Mission of Vincentians worldwide is to glorify God, grow in holiness and meet the needs of the poor

      As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on September 23, 2018


     One of the best organizations in the Church is the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Inspired by the remarkable charitable work of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam founded the society in Paris with a group of college students in 1833.           

      A professor at the Sorbonne University and a devout Catholic, Ozanam was debating another professor about the truth and relevance of the Church when his intellectual opponent challenged him with the question: “What difference does your faith make to the thousands of people living in abject poverty right here in our own city?” 

      Stung by the truth of the comment, Ozanam founded the society to offer charity and service to the myriad of poor who suffered and died in the slums of Paris. In very rapid time, the movement spread and reached the United States within 20 years. With more than 500,000 members worldwide, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the largest organization within the Catholic Church.

      Last year, the national leadership of the society invited me to serve as their episcopal advisor, which led me to recently attend their national conference. Over 700 delegates from all 50 states intensively prayed, studied, planned and were formed more profoundly in the spirituality, methodology and practicality of the Vincentian charism. 

      I came away deeply inspired by the love, humility and dedication of the members present and drew inspiration from their beautiful example of the Gospel in action.

      The effectiveness of the society lies in its grass-roots structure. With the consent and support of the pastor, a local conference of Vincentians, composed of parishioners, meets on a regular basis for prayer, discernment, support and discussion regarding their charitable works and review of the requests for assistance that have come in. 

      In this context of faith and fraternity, the members live the three-fold purpose of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul: to glorify God, to grow in holiness and to serve the needs of the poor. Donations of food, furniture, clothing and money from parishes fuel the possibilities of practical help and loving service which the society offers to the needy in local communities.

      The heart of the society’s work is the home visit. When a request for assistance comes in, two Vincentians will go visit the person in their home to personally get to know them, to befriend them, to learn the details of their lives and their struggles. In this context of Christian personalism, prayer becomes possible, friendships form and practical help is suddenly transformative. 

      Vincentians do not aim for efficiency; they are not simply a social service organization. The goal is to give glory to God and witness to the radical love of Christ by encountering those in need, accompanying them in a movement towards a greater realization of human dignity, liberating self-sufficiency and the knowledge that people exist who love and care for them as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

      Here in our diocese, roughly half of our parishes have St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences. The members make home visits, operate food pantries, provide references to other community resources, offer emergency relief to folks in desperate situations and advocate for needed reforms in our government and society to truly help those in need. 

      I applaud all of them for they are truly spiritual heroes. I am especially grateful to Diane McKern who has served as the diocesan leader of the society for many years. Her perseverance, generosity and joy fuel our members to keep striving in work that is often difficult, frustrating and challenging. Diane recently shared with me a summary report of the work done here locally in our diocese last year by the Vincentians. 

      The numbers are astonishing!  Hundreds of members offered tens of thousands of service hours and gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars, in rent and utility assistance, as well as food, furniture and clothing to the needy right here in the Region. The enormity of this good work would not be possible without the generous donations of thousands of faithful Catholics throughout the diocese who willingly help their fellow parishioners undertake this inspiring work of charity and mercy.

      If you feel moved to deepen your faith, if you want to do something practical and hands-on that will truly change the world for the better, if you are looking for spiritual companions to walk with you into a deeper life of prayer, holiness and service, then join the St. Vincent de Paul Society. 

      I have been involved with the Vincentian movement for 20 years and it has deepened my relationship with Christ, grown my spirituality and put me in comm and fellowship with some amazing disciples of the Lord. 

      I offer my love, prayers and gratitude to all of the Vincentians, especially those right here in the Diocese of Gary!


       + Donald J. Hying