The St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift store on Fort Wayne’s near south side has recently undergone extensive renovation as part of a $220,000 remodeling project. Aided in part by a $20,000 façade grant from the city and supplemented by monetary donations from friends of the organization, the building stands in silent tribute to the charitable work of a vast organization of Catholic lay men and women. Those members of the Fort Wayne Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Inc. are devoted to the spiritual growth of its members and person-to-person service to the poor.
Store manager Tim Fagan said that work on the building actually began two years ago with a new roof. Then, last fall, improvements continued with a new exterior façade and windows, and a handicapped ramp was installed for easier access by clients with mobility issues or who use wheelchairs, as well as mothers with strollers. Now everyone can “enter with dignity,” he pointed out.
A decision to remain in the same location and make the necessary upgrades was made with the full support of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, who personally urged area pastors to embrace the financial campaign and to encourage their parishioners’ support. No diocesan funds were used for the project.
Bishop Rhoades attended a re-dedication of the facility Wednesday, May 23, blessing the building and those in attendance at the event. He said: “My dear friends, we gather to bless this store dedicated to the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. It is a place where you will continue to aid the poor, clothe the naked and give counsel and advice to those in need. By this great work for the disadvantaged, you further the mission of Jesus Christ and bring His people closer to Him.” A reading by Msgr. Robert C. Schulte from Matthew 25 illustrated the valuable work of the organization.
Bishop Rhoades spoke in detail about the life of St. Vincent de Paul himself, a French priest who devoted his life to serving the needy and sick of France. He founded the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, whose initial purpose was the education of future priests. He also established the Daughters of Charity, a congregation for women whose work continues today under St. Vincent de Paul’s name.
Bishop Rhoades spoke as well of St. Louise de Marillac, St. Vincent de Paul’s French contemporary, who assisted him in his efforts to serve the lower classes throughout French society and helped establish hospitals, educational systems and other charitable endeavors involving entire communities. She was named by Pope John XXIII as patroness of Christian social workers.
Another highlight of Wednesday’s event was Bishop Rhoades’ special blessing of the life-size statue of Mary, Mother of God, near the store’s entrance. Fagan said Mary has been the guardian of the store since it first opened near the city bus station in 1967, and “we wanted to give her a nicer place of honor” in her current location. Now she stands in a cherry wood alcove designed in a style suggested by the bishop himself, and fashioned in a 100-hour effort by skilled woodworker and Vincentian Tom Braun. Now Mary’s presence continues to provide commanding and loving oversight of the store’s ongoing, charitable mission.
The large store sells good used furniture, household items, clothing and personal care items at greatly reduced prices. Members of St. Vincent de Paul’s Carpenters’ Sons, a handyman group, build new dressers and bunk beds that are offered for sale as well. Fagan calls the facility simply a “help store” for those in need, where they can shop economically in a nice environment. “That’s what we’re about,” he said.
The re-dedication and blessing ceremony was also attended by city officials Mayor Tom Henry, Councilman Geoff Paddock, Councilman Tom Didier and many members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Christ Child Society, a partner in the store’s mission to serve the poor, provided refreshments.
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