by Maureen McMillan, LCUSA Executive Administrator
We are all familiar with the term “our Vincentian Family” but it was only two years ago that I came to understand how large and varied the family is, especially here in St. Louis. In 2009, Vincentians the world over began to prepare for the 350th anniversary of the deaths of Sts. Vincent and Louise. Here in St. Louis a committee gathered to plan events to mark the celebration and I was invited to join. When I came to the first meeting I looked around the room and saw not only the names of people and organizations I knew but also several with which I was unfamiliar. Among those at the table were the familiar: Daughters and former Daughters of Charity, affiliates of the Daughters of Charity, representatives of both the local and national St. Vincent de Paul Society, Vincentian priests and Gateway Vincentian Volunteers, but also those I did not know as well – Vincentian Service Corps, Vincentian Marian Youth, and the Association of the Miraculous Medal.
The international Vincentian Family announced in the fall of 2009 that a special project would be launched in Haiti as part of the commemoration. If Vincentians all over the world focused in a concerted way on the dire poverty in that country, meaningful change might be effected. While we waited for the international project to be revealed, the St. Louis family encouraged its members to consider alternative Christmas giving to another program which provides nutritious food to undernourished Haitian children.
When the international family announced the creation of Zafen, it had three aims: to provide microloans to Haitians, to offer scholarships to school children and to restore the badly deforested countryside by planting trees. Our local committee decided that the collection at the anniversary liturgy would be earmarked for the Haiti Reforestation Project. It was our belief that the money we raised would not only purchase badly needed vegetation but would also plant the seeds of hope for a better future in Haiti.
The commemorative celebration was comprised of two events. On August 21, 2010, more than 150 St. Louis area Vincentians turned out to volunteer at sites in the St. Louis area. On Sunday, August 22, more than 600 people shared the Eucharistic celebration at the Cathedral with Fr. Gregory Gay, C.M., Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, as homilist. This event raised $6,500 for Zafen to be matched by the international family for Haiti reforestation.
In November of 2010, the Vincentian Family Collaborators held a U.S. – Canada Vincentian Family Systemic Change Meeting in Belleville, IL. Many of our local family leaders attended this conference and came away charged with training others in the principles and methods of a systemic change approach to combating poverty.
In March 2011 we held a half-day workshop attended by more than 100 St. Louis Vincentians from every branch of our local family. The most powerful portion of the day was a presentation by a staff member of the St. Louis Council of St. Vincent de Paul who detailed his Project Plus Program. He introduced the group to one of his successful clients, Vadicka, who captivated the audience with the story of her struggle and the road to self-sufficiency this program had given her. Attendees left the session with a new vocabulary and a new outlook on their approach to fighting poverty in our community.
These gatherings of the St. Louis Vincentian family have strengthened the bonds of friendship and collaboration and sparked a desire to continue meeting and working together. From that initial workshop has come a new committee which will carry on the work of planning the next gathering. Our vision has expanded beyond the immediate task of orchestrating the events of that year to forging a stronger and more effective relationship for years to come. †