Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 14, 2001
City's suffering prompts Vincent de Paul's growth
SSVP sees Christ in the poor
By RENATO GANDIA
WCR Staff Writer
Coming from the world of real estate, Eileen Orysiuk thought she was well versed with how people live in Edmonton.
Her involvement with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) opened her eyes to a reality foreign to her past experiences.
Orysiuk, who volunteers for the society about 80 hours a week, was "absolutely shocked" when she met a woman, who had been living in her house without a bed, mattress and furniture.
Later on, she learned how to politely ask people if she could look into their cupboards and see what they have.
"We have to do that because there were times people were reluctant to tell us what they really need," explained Orysiuk. "Often people have nothing."
For almost two years, Orysiuk has been volunteering for the society, which is growing in Edmonton almost two years after a city-wide group, or "conference," was established in St. Joseph Basilica Parish.
The society's mandate is simple: to relieve people's suffering. They operate through a call centre, where a person can leave a detailed message to which the volunteers respond.
"You don't have to possess special skills to be part of this society." Willingness to help others is the only requirement, said Orysiuk.
After the workshop held in Annunciation Parish in March 2000, a city-wide conference opened in St. Joseph Basilica. Since then, three more conferences, St. John the Evangelist, St. Agnes and Good Shepherd, have branched out from the city-wide group.
In December 2001, the four conferences also opened a distribution centre located at the recently-closed St. Andrew School at 114th Avenue and 128th Street.
In their attempt to spark interest from other parishes, the four conferences in Edmonton will sponsor another SSVP workshop on Feb. 2.
This international society, which is present in 130 countries, was founded in 1833 in Paris by Frederic Ozanam, a student who was challenged by his peers about what Catholics in Paris were doing for the poor.
In Western Canada, the society is most active in the Calgary Diocese, where the society has more than 300 members in 24 conferences.
The society offers material or moral help given through person-to-person contact by members to individuals or families.
Society members seek through prayer, meditation on the Bible and Church teachings, through their daily lives and in their relationship with those in need, to bear witness to the love of Christ.
Counting on her experiences with the city-wide conference, Orysiuk consulted with her pastor and the parish council to determine whether a new conference could be started at her parish of St. John the Evangelist.
She was given the green light and started a group, which now has 33 volunteers.
Orysiuk was also shocked by the huge number of people who want to give away good items but don't know how they can do it and where to give them.
Opening the distribution centre, where the society stores donations, was a "wonderful way of opening the avenue for people in need and people who want to give." They now have two rooms full of household goods, furniture and clothing.
"We don't have a wide selection of goods like Value Village and Salvation Army but we give them for free," Orysiuk noted.
The group does not simply dole out goods. It makes a point to determine what people really need, so members visit and talk with them.
Most of the people they have helped were transients and single parents, who came to the city from abusive relationships.
But at certain times, spiritual and sacramental needs of the people are also addressed.
"I have three ladies, who told me that they wanted to have their children baptized," shared Orysiuk.
Like Orysiuk, Margaret Mechefske and Terry Muench were looking for volunteer work when they retired. Both of them have not been involved with their conference for long, but both said their experiences have been real eye-openers.
Mechefske, who moved to Alberta from New Brunswick in November, has been a long-time volunteer. Once established in Edmonton she decided to continue what she loves doing.
In her home visitations, Mechefske often found people have nothing. It has become a joy for her to be able to say, "We can deliver this to you tomorrow, will you be here?
"We're seeing Christ in the poor which is what we're supposed to do on a daily basis."
Muench shared a similar experience. "It's amazing that some people have absolutely nothing. They have a place to live but they have no furniture . . . no supplies."
One downside that Orysiuk observed about the society's conferences in Edmonton is that they are not well-structured yet, because a conference adapts itself according to the particular needs, places, and circumstances.
"One thing that encouraged me to keep going . . . is the word of Mother Teresa," Orysiuk said. "Mother Teresa would say, 'Just do it.'"
That's what the group has been doing, and they learn as they go.
The conference of St. John the Evangelist extends the opportunity for volunteer work to the youth - after all, Frederic Ozanam was a youth himself when he started the society.
All are invited to attend the Feb. 2 workshop at St. Agnes Parish. Registration is at 8:30 a.m.
The society accepts donations of household goods, furniture, clothing, as well as cash. If you are in need or want to donate, call 471-5577.