Vincentians

From Sister Noreen – January 2021

From Sister Noreen – January 2021 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Throughout December our liturgies and our personal prayer pleaded for the coming of God among us: “Come Lord Jesus!” In this post Christmastime, we ponder the meaning of Jesus’ baptism by John when Jesus hears the prophetic call of His Father as recorded in Isaiah 42:1 “Here is my SERVANT whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased.”

As commissioned Vincentians, already baptized into the mission of Jesus, we have pledged to know Jesus better and then serve Him in the poor, the marginalized, and the rejected.  Ponder your call and your journey as an active Vincentian. Can you hear God whispering your own affirming call?  “Here is my SERVANT (your name) whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased.” We are servants, but we do not serve alone. We serve as disciples, as follower-servants of Jesus. How, and in what circumstances, do you feel upheld?

To help us be prepared for our serving roles as Vincentians, all new members are expected to participate in an Ozanam Orientation. Conference Presidents or Secretaries, please send your new member’s names, addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses to: Tara Ng in the SVDP Central Office, 3000 Gratiot Ave, Det. 48207 or email her.

New member Ozanam Orientation is a five-hour ZOOM format that can be completed in one full Saturday or in two half-day sessions. Registration is necessary. Members will be commissioned at the conclusion of Part two.

Ozanam Orientation:

Part 1 Saturday, Feb. 6   9:00-11:30 a.m.
Part 2   Saturday, Feb. 6   1:00-  3:30 p.m.

Ozanam Orientation:

Part 1 Saturday, March 6   9:00-11:30 a.m.
Part 2 Saturday, March 6   1:00-  3:30 p.m.

Other programs to strengthen our Vincentian vocations and spirituality are also scheduled for ZOOM.

Please mark your calendars and then register when you receive the email invitations.

SVDP-D Lenten Reflection:  Tuesday, February 16 7:00 -9:00 p.m. with Ralph Middlecamp, our National SVDP President

Lenten Reflections with Vincent begin: Wednesday, Feb. 24, 7:00-8:00 p.m. and weekly for 6 sessions

With you in prayer through 2021,

Sister Noreen Ellison, SC

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!

OVERVIEW OF 2020 ACTIVITIES

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.

Council 

  • 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
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-W8e-x_6CE&t=163s.
    • 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,
Dan

An Update from Nancy – January 2021

An Update from Nancy – January 2021 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Over the past month or so, many Conferences have found a way to make the holidays brighter for their neighbors in need. Food distribution, gift cards/ presents and kindness and love are all examples of the outpouring of giving to the poor in one’s community.

Despite the need to be mindful of their own risk of Covid 19 infection, many Vincentians have accepted that risk in offering their time and energy to ensure their neighbors were not forgotten.

At times, I have become caught up in the administrative parts of being President.  Yet, I am brought back to the core of our mission as a member of a conference and its service to our neighbors.

Conference members know many of the people in their community that are in need. Many neighbors seek assistance on a fairly regular basis. Others may only call once, but their request can be a mighty one. In good faith, we extend our support to all.

What can we do moving forward in 2021?

First of all, our Annual Meeting will be virtual this year.  Instead of the usual – Mass, Breakfast, and presentation, we will focus on the Meeting presentation.  Postcards will be sent out prior to the meeting with all the pertinent information.

Events such as the Award Banquet and the Friends Walk are still at the undecided stage.

It is too soon to make a recommendation to initiate home visits again.  BUT we are faced with a need for patience and creativity to continue our service.

For those who have had COVID-19 or lost a family member or friend to this virus, our prayers go out to you.  Moving forward in such a difficult time can seem like an impossibility. In turn, we all have a responsibility to be respectful and supportive of anyone who faces illness or loss.

While many of us have so much, others have so little.  As we sit in our warm comfortable homes, others face eviction, homelessness and hunger.  As you reflect on this, I also ask that you contemplate the words of Frederick Ozanam:

“Yours must be a work of love, kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning, with an inalienable right to respect.  

You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis; You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of long term improvement.” – Blessed Frederic Ozanam

God Bless to all.  Please stay safe and healthy.

Happy New Year 2021,

Nancy

From Sister Noreen – December 2020

From Sister Noreen – December 2020 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Pay attention! Wake up! Be on alert! God is with us! Our Christian vocation and our Vincentian vocation challenge us to be attentive to God’s abiding presence. Advent is meant to grow that awareness in us. To see and to be! To see the face of Christ in every neighbor, and the flip side of that is to be the face of Christ to each neighbor. It is quite a calling isn’t it?

Meeting our neighbors in need these Covid 19 days is really different. Coming together with our Conference friends is also different but we are being creative and doing our best with all the restrictions this pandemic has placed on us. Could it be that this Advent will be less hectic than other years? Could we create more personal time to reflect and prepare, to be alert to see how Jesus wants to be with us now?

Will it be six feet apart with a mask on? Will it be listening with an open heart to a desperate voice on the phone? Will it be that I assist in making someone’s burden lighter? Will it be that someone experiences Jesus through me? I have a little mantra to pray this Advent. Maybe you will pray it too?

Come Lord Jesus, I want to see you.
Come Lord Jesus, I want to serve you even when you come in distressing disguise! Come!

With you in prayer,

Sister Noreen Ellison, SC

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,

Dan

An Update from Nancy – December 2020

An Update from Nancy – December 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Vincentians,

The Holidays are upon us.  The expectation for how we celebrate them is far different than anything considered normal by any of us. Some families will gather together in small groups, others will visit via Zoom.  Our shopping for presents and our religious worship may be online rather than outside of our home.

We have many choices. Our Neighbors in need frequently have far fewer choices.

Celebrating with one’s family is a hardship if your funds are limited for food purchase. Setting up a Christmas tree or decorating one’s home may not be possible or a meager event, particularly if there are no discretionary funds available.

Presents for children and vulnerable adults may be few, unless an organization steps up and assists a family or individual.

Scheduling a Zoom meeting or telephone contact with family members may be an impossibility if some members don’t have the internet, minutes on their phone or the capability to join.

Despite the far fewer calls that have come to our conferences due to COVID-19 initiating suspensions for utilities and evictions, Vincentians have not forgotten their neighbors in need.

Many conferences are planning a giving event for their neighbors for Christmas or perhaps just provided food for Thanksgiving.

Calls requesting help for Christmas are beginning.  People are reaching out to find a family that they can help and neighbors are reaching out to provide for their families.

As we create our list of neighbors to help during this season, try reserving judgement as to whether a neighbor may have tapped into more than one resource to provide for their family.  Relax your guidelines if someone outside your geographic area truly needs help and you are their only resource.  Show your kindness and love to some one who may less grateful than your expectation.  Remember the homeless, the elderly, and single parents as they frequently don’t have anyone to rely on in addition to their material needs.

In these difficult times, material goods in their excess, become less important to many of us than the connection to our family and friends.

For those we serve, the basic needs of food and shelter remain a priority in the daily struggle for survival.

Merry Christmas to all and have a safe and healthy New Year.

Nancy

From Sister Noreen – November 2020

From Sister Noreen – November 2020 1000 1000 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Growing Forward…

Who would ever have thought that we would still be in a pandemic ‘shut-out’ mode after eight long months?  Thankfully, our Detroit Conference Support Coordinator, and generous Vincentian volunteers created a way for us to learn and grow spiritually in our Vincentian vocation, to have an opportunity to become friends with other Vincentians, and to share creative ways we continue to serve our neighbors.

Coffee with Vincent is a 10-week continuing formation program offered in a Zoom meeting format. The one-hour sessions are presented on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m. and offered again at 7:00 p.m. for ten weeks. There are different presenters each week with the program offered twice on each Wednesday, so participants are welcome at either the morning or evening sessions. It is important to pre-register even if it is close to the start time, as the link to get into the meeting will be sent to you.

Most of this pilot program is based on Serving in Hope Module One. Each of the 10 sessions includes Prayer, 15 minutes of Input, two break-out sessions for reflecting and sharing, and a large group wrap-up.  Having participated in several sessions, I believe the Continuing Formation Team created a great model. Eventually, along with this format, individual conferences may be able to create something similar with the lead being taken by your Spiritual Advisor. The topics could be chosen from a particular Serving in Hope Module summarized and shared by various conference members. Who knows how much more creativity will develop into new and insightful approaches?

Growing spiritually involves not just reading or hearing the gospels or an aspect of Vincentian spirituality, but reflecting, even pondering, the meaning for me as I understand it today. To articulate or share a meaning by putting your own words to the thought gives your companions a glimpse of you and your spirituality.   Often, I find that putting my reflection in words, as inadequate at it sometimes seems, I know it better and sometimes even remember it!.

Learning and praying with you, over coffee or a cup of water,

Sister Noreen Ellison, SC
Associate Spiritual Advisor

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).

Anyway

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,

Dan

An Update from Nancy – November 2020

An Update from Nancy – November 2020 1000 1100 St. Vincent de Paul Detroit

Dear Vincentians,

We come from all walks of life, ready to give of ourselves to those in need.  Some of us have a deep spiritual core, others are struggling to find it.

It’s amazing to hear of someone who has devoted many years of their life to this mission. Others just retiring or searching to fill a void in their lives, find that joining a conference brings a new dimension and perspective to their daily activity.

We come from all income levels – some have experienced poverty as a child, others have never found themselves in financial need.  Most of us have credit cards, bank accounts/assets and family to rely on for support.


What about the people that we serve?

Living in poverty is a challenge, a mindset, and a way of survival.  Whether homeless, receiving disability or food assistance, or part of the working poor, the daily struggle to meet one’s personal or family needs belongs to all.

What is it like to not be able to pay one’s rent, to worry about eviction and searching for the next place to rest?   What if there is not enough food to feed one’s children – not because their favorite foods are gone, but because one’s monthly income is gone?  As the winter months arrive, followed by utility shutoffs, how does one keep their family warm and safe?  Consider facing eviction with six children and nowhere to go.  The list of needs that face a person with limited income or resources are endless.  The list of resources to fill those needs is not endless and many times not available.

We question why some Neighbors in Need are reluctant to share their whole “story” or perhaps demanding in their requests for help. Is our expectation that one should be grateful for help?

Reflect on the lives of those that you have encountered as a Vincentian.  Could you survive in their place – living day to day in survival mode, dependent on strangers and agencies to fill the gaps in income and needs?

Yes, it is hard to be a Vincentian, without judgement, and giving of love and kindness to our neighbors.  It is much harder to be that Neighbor in Need.

Please pray for our Neighbors in Need and for all Vincentians.

God bless to all,

Nancy

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 www.tophatball.com, 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.
Amen”

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.

Conclusion

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,

Dan