One thing I can say for sure, is that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul called me - I did not choose it. Toward the end of Mass, about seven months ago, a guest spoke briefly about the Society and offered to give more information, after Mass, to those who were interested. Turns out, there was an informational meeting following Mass that evening. My only hook was that I knew my Grandmother had a heart for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
I was intrigued by the thought of serving families in need. Many times in my life, my family survived only because of the generosity of others. Since the youngest of my eight children turned 14 years old, I had been feeling compelled to Pay it Forward: to serve others as I have been served. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul seemed to be offering me the perfect opportunity to do that in a significant way.
At first I was hesitant about the thought of making home visits to families in need, only because I had heard stories of how some families had been by misjudged by traditional social service workers during home visits. But something in me kept drawing me to each successive meeting, and before I knew it I was participating in a discernment process with members of my parish as to whether we should form a Conference.
Members from the three parishes in our Diocese, who were all discerning whether to establish new Conferences, attended Home Visit training in December 2015 and Ozanam Orientation in January 2016. We were graciously mentored by Jeanne Harper, our Regional Vice President, who made a number of trips to South Dakota from her home in Wisconsin.
Several times it was mentioned that it would be a shame not to continue to go forward, but in order to do that we needed commitments to serve for three Conference Presidents and a District Council President, plus officers assigned for each group. By February we had a Leadership Training in Rapid City and our new District Council and three new Conferences were soon planning our Installation of Officers and Commissioning of Members Ceremony, which was held on April 9, 2016.
We learned recently that we were indeed an experiment! Never before had the Society started three brand new Conferences and a new District Council all at the same time. How exciting, really, to be on the cutting edge of a bold plan to grow the Society. But even more important, is how so many are willingly answering the Call to Holiness and Service - each new Conference started with about 25 members.
An essential element of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the spiritual growth of its members. Conferences typically have meetings at least twice a month and the first 20-30 minutes are dedicated to prayer guided by a Spiritual Director.
The services that each Conference offers will be determined by the unmet meets of each community served. Conferences may provide direct aid, referral and collaboration with other agencies and organizations offering poverty assistance and education, as well as family advocacy within the local community and legislative advocacy at the state and federal levels.
God only knows exactly how we will be called to assist those in need. According to the Mission and Values of the Society of St.Vincent de Paul, "No act of charity is foreign to the Society." So each day now begins with the word "Serviam." ( Latin for "I will Serve.")