SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH: USA — Feeding the hungry, teaching marketable skills to those who need employment, offering utility payments for someone who has lost a job – all of these are undertaken by local lay men and women and religious women who have the Vincentian charism.
“Every ministry we are involved in, whether it be education, social work or health, it’s always involving the poor,” said Daughter of Charity Sr. Arthur Gordon, director of Give Me A Chance in Ogden, which helps low-income women learn to sew.
The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, the Ladies of Charity and Saint Vincent de Paul Society – the latter two organizations for lay people – are the three local branches of the Vincentian Family, which began in 1617 in Châtillon, France when St. Vincent de Paul founded the Confraternities of Charity.
The 400th anniversary of that foundation was celebrated Sept. 2 in the Diocese of Salt Lake City with a Mass in the Cathedral of the Madeleine at which Bishop Oscar A. Solis presided. Father Bernard Quinn, director for the Daughters of Charity, Province of the West, concelebrated the Mass along with Father Martin Diaz, rector of the cathedral, and Father Stephen Tilley.
In his comments at the end of Mass, Bishop Solis expressed his gratitude for the lay men and women and Daughters of Charity who minister in Salt Lake City. He recalled that the first Daughters of Charity came to Utah in 1920 at the request of the Right Rev. Joseph S. Glass, second Bishop of Salt Lake City, himself a Vincentian priest.
Bishop Glass “is present in spirit” today in the local Church’s mission of evangelization, Bishop Solis said, adding that “Pope Francis reminded us of the relevance of the Vincentian spirit when he cautioned us about the culture of global indifference that has somehow anesthetized people and does not recognize the plight and suffering of the poor.”
Speaking to the members of the Vincentian organizations in Utah, Bishop Solis said, “The spirit of charity that you promote by your ministry is a relevant antidote to that global indifference because through you and through your ministry, the love of Christ for the poor becomes real, and you give them hope and dignity as human beings and our brothers and sisters.”
A charism is special gift given by God to a person to spread his Kingdom, and “the charism of St. Vincent de Paul is to serve persons who are poor with the spirit of humility, simplicity and charity, seeing Christ in each one served,” said Daughter of Charity Sister Germaine Sarrazin during her presentation about the Vincentians at the end of the Mass.
Sr. Germaine is the spiritual moderator for the Ladies of Charity, which operates the Center of Hope food pantry in North Salt Lake. Started in 2003, the Center of Hope is the primary outreach for the 70 local members of the Ladies of Charity, who are affiliated with the parishes of St. Olaf and Our Lady of Lourdes (Salt Lake City). They provide boxes of food to about 100 families in need each month in North Salt Lake, at Saint Patrick Parish and through home delivery in Salt Lake City.
In Ogden, the Vincentian charism is enacted at Give Me A Chance, which focuses on helping women and children because “they are the most vulnerable in our society,” Sr. Arthur said.
In addition to teaching sewing, alterations and quilting to women, Give Me A Chance offers an after-school program, staffed by 10 volunteers, for children in grades kindergarten through six.
“The way out of poverty is education, and so we’re trying to help these kids get excited about being in school and staying in school and not being embarrassed because they’re not being able to keep up,” Sr. Arthur said.
The newest Vincentian program in the diocese is the St. Vincent de Paul Society, which is run in conjunction with the Good Samaritan program at the Cathedral of the Madeleine to help those who need more than just a sack lunch. They provide for one-time needs such as bus fare for stranded travelers or overdue utility bills, and offer referrals to other agencies for more long-term help. The five members of the society are “just trying to find Christ in other people and hopefully uncovering it in ourselves, too,” said Kathleen Jaques, the society’s president.
When the society is asked for help, a two-person team visits the home of the person requesting aid and does an assessment of the needs.
“The first time I ever went on a home visit, it was surprising how deeply I was touched, just by the situation – it wasn’t just that I was helping those people, but it reflected on me and made me spiritually grow,” Jaques said, explaining why she remains involved with the society.
In the 50 years she has been a Daughter of Charity, Sr. Germaine has seen “more and more” poor, she said, who need more than just food and clothes. “They’re lonely. They’re embarrassed. They’re spiritually poor,” she said. “They are children of God and they need to be treated with respect.”