The life of an authentic Christian disciple must be centered on heartfelt prayer and poured out in selfless love. This is the example set forth by Christ and lived out by the saints.
For members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the life and witness of both St. Vincent and Society founder Blessed Frédéric Ozanam have proven to be essential inspirations for putting these commands from our Lord into practice.
Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who celebrated Mass for the annual gathering of St. Vincent de Paul Society members in Fort Wayne, recognized and emphasized these important spiritual connections, especially focusing in his homily on the Eucharistic devotion of these saints.
He shared, “every Vincentian saint and blessed had a great devotion to the Eucharist. St. Vincent de Paul spent one hour before the Blessed Sacrament each morning before he celebrated Mass. He visited the Blessed Sacrament before and after his meals, and he would frequently make short visits to the chapel before going out to do his ministry again and when he returned. Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, from the time he was a teenager, attended daily Mass whenever possible. He received Holy Communion frequently, even though that was very unusual during that time. Not a day went by when Frédéric would not make a short visit to the Blessed Sacrament in one of the churches in Paris as he made his way to an appointment. Both of them discovered that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The Eucharist increased their union with Jesus and strengthened them for their works of charity. It was the Eucharist that committed them to the poor.”
Bishop Rhoades further explained the necessity of embodying these practices for those who offer service today. He stated, “our ministry can become superficial and not very fruitful without prayer. Prayer nourishes our life and ministry. At every Mass, we share in the sacrifice of Jesus, His sacrifice on the cross. We partake of His self-giving love and are equipped to live this love in our deeds. The gift of receiving our Lord in holy Communion, receiving His gift of love, is a gift to be lived and shared. We are to live the Eucharist, that is, to offer that same gift of love to our neighbors. We do so when we practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Every time we help a poor person, we are returning the gift of love that Jesus gave us in the Eucharist. We can call this practice Eucharistic solidarity. That’s what the St. Vincent de Paul Society does when you serve those in need; you are living the Eucharist.”
Following Mass, Lara Schreck, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Fort Wayne, shared specific ways the local community has received the outpouring of Eucharistic-inspired support throughout the past year.
Between their eleven food pantries, Community Harvest food vouchers, and food gift cards, more than 23,000 individuals were served with meals in 2022. Local conferences of the Society gave more than $150,000 in rental assistance to prevent evictions and homelessness. Additional funding was provided for utility and transportation assistance. Drivers of their Care Van provided 441 trips for low-income seniors to receive transportation to medical appointments. Through their jail ministry, 618 inmates in Allen County received long underwear to keep warm.
The Carpenter’s Sons ministry continues to serve many with home repairs and wheelchair ramps, having completed 542 projects for 304 households and 20 other nonprofits last year. Many from Carpenter’s Sons also participated in the 2nd Annual Teen Service Week last June, giving 25 teens the opportunity to help local homeowners with painting, landscaping, and building decks and wheelchair ramps.
The Society’s Woodshop, located on the downtown thrift store campus, built 236 handmade furniture items for families in need last year, including all the bunk beds for the local refugee center. Schreck shared that “these volunteers, nicknamed the “Woodshop Warriors”, were all recently featured on WANE-TV for a “Positively Fort Wayne” segment and in another story that aired just last week on EWTN! Thank you for making sure that no child in our community has to sleep on the floor!”
Additionally, she stated that more than 2,800 individuals received free clothing, furniture, and household items at the downtown thrift store through their voucher program. Even with fulfilling a record number of vouchers, the store was more profitable than ever with more than 28,000 shoppers and a profit of $58,000, with the majority of the profit going back to the needy conferences to help clients with food and financial assistance.
In their annual Friends of the Poor Walk, they raised a record amount of funding this year: more than $60,000 to help the local conferences serve more neighbors in need. This walk was ranked second in fundraising out of more than 200 events across the country, largely due to the support of Bishop Rhoades and many pastors and priests who participated.
Schreck concluded with one of her favorite quotes from St. Vincent de Paul, “if God is at the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts.” She said, “sometimes all our clients need to know is that you are there … that you care about them. You are praying for them. You are listening to them. You are trying to help. Please know the impact you have on the lives of others. You are giving them hope for a better future.”
Afterwards, various individuals were recognized for their tremendous efforts and generosity to serve those in need, some of whom have been involved with the Society for many decades. These recognitions included honoring three members with their annual “Top Hat Award”, given “for outstanding Vincentian service by following in the footsteps of Frédéric Antoine Ozanam.” The nominated winners this year were Sue Ickles, Linda Gutoskey, and Erna Springer.
Gutoskey, a parishioner from St. Charles Borromeo, shared her gratitude for Bishop Rhoades’ Eucharistic-themed homily. She stated, “we need to hear this more often! I didn’t think about how the Eucharist resonates through us when we are serving the poor and it led me to say, “thank you Lord, I needed that insight and connection to realize how You are working through us.” When we are not able to pray or we are helping a family who doesn’t share our Catholic faith, He still works through us; it was encouraging to hear that!”
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