As Vincentians we often marvel at the founding of our beloved Society, and how a small group of college students took decisive action to put their faith to work in helping local neighbors in need. It was truly a blessing from God to organize anything in the tumultuous period in Paris, especially doing so with young men (speaking as a former one myself). We may forget, though, what I think was even a greater miracle!
By the year 1845, the Society was operating far outside of Paris and even France, having a Council in nine other countries including our own and in places as diverse in language and cultures as Turkey, Scotland, and Mexico. We must remember that this was in the days before the Internet, so anything that “went viral” was probably limited to an actual disease! Yet a Society devoted to God and helping the less fortunate spread by word of mouth, traveling founding members, and then their followers and supporters.
It would have been quite normal, as it is today, to start a campus ministry, have some fun and do good things with the original group, and ultimately disband when the founder graduated. College groups form and disband every day. So too do nonprofits even today, with literally thousands formed each year just in the United States. Most don’t have the people or financial resources to last very long, and some depend on the charism of their founder to keep the zeal alive. When he or she departs, often without a named successor or a continuing shared purpose, everything unravels.
So what a miracle we are part of as members of a Catholic, lay, apostolate with more than 800,000 global members in more than 150 countries – and still regenerating its members and mission activities despite wars, pandemics, economic depressions, and so many other challenges, some global and some neighborhood.
In your community, perhaps there were once multiple parishes and several Society Conferences. Today some may be gone as part of Diocesan restructuring, demographic shifts, and the aging out of Conference leaders. Do not despair! Certainly the original purposes for the Society still exist. The poor are still with us. And we still need to grow in our own faith. The essential elements of Friendship, Spirituality, and Service are just as relevant today as ever.
What is missing may be exactly what Blessed Frederic and his friends discovered. Anyone and everyone can complain about a need, but who steps up to fill it? They did. And so can we.
Let’s look again at our founders’ example. When they moved to a new city or even a new country, they joined a new parish and started a new Society Conference. They shared their founding documents, such as bylaws, freely with clergy and laypersons in hopes that this information could be used to start the Society elsewhere. It did here, with the shared bylaws of Ireland, created just a year prior to our founding!
We are called as Catholics and Christians to follow the examples of the Apostles, to be evangelizers of Christ and the Word. As Vincentians, let’s follow as well the examples of our early founders and others who upon their travels started new Conferences and recruited new members. They may not have stayed to lead the groups; no, they shared the Rule and their zeal to encourage the Society to grow anew. Good crops can come from far-flung seeds, especially such seeds of hope and love for the poor.
Even though we have nearly 4,500 U.S. Conferences, there are still around 8,000 more without a Society presence. Are you visiting a parish while on vacation? Visiting family members out of state? Running away from family after being stuck with them for over a year? (Just kidding. Sort of.) Share the joy you receive when you see the face of Christ in your Vincentian service.
Somewhere out there, parishioners just like us, any local Society Council, and probably a Pastor concerned for his local neighbors in need, will welcome your inquiry about starting a new Conference. If a Conference is already there, offer to visit and share your Vincentian experiences. Let’s get viral!
Yours in Christ,