When the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul began in 1833, the first action undertaken by Frederic Ozanam and his fellow Vincentians was the home visit to those living in poverty. The notion of going out in pairs is one that few in any other organizations attempt and yet when Ozanam asked Sister Rosalie Rendu what action they may take to demonstrate what Catholic meant to them she recommended the home visit. There are always some concerns about visiting someone who likely lives in an area that suffers from poor health, sanitation and danger to one’s own safety.
However, Ozanam and his followers heeded Sister Rosalie’s advice and began what I believe could be considered a true systemic change project. They went to seek and find Jesus Christ in the face of the poor of Paris and by serving Him through their actions, they were able to understand what Saint Vincent meant when he said it is us who are evangelized by Christ through our personal contact with Him as we meet the poor person.
The purity and spirituality of those first home visits continue to be the major focus of the work of the Society. However, if we look at the fact that Ozanam, who was a strong social justice advocate, most certainly realized, these home visits also gave us an opportunity to listen to those we seek to help and in doing so, we gain an unique understanding of poverty. This understanding then enables us to speak and act in ways that may result in alleviating the causes of poverty.
There is no doubt that in today’s world, the same reasons for doing home visits is just as important and vital if we are to fully understand why poverty exists and how we may encourage systemic change which can lead to hope for all for a better future. Unfortunately, for some of our members the home visit has become more of a delivery service which erodes the original intent. I shall address this issue in the next article.
About the author:
Jim Paddon lives in London, Ontario, Canada and is past president of the Ontario Regional Council of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. He is currently chair of the National Social Justice Committee of the Society in Canada. He is married to his dear wife Pat and they have six daughters and eleven grandchildren. Jim has been a member of the Society since the 1970’s.