Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Society of St. Vincent de Paul continues its mission in Spokane Diocese
the Inland Register
(From the October 15, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Bishop Thomas Daly presides at a Mass celebrated for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on the feast day of its patron, September 27, at St. Francis of Assisi parish, Spokane. Concelebrating is the pastor of St. Francis, Franciscan Friar Michael Blackburn. (IR photo by Susan Cain)
Bishop Thomas Daly helped the Spokane District Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul celebrate its patron’s feast day by presiding at Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Spokane on Sunday, Sept. 27. The Mass was followed by a reception for the bishop in the parish hall and a council meeting.
“As Christians, we are called to a community of faith, which, with the help of the Holy Spirit, guides us in the work of Christ, simply to be disciples,” Bishop Daly said in his homily. “We should be grateful to the communities and organizations of faith, especially the St. Vincent de Paul Society.”
“The mission of the Society is to foster holiness in its members through service to the poor,” said Paul Machtolf, the Spokane District Council president. “The members of the Society, who are known as Vincentians, work first to grow in holiness with and through each other, and only then to seek to serve the poor as an outgrowth of that quest for holiness.”
It’s a mission the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has been striving to accomplish since its beginning in Paris in 1833.
“The Society was founded by six young students at the Sorbonne – the University of Paris – who met frequently to share and build each other’s faith in the face of the virulently anti-Catholic environment of post-revolutionary France,” said Machtolf. “One day the group was challenged by atheistic fellow students to prove that their faith was more than just pious talk, and that it had actual, meaningful impact in the world.” So the young men, by then led by Frederic Ozanam, a brilliant, 20 year-old law student, went out into Paris’s meanest neighborhoods to find and serve the poor.
“Frederic and his little band were shocked by the harshness of the poverty they encountered, just as we sometimes are today,” said Machtolf. But with the help of their mentor, Emmanuel Bailly, and Sister Rosalie Rendu of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, they soon found their way.
The Society’s presence in Spokane dates to the early 1890s. Since then, the Society has experienced ups and downs. While it long had a physical presence in the community, including a Family Services Center and thrift stores, its strength now lies in the person-to-person charitable work of its members.
“The closure of our Family Services Center – which helped thousands of families over the years – and the stores supporting it in 2008, was unfortunate,” said Machtolf. “But I think it was a blessing as well. We’d become so focused on our charitable goals, important though they were, that we’d forgotten our priority: our spiritual development, without which we can’t begin to serve the poor.”
The heart of the Society lies in its fundamental unit, the conference. Typically associated with parishes, conferences are where Vincentians pray, share faith, and seek to live out a spirituality focused on Christ manifested in the poor. Conferences are served by the Society’s worldwide infrastructure, starting with the Spokane District Council and stretching all the way to the international headquarters in Paris.
“The Society is organized as an upside-down pyramid, with the conferences on top and every level of leadership existing to support them,” Machtolf said. “My job as district council president is to see the conferences have all the resources they need to accomplish their missions. Foremost among these resources is a mutually supportive community.”
There are currently five active conferences in the Spokane metro area: at St. Thomas More, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony, and Mary Queen parishes in Spokane, and St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley. There is also a Vincentian presence at St. Joseph Parish, Dayton; St. Patrick Parish, Walla Walla; and St. Patrick Parish, Pasco. Eight more parishes in the diocese have inactive conferences.
The work of the Spokane Council varies between conferences, depending on the needs of their communities. Machtolf estimates the total value of goods and services provided – or conveyed, in the case of USDA food goods – to those in need in 2014 to be $4,475,500.
The Society seeks to contact the poor in person to the greatest extent possible. The foundation of this charism is the home visit. In 2014, area Vincentians made 1,183 home visits. Members of the Society also made hospital and prison visits as well as visits to elderly people. In total, Machtolf estimates the Society in Eastern Washington touched the lives of 24,800 people in 2014.
According to Machtolf, all the conferences have basic guidelines directing their services, but they strive for flexibility in meeting the needs of their clients.
“We try to live up to the Society’s informal motto, ‘No form of charity is unknown to us,’” he said. “That way, we leave a window open to the Holy Spirit, so he can guide us. And that’s where our spirituality comes in,” he said. “Without prayer, we’d never hear him.”
“I think it is important for all of us to remember that ‘Why’ we do what we do is often more important than what we are actually doing,” Bishop Daly said, speaking to the essence of the Society. “The work of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a response to Jesus: ‘What you have done for the least ones, you have done for me.’”
(For more information about the work of the Vincentians, contact parish St. Vincent de Paul conferences, or email Paul Machtolf: firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations can be made directly to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Spokane District Council, P.O. Box 2906, Spokane, WA 99220, or to the individual parish Conferences. Additional information is available on their web site: svdpspokane.com)
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