MOUNT PLEASANT – Members of ten St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences took part in a recent meeting of the society’s Coastal District, encompassing 14 parishes from Hilton Head to Moncks Corner.
Approximately 75 people were present to hear Bishop David B. Thompson, retired bishop of Charleston, speak on the event’s theme, “Energizing the St. Vincent de Paul Mission.”
Bishop Thompson began on a note of humor, observing that he wondered about people who would invite an 80-year-old to help them to energize; then he offered advice and suggestions based on prayerfulness, practicality, and his own experience.
His mentor was Bishop Joseph McShea, first bishop of Allentown, Pa. One of the first things Bishop McShea did as bishop was to share information on St. Vincent de Paul conferences with his priests.
When Bishop Thompson was pastor of the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena in Allentown, Bishop McShea asked him to make the cathedral a model parish for St. Vincent de Paul conferences. Vincentians go out two by two to give one-on-one attention to individuals and families in need — the right approach, Bishop McShea felt, to helping people who might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Focusing first on the “Big M,” the word mission in the district meeting’s theme, the bishop developed his talk on a series of “m words,” including Mary, a movie, a Mighty Man, membership, methods, money, a miracle, and a memo, as well as the mentor and model parish mentioned above.
He said Mary, the Mother of God, was high in the life of St. Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity, the order the saint founded along with St. Louise de Marillac. Mary was the first missionary. As soon as she received the annunciation, she went to assist her cousin Elizabeth immediately, and she took Christ with her.
“She was a real Vincentian,” the bishop said, “and taking Christ with you all the time will give you energy and motivation.”
Bishop Thompson shared what he termed a humorous miracle. To renovate the lower church of St. Francis de Sales in Philadelphia, Bishop McShea traveled to Italy to select just the right rose marble walls and to order polychrome Stations of the Cross and statues. He was insistent that the statue of the Blessed Mother be crafted without the infant Jesus in her arms, because of the danger of breakage in transit.
When the statues arrived, he was relieved to see that his directions were followed, but when the statue of St. Joseph was uncrated, there was the Christ child, safe in his arms. As Vincentians learn in their ministry, Bishop Thompson said, we never know where we will find Christ.
The movie he cited is “Monsieur Vincent,” which he saw for the first time when he was in the seminary 60 years ago. Based on the life of St. Vincent de Paul, the movie opens when Vincent arrives as pastor in a village where the church has been abandoned. Birds and animals have moved in, the church was in squalid condition with the tabernacle open.
The bishop said it was the church of the Real Absence. St. Vincent had to put God back in the church and into the lives of his people, and he did.
The mighty man is Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society 170 years ago to bring Christ to the impoverished people of Paris and who was a wizard in organizing young people to help the needy.
The bishop’s membership recommendations included the need to involve young people. It is noble work, and they have energy and health. There also is an important place for the bishop and priests, and the pastor’s leadership is critical.
Concerning monetary support, he said Vincentians must give fellow parishioners the opportunity to participate in this ministry of service by their financial gifts.
“Pray that you will always have the means to carry out your mission and never be diverted from building up the people who are down on their luck,” he said.
Discussing methods of providing spiritual and material help, Bishop Thompson emphasized that big is not better. The St. Vincent de Paul Society has a person-to-person mission.
“Leave big projects to major agencies like Catholic Charities, Our Lady of Mercy Outreach Center on John’s Island, and East Cooper Community Outreach, established by your own Christ Our King Parish,” he said. “And remember that Vincentian hallmarks are confidentiality and humility.”
He concluded with a memo of two mottoes: “The poor are always with us” and “Whatsoever you do for my least ones, you do for me.”
The district meeting was the inspiration and first official project of the district’s new president, Robert A. Newton of Christ Our King Parish.
He and the Christ Our King conference president, Mimi Santos, hosted the event in the parish’s Life Center. Msgr. James A. Carter, pastor, offered the opening prayer and introduced Bishop Thompson.
Our Lady of Mercy Sister Mary Cyril Murray, the parish’s Senior Ministries director, led the closing prayer. Guests included Dorothy Grillo, diocesan director of Catholic Charities, and Dominican Sister Mary Lequier, who is in pastoral ministry in Dorchester County.
Sean Kittrell, outgoing district president, received a plaque honoring him for his unselfish and dedicated service.
When Bishop Thompson saw their names and the names of the 10 conference presidents in the meeting’s program, he called them a litany of saints.
To all present he said, “Thank you for your lives of goodness, dedicated to those who need you.”