Before the COVID-19 pandemic canceled what was once an annual event, members of all the St. Vincent de Paul Society chapters in St. Joseph County would gather for a Mass with the bishop and a celebratory dinner. On Wednesday, October 25, at St. Joseph Church in Mishawaka, more than 100 Vincentians were delighted to resume the tradition.
With Bishop Rhoades in Rome participating in the Synod of Bishops, the Mass was celebrated by Father Mark Gurtner, Vicar General of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, with the assistance of Father Chris Lapp, Pastor of St. Joseph, and Deacon Mike Plenzler of St. Anthony of Padua in South Bend.
In his homily, Father Gurtner repeated an apt line from the day’s Gospel, Luke 12:42-43: “Who is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.” Such stewards clearly include not only pastors and parents but Vincentians, Father Gurtner said, who are charged not simply with distributing material goods but, according to their Rule, with serving cheerfully, listening in order to understand rather than to judge, respecting their neighbors’ wishes, and helping them recover their dignity.
For Bishop Rhoades, Father Gurtner thanked all those present for their kindness in serving Christ in the person of the poor.
After a potluck dinner, Anne Watson, Executive Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County, said her most important message was also “thank you” to all the parish volunteers, the “keepers of the mission,” said Watson, who said she was encouraged to report 77 new members out of a total of about 500.
Watson shared some striking statistics on the increased demand for food and other assistance throughout the past year. Home visits to neighbors in need increased by 50 percent, and 55 percent more people came through the pantry at the council office.
Watson said that between October of 2022 and September of 2023:
• $3.1 million worth of food and services were provided
• 65,810 people were fed
• 5,962 homes were visited
• 94 children received beds through the Sweet Dreams program
• 1,444 children received Christmas presents.
• 1,144 families requested help who have never needed it before.
Watson also shared more good news on the local front: So many families and businesses signed up to sponsor families for Christmas through St. Vincent de Paul Society that the organization is able to enroll 423 families, the largest number in at least five years.
Watson pointed out that the wider community may not hear about St. Vincent de Paul as much as other service organizations because the work tends to be quieter and more personal. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has been serving St. Joseph County since 1904; records from those early years include delivering coal as well as food and helping widows and job-seekers recently released from prison. Watson showed a video featuring two individuals served in the past year who were effusive in thanking SVdP members.
Speaking to students at Holy Cross College in late October, Watson pointed out that Blessed Frederic Ozanam was a college student when he and a small group of friends founded the first Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833. It is now the largest Catholic lay organization in the world.
Attendees were sent off with a quote from Blessed Frederic, who said, “Let us do without hesitation whatever good lies at our hands.”
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