From the CEO

From the CEO – January 2021

From the CEO – January 2021 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope that you and your family has had a healthy, happy, and blessed Christmas season.  Despite the challenges, I hope that you chose to keep goodness in the Christmas season even if your holidays were scaled down.  This past year has been like no other in many respects.

1. Cause for Hope and Optimism in a Difficult Year

Difficult times can bring out people’s “best self.” Physical social distancing, masks? Sure.  Emotional closeness and support? Absolutely! That is precisely what has happened this past year at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Detroit.

During this dreadful Covid-19 (COVID)  pandemic, our Archdiocese  has had so many people, good people, find themselves in dire straits.  At SVdPD, we did shutter our Central Office and retail operations for three long months; and our Vincentians were challenged to improvise on how best to assist our neighbors.  But every day this past year, whether in person or remotely, SVdPD did its best to hear and meet the cries of those in need. In the eyes of those we served, we saw the suffering Christ. We did not judge those we served. Rather, the true measure of Vincentian compassion for others was in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them. At SVdPD, therefore, we not only served those in need together, we did so willingly, cheerfully, and in a manner that helped them to restore some dignity and hope.  Moreover consistent with our Rule, we strive to grow in holiness with prayer and by expressing compassionate and tender comfort to the poor and to one another.  During a most challenging year for so many, those provided some optimism.

2. SVdPD Council – A “Difficult” Year in Review

As I have for the past two years, I present a third “year in review” from the CEO perspective of how our Central Office and Retail teams contributed to our Council’s efforts for 2020, by so many measures, a truly difficult year.

As you are aware, our Council is a business with a $14 million dollar operating budget. To function properly, accountability, efficiency, protocols, and stewardship, among other things, are essential. That is undeniable. Consistent with those realities, however, our staff also lives the Vincentian mission.  Indeed, several are Vincentians.  Our staff’s efforts are not only essential to ensuring that our Council remains fiscally strong and running smooth, but to supporting our Vincentian family and its efforts in helping those we serve.

We are so blessed to have a dedicated staff of talented, committed employees who are led by our incredible Servant Leadership Team. Together, they epitomize what can be done when a group respects one another, focuses on an inspirational mission, and works together.  We are also blessed by a dedicated Board, Foundation Board, committee members, generous donors, and many other really committed, talented people who generously share their particular expertise and/or financial support.  Heartfelt thanks to all!


Our motto is “See the Possible.” This past year, our Servant Leadership Team and every member of our staff saw what was possible. Here’s a sampling of what we accomplished together.


  • Notwithstanding the significant impact of COVID, we finished a third straight fiscal year in the black. With the help of PPP funds, we were able to operate from a cash flow standpoint without the need to utilize any funds from major bequests or savings.  After years of financial instability, this is a very noteworthy team success.
  • Received a $1 Million grant from DTE Energy to expand access to families needing utility assistance.
  • Received a $300,000 grant through the Emergency Food & Shelter Program Phase CARES, allowing conferences to assist neighbors with rent/mortgage.
  • Restructured our Council’s Servant Leadership Team prior to COVID, to increase efficiencies.  The decision proved providential.  With talent and commitment, Tom Butler and Mary Torok capably managed our finances and operations through COVID.
  • Successfully completed the annual audit by three + months sooner than last year’s.
  • Used summer 2020 to make significant repairs and improvements at Camp Ozanam.
  • Maintained effective, internal communication by implementing regularly scheduled Zoom meetings among our District Presidents, Board President, and CEO.
  • Hosted the first visit to our Council in seven years by our National CEO, Dave Barringer. Dave had an opportunity to visit our Dixie store and meet via
  • Zoom with our Council’s Leadership Team and Board President.
  • Arranged to deliver thousands of pounds of donated food to donor designated conferences within the City of Detroit.
  • Participated in Crain’s Annual Giving guide.

COVID- Related Activities

  • Distributed $160,000 to our Districts to help fund COVID  relief programs.
  • Implemented a COVID Safety & Response Plan based on CDC guidelines (including PPE protocols) and worked with Echo Media on COVID campaign/signage for all SVdPD locations.  The safety of our Vincentians, staff, business invitees, and neighbors in need remains paramount.
  • Distributed the very generous donation of disposable masks manufactured for essential workers to all staff.  Replacement supplies will last through next Spring.
  • Raised $137,556. through a special COVID fundraising appeal.
  • Conducted 40 Zoom meetings among our Servant Leadership Team to ensure seamless management of our Council during the three months that COVID-Executive Orders shut down our physical operations. To promote communication and coordination of efforts, our Board President attended every meeting.
  • The Energy Assistance Program (EAP) team continued to serve neighbors virtually
  • Conducted monthly Virtual Town Halls to check in and keep everyone connected.
  • Participated in weekly, national calls with SVdPD counterparts from across the country to learn and share information regarding our Council’s response to COVID.

Business Operations 

  • Obtained a COVID PPP Loan and managed the process for filing for forgiveness.
  • Focused on extensive and active cash flow management and reporting to ensure seamless management through the COVID shut-down and re-opening.
  • Adopted 18 internal financial controls recommended by an outside financial advisor.
  • Streamlined banking (e.g. improved internal controls, reduced costs) by transitioning from 6 banks/14 accounts to 2 banks/6 accounts.
  • Successfully completed the FY21 Budget.

Development & Marketing 

  • Secured $220,000 in additional grant support, i.e. in addition to DTE.
  • Created and produced our virtual Top Hat Ball Un-Gala in three months due to restrictions caused by COVID.
    • Our Top Hat virtual event featured a robust, timely panel discussion among four nationally recognized experts on community and social justice.
    • To view the Top Hat Ball Ball Un-Gala, just click on
    • Top Hat raised more than $175,000.
  • Raised the profile of our Council and thereby kept annual fund donations  strong with over 500 new donors and, despite COVID, donations totaled  $7,200 over last year.   Since FY18, we have increased our Annual Fund, not including bequests or memorials, by 42%.

Conference Support

We, of course, are blessed to have dedicated Vincentians; and I applaud all who sustained efforts to help those in need this past year of COVID. We continue to collect and process Annual Reports from our Conferences.  At the moment, therefore, I do not have final information to share about our Vincentians’ prodigious efforts during 2020. I plan to do so at next month’s Zoom annual meeting. Meantime, I extend heartfelt thanks to all Vincentians who helped others in need this past year.  In addition,

  • Our 2020 Annual Meeting (January 19) was held at Sacred Heart Major Seminary including an interactive spirituality component with SVDP National Spiritual Advisor Bishop Donald Hying.
  • SVdPD Feast Day Mass (September 27) was held at St. Katari Parish with SVdPD Spiritual Advisor Bishop Donald Hanchon presiding over mass.  The event was livestreamed virtually for all to attend.
  • Provided regular spirituality support to Vincentians during COVID shut down period. Also created virtual trainings and formation events.
  • A total of 8 training programs were offered prior to the COVID shutdown.
  • Created virtual trainings and formation events in order to continue supporting new and existing Vincentian members, including the kick off of Coffee With Vincent, a seven part weekly formation event that included reflection and conversation about Serving With Hope, Module 1.

Retail Operations

  • Despite the impact of COVID related shut downs for over three months, limited store hours, and a 50% loss in our workforce, YOY sales showed relative loss of only $200K.
  • Donations were up 58% YOY.  The additional product positions the stores and RRC for sales growth, especially during the winter months when donations trend lighter.
  • RRC has been “Kaizened” with new processes and cost saving improvements to streamline efficiencies in order to better serve the stores and donation bins.
  • $183,552 of goods were distributed to neighbors in need through our retail stores/conference referral program.
  • Kicked off new Manager in Training Program.

Energy Assistance Program

  • EAP and Conferences together served a total of 4,076 households with energy assistance and self-sufficiency services.
  • The nimbleness of the team allowed us to continue to serve our neighbors throughout the pandemic.  Beginning in March through September of 2019, the EAP team and SVdPD Conferences accomplished the following:
    • 808 neighbors were enrolled into energy assistance Affordable Payment Plans.
    • Provided an additional 1,418 neighbors with utility bill payments.
    • Supported 2,301 families with self-sufficiency services.
    • Created an online application which provided 707 families with safe access to utility assistance during the pandemic.

As a result of these and other efforts, our Council has continued its three year journey to get stronger and more stable.

3. Conclusion

Think back to January 1, 2020. A new year began and brought with it great promise. Certainly no one in our organization had a clue what was about to happen to our world, our nation, and our hometown. We suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a continuing, ferocious storm that has wreaked havoc on so many other organizations.  Who had even heard of COVID? Who had heard of Zoom?

Thanks to an incredible team effort, our Council weathered 2020 and the insidious COVID storm remarkably well. Heartfelt gratitude to everyone in our organization for your tireless efforts on behalf of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Detroit . Clearly, we are not yet out of this health crisis. Please continue to follow recommended safety protocols.

We have arrived at yet another New Year’s Day; and, for a variety of reasons, it brings “stirrings within us of new courage and new hope toward that future rushing at us”. Rev Gilbert Bowen. What lies ahead, of course, is still shrouded with considerable unsettling uncertainty.

No matter what the future holds, let us consider the poignant reminder by Heisman Trophy recipient, Tim Tebow, who said, “just as the moon reflects the sun, in life we are called to be reflections of the Son.” As we embrace what lies ahead, may we help one another remain focused on our inspirational mission and on those we serve.  If we allow it, love can be a burning torch in the darkness that, by its warmth and light, helps us find our way.  Let us choose to be sisters and brothers for each other.

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and blessed New Year! Stay safe. God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,

From the CEO – December 2020

From the CEO – December 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. Holiday season 2020 has arrived! We just celebrated Thanksgiving. It came in the wake of devastating natural disasters, contentious elections, an unstable economy, and, of course, a relentlessly brutal pandemic. Perhaps times of crises present a good time to give thanks for all that we have and tend to take for granted during “better times”.

President Abraham Lincoln helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 – during the height of the Civil War. With this nation seemingly hopelessly entrenched in a most brutal battle for survival, President Lincoln advocated for a national holiday that “promoted the healing of the wounds of our nation.” Imagine that!

Since then, our nation has celebrated Thanksgiving even through the worst of times, e.g. wars, 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. Whatever the situation in our nation, Thanksgiving, a most special holiday, helps us to focus on gratitude.

This year, even if we celebrated Thanksgiving in a non-traditional, socially distanced way, it is undeniable that we have SO much for which to be thankful. This holiday season, let us focus on that undeniable reality.

Briefly, let me share just one of countless ways for expressing gratitude. It can be safely undertaken in the comfort of your home.

Covid-19 continues. Understandably, after ten months, many are feeling very fatigued and frustrated. We should stay vigilant in our efforts to help mitigate the spread of this insidious virus, e.g. masks, social distancing, sanitizing, etc. At the same time, think of how many courageously continue to do what they can during this health crisis to help those in need, i.e. all of us. That is so inspirational! Our Vincentians continue to serve neighbors in need. They not only serve, but also see themselves in kinship with those in need. Similarly, our Boards, committee members, and outside consultants have helped us remain remarkably stable during this pandemic. Finally, our SVdPD staff has remained incredibly focused. Their talents and collective dedication to our mission inspire me daily.

In addition, think of all those who have weathered this deadly threat to help all of us stay within shouting distance of “normalcy.” For example, first responders, teachers, friends, essential workers, parents and grandparents, fellow employees, clients, donors, and so many others have courageously remained outwardly focused to help others.

How many people have helped you these past, very challenging ten months? In my case, scores and scores of people come to my mind. This holiday season, in the spirit of heartfelt gratitude, I plan to reach out to as many as I can – as I am doing herein – to express my sincere appreciation for their sharing this rugged journey this past year. I humbly suggest that you consider doing the same.

Together, let us create a tsunami of positive e-mail and social media communications that express gratitude for what we are blessed to have in our lives. My life has surely been enriched because of you. Thank you.

In his book Turn Everything to Love, Robert P. Maloney, C.M. says “Be grateful even in the midst of adversity, illness and crises. Be aware that God is with you and give thanks for that abiding presence.”

This holiday season, let’s reflect on the gift of our blessings and remain full of hope that together we will emerge from this dreadful challenge stronger and more compassionate. Stay safe. Merry Christmas! God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – November 2020

From the CEO – November 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I sincerely hope that you remain safe and are doing as well as possible during this on-going, dreadful health crisis. Be assured, you are in my prayers; and I ask that you keep me in yours. These are times that challenge our resolve. Day by day, may we prove that we are more than up to the tasks at hand.

This month I share thoughts and feelings on three topics. Even though we may not understand why something has happened, it behooves us to pause and reflect upon the reality that life is precious and continually changing. I share the following in the spirit of Vincentian friendship and not because I have any unique insights. As always, if my comments create a similar willingness within you to share thoughts or feelings, please be assured that I welcome your doing so.

I. Covid-19 – Still a Serious Threat

As you all know, Covid-19 continues to threaten. Understandably, after eight months, many are feeling fatigued and frustrated. But the two highest days of new cases in Michigan on record occurred last week! In fact, Michigan’s alarming rise in new Covid-19 cases has pushed the seven day average to its highest level since early April. The safety of our staff, our Vincentians, and everyone involved with our Council is paramount. We should stay vigilant in our efforts to help mitigate the spread of this insidious virus, e.g. masks, social distancing, sanitizing, etc. Stay focused and safe!

Second, ALL not-for-profits are facing “pandemic revenue hits”. Indeed, one in six not-for-profits closed between 2009 – 2013 following the Great Recession. Experts forecast that Covid-19 will have a similar impact.

When Covid-19 “started”, people’s generosity led to an uptick in donations. Depending upon how long this pandemic lasts, however, there could well be a steep cliff ahead for not-for-profits, especially if, God forbid, this crisis lingers for another year, or longer! Be assured, we remain outwardly focused and helping people in need. At the same time, we are managing and planning for that possibility by deferring expenses as much as possible. Please understand that these are not normal times! All things considered, thanks to our talented, dedicated Leadership Team and staff, so far, so good.

Third, we should remain ever mindful of the widening gap between being inconvenienced and being devastated. Recently, noted journalist, Fareed Zakaria, had this to say. “I cannot but help wondering if the relative normalcy of life . . .  has prevented us from understanding the true severity of the problem. For those of us using Zoom, things have been a bit disruptive and strange. But for tens of millions of people in America . . . . this is the Great Depression. Can we please help them?” Well said. I am grateful to be part of our organization, which does precisely that.

II. Frank Morelli –  A Man for Others

On Saturday, October 3, 2020, Frank Morelli, an AOD Board member, was suddenly and tragically killed in a horrible car accident. His passing is a terrible loss to his family, his friends, and this Council. To those who knew him, Frank epitomized what it means to be a good person and a faithful  follower of Jesus Christ. He was kind, compassionate, generously shared his considerable talents, and cared deeply for his family and others. I feel truly blessed to have known him. On behalf of a deeply saddened Council, I extend heartfelt condolences to Frank’s family. Please keep them in your prayers.  Frank was truly a Man for Others who enriched the lives of all he met. May he rest in eternal peace and joy; and may his family feel God’s love and support during these truly difficult times.

III. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul & Our Essential Role

Our October 2nd Top Hat Ball Un-Gala was quite successful in many respects. For those who chose to “attend” and want to see it again, or who were unable to attend but would like to view it, we have posted the entire program on YouTube, 2020 Top Hat Ball Ungala. You can also find it by going to YouTube and searching for “St. Vincent de Paul Top Hat Un-Gala 2020”. In particular, I commend you to watch the truly remarkable discussion moderated by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Stephen Henderson. The panel consisted of Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., Kylee Mitchell Wells, and Bishop Donald Hying. The entire, forty minute discussion on social justice and broadening one’s sense of community was fabulous. Our Council owes a debt of gratitude to these extraordinary individuals.

The panel discussion was incredibly well done. Stephen Henderson moderated superbly. That four total strangers came together to create such a robust, respectful conversation was amazing. All surely contributed. Kylee Mitchell Wells spoke forcefully of the critical role that philanthropic groups can and do play through collaboration. A favorite quote of mine came from Fr. Boyle. He shared an anecdote about a gang member of his beloved “dearly deportees” to the effect that love is stronger than any virus. The young man urged others to choose to be each other’s “protective mask” not only from Covid-19 but from all of life’s challenges. What an inspirational vision! Another truly memorable comment was shared by Bishop Hying when he said:

“The greatest organization in our Church today is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul because it is a grassroots, lay led group of folks that are intent on giving honor and glory to God by growing in fellowship and service with each other, but then going to those who are in need, not from a position of superiority. but from a position of humble service and solidarity. When we can do that on a local level, then there is an abundance of life for us.” 

For me, this profound comment touches upon how we Vincentians should view the world and, most importantly, choose to behave. Actions – not titles define a Vincentian. Some view one’s life journey as involving separate “spheres of influence”, e.g.  they compartmentalize. For example, they act one way in one setting and another way elsewhere. I believe that a “good life” is one that consists not of separate spheres of influence, but rather rests upon coherence – i.e. the merging of behavior in all “spheres” through an interrelationship between the social world and the spiritual world.  Therein lies the essence of being a Vincentian.

In the poor and in neighbors in need, Vincentians see the “suffering Christ”,  Rule , Part 1,1.8). We strive to understand that the essence of Vincentian tradition is rooted in the spirituality of Christian love expressed in community through service; and we commit to helping one another, e.g. Vincentians, Staff, and all involved in our community.  Together, we express Christian spirituality through reverent service to the poor, the marginalized, and to each other.  “Happiness comes upon you unawares while you are helping others.”

Jesus advocated that we see one another – all others – through the lens of love. Our Vincentian Rule is built entirely on the same core message. Jesus taught that we are bound together through relationships, particularly with those who are most vulnerable. Without this spiritual basis, people, even Vincentians, can and do continually fall back into disputes between one group and others. As Bishop Hying pointed out, truly committing to spiritual relationships can create a world that is free of racism, cares for the poor, welcomes life, and builds a civilization of love. See the Possible! Clearly, we have a long way to go!

To be sure, none of us will soon forget 2020. But if it leads to our heightened appreciation of our Vincentian need for one another, then it will prove to have been a most purposeful, albeit painful, year.

One word of caution. Seeing others through a lens of love and acting accordingly is no protection from criticism. Indeed, it may well cause others to criticize one’s actions loudly.  When confronted with such critics, think of the advice that St. Teresa of Calcutta, a patron saint of helping the Poor and destitute, once shared (and lived by).


People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

– Mother Teresa


IV. Conclusion

It is hard to believe that it has been eight months since Michigan’s mask mandate went into effect.  I want to thank everyone for staying safe and for adhering to our Covid-19 safety guidelines. Unfortunately, recently Michigan has seen a sharp increase in the number of reported cases and hospitalizations.  Please continue to be vigilant in your safety efforts.

This is a moment in time that eventually will pass.  It is a challenging time for all of us.  But remember:  we are a team!  We will get through this crisis together.  And if you need a reminder of what a wonderful world we are blessed to live in, take some time to walk among the trees, in the quiet splendid beauty that is a Michigan Autumn.

“Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.” – Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton

Finally, our nation is engaging in national, state, and local elections.  Your voice matters. This year, whether in person or by mail, participate in our democracy and exercise your freedom and right to vote.

Best wishes on all ahead. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – October 2020

From the CEO – October 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. As we enter our eighth month of dealing with the dreadful Covid-19, I hope that you continue to remain safe and are doing as well as possible under the circumstances.

Last weekend, we celebrated the feast of our patron saint, St. Vincent de Paul, with a Mass at St. Kateri Church in Dearborn, with many of you joining virtually.  Thank you to Bishop Hanchon for celebrating. St. Vincent understood that encounters with the Poor were encounters with Jesus Christ. Poverty has many faces. He taught by example that we should help each other to strive to make our service holy by seeking God in it. He urged that we serve to find God rather than just to complete a task, no matter how helpful to another. It is our response to the gospels’ calls to love our neighbor. Pursuant to our Rule 1.4, let us help each other define the term neighbor very broadly to include not only those in economic need but also fellow Vincentians, Staff members, and all with whom we come in contact.

This month has been extraordinarily hectic as a result of our fiscal year ending, budgets being created, Covid-19 related issues, and final preparations for our Top Hat Ball “Un-Gala”. But I want to share brief observations about tomorrow evening’s SVdPD event and then to contrast the end of our journeys with the beginning of every day.

I. Top Hat  Ball “Un-Gala” – Still time to “attend” Tomorrow’s SVdPD Event

As you know, tomorrow evening, Friday evening, October 2nd, we will host our 2020 Top Hat Ball “Un-Gala”, a virtual event that those who “attend” can enjoy from the safety and comfort of your home or office. I hope that you choose to do so. “Tickets” are still available and very modestly priced.  If you have any difficulty purchasing them at, then please call Keith Koppmeier, 313.393.2909, or Tim Burke, 313.393.2695. Either can help you. It promises to be a wonderful evening; and, especially in light of Covid-19 and those we serve, it is an important fundraising event. If you cannot make it, then please check out our “silent auction” on-line and bid often! Thank you in advance.

Our event will feature a lively discussion among four nationally recognized experts on two, interrelated topics: social justice and developing a more inclusive sense of community. From a Vincentian standpoint, our panel includes our SVDP USA Spiritual Advisor, Bishop Donald Hying. Come listen to what he has to say about our Society’s essential role in today’s world. You’ll be glad you did.

a) Social Justice – Social justice is expressly mandated by our governing Rule. For example, Rule 7.1 states:  “The Society is concerned not only with alleviating need but also with identifying the unjust structures that cause it. It is, therefore, committed to identifying the root causes of poverty and to contributing to their elimination. In all its charitable actions there should be a search for justice; in its struggle for justice, the Society must keep in mind the demands of charity.”

Clearly, in any organization as large as ours, diversity of thought and opinion will always exist. Prior to tomorrow night’s Top Hat, I encourage Vincentians to re-read our Rule 7.1. In light of that rule, for as long as I am involved in our Detroit Council, social justice will remain a priority.

b) Developing a more inclusive sense of community – Last month, in America Magazine, Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu noted that: “We are a nation that exalted individualism but in the end relies on the strength of community.” How true! Therein lies why our program focuses on broadening one’s sense of community as well.

Whether you purchased “tickets” long ago or do so at the last moment, all will be included and all will benefit from the friendship and spiritual growth that our exciting program offers. So get your “tickets” and help to create a virtual community for a great cause. Bring family, bring friends, or just bring someone who you think would benefit from a robust discussion on social justice and community!

II. RBG – A Life Well Lived – The End of a Journey

On Friday, September 18, 2020, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87. She had served with distinction on the highest court in our nation since 1993. During that time and throughout her prior career she courageously and effectively championed the proposition that our nation’s Constitution should be more inclusive to include far more people than it did when ratified, e.g. African Americans, Native Americans, and, above all, women. She was a gift to all, especially the vulnerable. Justice Ginsburg is the first woman in U.S. history to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol.

Of particular note to our Society, is that, as she championed women’s rights, she earned the respect and affection of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members as well. In today’s strident social climate, that is incredibly noteworthy. Her deep and abiding friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia was legendary. For her, ideological differences never interfered with her civility toward others and her profound respect of and love for the law. May she – and Justice Scalia – rest in eternal peace.

III. The Gift of Every Day – A New Beginning

In a real sense, each day is a new beginning to “see the possible.” Whether we deserve it or not, God gives us the gift of every day. He also has gifted us with free will – the ability to decide how to use each day. To promote more mindful, daily decisions, I share a beautiful Morning Prayer that Holy Name (Birmingham) parish’s dedicated, inspirational Pastor, Msgr. John Zenz, shared with our congregation recently. While he translated it from French many decades ago, it still has beauty and incredible applicability to today’s world.

“Lord, in the silence of this day which is dawning,
I come to ask for peace, strength, and wisdom.
I wish to look at the world this day
With eyes totally full of love –
To be patient, understanding, sensitive, and wise,
To see beyond appearances and see your children as
You yourself see them, thus seeing only the good in everyone.
Close my ears to all calumny.
Guard my tongue from any evil
That in my heart may dwell only thoughts of blessing.
Cloth me with Your beauty, Lord,
And all day long I will manifest Your presence.

Life has so many impediments and inconveniences. We do not always see “eye to eye.” Perhaps those moments are blessings in disguise. “Seeing only the good in everyone.” Imagine that! Perhaps bridging the gap between each one of us and others presents opportunities to overcome our personal flaws and shortcomings and thereby grow closer to God on our journey back to Him. Doing so is a precious gift that we give to ourselves.

Rather than act like a pinball smashed about by the uncertainties of “boring” daily routine, let’s help each other choose to use God’s gift of each day to draw closer to Him. “To see Thee more clearly, to follow Thee more nearly, to love Thee more dearly, day by day.” Doing so through spiritual growth, friendship, and service is clearly the essence of being a Vincentian.


Each of us has a gift that Justice Ginsburg no longer has: the gift of Life. The works of our Society – helping those sometimes desperately in need – are closer to the wellsprings of our faith than when all its leadership gathers in a grandiose cathedral. It is a blessing to contribute to our collective efforts to sustain our Council’s 135 year presence in this Archdiocese helping those in need. With so much “cultural divisiveness” in our world and nation, it leaves one wondering what can I – one flawed person – possibly do to help? It creates feelings of helplessness. Kindness only goes so far! At those moments, thinking of Justice Ginsburg, a quiet, albeit driven, woman who stood one inch above five feet, respected everyone, and changed the world for so many, might help.

Recently, we heard a gospel from Matthew. It spoke of the inclusive community of Jesus. When we surrender ourselves to that community, we become part of the family of God – humbly giving and receiving in His name. In that essential sense, we are no longer on our own, we should no longer be “afraid”. Every day presents countless opportunities to overcome inconveniences and bring the teachings of Jesus Christ to life. In many respects, choosing that path is like taking the road less travelled.

Our Rule urges us to take the less travelled path. We do not have the power to control what happens, or to control when our journey ends. But we retain the power to control how we choose to live the gift of every day. This blessed, inspirational “choice” on how to respond clearly applies to seemingly “meaningless” moments in our daily routines. It has the power to transform them into purposeful moments of spiritual growth.

On two personal notes, I extend congratulations and appreciation to Nancy Szlezyngier for having completed her first full year as President of our Detroit Council.  Secondly, this past week, our Director of Conference Support, Debbie Jackson, submitted her resignation from SVdPD effective October 2, 2020. Debbie has been employed with St. Vincent de Paul since 2013, working initially with the MEAP grant and then as support for all our Vincentians.  As many of you know, her commitment to our mission cemented her excellent working relationship with Vincentians across the span of the Archdiocese.  On behalf of a grateful Council, I thank Debbie for her service and personally wish her success in her future endeavors.

In conclusion, I hope you choose to “attend” tomorrow’s night SVdPD Top Hat Ball “Un-Gala”. Whether you do so or not, I extend best wishes to each of you on all that lies ahead. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – August 2020

From the CEO – August 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to remain safe and are doing as well as possible during these days of considerable uncertainty. My prayers are with you.

Last month, I wrote about helping each other, as Vincentians, to broaden our concept of community, i.e. our journey together. We also celebrated Independence Day – our nation’s freedom from a foreign sovereignty, not from each other. As we did, it occurred to me that we should be celebrating and strengthening our interdependence as much or more so than independence.

This month, I share thoughts on seeing our journey through a new lens – a new normal. It involves being more mindful and appreciating the “little things” done for us and those we do for others. To be sure, the following are merely thoughts and feelings shared by a Vincentian to other Vincentians. If they cause you to want to respond, whether to agree or otherwise, then, in the spirit of Vincentian friendship, I encourage you to do so.

These are challenging, even painful times. Reports of separation, loneliness, despair, and tragic loss are every day’s lead stories. But, as suggested last month, perhaps those are the labor pains of a “new normal” being born. Perhaps we will better appreciate the gift of every day.

I – Gift Giving

Gifts are a beautiful tradition. Typically, they are given to another to express affection or to recognize a special occasion. They come in all sizes and price points. No matter the cost or sacrifice to the giver, they are presented free of charge to the recipient. The catalyst for gifts is one’s decision to give to another.

Gifts need not be purchased.  Whether we realize it or not, we give and receive various types of special gifts every day. We give gifts of our time and gifts of our efforts. We also give gifts of understanding, compassion, kindness, and love – even when the recipient is not necessarily “deserving” of the gift. What priceless gestures. It is natural and understandable to give gifts to family and those within one’s “community”. But what about all others? They are surely part of God’s community.

Stories are a powerful tool to emotionalize information. In that spirit, I begin by sharing one about a gift.

There once lived a King. His staff announced a huge celebration to honor him. Dignitaries from near and far attended. As the celebration began, a long reception line assembled consisting of dignitaries bearing expensive gifts to give the King. At the end of the line was an elderly man shabbily dressed. It was apparent from his appearance that he was a fisherman. That was rather odd because the sea was at least a several day walk from the King’s palace. When the man arrived at the front of the line, he presented the King with his gift: a sea shell. The King’s guard then said “you come to our King’s celebration and present him with only a sea shell? This is an outrage!” The man responded by saying, “long journey, part of gift.”

II – Keeping Life Precious – Our Gift to God

Humans have an incredible capacity to give. Stories of people’s generosity of heart and willingness to sacrifice abound. They are treasured sources of inspiration. But Life can be a long journey; and one can get worn down by its demands. That can create alienation, cynicism, and despair – not feelings that promote or nurture one’s ability to give.

a) The “Boredom of Daily Routine”  

The renowned author/philosopher, David Foster Wallace, observed that much of our journey consists of the flat out “boredom of daily routine”. Like water is for fish, one could say that our daily routines (and all they involve) are the “waters” in which we typically swim. In his essay, “This Is Water”, Wallace provides several examples of what he means by daily boredom. For example, he challenges us to look at an average work day.

You arise, go to your demanding job, and work hard for a full day. By day’s end, you are exhausted. All you really want to do is to go home, have a nice dinner, and then unwind before heading to bed to get ready for the next work day. But then you realize that you have no food at home (or you are asked to stop by the market on your way home to pick some up). It’s the end of the work day. Traffic is bad. The market is crowded (apparently others are short on food, too). And your shopping cart has a wheel that, as you try to maneuver up and down the aisles, keeps pulling to the left. You think “I don’t need this”!

We can relate; and this is merely one example of the dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless daily routines all of our journeys include. You get the picture. Those moments, those frustrating “interruptions” from what we really prefer doing, force us to decide – numerous times every day – how to respond to them. Do we take umbrage with Life’s routine? Probably, especially if we view things through the lens of “my hunger”, “my time”, “my fatigue”, or even “my desire.” Doing so leads to a mindset of everyone who is not helping me is simply in my way! Think “me v. everybody.” How truly frustrating!

Feelings of frustration and even anger are only exacerbated when a particular day also includes pain, failure, rejection, disagreement, sadness, or even personal loss. Journeys also take unexpected turns as a result of illness, separation, loss of economic stability, and a host of other setbacks.

b) The Gift of Kindness

Yet, there is another, personal choice for dealing with Life’s “daily routine”. Kindness. It begins with a recognition of the precious gift that we have been given: Life. Each day involves fundamental choices we make – intentionally or by default – regarding how to use that gift. Do we allow Life’s inconveniences to “eat us alive” slowly, or do we keep Life precious? At least part of that answer depends upon one’s focus. Are we proceeding through the ofttimes suffocating existence of each, “boring” day assessing whether those with whom you cross paths “deserve” to be treated kindly? Or should our focus instead be on what motivates us? Each of us has so much more control over the latter.

Clearly, choosing to react with kindness to interruptions, distractions, and “unreasonable people” is not easy. Nor is it likely a game changer. But like the sea shell that the fisherman brought from far away, it is a precious gift. Let us be mindful of how we respond to the mundane moments of daily Life.

No matter what our journey has involved or where it has taken us, we have survived. A forty year, five day a week career translates to roughly 10,000 work days. And a life of seventy years is 25,500 days. By any measure, those are long journeys. And think of the countless interactions we have had with others. In our daily routine, each interaction can be an opportunity to grow as a human being. To get to the “next day”, notwithstanding pain, sorrow, and setbacks, we find the strength, courage, and determination to carry on. Gifts of kindness, respect, friendship, courtesy, love, and, when necessary, forgiveness may seem small. But they matter.

Whenever our paths cross, it is with this unspoken backdrop – these long journeys – that we do so. Each interaction is a gift. Each interaction is unique and helps to keep Life precious, especially if we choose to share the gift of kindness not only with family and friends, but with everyone. When a meeting may be inconvenient and “not according to my schedule”, think of the journey each participant took to get there! Our journey is part of the gift we give to others each day. “Long journey, part of gift.”

III – The Gift of Every Day – God’s Gift to Us

We are expected to “grow up” rather than merely to grow old. Think of the number of people in your remarkable life who have helped you along the way to become who you are! Each of your paths has led you to service as a Vincentian. What a noble calling, if one chooses to respond to that calling and serve with true Vincentian spirit.

Life journeys can be long, tiring, and most challenging. Therein lies why the Vincentian core value of friendship is so essential. As we soldier on through Covid-19 and all other impediments along our way back to God, we can choose to remain inwardly focused, or we can choose to live our Vincentian mission. It is not easy. No one ever said that following Jesus Christ is.

God has given us the gift of eternal life. He has also given us the gift of each other. May we feel and choose to practice both types of love each and every day. Indeed, at those inevitable moments of inconvenience – e.g. at the store, in a traffic jam, at the office, or at home – we can choose to focus on our own interests or those of others. It is up to us to decide. Let us be more mindful of those daily choices.

IV – Conclusion

Last month, I suggested that rather than “return to normal” as previously defined, we strive to emerge from this insidious pandemic having created a “new normal” that focuses more on an inclusive sense of community and the needs of others. For the moment, we find ourselves entrenched in an on-going health crisis that is far from over. Through it all, we retain a freedom to choose how to respond to the daily inconveniences, distractions, injustices, and inequities with which our journey confronts us. May we choose to use the transformative powers of kindness and giving to others for the greater glory of God.

It can be a long journey back to God. Along the way, every day provides ample opportunities to grow spiritually in His name. This Covid-19 crisis has multiplied the daily inconveniences and interruptions that confront us. So let us begin now to view them instead as gifts – opportunities to grow in holiness and closer to God. Little gifts can and do make all the difference in our world.

Covid-19 has also instilled uncertainty – even fear – in so many. Let us see the possible and choose to be part of the solution by shedding our fear and giving the gift of hope to each other.

Best wishes. Stay safe. By the way, the King loves sea shells. Pass it on. “Long journey, part of gift.” God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,

From the CEO – July 2020

From the CEO – July 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope that you remain safe and are doing as well as possible during this dreadful health crisis. Heartfelt thanks to those who, like our staff, remain active helping others during this quarantining.

I am also deeply grateful that, thanks to a very concerted team effort, our Council – Vincentians and staff alike – continues to serve those in need while adhering to recommended safety protocols. In addition, relative to many other Not-for-Profits, our Council continues to maintain financial stability. That is essential if we are to continue helping others, especially in light of anticipated, increased needs ahead.

Our Leadership Team worked very hard on all aspects of our operation during the three months that our offices were closed. Our entire staff has made extraordinary efforts for the past three weeks as we have safely, carefully, and successfully re-opened operations. I am deeply grateful to all of them for their extraordinary efforts.

1. A New Normal

Naturally, a frequent comment heard lately is “I cannot wait until we return to normal”. While totally understandable, comments like that cause me to wonder what is normal anymore and whether that should even be our goal.

For months, our nation has been staggered by two existential crises: an insidious health pandemic and the resultant economic crisis as well as the killing of an African American man in custody. The death of George Floyd unleashed illuminating light on many other such tragedies that has caused our nation to erupt into a fury of widespread, sustained cries for justice. Troubled times have come to our nation (& world). While it is true that difficult times can bring out the best in people, crises undeniably also surely trigger other, less desirable reactions as well.

In our May 2020 Conference Connection, I addressed the alarming rise in inequality in our nation (and in Southeast Michigan) in regard to health care, education, housing, employment, criminal justice, among many other essential aspects of life. In effect, that situation was part of our “normal” prior to anyone ever having heard of Covid-19. We now know that those unaddressed inequalities left so many, particularly among our African American sisters and brothers, terribly vulnerable to this ferocious virus. And the Covid-19 crisis is far from over.

Covid-19 has inconvenienced all of us. But it has devastated so many. They are our neighbors. They are in need. The question that I ask is “together, what more can our Vincentian community do about this worsening situation? Our humanity depends upon everyone’s humanity.

2. Defining “Community”

We just celebrated Mother’s Day and then Father’s Day. Both are truly wonderful occasions that recognize the immeasurable contributions that parents make as a result of the love, guidance, training, and efforts that they willingly bestow on their beloved children. Families are a cornerstone of our society.

Perhaps the next most critical social group after family is “community”. Unlike family, however, that term lends itself to considerably different definitions. To demonstrate, some define community as only those who live in their neighborhood, look like them, vote like them, and basically share the same religious and socio-economic beliefs. Others have a much broader sense of the term. Some believe that all should be considered part of our community.

When one views another as a fellow member of a community, that person tends to receive the benefit of the doubt, e.g. he/she is “one of us.” Unfortunately, the converse tends to be true as well, e.g. no benefit of the doubt if “he/she is not one of us.” Consequently, how one defines the term community, e.g. narrowly or broadly, is quite critical to one’s willingness to accept differing views and people of different backgrounds.

Consider the following. If we brought together a two year old from the African American, Asian American, Hispanic American, Arab American, Native American, Caucasian, and other racial and ethnic “worlds” that comprise our diverse nation, they would have no problem “getting along”. To the extent they had problems, it would surely not be because of racial, religious, or ethnic differences. But if we brought that same richly diverse group back together sixteen years later, a different ambiance would likely exist among the group. That tells me that cultural and partisan differences are acquired traits. Once acquired, they tend to galvanize through constant interaction only with those who share those views, whatever they may be. This can be a terribly destructive disease in a pluralist nation like ours.

Undeniably, within our richly diverse nation, many priceless cultures – “worlds” – exist. But, at the end of the day, we are one nation. For many reasons, we should view our nation as one community. The same holds true for our Society of St. Vincent de Paul, i.e. we are One Society, one community. Both are aspirational visions.

The reality is that, currently, we live in “divided houses.” Cultural differences get emphasized and attitudes harden. Whether liberal or conservative, old or young, or one race or ethnicity or another, it is time to examine and better appreciate the reality that, while divisiveness may work well for some, it is simply contrary to our nation’s and our Vincentian core beliefs. Our charge as Vincentians is to advance our inspirational mission and to adhere to our core values of Friendship, Spiritual Growth, and Service.

We are about to celebrate perhaps our most significant national holiday. It celebrates our experiment in democracy that affords “liberty and justice for all.” All includes those without fathers or mothers. It also includes people of all races, backgrounds, and beliefs. In the inclusive spirit of our nation and our Vincentian Society, we should strive to help each other broaden our sense of community. In that important sense, perhaps community is more a state of mind than a geographic area.

3. Our Vincentian Rule Promotes Inclusion, i.e. a growing community

We belong to an extraordinary global organization founded in 1833 by a remarkable group of students at the University of Paris. Our Vincentian mission calls us to follow Christ and thereby bear witness to His compassion and liberating love. It encourages us to provide any form of personal help to anyone in need, e.g. regardless of creed, ethnic or social background, health, gender, or political opinions.

We strive to seek out and find the forgotten, the victims of exclusion or adversity, and the vulnerable. Our Rule expressly encourages us to adapt to changing world conditions and the new types of poverty that may emerge from continual change. We are encouraged to give priority to the poorest of the poor and to those rejected by society. Why?

The gospels reveal that those who tended to follow Jesus were those outside or on the periphery of communities: e.g. the lame, crippled, blind, deaf, prostitutes, and foreigners. Jesus chose to view them as neighbors. He consistently invited rejected people to be part of His community. How truly inspirational.

Vincentians are not clones. Neither are Americans! Each of us is different. Like members of all organizations, our members likely have varying definitions of the term community, some less inclusive than others. Rather than focus on where each finds oneself currently, the real question is where are we heading both individually and as an organization? As we embrace and create the future ahead, let our inspirational mission and Rule serve as our guide.

Our Vincentian Rule clearly encourages us to broaden our definition of community (and help others do the same) through loving service to those in need. We are all on a journey back to God. But we take exquisitely unique paths getting there. Along our path, love is the best gift that can we bestow on one another. Our Vincentian Rule invites us to be part of this solution.

Rather than strive to “return to normal”, therefore, we should assure those excluded that they are welcome in our Vincentian community. We need to bring more goodwill to so many in desperate need of it, including each other. By our actions, we need to say to neighbors in need and to each other, “you are welcome in our inclusive community.”

4. Racism is a pandemic that destroys community

How can the concept of an inclusive community be credibly discussed and celebrated without addressing painful, destructive walls of exclusion that another pandemic has wrought upon our nation? Like the term community, it is apparent that minds differ on how to define the term racism. Notwithstanding how one defines the term, one thing is undeniable: unlike Covid-19, racism has cast darkness, despair, and death upon our nation for centuries. It stands as a major impediment to building and growing community. Unlike what we hope to discover soon for Covid-19, there is no vaccine to cure racism.

Racism has been roundly condemned by our Vincentian organization at every level. We have rejected it as being a “cancer that corrodes our society”, i.e . our sense of community as contemplated by our Rule. Part of the eventual solution mandates that we listen. Particularly in light of the recent, shocking tragedies, I have committed to doing so; and I urge you to do the same. Numerous, powerful African American voices are speaking out. I reference just one herein.

NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar recently shared that “racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible – even if you are choking on it – until you let the sun in. Then you see it everywhere.” Systemic racism is a shameful yoke that weighs heavily upon our nation’s soul. We should all listen and reflect when our African American sisters and brothers share their experiences. For a host of reasons, racism is totally irreconcilable with our faith and our Vincentian values.

Listening, while essential, is only a first step. As a Dutch proverb says, “between saying and doing one often wears out a good pair of shoes.” We need to “walk the talk” and follow up with intelligent, impactful action by reaffirming our commitment to serve the excluded, the needy, the voiceless, and all those who suffer hateful discrimination based upon the color of skin.

Recently, our national Voice of the Poor committee hosted three webinars on systemic racism. They served as an example of how our Society can convert listening into action. I urge you to take the time and listen to them (see link below). Doing so would be a necessary “next step” to creating a future consistent with our faith and our Vincentian values. As we do, let us be ever mindful that so many of our African American brothers and sisters continue to endure the heavy burden of unjust, unequal, and abusive treatment. Racial prejudice – illegal discrimination of any kind – should have no place in our nation. It should not be welcome or tolerated in our Vincentian society, either.

Click Here:  Webinar:  SVdP Voice of the Poor – Systemic Racism 

Our Council is exploring impactful ways to convert our talking on this important topic into  “walking”. This may include education, advocacy, recruitment, and encouraging voting. We need to (and will) walk the talk. Please share any additional suggestions that you may have.

This message, of course, is not new. In fact, striving for racial justice seems more like a marathon than a sprint. But it is a struggle that should be sustained and won.  In that regard, fifty-two years ago, Senator Robert Kennedy had this to say the day after Dr. King’s assassination. He was comparing a sudden, savage murder to a slower, more agonizing destruction. Given the profundity of his comments, I share the following, rather long, quote.

” . . . there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions – indifference, inaction, and decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is a slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books, and homes without heat in the winter. This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man amongst other men.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers [and sisters] as alien, alien men [and women] with whom we share a city, but not a community, men [and women] bound to us in common dwelling, but not in a common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other– only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force.

But we can perhaps remember – if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers [and sisters], that they share with us the same short moment of life, that they seek – as do we – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment that they can.

Surely this bond of common fate, surely this bond of common goals can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at the least, to look around at those of us, of our fellow man [and woman], and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and [sisters] countrymen once again.” (emphasis added).

Senator Kennedy’s profound and powerful words still resonate today.

5. Conclusion

We may never return to the “normal” we knew before even hearing of Covid-19. But that may not be necessarily bad. These are days of unprecedented challenge. They may also be days of unprecedented change. The future has not yet been written.

St. Ignatius believed that every experience, good and bad, has the potential to motivate within us a deeper response to God and to one another. During these most challenging times, let us focus on helping transform our incredible nation into a community that is less destructive, more peaceful, and more inclusive. Choosing to do so is precisely the essence of our faith and of our Society. Fr. Matt Malone, S.J. recently observed, “This is our faith. . . . It is the faith of an Easter people; a people who recognize that Good Friday contains the seeds that bloom on Easter Sunday.”

Clearly, some see ominous darkness, uncertainty, and fear during these unsettling days.  Let us feel the spirit of optimism that, as we draw closer to Christ through loving service to others, it will no longer be us who loves, but Christ who loves through us.

Let us also see the possible and work together toward “what can be.” Perhaps at its most basic, let us commit to helping each other to broaden our definition of “community” and thereby become in our hearts “brother, sisters, and countrymen once again.”

As all who have eyes can see, something is dying. But perhaps something is being born as well.  Valarie Kaur, an attorney and filmmaker, recently put it this way, “what if the darkness we see around us is not that of a tomb, but of a womb?” Our noble struggle continues.

In the true spirit of community and the “self-evident propositions” upon which our richly diverse nation is founded, I extend you, your families, and all those you love a healthy and Happy Fourth of July! Stay safe. Please continue to practice both social distancing and emotional closeness. God bless.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – June 2020

From the CEO – June 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister & Brother Vincentians,

Peace be with you. I hope that you continue to stay safe and healthy during this on-going, unprecedented health crisis. Our Council has surely faced crisis before, but nothing quite like this. Globally, Covid-19 has crushed For Profit and Not-for-Profit organizations alike. Other than Amazon, Google, Facebook, and a seeming handful of others, virtually every company and organization has suffered stunning financial losses; and this crisis is far from over.

Relatively speaking, thanks to the incredible, collective efforts of our Leadership Team, SVdPD has come through this pandemic – so far – in remarkably good shape. Returning to some semblance of “normalcy” will require an overall team effort of our staff and Vincentians alike. It is in that spirit that I share the following about our Districts, Conferences, and Retail operations. Please note that what I share herein is the result of proactive planning by several members of our Leadership Team. At the same time, I have emphasized to our team the necessity of remaining “nimble”, i.e. we may need to shift direction on a dime. So what is shared herein is clearly subject to change, perhaps significant change.

Lots of questions remain to be answered. Lots of uncertainty lies ahead for our nation and for our Council. In a sense, it is like our nation is awakening from a self-induced, economic coma. It would be difficult enough if we had a comprehensive, holistic plan for returning to normal. But we do not. Instead, we seem to be embracing the future in a very decentralized, patchwork manner. So it places additional stress on small organizations like ours to improvise. Our best bet for creating a future for our Council that we can be proud of, therefore, is by working together in friendship and with a common goal of advancing our Society’s mission.

1.  Covid-19 Emergency Aid to Districts & Conferences

In light of the various unforeseen circumstances related to the COVID-19 national emergency, it is anticipated that the needs of our neighbors will increase significantly in the coming months. In an effort to help position our Districts and Conferences, the Detroit Council and the Board provided each District substantial funding to address the increased need created by this crisis. These funds are to be used specifically towards this effort. In return, each District has been asked only to submit a cursory report on how the funds were used.

Funds from three different sources were combined to provide our Districts and Conferences much needed additional financial wherewithal to meet the growing needs of our neighbors. Funds were distributed to Districts on an equal basis. No administrative fees were deducted. These funds will not be subject to solidarity consideration, either.

These are difficult times. But difficult times can bring out the very best in people. Every day presents opportunities to “be there” for others. During these challenging days, let us choose to focus on that which sustains us. Indeed, Frederic Ozanam reminded that, “Scripture tells us that we will be judged, as a society and as individuals, by how we care for the poor, the vulnerable, the orphans, the elderly, or those in need of spiritual or physical aid.” Let us create paths based upon grace, compassion, and service.

2.  Guiding Principles

For the past ten weeks, our reduced staff has worked “remotely” pursuant to the following, clearly communicated guidelines.

First, SVdPD employee and Vincentian safety is paramount. Many of our staff and Vincentians are in the high vulnerable category. We have made all discretionary decisions in light of that reality.

Second, SVdPD and each of its employees has a civic duty to help reduce the spread of Covid-19. We fully intend to follow the directives of Governor Whitmer and all other relevant government directives.

Third, during this pandemic crisis, absent a compelling reason, our Council will focus on existing programs only.

Finally, our Leadership Team will do its collective best to make the best business decisions possible for our Council.

So far, so good.  But this crisis is far from over.

3.    Future Plans for Retail Operations

The overall plan for re-opening our stores and RRC safely and effectively requires “flexible scheduling”. Preparation will be completed pursuant to phases. The overriding goal of these considerable efforts is to give our staff, our Vincentians, and our customers as much “peace of mind” that we can give in light of these very unsettling circumstances, many of which are outside of our control. Here is just a sampling.

Phase I calls for progress being made on several parallel tracks. For example, defining, and documenting a SVdPD Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan for the entire organization. For the retail operations, it naturally includes thorough store and vehicle cleaning and disinfecting, and working to prepare appropriate PPE and signage aimed at keeping employees and customers safe.

The plan includes having adequate supplies, arranging for the return of furloughed store employees, compiling daily reports and checklists, installing safety equipment, e.g. plexiglass shields for counters, and creating plans for controlling store traffic as well as schedules for periodic cleaning and disinfecting.

In regard to our RRC operation, we have planned carefully on how best to prepare for what we anticipate will be a tremendous outpouring of clothes and furniture donations. This has included, among other things, training a Donations Coordinator, setting up telephone banks to handle and coordinate donations, researching the salvage market for reliable vendors who will help increase our revenues through baling, and establishing a proactive cleaning schedule for both our warehouse and our fleet of trucks.

Phase II includes continued store preparation and cleaning, especially as more furloughed colleagues return, as well as hanging signage in our stores that outlines our new rules for the visiting public. At the same time, the RRC operation will shift into high gear. Donation bins throughout the Archdiocese will be cleaned up, a new telephone bank will be fully operational to handle the increase in calls for donation pick up, drivers will be trained on newly developed strategies and routes, and the entire RRC team will be back and functioning. Of particular note, it will also include a concerted marketing campaign as a follow up to our “Wait to Donate” donations campaign. We expect that our Vincentians and the public will respond enthusiastically!

Phase III will begin on Monday, June 8, 2020. Subject to any further directive from Governor Whitmer, our stores will officially open, albeit on a limited basis, e.g. limited hours, no more than ten customers in the store at one time. All PPE, e.g. masks, gloves, sanitizer, social distancing, etc. will be utilized. We will accommodate “curbside” donation drop-offs, and staff will begin officially processing donations in all stores.

All of the above is consistent with the aforementioned guidelines. It is all aimed at giving staff, Vincentians, and the public as much peace of mind about our stores as reasonably possible.

4. What Can Vincentians Do To Help?

Great question! Here are some thoughts regarding how Vincentians can help support our retail operations during these unprecedented times.

Volunteer!  While we understand these are uncertain times, your support and willingness to volunteer in our store locations is needed now more than ever. The store teams will be overextended with the additional daily tasks created by the new COVID-19 safety standards.  Here are a few ways you can assist.  Rest assured, PPE supplies such as masks and gloves will be provided:

  • Assist with greeting customers and monitoring the flow to ensure not more than 10 are in the store at one time
  • Assist with directing cars to the curbside donation drop off areas
  • Assist with additional light cleaning and sanitizing efforts (i.e cart sanitation, floors, high traffic areas etc.)
  • Assist with donation collection and processing; and
  • Coordinate with Debbie Jackson to be “on call” when a store in your neighborhood needs help.

Additional ways to assist include:

  • Advocate for, and promote “Bundle Sundays” or other sponsored donation drives;
  • Donate! We need all the product that we can get. To do that, we need your help and your Conference’s help; and
  • Pray! Pray for all adversely affected by this pandemic.

Thank you for your anticipated assistance.

5. Conclusion

Clearly, we remain firmly in the midst of this crisis. Our road to re-opening and returning to “normal” will be a slow, iterative process. Frankly, we do not know what lies ahead. How long will it take to reclaim our customers? Will there be a second wave, and if so, what will that mean for our Council? So we move forward into an unknown future. But, as briefly described herein, we do so with a prepared and talented team ready to embrace whatever lies ahead. We urge you to choose to become an active member of that team in some meaningful way.

I am very proud of my entire Leadership Team. They have worked extremely hard and stayed laser-focused on our mission during this crisis under less than optimum conditions. We are also very proud of what has happened at many of our stores during this shutdown, especially our Utica store. Please make a point, once restrictions are lifted, to visit (and support) your local SVdPD store.

Best wishes on all ahead. In true Vincentian spirit, let us help one another get through this crisis one day at a time. As we do, may we see each day as an opportunity to help others in need. Please stay safe. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – February 2020

From the CEO – February 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you.  Last year was another incredibly busy and successful year! Before setting sights on 2020, which, if we pull together, promises to be an even better year, I offer the following review of SVdPD 2019.

First and foremost, our Council is stronger and much more stable than it has been in quite some time.  Among many other things, in 2019 together we have:

  • In less than two years, eliminated a significant operating debt entirely, and after several years in the red, finished in the black;
  • Reorganized and strengthened our leadership team;
  • Held several successful annual events;
  • Successfully completed an independent audit;
  • Successfully completed the state EAP application process and received 100% of the requested amount;
  • Increased annual fund donations by 9.2%; and
  • As a Council, continue to stabilize and advance our inspirational Vincentian mission by offering rewarding, spiritual-based programs and promoting our core value of friendship along the way.
  • It’s been a tremendous TEAM effort!


Conference Support 

Conference Formation

    • A total of 16 training programs offered and 332 Vincentians participated.
    • 6 Invitation to Serve presentations.
    • 100% of the Conferences turn in their Annual Report.

Conference Support Events

    • 2019 Annual Meeting
    • Evening of Reflection (Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J.)
    • Feast Day – welcomed new Council servant leaders
    • Top Hat Vincentian Awards Banquet

Friends Walk

  • Over 600 people participated in the walk
  • Raised over $93,000.

Development & Marketing

  • In addition to an increase of 9.2% to our Annual Fund, we also received a very generous bequest during FY 2019.  Pursuant to an approved board resolution, these funds were promptly placed in a board restricted bank account.  As outlined in the resolution, they are currently unallocated pending determination by the BOD’s direction on the disposition of these funds.
  • We welcomed new members to the Foundation Board and thereby strengthened it.
  • Under the guidance of our marketing consultant, Scott Bettinger and his team at Echo Media, we continued our See the Possible marketing and branding campaign to increase awareness of our Detroit Council:
    • New building signage identifying the Central Office on Gratiot;
    • New Council highlight videos (General, Home Visit & Camp);
    • Ave Maria Radio Spots;
    • Billboard Campaign;
    • Speaking Opportunities to community and civic groups;
    • Weekly Wrap Up – internal e-letter aimed at raising communication among SVdPD staff and others;
    • Conference Connection – monthly column (all issues are posted on our website)
    • Thanks so much for the great feedback from Vincentians who chose to provide it!  


  • Inaugural Top Hat Ball (October 12th)
    • spectacular success (for a first time event)
    • 450 attended at TCF Center (f/k/a Cobo Hall)
    • Perfect venue for our first such effort
    • Save the Date – Top Hat II
    • Friday, October 2, 2020 at the Fillmore Theater
  • SVdP International President’s Visit (June)
    • President  Renato Lima de Oliviera
    • First ever  visit to our Detroit Council by a sitting SVDP International President
  • Inaugural Young Professionals Event
    • Successful effort to attract more young people to support our mission and Council .
    • More planned for 2020.
  • SVdPD Staff Christmas Brunch – according to Patrick Adamcik, a most dedicated member at SVdPD for 47 years, “first such celebratory gathering where all staff were able to attend together.”  It was a wonderful morning of friendship.  

Human Resources

  • Continued to improve the Human Resources efforts of our Central Office in partnership with Kate Fogg and the team at America’s Back Office (ABO); worked through several transitions;
  • Reorganized and added new members to our Leadership Team:
    • Kristen Bolds, MEAP Program Director
    • Tom Butler, Director of Finance
    • Debbie Jackson, Director of Conference Support
    • Keith Koppmeier, Director of Development
    • Mary Torok, Director of Operations & Administration
    • Megan Williams, Director of Retail Operations
  • Welcomed new AOD board leadership & advisory committees:
    • AOD Board President, Nancy Szlezyngier
    • AOD Spiritual Advisor, Bishop Donald Hanchon
    • Finance Committee
    • Real Estate Advisory Team;
    • Strategic Plan Committee 


  • Sent 490 children to camp in Summer 2019.
  • Successfully negotiated a one-year extension of our 12 year Management Agreement with CYO.
  • Formed a Camp Endowment Leadership Team in preparation for our 100th Anniversary.

Stores/Resource Recovery Center (RRC)

  • 100% committed to our stores.  We understand they are a critical resource for our Vincentians & conferences in their efforts to assist our neighbors in need.
  • But, as a business, we need to take an holistic approach to our stores operation.
  • Have begun initiatives to rebrand and enhance our overall stores operation, including:
    • Kaizen events at Dixie, Utica and Madison Heights;
    • Resurfaced Dixie Hwy Store parking lot ;
    • Loss Prevention Review;
    • RRC – Expanded Space for Processing Center ;
    • Store Closings – Grand River, West Bloomfield & Lincoln Park;
    • New Lincoln Park Store Opening (4089 Dix Hwy) – Spring 2020;
    • We continue to proactively explore options for new stores close in proximity to those that were closed.  
    • We encourage all Vincentians to visit our stores and volunteer! 


FY2020 has started strong!  We are optimistic about our future, especially if we embrace what lies ahead with friendship and support of one another. 

In conclusion, I reference our inaugural Top Hat Ball’s  very special guest and keynote speaker,

Cardinal Joseph Tobin – an incredible human being and a fellow Vincentian!

Cardinal Tobin ended his truly inspirational Top Hat speech by referring to AOD Vincentians as the “Saints of Motown.”

Heartfelt thanks to each of you, Saints of Motown!!! Let’s embrace the opportunities and challenges that 2020 offers together and let us remain razor-focused on our mission.

God bless.

From the CEO – January 2020

From the CEO – January 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I sincerely hope that you had a safe, healthy, enjoyable, and blessed Christmas holiday.

Welcome to a new year! Our Council made great strides in 2019 thanks to a team effort. I am most grateful to all Vincentians, staff, consultants, and others who contributed in their own way to the betterment of our Council and to the tens of thousands of neighbors in need that we served in some meaningful way. We are well positioned to make 2020 even better! Doing so will take a sustained team effort and a laser-like focus on our inspirational mission and Rule.

Our staff met or exceeded expectations this past year. Heartfelt thanks to each of them for their effort, the professional respect they exhibited to one other, and, above all, their commitment to our mission. Our team comes from different backgrounds. Each has strengths. Each has weaknesses. Each dedicates every work day to helping those we serve and each other. Thank you, staff, for staying focused. Doing so allows each of us to work in conjunction with our Vincentians and with many others to advance the inspirational teachings of St. Vincent de Paul, Frederic Ozanam, Rosalie Rendu, and others.

I. Our Challenge – Where We Find Ourselves

We, of course, live “locally”. But thanks to relentless social media, among other things, we are exposed virtually instantly to developments “globally”. Such exposure informs, entertains, and perhaps most significantly, persuades. This daily deluge can (and does) powerfully shape image making and public opinion. It allows us to stay current on business and social events. But it also exposes us to philosophical partisanship. Whereas once we had only “broadcasting”, e.g. NBC, ABC, CBS, we now have “narrowcasting”, e.g. channels aimed at a more targeted audience. An important question, therefore, is from what source does one obtains his or her “news”.

More and more, people seem to be defining themselves by identity — gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and social class – and less by even traditional political identity. People on the “other side” of one’s personal divide seem more than just “wrong”. Moreover, many critical issues in this regard do not lend themselves to compromise as readily as more traditional political issues do, e.g. raise or lower taxes.  And select use of the internet allows one to find social media sources that reinforce, even galvanize, preconceived notions. That makes for a landscape that focuses more on differences than commonalities.

In light of this potentially volatile backdrop, the service we provide our neighbors and the friendship we provide each other is more important than ever.

As for 2020, I have no particular insights or answers. Instead, as a lay Vincentian and in the spirit of friendship, I humbly offer fellow Vincentians, staff, and all others the following two New Year resolutions as we prepare to embrace the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Both are essential to remaining faithful to our Society’s mission.

II. Resolution # 1 – Following Our Inspirational Rule More Closely

SVdPD has served those in need for 135 years. During that time, our Council has had good years and bad. Through it all, our Rule has guided us. Like any organization, some know the Rule better than others. It is a brilliant document. We should incorporate it more into our daily activities. Here are just three examples. I list the title to each sub-rule; and then, as a Vincentian, I briefly share what the sub-section means to me.

You may well have a different interpretation of a particular rule. If so, great! I would welcome hearing from you. Our ensuing discussion(s) would likely be an opportunity for me to grow spiritually.

Rule 1.2 The Vincentian Vocation

Vincentians are on a journey together. Each commits to following Christ through service in hope to those in need and friendship toward each other. This includes everyone in need, e.g. neighbors, fellow staff, fellow Vincentians, fellow human beings. By doing so, they bear witness to the compassionate and liberating love of Jesus.

By express rule, we do not judge those we serve. Literally, our rule challenges us to be on a mission from God, e.g. His servant. Nowhere in gospels did Jesus say, “I’d cure you, but you have not earned it.” Likewise, we should not say, “I’d help you, but somehow you are not what I think you should be, i.e. you are not worth it.” All Jesus said in that regard was “believe in me.” We should view those in need similarly. By doing so, may we thereby become a channel for grace.

Rule 1.6  Adaptation to a Changing World

This rule provides that our Society should constantly strive for renewal and embrace changing world conditions. It further provides that we give priority to the poor and to those most rejected by society. Who are those most rejected by society?

People generally rue change. But our Rule urges us to strive constantly to adapt to changing world conditions. New types of poverty are appearing; and we should do what we can to help. As previously shared, U.S. Census data indicates that the “economic gap” between the Haves and the Have Nots has never been wider than it was in 2019 in the 75 years that such data has been gathered. We should not sit by idly as our nation’s War on Poverty slowly becomes a “War on the Poor”.

Adaptation is hardly limited to issues of poverty. Indeed, our Nation and our Church, among others, are deeply and proactively engaged in robust discussions that will surely have profound ramifications. For example, in regard to our Church, Fr. Richard Rohr shines inspirational light on the reality that, for almost two thousand years, preaching and interpretation of Scripture was from “the perspective of power, primarily European, educated, quite comfortable, . . . ” From that perspective, he then wonders how the essential voices of women, those with “disabilities”, people of color, and others will enhance these on-going discussions. These are essential voices that deserve to be heard and respected in a crucial on-going dialogue both our Church and Society are having. Pursuant to our Rule 1.6, we should strive to facilitate constructive discussions on this type of adaptation as well.

I am also very excited about a new program proposal that our Council may launch soon. It will be aimed at empowering our Districts and Conferences to better adapt and respond to the needs of those they serve. Details to follow!

Rule 1.8  Reverence for the Poor 

I have referenced this Rule previously and stated that Vincentians should strive to see the face of Jesus in those we serve. That could be construed as the loving face of the teaching Jesus, or the healing Jesus – e.g. kind, compassionate, assuring. But Rule 1.8 provides that Vincentians should see the “suffering Christ” in the poor. Suffering has many dimensions, e.g. economic, spiritual, social, and personal. May we strive to see the perceived “flaws” in others as opportunities to adhere more closely to this most inspirational rule.

Each of us would like to think that we would have “helped” the suffering Christ as He painfully made His way along the road to Calvary. In our everyday world, do we see people “suffering”? Choose to help by choosing to change within yourself and see the suffering Christ in those in need.

III. Resolution # 2 – Strengthening Our Commitment to Friendship  

Our Rule sets a high bar to meet, let alone sustain. Service can be exhausting, thankless, and frustrating. Each of us needs at least an occasional “spirit lift.” Herein lies why friendship should serve as our collective and personal bridge between two of our Society’s core values: spiritual growth and service.

Friendship is our Society’s third core value. It applies to every Vincentian, every staff member, and everyone with whom we interact. How often do we say (or think) “if only that person would… “ Friendship involves compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Choosing to act otherwise, e.g. judgmental, resentment, divisive cliques, is simply contrary to the letter and the spirit expressly set forth in our Vincentian Rule. Especially these days, we tend to see or hear things and focus on what is “wrong” with it. According to Dewitt Jones, “the lens we choose transforms the way we look at things. By celebrating what’s right with the world, we find the energy to fix what is wrong.” Choose to celebrate what’s right with fellow Vincentians, SVdPD staff, colleagues, families, neighbors we serve, and the world.

Gaudete Sunday’s gospel spoke of John the Baptist who was imprisoned shortly before his death. While there, he sends a disciple to ask Jesus whether He, in fact, is the chosen one. Imagine that: the fellow who actually conversed with and baptized Jesus and who Jesus then described as “none greater among those born to women than John the Baptist” wrestled with doubts, too!!! Blessed struggle! He saw and yet he doubted. But so, too, was his sustained journey to God and eternal joy blessed. He believed so that he could see. In this critical respect, it is not the destination (or absence of doubt) that matters. Instead, it is the journey, our Vincentian journey. Are there doubts along the way? You bet! That is why friendship can be invaluable in those inevitable moments of doubt, no matter the cause. What a priceless gift to bestow on another in need. Choose to do so!

There is a movie currently at theaters about Mr. Rogers entitled “It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”. Rather than see flaws in others, e.g. “if only . . . “, Fred Rogers constantly told those with whom he interacted, “I like you just the way you are.” He was also so proactively inquisitive about others with whom he came in contact. Stated simply, he genuinely cared about other people. His freely shared message for others simply, profoundly, and beautifully embodies the essence and spirit of our Vincentian core value.

I admire how many within our ranks have worked hard to preserve and nurture friendships. Mutual respect allows one to transcend the pain that keeps so many sealed off because of “partisanship”. Let us choose to embrace what lies ahead together and in friendship.

Even if 2019 witnessed an event or words that one wished hadn’t happened or been spoken, seize the opportunity to forgive. Your choosing to do so will be consistent with our Rule; and you’ll be glad you did. Build bridges, not walls. By helping others in need, including fellow Vincentians, staff, and me, each of us will be making the transition from pushing ourselves to be the best in the world to allowing ourselves to be “the best for the world.”

IV. Conclusion

Ready or not, here comes 2020! It will be in the best interests of those we serve – and each other – if we choose to adopt a more loving, supportive, and deliberate attitude as we negotiate what lies ahead. Thank you for your anticipated agreement and cooperation with that basic, self-evident proposition. One way or another, I do believe that, if we commit to these two, profoundly simple resolutions, we will help one another along the right path to God and to the land of grace. May we help each other choose to serve God by better serving those in need and each other.

The future has not yet been written. In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul and others, Pope Francis has consistently promoted the call for our Church to “go to the margins” and proactively minister to those neglected or even rejected by Society. That’s our Vincentian challenge. That’s our Vincentian mission. Together, we can take the ordinary that each workday can be, and see how we can make it extraordinary.

Happy New Year! I hope to see you at our Annual Meeting on January 19, 2020. God bless you, your family, and all those you love.

In Blessed Frederic Ozanam’s name,


From the CEO – April 2019

From the CEO – April 2019 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Sister and Brother Vincentians:

Peace be with you. I hope that you and your family have made it successfully through yet another Michigan Winter. This year’s was particularly harsh. May the cold weather soon be behind us. Welcome to Spring!

We find ourselves well into the Lenten season, a period of preparation that is meant to remind us of Jesus’ forty days in the desert. But, especially in light of the truly disturbing backdrop of recent events, our challenge is to quiet ourselves and prepare to visit with God through prayer, repentance of sins, and reflection.

Last month, I spoke of gospels that addressed the challenges we face when dealing with both “neighbors” and “enemies”. It reflected upon our “external” struggle (i.e. how we choose to deal with others). That challenge involves the interplay between God’s two greatest commandments – love of God and love of neighbor.

This month’s column offers thoughts on prayer and then offers three reflections that may help to cope with powerful “internal” struggles (i.e. how we choose to deal with ourselves) that all of us wrestle with. Those struggles are depicted in a recent, well-known gospel that deals with temptation.

Like last month’s, the topic of temptation is particularly fitting for Lenten reflection. I share the following comments in the spirit of promoting continued growth in our core Vincentian values of spirituality and friendship. I do not have answers or even any particularly keen insights. As a fellow lay person, however, it is my hope that these comments cause you to think on things. If a thought or two helps you prepare for Easter just as you help me, even better.

1. Lent – Prayer – In the Name of the Father

Lent can be just another forty days in our march through yet another year. Lent can also be a time that invites us through prayer and reflection to come to terms with the human condition. If we choose to accept the invitation, Lenten prayer and reflection can bring our need for a Savior into better focus. It is a time to open the doors of our hearts a little wider and understand our Lord a little deeper. If we do, then when Good Friday and eventually Easter come, it is not just another day at church but an opportunity to receive the overflowing graces God has to offer.

Lent allows us to pause and examine our imperfections, whatever they may be, and return to the God who, through our shortcomings, we may have disappointed (or disregarded) time and again. Lent should not stop at sadness and despair, however. Rather, it should guide us to the hope of the Resurrection that Easter Sunday reminds us of annually. Prayer helps us to re-orient ourselves in a world filled with distractions and temptations.

Prayer can consist of beautiful recitations that we learn at an early age at our parents’ knee. “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It can also be more extemporaneous. “Good and gracious God, we feel your love and presence as we gather in your name.” It can and should also be much more inclusive. For example, any act of love, charity, mercy, or forgiveness is a meaningful kind of prayer. So, too, are daily activities undertaken in God’s name. It is not easy. But dedicating oneself to act with love in God’s honor can develop a mindset that helps one to stay the course when Life’s storm of temptations come as they surely will. As importantly, helping others do the same through daily personal choices of how one chooses to treat others is the best way, perhaps the only way, to stay focused on what really matters. Prayer can be anything thought, said, or done to evangelize the name of Jesus Christ.

In a real sense, our lives are a long, winding, complex, interrupted, joyous, sorrowful, evolving, and ofttimes messy prayer. “Prayer” should be a LOT more than prescribed words. Prayer should not be compartmentalized.

Lord, notwithstanding our world’s chaotic state, let us, in your name, commit to helping one another take a more prayerful approach to our daily lives and decisions. Let us also aspire to see one another in a more compassionate, forgiving light – just as Jesus surely sees us – each and every time another “falls short.” No matter how many times we or another falls, let our focus be on getting up or helping her/him up rather than criticizing the fall. Let us not be the “morals police.” Let us instead love thy neighbor as you love us. Amen.

2. Lent – Reflection I – Matthew’s Gospel (29:25) – “The rich get richer” – Who Is your Annie?

On February 27th, Fr. Steve Hurd, S.J. from Manresa Retreat House, graciously served as the keynote speaker at our Evening of Reflection. As those who attended know, he gave a masterful presentation. Because so many were not able to attend, I briefly reference two of his main points.

Fr. Hurd first referenced the gospel of Matthew, “the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer”. How can that be? Fr. Hurd then brilliantly questioned “what currency is one using” when making that inquiry. Money? Or love? When it is love, the passage makes incredible sense. It reminds one of another passage, typically used at wedding ceremonies, where St. Paul teaches the Corinthians that “Love is patient, love is kind. . . . So faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Love begets more love.

This kind of love is difficult to experience, much less sustain. It needs to be nourished – reinforced – by the grace of God. In another sense, St. Paul describes this kind of love so that we may recognize and embrace it when it enters our lives.

Fr. Hurd then shared an example of this kind of selfless love. He spoke eloquently and candidly about a personal experience he had while serving on a Native American reservation in the Dakotas. He had agreed to tutor a struggling young lady, “Annie”, who was determined to obtain her high school equivalency degree. By all measures, Annie was a person of very limited economic means. In effect, she was a neighbor in need.

A few weeks into the tutoring, Annie asked Fr. Hurd if he would counsel her not only on her education, but on how to adopt a child as well. After all, Annie reasoned, since she had so much, it was only fitting that she help another in need. For Fr. Hurd, the poignant moment was yet another inspirational reminder of what he knew and what he had witnessed time and time again: one’s capacity to give – to love as St. Paul described – is a personal choice.

How often do we view our “neighbors in need” as less likely, perhaps even incapable, of helping others? To be sure, Vincentians serve. But, as we do, let us remain open to the possibility that we are the person in need. In that regard, who is your Annie?

3.  Lent – Reflection II – Luke’s Gospel (4: 1-13) – Forty Days in the Desert

Luke’s gospel of Jesus being tempted in the desert is an incredibly personal one. It begins with the Spirit leading Jesus into the desert where Jesus stayed without nourishment for forty days. While it mentions the temple, it does not involve or even make reference to any other person. Rather, it depicts a conversation, a personal encounter between Jesus the man, struggling, worn down, and unnourished (i.e. vulnerable), and Satan. In that sense, this gospel could depict Jesus having a dream or reflection in a quiet moment. As we know, Satan tempts Jesus three times; and, each time, Jesus thwarts the temptations. Herein lies the “internal” aspect of this gospel. How often, especially when we feel vulnerable, do we experience the same internal struggle with temptations?

Practically speaking, when, in the solitude of our mind or heart, temptation comes calling, its allure can be irresistible. Its daily influence involves issues like personal advancement, e.g. greed, jealousy, hurtful rumors, revenge, bullying, hate, etc. v. selfless love of others. Our responses at these crossroads become “ambiguous.” If we use a “I am the center of the universe internal analysis”, there may seemingly always be “justification” for one’s actions as cruel or insensitive as they may be. To further complicate things, one’s past, particularly events that caused trauma and left scars, can arrive without invite and can add fiery spice to the decision-making process. It is in this collective sense that I use the term temptation as being anything that can distract us from living God’s will. Therein lies what should be the real topic of Lenten reflection.

A second, far more prevalent and nefarious internal barrier exists that stifles inclusion and acceptance of others, even accepting ourselves. It is a characteristic common to every human being: vulnerabilities. That can involve literally anything – real or perceived – that causes us to feel inadequate, insecure, or filled with doubt. They are temptations, too. Vulnerabilities contribute immeasurably to the complexities of the human condition. In our incredibly diverse world, the greatest commonality we share is vulnerability. How we choose to deal with them can be life changing.

Accepting “vulnerabilities” – in ourselves and others – miraculously converts crises into opportunities to grow. When we accept our own flaws, we tend to see others through more compassionate and forgiving eyes.

As we move along our “forty days of Lent”, let us reflect upon our discomforts with neighbors who are “different” and, perhaps more so, our unease with our own temptations and vulnerabilities, whatever they may be. As we do, let us realize that embracing them allows us to grow spiritually. Rather than rue our shortcomings, therefore, let us thank God for the miracle of imperfections!

As the classic poem, Desiderata, reminds, “. . . with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

4.  Lent – Reflection III – “Thy” will v. My will (i.e. temptations)

Let us pause and reflect upon the true nature of our “internal” struggle. How often have we recited the Lord’s Prayer? In it, we say, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”. God’s will, not ours. Is it between God and “Satan”? Or is it more akin to Thy will v. My will? Each of us is surely capable of acting “God-like” (e.g. loving others) and “Un-God-like” (i.e. you get the picture). Temptations, vulnerabilities, and ghosts from one’s past can create turbulent internal storms that make it truly difficult to be God-like to others.

Whose will do you aspire to? Clearly, what God teaches us to do and what we want to do is ofttimes sympatico. When a “conflict” arises, however, how often do we choose “my will”? “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” That is what we ask for each and every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer.

By design, humans are flawed. Especially in a society like ours that constantly bombards us with concepts of perfection (e.g. beauty, wealth, femininity, masculinity, success, even happiness), the harsh impact of imperfections and self-critical analysis can be depressing, even devastating. None of us measures up. So our willingness to see ourselves and others “as is”, flaws and all, is how God enters our lives, our world.

When we let shortcomings control our behavior, we tend to focus on our shortcomings and frailties. Let us choose instead to focus on the boundless power of God. When we live and act in His name, anything becomes possible. Choosing to do so will help make compassion contagious. “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

5. Conclusion

Lenten tradition calls for “giving up” something. But think about what “giving” could create. To be sure, every nod, every smile, every interaction can change the course of someone else’s day. We wield that influence in either a positive or negative way. Choose to empower others. It may be the most important act of kindness you can extend to another; and it is free. How can one do so? Stated simply, just as Jesus did, use love as your currency. If necessary, use it first during Lent and then all year round. And remain open to “finding your Annie”.

Asnat Greenberg believes that empowering another means stifling the temptations of gratuitously criticizing, judging, being mean or cynical, and curbing one’s ego. Instead, one should smile at others, praise them, acknowledge them, thank them, and wish them a good day. Simply stated, the choice to empower others makes our world a better place. It may also make each of us happier, better people.

Secondly, God does not give up on us because we have flaws. If so, He’d give up on everyone! He loves us because of our flaws! Thy will, not my will. The gospel tells us that the Spirit led Jesus into his desert – just as the Spirit leads us into our personal deserts of temptations, vulnerabilities, and nightmares from the past. Our challenge is not to avoid them as much as to deal with them through conscience formation, e.g. acknowledge, repent, forgive, love. Then and only then can the barren fig tree bear fruit. Just as Jesus forgives us, so too should we strive to forgive others. Indeed, formation comes with the mindfulness of our flaws together with a humility and determination to do something about them.

The future has not yet been written!

Finally, we live in a world uncomfortable in its own skin. We have suffered through so many horrific massacres, the latest in New Zealand. God have mercy on all of the poor victims and survivors of such senseless tragedies. Our Church and government have been rocked with scandals. And, for several reasons, during the last two decades, our U.S. Catholic Church has suffered its most dramatic exodus, particularly among millennials. We surely must make time for prayer. Prayer needs to include not only quiet, personal reflection, but also proactive evangelization (i.e. we must live the Good Word of the Gospels).

Finding your “Annie”, committing to Thy will be done, empowering others, making time to pray, and “fostering a hope (for others) that will shine more clearly” – sounds like a perfect combination to prepare for our most holy day of the year.

Let us go and serve the Lord by serving all who we meet. God bless.