” (a group of countries which committed to making fixed annual contributions to Council General). These extremely generous countries made themselves responsible for 95% of the expenses of the Council, and the other countries in the Confederation cover the remaining 5%.

I believe that the most important thing in the life of a member of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is the meeting with those in need, through Christ. This personal encounter brings us to conversion of heart and a full life in the Lord, achieving happiness. Charity in all its forms is at the heart of Vincentian spirituality9 and is obviously the focus of our faith. It is the modus operandi of the members, in every one of the 48,000 Conferences spread all over the world. It is a grace and a privilege to live in this way, when we devote our existence to good, and to service in solidarity with those in poverty. The life of the Conference is vital for the life of our members.

But we meet challenges on the way. In some parts of the world, I have seen the adoption of excessive rules and regulations, hierarchical structures, and very bureaucratic procedures. We must avoid transforming our Society into one great bureaucracy, as Ozanam warned us. Rules are essential, but charity is more important; excessive rules and regulations deter and scare away new Vincentian vocations. Rules must also be updated and adapt to changing circumstances. We have to bring light, goodness and hope into places where sometimes there seem only shadows, crosses to bear, and darkness.

I am very concerned about the fall in the number of Conferences and Councils, and their closure, particularly in countries of importance in the history of our SSVP. Messages come to me from various countries saying that, after Covid‐19, many Conferences will disappear, which breaks my heart. Knowing that some of the Vincentian special works are also closing is a real shame, bringing tears to my eyes. It is mad, in my view, to be closing Conferences and special works in the post‐pandemic world, when poverty and inequality are increasing. Therefore, I am asking presidents of the Councils responsible for Conferences and special works to fulfill their role in the organisation, and before any drastic decision, avoid closing any operations without addressing the challenges which lead to such closures. It is a real challenge to keep these Vincentian works operating, but on the other hand, it is of great benefit to so many people in need, especially children and the elderly who depend on them.

In terms of training, I think that online courses are here to stay, finally. It is important that the training sections of each Superior Council offer a range of courses, seminars, and meetings, using the latest information and communications technology to help in this task. Another area which can grow significantly is that of special or social projects, which several countries and Council General sponsor, to generate work and income so that those whom we help can succeed in life. Congratulations go to Conferences who are using this model.

I have also observed, in some parts of the world, a certain unnecessary abrasive attitude among members, generally caused by disagreeing about secondary issues or those unconnected to our service to the poor. Pride, egoism, vanity, and envy unfortunately also affect our members; so, we must ask the good Lord to drive away these feelings and thoughts which divide us and destroy our unity. So many accounts of badly organized, stormy elections reach the Council General! Failure to accept election results is also another damaging effect which we must resist.

In order to avoid such conflict, we must above all improve our Vincentian training. The disparity of ideas is healthy, and even advisable, without upsetting our Society. But when such conflicts are raised without charity, or verge on a lack of fraternity, kindness and decency, I believe we have reached a most unfortunate stage. Many of our leaders have been selected without proper qualifications, in areas such as diplomacy, crisis management, dialogue and governance. In fact, some of the problem is rooted in the choice of the right candidates, and this is entirely our responsibility.

When we have any doubts about the position to take in the face of complex or tricky issues that may arise, we simply need to ask ourselves what St. Vincent or the seven founders would do in our place. Do we take on Vincentian virtues in the service of those in need, or do we set these virtues aside? Do we understand the principles and fundamentals of the Rule, or do we confuse charity with philanthropy? All this can be overcome, if we allow ourselves to be surrounded by the love of Christ, in faith and hope, serving our neighbour unstintingly. After all, our main purpose in joining the SSVP was for our personal holiness through the practice of Christian charity.

Young people are the present of our Confederation. They aspire to fraternal coexistence, “founded in truth, justice, charity and love of freedom.” In the SSVP, young people will find all those factors which give energy to Vincentian life and help to support those most in need. So, understand that from this President General, you will always receive support, encouragement, space, a voice, and time. Thank you for your commitment to those most in need, and to our beloved Society. Forgive our faults, report any problems arising in Councils from people who do not have a Vincentian vocation, focus your energy on what unites us, and prepare very soon to take on important roles in the Society, because we have great hopes of you. Let us trust in you.

As active members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, we face enormous challenges every day, which we have to overcome, either with those we help, or in our own surroundings, that is, among ourselves, the members. But by God’s grace, these obstacles can be overcome with three factors which are characteristics of every Vincentian: tenderness, empathy, and courage.

Tenderness is essential to the way a Vincentian works. Without gentleness, tact, and generosity, without friendliness and fraternal love of neighbour, it is humanly impossible to practice charity. A Vincentian who does not offer great tenderness will find it difficult to achieve the virtues (cardinal and theological) of Ozanam, the other founders and Saint Vincent. Without tenderness it is difficult to listen to the poor. Without tenderness, it must be difficult to know how to advise those who are suffering. Without tenderness, the Vincentian message will struggle to be heard. We have to act with gentle hearts, especially those of us who are Vincentian leaders, who often govern with too firm a grip, generating discord and unnecessary conflicts.

Empathy is particularly apparent in the home visit, when members can feel more powerfully how hard life is for those in need. Empathy is also revealed in the Vincentian social projects, where children, the sick and the elderly also struggle to overcome adversity in everyday life. But empathy is also apparent in internal relationships, that is among the procedures and experiences of the SSVP itself, for instance among members of a Conference, or in the administrative management of Councils. Without empathy, we cannot be members. Without putting ourselves in another’s shoes, it is practically impossible for someone to become a Vincentian. Empathy is everything. It is the foundation of charity and human relationships. An egoist cannot exercise charity. A person seeking their own interests does not practice human solidarity; they only appear to practice it. Charity can only happen if empathy comes first.

Finally, without courage, nothing can be done. We are so small and weak in the face of the powerful and the systems of the world, that without courage we can never face troubles with our faith, peace, and hope. Courage gives us the innovative and creative spirit we need to find peaceful and effective solutions, in the search for a more fraternal and just society. Being courageous means “thinking big”, always wanting to do the best for those we help, and looking for different ways to practice charity, achieving positive results. Courage flourishes with enthusiasm. A sad or discouraged member will never radiate courage, which comes from joy and a passionate heart. Being courageous means being a visionary, a person of hope and an idealist. Being courageous also means knowing how to be outraged, seeking the material, moral and spiritual well‐being of the children of God. Putting the talents and faculties God has given us at the service of charity effectively means to be courageous. So dear brothers and sisters, we follow the Vincentian path with tenderness, empathy, and bravery, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the person of the most humble and needy.

We invite all Superior Councils to publish articles and reflections on the dominant role of Jules Devaux in the process of founding the SSVP, stimulating the study of his life and work, in personal, professional, academic and Vincentian terms, contributing with Council General to the start of the 2021 International Themed year.

Council General suggests that on 8 December 2021, the closing date for the “International Year of Jules Devaux,” a thanksgiving Mass is celebrated in all parishes around the world, as a memorial for our founder Devaux. Also, on 27 October 2021, the anniversary of Devaux’s death, Conferences should recall his story, reading passages on him as the spiritual reading at conference meetings.

The present board of Council General is continuing to work to make the seven founders better known, loved and admired, because the SSVP’s foundation was a collective action, and they are all equally important in the story of this new Society. It would be a great injustice to neglect this.

On the flag of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, we find the motto of the Vincentian mission, on behalf of the humblest people, written in Latin: “Serviens in spe” (serving in hope). Why does this phrase appear on our emblem? What does the SSVP have to do with hope? Hope for what, or hope in what?

The International Rule of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul devotes a lot of space to the theological virtue of hope. Several articles, provisions and notes mention the word hope. In “The Vincentian vocation,” hope is very important: “The vocation of the Society’s members, who are called Vincentians, is to follow Christ through service to those in need and so bear witness to His compassionate and liberating love. Members show their commitment through person‐to‐person contact. Vincentians serve in hope.”

Whenever the word hope appears in the International Rule, it is combined with the following terms: service, joy, spirituality, vocation, faith, and charity. This list of references is based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which describes the theological virtues (those which bring us closer to God): faith, hope, and charity.

Analysing these two virtues (hope and charity) in detail, we understand that both are related, one depending on the other: I am loving to my neighbour and I hope for eternal life in God. It’s that simple. So, dear brothers and sisters, let us centre ourselves in hope, seeking salvation for our souls and providing help for those in any need, with the same devotion and energy. During this pandemic through which we are living, hope and generosity are the only viruses we share. With hope, following in Vincent’s footsteps and the example of our seven founders, we will transform the world. I believe this is true, do you?

Moreover, on our daily journey as baptised, Vincentian Christians, we can experience countless troubles and challenges, in all areas of our life: in the family, at work, in our studies, seeking a job, in our health and so many other aspects of being human. In the Church and in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul too, we sometimes experience heartaches and setbacks which leave us very disappointed and disillusioned with people on occasion.

I want all the members, and the volunteers and employees of the SSVP around the world, to keep doing the necessary and demanding work of charity, together with the humblest people, with care, love and charity, never judging the poor without above all understanding the reality of their lives and their needs. Sometimes we do not realise our own strength which comes from God. Be peaceful, gentle, loving towards those who suffer. Avoid conflict and bureaucracy; instead, follow the Rule in love of the seven founders. Seek to resolve any conflict, and do not waste time on less important, secondary, and mundane affairs. Salvation awaits us.

We ask God, through the intercession of our Lady, that those persecuted in various parts of the world, for religious or political reasons, might be protected and supported. We ask the Lord for peace in the world, care for the environment and an end to all forms of poverty, whether moral, material, or spiritual. May all of us, as members, always defend life, and fight against abortion and euthanasia, bringing Gospel values and Vincentian virtues wherever we go (Acts 10:38).

Council General can never slow down, as the International Confederation depends on its vitality and energy to “inoculate” the world with good viruses. We are absolutely certain that the good Lord will never abandon us. We Vincentians are in the world as the soul is in the body. So, my dear brothers and sisters, in this year of 2021, let’s remain firmly devoted to Ozanam and true champions of hope, charity and peace!

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.

May the peace of Christ be with you all,
Member Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th President General

01-28-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-28-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 600 685 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

I really was not looking for another way to spend my retirement days. Being your National
Council President is a privilege that is already fulfilling and time-consuming. When asked,
however, to join the Board of Directors of the Council General International as the Vice
President with responsibility for Solidarity and Special Projects, I accepted because I
understand the importance of working to strengthen that worldwide network of charity imagined
by our founder Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

Building on the work of U.S. Council representatives Terry Wilson and Edward Keane, who
served under past Council General President, Michael Thio, our current President General,
Renato Lima de Oliveira, has also appointed other United States Vincentians to serve in the
Society’s international structure. Let me introduce them:

  • Michael Nizankiewicz – International Territorial Vice President for America 1
  • Frank Voehl – Zone 1 Coordinator for America 1
  • Kat Brissette – Youth Territorial Delegate America 1
  • Bill Brazier – Commission for International Aid and Development
  • Dave Barringer – Chair of International Logo Commission
  • Edward Keane – Chair of the United Nations Department
  • Patricia Hughes – Member on the United Nations Department
  • Donald Kany – International Vincentian Family Haiti Initiative

This participation by our United States Vincentians is very different from what I observed
during my early years in the Society. Our National Council President always had a position on
the International Executive Committee, and many Conferences did Twinning. Overall, however,
we U.S. Vincentians did not pay much attention to what happened beyond our borders. It
would also be fair to say the Society’s international structure until recently was very Europecentered and did not pay much attention to us either. We have much to learn from our
worldwide network, and we have some very good best practices that we are sharing as well.

Each of you can directly experience this global Vincentian network and make my new role a
little easier by having your conference participate in International Twinning. When you partner
with a Conference in another country, you will be in communication with brothers and sisters
working in their parishes and trying to meet needs in their communities. You will learn how
much we have in common and understand some of the challenges Vincentians elsewhere face
as they live out our common vocation. Sharing in an understanding of our Vincentian work
beyond our own national borders is a tradition that dates to the early years of our Society.

I encourage you to continue working with Elizabeth Martinez, our National Council Twinning
Coordinator, to partner with Conferences that have requested assistance through our Council
General Office in Paris. There are many Conferences waiting to be assigned to a partner.
Please do not send aid directly to any international project except through our National Council
Office. The international projects we support through the National Council have been
investigated and prioritized. Beyond the need to ensure accountability for use of the funds,
there are regulations issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that we need to

Finally, and most importantly, please pray for our sister and brother Vincentians working in
difficult and sometimes dangerous places. I have been privileged to meet some of their leaders
and to hear their stories. To provide their members spiritual support and friendship, they hold
Conference meetings like we do. Just like us, they never have sufficient resources to serve
their neighbors in need fully. And they take the same Vincentian journey, pray the same
prayers and follow the same Rule we do. With them, we are “One Society,” serving in hope.

Serviens in spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

01-21-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders

01-21-21 Letter From Our Servant Leaders 410 382 SVDP USA

A spouse of many years asks, “Do you love me?” The other spouse answers, “Of course I do, I told you at the wedding!”

Laugh or shake your head if you like, but this is often the relationship we have with our local pastors and perhaps even with our Bishop.

While our Society year began in October, every January is a time to look at new goals. One that should be high on a Conference and Council list is to renew and improve the relationship we have with clergy. After all, let’s remember that the Society operates only with the invitation of our Bishop and parish pastor. We can’t take this for granted.

If ever there was a year to update each party, this is it! Our beloved clergy members at all levels continue to struggle with the Church’s sexual abuse claims and aftermath which has threatened our faith in its membership, finances and maybe most of all, basic trust. This was chased off of the media front pages only because of the even worse pandemic crisis. We still have lifelong Catholics who aren’t able out of health or fear, or allowed by the Church or secular authorities, to return to pray in their local church. They can’t share their faith or the good works resulting from it. They can’t, or for whatever reasons don’t, contribute financially to the parish. Parish fundraisers are cancelled, Mass times disappear or are changed, and we can’t even offer each other a sign of peace.

Meanwhile the Conference presses on. We meet virtually, which is nice but dampens our Essential Element, Friendship. We hold Home Visits not in the home but through phone calls, and electronically send rent and utilities payments on behalf of those we serve. We give food though contactless deliveries. Whether for better or worse, no doubt we aren’t the same Society we were a year ago.

In all of this change and often turmoil, any relationships may suffer including those in our own homes and those with our friends and neighbors. Likewise, our clergy relationships suffer from the basic reduction of contacts over time. This means we need to be more intentional in our scheduling and communications to maintain this critical mutual support. We can no longer count on a chance meeting with our priests in the hallway, at our functions, or even after Mass to update each other on our plans and activities.

During this pandemic and other challenges, the Church may need us more than ever. We sometimes focus our clergy conversations and reports on our activities in serving the poor during this time of illness and unemployment. Yet our mission is based on helping people get closer to God. Increasing the spirituality of fellow parishioners – and everyone else – should be a central part of our clergy messaging and ongoing relationships. Even in more settled, good times a priest can directly reach only so many people. We as a group of Vincentians can reach so many more! Evangelization is a central part of our charism.

Let’s not discount those services, however. It’s hard to find a parish that has enough priests, sisters and deacons to serve the poor on their own! The smarter clergy count on the Society as an extremely valuable layperson outreach and services tool for the Church to demonstrate its care and feeding of the flock. Yes, we are an independent entity. The poor, though, often see us as an extension of the parish, and that’s not a distinction we need to correct in order to help a family.

We often think that a priest knows all about us, our works and mission, our Rule, and even how we operate our finances. Many Conference Presidents are laughing as they read this, because these are often the root causes of challenging clergy relationships. A Bishop once said to me that, “it’s amazing what they don’t teach us in Seminary.” This lack of information very often includes anything at all about the Society’s purpose, works and potential value to the pastor.

Please don’t assume that your clergy, including your Bishop, knows what they need to understand and support you. Like all of us, they learn from their experiences. If their previous parishes did not include a Conference, or they never worked directly with us, perceptions of us may look quite different from one priest to another.

As Vincentians we seek to get closer to God, and this may take many forms. Let’s begin with a renewed, intentional, and continuing conversation with our local priest. Let’s explore how we can serve together for the Lord!

Yours in Christ,

Dave Barringer, CEO

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