‘Let us go to the poor’

By Daniel Miller

Special to The Message

Tim Gehlhausen, dressed as St. Vincent de Paul, returned again in 2023 to greet and lead walkers down the course during the Sept. 23, 2023, St. Vincent de Paul Walk for the Poor in Evansville. The Message File Photo

On April 23, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul commemorated the feast of their principal founder, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and their founding as a society.

Born April 23, 1813, Antoine Frederic Ozanam attended university in Paris in 1833 when the academic atmosphere was strongly anti-religious and especially anti-Catholic. In the midst of this, Frederic and five of his close friends organized to defend their Catholic faith and to grow spiritually. Through this friendship and spiritual formation, they sought to answer God’s call and resolved, “Let us go to the poor.” These six undergraduates founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul on Frederic’s 20th birthday. In their service to the poor, they were mentored by Blessed Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, and they took as their patron St. Vincent de Paul, known as “the Apostle of Charity.”

The first St. Vincent de Paul conference in Evansville began in the late 1880s. Today, the Evansville District has 315 members in 19 conferences in parishes in Posey, Vanderburgh, Warrick and south Gibson Counties. The Evansville Diocese has three additional districts in Jasper, Vincennes and Washington/Loogootee.

Members of the Society “go to the poor” by visiting our neighbors in their homes. Frequently, our neighbors need assistance with rent, utilities, home furnishings, food and clothing. In 2023, our 19 conferences gave over $650,000 in monetary assistance. Our district council, through its thrift store and food pantry, provided over $137,000 of in-kind assistance and distributed over $50,000 to conferences to help with direct assistance.

Monetary and material assistance, while important, is not all that Vincentians do. Unfortunately, poverty in the Evansville area is growing, even though most of the neighbors Vincentians visit have jobs. In 2023, the Evansville district received requests for over $1.1 million in utility assistance. Conferences provided just under $500,000. They partnered with other agencies to attempt to assist their neighbors. Also in 2023, the Food Pantry provided food to 47 percent more persons than in 2022. Vincentians advocate for the neighbors they serve. When the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission held hearings on the Center Point utility rate hikes, Vincentians from All Saints and Annunciation parishes spoke eloquently and passionately about the experiences of their neighbors and the injustice of the increase.

Vincentians also attempt to change the causes of poverty. Some of our neighbors’ families have lived in poverty for generations. The Evansville District Council now offers the Getting Ahead program to help our neighbors exit the cycle of poverty. These neighbors are enabled through a 16-week program and mentored by trained Vincentian volunteers.

Finally, Vincentians are seeing an increase in non-native speakers in both home visits and in neighbors who visit our Food Pantry. Recently, a member of the St. John, Daylight, conference called her daughter in Mexico to translate for one of her neighbors on a home visit. Vincentians can be very creative, but not all of us have the ability to utilize a fluent family member in a long-distance telephone call.

The Evansville Vincentians ask first for your prayers. Second, we do accept monetary assistance if you are able to donate to the Society, either in your parishes or to the Evansville District Council. In addition to running a store and a food pantry, the council serves the parish conferences by assisting with funding, insurance and various government reporting obligations. Finally, we ask for your involvement. We need translators, particularly Spanish and Haitian Creole, on our home visits and in our Food Pantry. We could use volunteers willing to receive training and to walk with our neighbors in the Getting Ahead Program as mentors. And we always welcome new members. Please prayerfully discern whether you have the vocation to become part of “[a] network of friends, inspired by gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.”

Daniel Miller serves as President of the Evansville District Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He is a parishioner of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Daylight.