Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 10, 2000
Group reaches out to the poor
Vincent de Paul Society wants to get started in archdiocese
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Want to be a "server of the poor" like Jesus was? Talk to your pastor and start a conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in your parish.
A minimum of four people is needed to start a parish-based conference and become part of the society, which is currently trying to get established in the Edmonton Archdiocese.
Society executives from the Calgary-based Western regional council provided information about the charity at Annunciation Church March 29.
More than 100 people attended the event, including guest speaker Archbishop Thomas Collins, who supports setting up the charity in Edmonton.
Catholic musicians Denis Grady, Father Mike Laporte and Donna Lee Randon provided music.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic lay organization founded in 1833 in Paris by Frederic Ozanam, who was beatified in 1997. It was established in Canada in 1846.
"It seeks in a spirit of justice and charity to help those who are suffering," says a pamphlet on the society. "It does this by a person-to-person involvement of its members. Its work encompasses every form of aid that alleviates the suffering and promotes the dignity and integrity of all people."
In practical terms, the society provides food, clothing, furniture and household items to those in need. It also helps provide emergency housing for families, working with other agencies to avoid duplication of services.
"We are friends of the poor," said Lynn L'Heureux, president of the society's Calgary South council. "We are beggars of the poor and servants of the poor."
In many cases the society has helped the needy with money for damage deposits, rent, utility bills, even bus fares to attend a funeral out of town. Many Easterners who have found themselves stranded in the West following unsuccessful job bids have had their tickets home paid by the society. Some people later return the money to the society.
And where does the society gets its funds? Mostly from the parish collection and individual benefactors. In some Calgary parishes, one Sunday a month has been set aside for a collection for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
In many parishes the society collects food for the poor by setting up a food drop off bin. Vincentians are also known for doing prison ministry, visiting the sick and the elderly, taking people shopping or to doctor appointments, and assisting the dying.
"We try to help in any way we can," said Western regional council president Don Hunter.
In Lethbridge, with 36 active members, the society last year raised and distributed more than $100,000 to the needy. It is now trying to set up a loan centre where people who need help paying their rent, damage deposit or utility bills can borrow money interest free.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society has parish-based conferences in 130 different countries and reports directly to the pope. In Western Canada, the society has conferences in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The largest membership is in the Calgary Diocese, where the society has 300 active members in 24 conferences.
A conference was also established recently in St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, which is part of the St. Paul Diocese.
The society works hand in hand with other charities to avoid duplication of services and to coordinate delivery of services. In Calgary, it works with Social Services, the Red Cross, the Calgary Food Bank and the Salvation Army.
The difference between other agencies and the St. Vincent the Paul Society is that Vincentians visit the poor in their homes and never reject anyone in need.
"We go to their place because we are their servants," Hunter said. "We are representing Christ. We don't evangelize. Our Christian and Catholic faith is expressed by our love to help them."
The society has a track record for coming to the aid of those who don't qualify for help from traditional agencies or whose benefits have run out. These include families who have already used their food bank quota and are in need. Food banks usually give six hampers a year to a family.
In an interview, Collins said he invited the society to come because "I thought that they could be a wonderful added dimension to our life in Edmonton."
What Collins likes best about the society is that it is parish-based and involves lay people in work mandated by the Gospel.
"It's a volunteer organization that has done great work around the world and works well together with other groups in the Church and within society," he said. "So I think it's great to have them here."
Brian Sipe, president of the society's Calgary North council, said parishioners just need a desire to help the needy to become members.
"We don't have criteria for being a member," he said. "No initiation fees, no dues, no pledges, no ceremonies, just a heartfelt desire to help our friends, the poor."
He urged those in attendance to seek others in their parishes who would like to join and to approach their pastors for authorization to start a conference.
It's estimated that in a parish of 1,200 people, about 12 end up joining the society. "It's a small percentage but when the society starts announcing its activities in the parish, money and food start coming in. Parishioners really start to help," Hunter told the WCR.
"It's a demanding ministry, vocation, but there are a few people in every parish who feel they are called to do it."
Hildegarde Prediger, a member of St. Michael-Resurrection Parish, attended the jubilee evening to gather more information about the society.
She left impressed with the type of work it does and "in time" she may consider helping to start a conference in her parish. "I think it's a really good society."
Liz and Don Dodd of Annunciation Parish also attended to learn more. "We were quite impressed."
"Jesus wanted us to help the poor so we are going to think about (joining the society) as a couple," Liz said.
"I think it's a very worthwhile society," said Don. "This is what the whole game is all about. We have been playing religion until this."