Dear Vincentian Friends,
Looking at the history of our Society, it is clear that the providence of God has given us the leadership we have needed at every point along our path so far. This month President Renato Lima de Oliveira declared the International Year of Jules Gossin, to honor the second President General of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Gossin succeeded Emanuel Bailly and served as president from 1844 to 1847. Except for Bailly, our founders were young college students. Yet, when they selected his replacement, they looked to a man who was actually five years older than Bailly. The Society needed Gossin’s stable guidance for a few more years before it turned leadership over to a 28-year-old Adolphe Baudon, who would become our third and longest-serving President General.
We are in the process of electing our next national President. What is the leadership that we need next? You are each invited to participate in that discernment process through prayer and review of the material available on each of our two final candidates. Before you vote in your Conference meetings, I urge you to view the videos of the speeches John Berry and Brian Burgess gave at our recent National Assembly. You may even want to watch their speeches as part of a Conference meeting, and you should read their written platforms. We have two very qualified candidates; so please take the time to make an informed choice. We trust that in God’s providence we will be blessed with the leadership we need for the future.
Let me return to Jules Gossin and share a little about his contributions to our Society that are still relevant today. His presidency was a key bridge between our Society’s founding and its becoming a stable worldwide institution. Several years earlier, Gossin had founded another organization of Catholic lay people, the St. Regis Society, which was dedicated to regularizing the marriages of the poor. From the development of that group, he undoubtedly learned many lessons that were applicable to the challenges our Society faced as it grew.
Gossin’s most important contribution was the maintenance of a central governing structure that aggregated new conferences and required adherence to the Rule. Our first United States Conference in St. Louis was welcomed by Gossin with a letter dated May 25, 1845. The letter informed the Conference that its application for aggregation had been enthusiastically approved at the February 2 meeting of the General Council. The letter encouraged the Conference members in their work and their hopes for continued expansion in the United States. Today, some Conferences would prefer to act independently from the structures provided, but that would not be in keeping with the model passed on to us.
Even more interesting to me is that in the next letter from Gossin to the U.S. Conference members, he insists that they submit an annual report. At this time of the year, I hear complaints about having to file our annual reports. Some say that this is onerous and should not be required in our organization. Don’t look to history to validate your opinion. Gossin wrote to the new Conference in St. Louis on Nov. 16, 1846, “Dear Sir and Brothers, We have the pleasure of sending you herewith a report form for the use of your Conference and we beg you to answer it. We are asking this to enable us in the General Report for 1846, which shall soon occupy our attention, to give all information concerning your Conference. We hope that you will comply with our wish and that you will not only answer with the statistical sections but especially that you will give us details concerning the works which you are performing, their moral results and the good which you expect to accomplish. … Before leaving this consideration, may we add a few technical details. It is hoped that in totaling the amount of your income and disbursements you will terminate as of October 31st. Thus we will be enabled to give to the Conferences the exact amount of revenues for the year.”
Gossin continued, “We also pray you to send us the report by mail as soon as it is compiled. Each year we make greater and greater efforts to hasten the publication of the Report, and we hope this year to achieve our ambition.”
Our annual reporting requirements are important and have always been part of our tradition. I echo our second President General’s request: Please get your reports in by the deadline so that we can publish our National Council Annual Report in a timely manner. It is by this means of accountability that we can give testimony to the good we accomplish together for so many.
Serviens in spe,
National Council President
P.S. I really enjoy history and will share a few more of Gossin’s insights during this year dedicated to his memory.