We mustn’t be satisfied with our charitable efforts, but like St. Vincent de Paul, always strive to do more
When I think back upon the many people who made a lasting impression upon me growing up in St. Louis, there is one in particular who stands out in his “testimony of charity.” Such was his influence upon me that I credit the very awakening and answering of my calling to the priesthood to him.
What makes this individual especially unique in my life is that I never met him in person, though I did many times through those in his very large family. In fact, I began my seminary formation 400 years after he was born. The person I’m speaking of is St. Vincent de Paul, and his family members are those we call Vincentians—a family whose presence I hope can be a part of our parish communities.
That St. Louis would become the U.S. headquarters for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), which is represented in over 140 countries worldwide, owes in good part to St. Louis’ first bishop—Bishop Joseph Rosati. He was of the Congregation of the Mission (CM), an order of priests and religious brothers founded by St. Vincent of which my dear friend, Father Jim Swift, is a priest. Other Vincentians include the order of the Daughters of Charity, as well as the Ladies of Charity, and the many parish SVdP conferences made up of men and women volunteers. And what has so deeply impressed me is how all of them, like St. Vincent, aspire to holiness through their person-to-person contact with the poor—with the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40).
As a youth, I was especially inspired by the stories of the Sisters/Daughters of Charity, whose heroic work during the terrible cholera epidemics of the early 1800s is legendary.
In a time when tens of thousands died, including many of their own, the sisters remained steadfast in their tender care of the sick and dying. The distinct religious habits of the sisters that were often the object of ridicule because of strong anti-Catholic prejudices instead soon became the revered symbols of heroic and selfless love, a great lesson for us to remember today.
As St. Vincent is one of the few saints that the Church gives the title “Apostle of Charity” to, I am reminded of a quote of his that I learned in Catholic grade school that speaks to the Vincentian spirituality: “Let us love God, but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brow.”
With our 25th Jubilee as a diocese a year away, it is my hope that we can celebrate by growing the presence of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in our diocese. Mindful that this would not represent a duplication of existing charitable activities, much less that of Catholic Charities’ important work, I have asked Father Jim Vick, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Chattanooga, and assisted by diocesan Office of Justice and Peace Director Paul Simoneau, to work with our priests to see how we might best accomplish this.
In the 1947 movie, “Monsieur Vincent,” there is a scene where St. Vincent is speaking with the Queen of France. She is shocked when he says that he has done nothing for the poor. “What, could you have done for them then?” she asks. And his simple answer is that which must be ours: “More.” We need to do more.