Monday, October 15, 2012

Do you have a St. Vincent de Paul Society in your parish?

St. Vincent de Paul Apostolate
I'm sure you have seen and passed by the St. Vincent de Paul poor box in your church. You probably make regular donations. Perhaps your parish runs a food drive and holds bundle Sunday collections to support this apostolate. But do know what they really do? In this post, I would like to share with you some of what Vincentians actually do and what motivates them to volunteer and become members of this local and global charitable Society. 

The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris 1833 by a 20 year old university student, Frederic Ozanam. 
Born in French occupied Milan, on 23 April 1813, Frederic Ozanam was inspired by the St. Vincent de Paul’s legacy and decided to name the Society after the famous French saint of the poor. Frederic Ozanam died on 8 September 1853 at the age of 40. He was beatified in Paris by Blessed Pope John Paul II on 22 August 1997. What began with just a few young university students to help the very poor living in the slums of Paris has today become an International Catholic voluntary organization with well over a million volunteers and found in over 140 countries.

What does the Society do? In simple words, it tries to help at the parish level those in need. Vincentian spirituality (Every volunteer member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is called a Vincentian.) is founded on the need to act on our faith as an answer to God's two great commandments to love Him and to love our neighbour. This is at the heart of what Vincentian try to bring to their work. Vincentians become part of a spiritual family and a tradition of helping others.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam
How does the Society help the poor and the needy? Vincentians try to do this by visiting the homes of those in need, assessing the situation that they find and then responding in a Christian way. In most parishes, the volunteers give back to the community the funds, clothing and non-perishable food items donated by the parishioners. In doing home visits, there's a personal contact with the poor and a reminder that we are to see Christ in those who are less fortunate.The Society also runs stores so that those in need can shop at discounted prices. These stores are stocked mostly from the bundle Sundays that are held in parishes where good used clothing, shoes, bedding and other useful items like small furniture are collected.

Here in Toronto the Society runs, in Georgian Bay near Penetang, the fully subsidized residential Marygrove Camp each year for over 1,000 girls, aged 5-13. They also run Camp Ozanam, a fully subsidized camp for boys, aged 7-12, in Stouffville, Ontario. As well, there is a prison apostolate and court services. In addition, they operate low cost housing and emergency shelters. You can learn more about all the other special works by visiting their website

If you feel that this kind of compassionate, humble, unbiased giving of yourself for others is something you would like yo do, why not consider joining the Society? This would be a great way of responding on a personal level to the Year of Faith. Vincentians service is a way to act on our faith. We have an opportunity to become witnesses to our Internet and social media presence. It's in St. James 2:26 that we find, "For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."

Should your parish not have a Society, you could talk it over with your pastor and see how best to proceed in order to begin. The Society's Toronto Central Council has people who will come to your parish to help you start and better understand the apostolate. With all of this, let the Holy Spirit inspire and guide you.


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