St. Vincent De Paul: Living God’s Love
Posted on November 15th, 2011
It is a privilege to serve the poor. It is Christ’s command to the whole human family: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” – and there are no exceptions to that rule. Christ calls us to be his hands and heart today.
“When our hearts stop burning with love, others will die of the cold.” This motto of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in the Archdiocese of Chicago and throughout the world reminds all of us that to love God means caring for His people in poverty. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago has wholeheartedly shared this Vincentian mission of charity for 94 years by providing professional and compassionate social services and basic human needs to more than one million people each year. Recently, I had the great privilege of accepting The Saint Vincent de Paul Award, the highest accolade bestowed by DePaul University, the country’s largest Catholic university, founded and staffed by the Vincentians, based on the works of Catholic Charities.
St. Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission in 17th century France. His charism, and that of St. Louise de Marillac—direct service to the poor through works of charity—continues today. In 1813, Frederic Ozanam, who became the founder of the charitable “Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” began his college career at the Sorbonne in Paris. He never imagined that he and his colleagues would begin a worldwide organization of volunteers dedicated to serving those living on the edges of society–the poor, the hungry, the homeless and desperate. Yet, God did …
Since 1857, The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States, and especially in Chicago, “has cared for those in need regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender or political opinions.” Vincentians cared for Confederate prisoners at Camp Douglas in Chicago who were starved and dying due to inhumane conditions. They were instrumental in helping the Catholic bishop and pastors in opening new schools and caring for the aged.
The Society helped the Archdiocese of Chicago raise funds to purchase the property in Des Plaines, Ilinois, where Maryville Academy now stands. Vincentians fed and housed victims of the Great Chicago Fire. They fed the hungry during the Great Depression and are still feeding the hungry today.
Vincentians follow the first responders in natural disasters. They were there when Katrina struck. Their HOPE Truck was sent to help the victims. It fed over 10,000 people. Members also helped and continue to help in natural disasters here and abroad. They are still collecting funds for Haiti.
Vincentians to this day visit the sick, the lonely and imprisoned, and provide encouragement and spiritual sustenance. In other words, “Hope” – the hope that springs forth out of a mission dedicated to living, loving and serving others as called forth by the Gospel. Vincentians are Servant Leaders. Their mission: “Spirituality, Friendship and Service.”
In the Archdiocese of Chicago—Cook and Lake counties—there are over 2,265 Vincentian volunteers in 127 parishes and they run 40 food pantries. Last year, St. Vincent de Paul parish conferences, thrift stores and councils served over 425,000 people with an estimated $4 million value in services and donations. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is truly a “network of charity” and has 750,000 members in 146 countries. Members donate millions of hours of service to those in need – all in the name of Love itself.
Our largest food pantry fed over 90,000 people last year. This year this food pantry will exceed this amount by 30-40%. Staggering numbers…unfortunately, the side effect of a distressed economy. One hundred percent of all donations to conferences are used to support those in need. Many Vincentians not only donate their time and service, they donate from their own funds.
Poverty in America is growing by leaps and bounds. A new catch phrase is on the rise: “Today’s poor is yesterday’s middle class.” This is frightening.
2010 Census Bureau Statistics bear this out:
- 46.2 million people living in poverty – the largest number in 52 years – 15.1%.
- Rising rate of child poverty: 22% in 2010, up from 20.7 in 2009.
- Median household income declined by 2.3% in 2010, while the number of uninsured increased by nearly 1 million.
The need is great—so are the hearts of the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. New members are always welcome. For more information, see the Vincentian website: www.svdpchicago.org; or call (312) 655-7181. To advocate for the poor with state and federal lawmakers, join the Voice of the Poor Capwiz Email list; and visit the Voice of the Poor Advocacy Page: www.svdpusa.org.