Pictured: Vincentians at the St. Joseph Church Food pantry in Shreveport.
Continually Serving the Poor in the Diocese of Shreveport
by Kelly Phelan Powell
In 1833, French physician, lawyer, author and professor Frédéric Ozanam was moved to establish an organization to help the destitute people living in the slums of Paris. This group of seven men, which Ozanam specified “should neither be a political party, nor a school, nor a brotherhood…but profoundly Catholic at the same time as being secular” aimed to serve the poor in the tradition of St. Vincent de Paul, whom they took as their patron. To Ozanam, it was of the utmost importance that this charity should be carried out with humility, discretion, tact and respect for a person’s dignity, for to him faith without charity had no meaning.
One hundred and seventy-nine years later, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul totals some 900,000 in 131 countries on five continents. In the U.S. alone, membership numbers more than 60,000. In 2010, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the U.S. performed more than 648,000 visits to people in their homes; served more than 14 million people in need; and provided more than $595 million in tangible and in-kind services.
Many of these extraordinary efforts are taking place right here in the Diocese of Shreveport, and that’s one reason Bishop Michael Duca has declared September the Month of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In addition to recognizing the hard work and commitment of Society members (also called “Vincentians”), the month’s activities will raise awareness of the needs of the poor and educate the faithful about the history of the Society as well as its current mission and role in the Church as a lay vocation.
“It’s part of a national effort to raise awareness of what we do…and the needs of the poor right here in our diocese,” said Brian Burgess, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the Diocese of Shreveport. Burgess has been involved with the Society for about 12 years now, and this year, in addition to his duties as president, he’s in charge of organizing the Friends of the Poor Walk at 9 a.m. on Sept. 29 on Arthur Ray Teague Parkway in Bossier City.
The Friends of the Poor Walk began nationally in 2008 to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The money raised by the walk funds a number of different aspects of the Society’s work, such as housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries and dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the elderly and medicine. All of the proceeds stay within the conference where the money is raised – in this case, the Diocese of Shreveport. Burgess said 50 to 70 walkers from about six different conferences participated in last year’s walk, which raised approximately $5,000. Those interested in walking can contact Burgess at email@example.com or 318-780-7755.
The St. Vincent de Paul Pharmacy provides free prescriptions for those in need.
Dotye Sue Stanford, the outgoing diocesan president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the faithful in this diocese are particularly committed to the Vincentian order. With 23 conferences out of 39 churches, “we have the most conferences, percentage-wise, of any diocese in the United States,” she said. And all the conferences share resources so that collectively, they can make the biggest possible impact.
But having so many conferences within a single diocese means that in this area, the needs of the poor are immense. Every person, no matter what his or her financial circumstances may be, is able to contribute. Asked what the Society’s greatest needs are at this time, Burgess answered, “We need prayers, first of all. We need members and funds. This is a ministry that’s challenging, but it’s very rewarding.”
Burgess said the Society of St. Vincent de Paul focuses on its members’ spiritual growth, and one of the ways they accomplish that is through person-to-person visits with those in need. St. Vincent de Paul himself said, “It is our vocation…to set people’s hearts ablaze, to do what the Son of God did, to set it aflame with his love. It is not enough for me to love God if my neighbor does not love him. I must love my neighbor as the image of God and the object of his love…I must act in such a way that people love their Creator and each other in mutual charity for the love of God who loved them so much that he delivered up his own Son to death for them.”
However, home visits are not the only way to serve in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Burgess said. They need people to answer the hotline and work in the food pantries, as well as other duties. And the activities associated with the Month of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul need volunteers as well.
At 3 p.m. on Sept. 9 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Ruston, Msgr. Earl Provenza will celebrate a special Mass on the Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
At 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 at Jesus the Good Shepherd Church in Monroe, there will be a Poor Man’s Supper benefitting the St. Vincent de Paul Community Pharmacy, the only free pharmacy north of Alexandria and east of Shreveport. It serves about 3600 patients in 22 parishes. For more information contact JoAnn Crone at 318-381-9670.
At 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 27, St. Joseph Church in Shreveport will celebrate the Feast Day of St. Vincent de Paul with a Mass and a potluck supper afterward in the Family Life Center.
The Friends of the Poor Walk raises money for local SVdp Counsels.
From 9 to 11 a.m. on Sept. 29 on Arthur Ray Teague Parkway in Bossier City, the Friends of the Poor Walk will take place. The walk will begin at the main pavilion next to the boat launch, just south of the Shreveport-Barksdale Bridge. For more information about donations, pledges and individual and corporate sponsorships, visit www.svdpfriendsofthepoorwalk.org.
Sept. 30 will be Society of St. Vincent de Paul Sunday at all parishes in the Diocese of Shreveport. Members will be on hand to accept donations, and all the money received will remain in the conference in which it is collected (if a parish does not have a conference, the money will go to the diocesan council).
While the tireless efforts of the Vincentians have achieved a great deal, the poor in our region still need so much. Together, we, the faithful can meet their needs if we continue to contribute generously of our prayers, our time and our resources.