Servant Leaders

10-14-2021 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders

10-14-2021 A Letter From Your Servant Leaders 1367 1520 SVDP USA

Dear Vincentian Friends,

At our National Business meeting held during National Assembly in Houston, I was asked to provide our local leaders with more information on the current Disaster fundraising campaign and how such funds are utilized during the year. Our members have been very generous in funding disaster relief and recovery efforts for years, and especially so this year. Our National Council subsidiary Disaster Services Corporation – SVDP USA (DSC) is a central, but not the only, part of our disaster presence in the United States and internationally.

In the last fiscal year which closed on September 30, the National Council provided Rapid Response Grants and Long Term Response Grants to local Councils and Conferences to use for direct relief in their communities. These grants are requested and managed through DSC, and funded with monies raised by the National Council and deposited into a  donor restricted fund called the Domestic Disaster Fund (DDF). Over the past fiscal year, 16 such grants were provided totaling approximately $155,000. These grants provided local support in communities stricken by floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes.

Many Vincentians tell us that they know how such disasters can strike anywhere, how they feel blessed not to be one of the communities affected – at least this year – and how their Vincentians want to reach out to help these other members in these times of need. In fact, many of our donations come from Conferences and Councils that were victims of past disasters and understand the challenges!

The Domestic Disaster Fund also provided funds as directed by the National Council board of directors to provide administrative support to DSC. While DSC attracts major grants for its work, often these grants do not provide for the administrative needs during, and especially between, such large disasters. The disaster organization can’t re-start for each disaster; it needs as constant presence to be ready when the need arises. Our DSC volunteers and staff can also be on location for months after the initial event providing long-term recovery efforts, and some of these costs are not covered by FEMA and other grant funds. This past year, DSC was provided with an annualized allotment of $150,000 by the National Council for its administrative overhead support.

Finally for domestic operations, the National Council provides fundraising support for DSC. The annual campaign such as the one just completed on September 30 provides general operating support for DSC use. The campaign focuses on our own SVdP members. Last year this campaign raised $414,233, with $246,755 allocated to DSC. These funds were sent to DSC in installments, with $105,000 during the 19-20 FY and the balance of $141,755 was sent directly to DSC last fall for its use in addition to the funds discussed above.

When all the funds and supports are added up, last fiscal year the National Council through our generosity provided DSC with $453,625 to support its great work. Thank you!

None of these funds are related to the campaign just completed. I am happy to report to everyone that this year we raised $926,818 to be used for a variety of disaster-related purposes. The Disaster Services Corporation will receive $494,199 directly from the proceeds for general unrestricted use. The National Council Domestic Disaster Fund will receive $164,733 to provide local and national disaster support as outlined above for current and future needs. Again, we don’t wait for the disaster to occur to raise funds and otherwise be prepared; the DDF allows us to provide immediate support within hours of a disaster event.

We are a worldwide network of charity. Our efforts to fund disaster relief and recovery also extends to providing support to councils of our Society throughout the world. This process is organized and overseen through our international member committee called CIAD – Commission for International Assistance and Development. Bill Brazier and I are members on this Commission. In the campaign just completed, we have dedicated $219,644 for future international requests of disaster support around the world. Most member countries do not have the resources we have in the United States, so our shared blessings are appreciated greatly for these outstanding needs! All of these funds never leave Vincentian hands from our donors through the direct relief in far-away communities.

The campaign is largely conducted in-house utilizing our National Council development and accounting staff, with some outside resources for writing and tech support. We are proud to keep our fundraising and management expenses to only five percent of the collected proceeds that will provide disaster resources flowing around our country and around the world.

Serviens in Spe,
Ralph Middlecamp
National President

09-30-21 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

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

Dear Vincentian Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serviens in spe,

Ralph Middlecamp
National Council President

09-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders

09-23-2021 A Letter From Our Servant Leaders 232 327 SVDP USA

Dear brothers and sisters,

May the grace and peace of Jesus be always with us!

The month of September is called the Vincentian month because we, members of the worldwide Vincentian Family, prepare to celebrate together the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul with beautifully prepared Eucharists, liturgies of the Word, or other prayer encounters, engaging all the branches of the Vincentian Family in a given parish, village, city, region, or country. We also prepare to celebrate the feast with concrete acts of corporal and spiritual charity toward our Lords and Masters.

I would like to thank deeply and congratulate each branch of the Vincentian Family for the incredible inventiveness, engagement, and service it has shown from the outset of the pandemic through today to alleviate the suffering brought to the world by Covid-19, which, as always, hit hardest the Poor, the most vulnerable. We all hope and pray that the worst of the pandemic slowly is getting behind us, although that is true in some countries more than in others. We still live with much uncertainty as to what might come next.

More and more, we are learning to use new tools to keep in touch with each other through social media, Zoom, and other platforms at our disposition. These are excellent means to grow in interconnectedness and collaboration. Nevertheless, we are experiencing, with even greater urgency, the need to resume personal encounters, meetings, and gatherings that we had before the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world. After experiencing so long a period of isolation, distancing, and prohibition of meetings, it is our heart’s desire to make personal encounters, meetings, and gatherings even more numerous.

While Vincent wrote more than 30,000 letters, the primary form of “remote” communication of his time, his days were filled with meetings with individuals and groups, and he clearly valued repetitions of prayer and conferences that brought together the confreres and the sisters.

Speaking of growth in interconnectedness, I would like to highlight three areas that I already discussed in the past. There have been big improvements in all of them, but there is still much to do to achieve the goals we set for ourselves in these spheres. Therefore, I am returning to them in this year’s letter, convinced that if we succeed in intensifying interconnectedness and collaboration and in fulfilling the objectives we set for ourselves in these specific areas, the other areas will follow almost automatically, and it will be much easier to bring the 160 branches together for any new initiative that we may begin in the future.

1. National Councils of the Vincentian Family in all 162 countries where the Vincentian Family is present today.

The Vincentian Family Office (VFO) is working very hard to help to reach the following goal: by next year, 2022, all 162 countries will have a National Council of the Vincentian Family.

Who should be part of the National Council? The representatives of all the branches in a given country. No branch should be left out, but all, large or small, should feel part of the same Family. If the country is big, there could be Regional Vincentian Family Councils, as well as Local Councils in large cities, as is already the case in some countries. All of these always would be interconnected among themselves and coordinated by the National Council.

I would like to call upon the branches in a given country, region, or city that have been there longer and have more experience than other branches in the field of organization to help bring the different representatives of the Family together. They are well positioned to invite branches and organize the Councils, in which every single branch will take part, in order to plan together different initiatives, projects, and encounters throughout the year. I encourage the National Councils not to limit encounters to once a year, but a few times a year, to develop and intensify collaboration and interconnection that will bring the Family together regularly.

To insist upon the importance of collaborating in initiatives begun by others and in line with the purpose of the Congregation of the Mission, Vincent imagined objections its members might make. “Someone in the Company may say, ‘Monsieur, I’m in the world to evangelize the poor, and you want me to work in seminaries’[1]; “It’s fine for us to do that, Monsieur, but why should we be serving the Daughters of Charity?[2]; “But the Foundlings, why burden ourselves with that? Don’t we have enough things to do?[3] Vincent says that those who would turn away from such collaborative ministries are “people who have only a narrow outlook, confining their perspective and plans to a certain circumference within which they shut themselves away, so to speak, in one spot; they don’t want to leave it, and if they’re shown something outside it and go near to have a look, they immediately go back to their center, like snails into their shells.[4]

I invite you to do everything possible so that these encounters, projects, and initiatives will not be limited to two or three branches in a given country, region, or city, but include literally all the branches. Once one or another branch brings up an initiative and invites the other branches to collaborate, they certainly will follow.

2. Response to natural disasters, wars, and other calamities, as a whole Vincentian Family.

Within the Vincentian Family, we need to come up with a system on the international, national, regional, and local levels to respond as efficiently and quickly as we can to natural disasters, wars, and other calamities, not as a single branch, but together as the whole Vincentian Family. In fact, we already started to reflect and act in this area on the level of the Vincentian Family Executive Committee (VFEC).

Last year, we came together as an International Family to help the people affected by Covid-19, as well as the tragic explosion in the port of Beirut. The VFEC launched a campaign with the Committee of the Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) to assist the hundreds of thousands of homeless in the Lebanese capital, through the Vincentian Family National Council in Lebanon, coordinated by its national president. During the plague that struck Marseilles in 1649, Vincent, learning of the death of Father Brunet and of his lay collaborator, the Chevalier de la Coste, described a rapid response to the crisis. He wrote Antoine Portail, “The Duchesse d’Aguillon is supposed to be sending you five hundred livres… If you need more money, let me know; we shall send some immediately and, if need be, we shall sell our crosses and chalices to assist you.”[5]

By forming and strengthening the National Councils of the Vincentian Family in all 162 countries where we are present, we will have grassroots coordinating teams in collaboration with the Vincentian Family on the international level, which become a force on which the world’s poor can count. Every single branch, whether large or small, is an invaluable part of the wonderful mosaic that makes up the Vincentian Family.

3. Famvin Homeless Alliance (FHA) with its 13 Houses Campaign.

The FHA with the 13 Houses Campaign is an initiative in the area of charity that brings the Vincentian Family together and, thus, needs to be promoted within the Vincentian Family to reach each member’s heart so that everyone becomes involved. The FHA is our unique common project. Therefore, it must be promoted, introduced, and extended in all 162 countries where the Vincentian Family is present so that no Congregation or Association remains outside it, but all take an active part in the initiative in every corner of the world where we live and serve.

So far, 44 branches of the Vincentian Family have engaged actively in the FHA and the 13 Houses Campaign. It is now present in 44 countries; 1826 houses have been built, and 6628 people have been helped. We hoped that by last year’s Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul we would get many more additional branches, Congregations and lay Associations, to take part in one way or another in the FHA, but that goal was not reached. There is still a long way to go.

Unfortunately, the numbers of people who live on the streets, refugees who are displaced from their homes, and people living in substandard housing are increasing drastically all around the world as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. A united response to these overwhelming needs is more necessary than ever.

Our time recalls the situation Vincent faced during the Fronde when he mobilized Vincentian and other ecclesial groups and individuals to assist displaced persons. He could report to his confrere in Poland, “About eight hundred refugee girls have been placed in private houses, where they are taken care of and instructed. You can imagine how much harm would have been done if they had been left wandering around. We have a hundred of them in one house in the faubourg Saint-Denis; we are going to rescue from the same danger the nuns from the country, whom the armies have thrown into Paris. Some are on the streets, some are living in questionable places, and others are staying with relatives. Since, however, they are all in a state of dissipation and danger, it was felt that enclosing them in a monastery, under the care of the Daughters of Sainte-Marie, would be a service most pleasing to God.[6]

As I have written in a previous letter, we need to come quickly to the point where homelessness will not be tackled alone as an individual person or an individual branch, but together as a Family on the local, national, and international levels. Each branch, by bringing its long history of service to the homeless, its expertise, professionalism, and resources, helps to build up a wonderful force that becomes much more effective in helping the Poor.

To this end, I would like to invite any of the 160 branches of the Vincentian Family, which have yet to do so, to become active collaborators in the Famvin Homeless Alliance initiative by contacting the FHA coordinating committee member Mrs. Yasmine Cajuste: (fha.info@famvin.org) to receive information and materials. You also can visit the FHA website: vfhomelessalliance.org.

I wish every single member of the worldwide Vincentian Family in the widest sense of the word a deep experience of grace as we celebrate the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul in all corners of the world. May Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Saint Vincent de Paul, and all the Saints, Blessed, and Servants of God of the Vincentian Family continue interceding for us and inspiring us on the path to globalize Charity!

Your brother in Saint Vincent,
Tomaž Mavrič, CM

*To view and download this letter, or download in another language, click here.

[1] Vincent de Paul, Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, translated and edited by Jacqueline Kilar, DC; and Marie Poole, DC; et al; annotated by John W. Carven, CM; New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2014; volume XII, page 75; conference 195, “Purpose of the Congregation of the Mission.” Future references to this work will be indicated using the initials CCD, followed by the volume number, then the page number, for example, CCD XII, 75.

[2] Ibid., 76.

[3] Ibid., 78.

[4] Ibid., 81.

[5] CCD III, 465-466; L. 1125, “To Antoine Portail, in Marseilles,” 6 August 1649.

[6] CCD IV, 399; L. 1511 “To Lambert aux Couteaux, Superior, in Warsaw,” 11 June 1652.

 

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
CEO

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
CEO

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

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