Category Archives: St. Vincent de Paul Society

This College Kid Can Teach All of Us a Lesson*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Most Catholics know of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Society has been helping people in need for over 180 years. What most Catholics do not know is that St. Vincent de Paul is not the founder of the society. It is simply named after him because of his lifelong example of Christian charity. So, if it was not founded by St. Vincent de Paul where did it come from? How did it begin? What does St. Vincent de Paul have to do with it?

This is the very first paragraph from the Mission Statement of the St. Vincent de Paul Society

Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul.”

As you finish that paragraph you will notice the name of Frederick Ozanam. Please, take a moment to meet him here. He happens to be the founder of the oldest Catholic charity in the United States of America, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Bl. Frederick Ozanam (as young man) courtesy slideshare.net

Frederick Ozanam was born in Milan, Italy in 1813. He was the fifth of fourteen children of Jean and Marie Ozanam and only one of three who lived into adulthood. The family moved to Lyons, France and this was where Frederick grew up. As a teenager the young man was strongly influenced by the elitists of the day and his Catholic faith began to waiver. Frederick fought his doubts and overcame them. Vowing to consecrate himself to the defense of his faith he moved to Paris. He was 18 years old.


Frederick entered the University of Paris and took up journalism. He made friends with some other young Catholic men and soon he and a few of his new friends were involved in vigorous debates among secular students who challenged their preaching for lack of action.

The secularists told them that maybe ‘long ago’ the Catholic Church was a benefactor of humanity but those days were over. They were then asked what they were doing for people now? Frederick and his pals had no answer. They were laughed at and told they were hypocrites and basically did nothing but talk.

Frederick’s friend, Augustus Le Tailandier, asked Frederick if they might be able to put together a small group of Catholics to bring to action the Gospel message of “doing” instead of just ”talking”. Thus was born the “Conference of Charity”. This small group of Catholic/Christian young men who would not only devote themselves to helping the needy but would also advance Christian friendship.

Frederick had been submitting copy to Joseph Emmanuel Bailly who published the Tribune Catholique. He asked Mr. Bailly what he thought of their idea. He liked it so much that he joined Frederick and together they and four other young men held their very first meeting on April 23, 1833. Frederick Ozanam was 20 years old.

At that first meeting Emmanuel Bailly sent Frederick to see Sister Rosalie Rendu, a “Daughter of Charity”. Sister Rosalie became Frederick’s mentor and set him and his fledgling organization on its course by focusing them on doing “home visits” to those in need. This method of interaction was to become the primary way members would interact with those seeking their help. It remains that way to this day.

 In the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of her order, she also taught Frederick and his followers the techniques of helping the poor and the sick by being compassionate and always treating people with their God given dignity. They invoked St. Vincent de Paul as their patron and named the group, in his honor, The St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Frederick Ozanam and his friends could never have dreamed of the way the Society would grow. Within 12 years from its inception it
had spread to Italy, England, Belgium, Scotland and the United States. The society chose St. Louis, Missouri as its headquarters in America and to this day the National Council of The St. Vincent de Paul Society USA is located there.

Today in the United States there are more than 160,000 trained volunteers who provide almost 12 million hours of volunteer service helping those in need. There are close to 750,000 members doing volunteer work all around the world. And all of it was started by a 20 year old kid responding to the graces showered down upon him and inspiring those around him to join in his quest to stop “talking and start doing”.
Frederick Ozanam was beatified on August 22, 1997 by Pope John Paul II. His mentor, Sister Rosalie, was beatified on November 9, 2003. We ask them both for their continued prayers for all of us, especially those in need.

*An edited version of this article appeared in Aleteia on August 15, 2016

                                 ©Larry Peterson 2016  All Rights Reserved

"The Kids Need a Bed Tonight"*

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

Three days a week, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m they come and they wait. Three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday they come just to get a drop of reprieve from the outreach center; a bus pass to the VA or to get to a job interview, a bag of groceries, a voucher to get used clothes at the thrift store, maybe a small amount of money to help pay an overdue utility bill, and sometimes just to talk to someone, anyone who will listen.
The homeless, the disabled, the sick, the unemployed, the downtrodden, the marginalized, addicts and ex-cons just out of the “big-house” all stop by. All are different, yet all are living with one common denominator running their lives—survival.

It was 8:30 a.m. and the sun was already doing its thing, slowly roasting the folks as they waited patiently for the doors to open, some having been there since 7 a.m. Florida, ah yes, palm trees, blue skies and beaches–just another day in paradise.

Andre and Jessica had made the three mile walk to the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office and had arrived at 8 a.m. They signed in and were #11 on the list. At 10:15 a man opened the door and called their name. As they approached he smiled and said, “Hi folks, c’mon in. Sorry it took so long. How you guys doing today?”

He knew how they were doing and they knew that he knew but his friendly, unbureaucratic manner quickly put them at ease. “Okay, have a seat. I’m Joe. At least it’s cool in here, right?”

They sat, sighed and let the cool A/C soak into their overheated bodies. They said nothing.

“Well now,” Joe said looking straight at them, “I can see you have some heavy duty stuff going on. I hope we can help. So, what exactly is happening?”

They were a mixed race couple and they could feel inside themselves that whoever this man was it did not matter at all. You can just sense some things. They loosened up. Andre began to speak and tears quickly fell from Jessica’s eyes. “Look, man, we got two kids, six and eight years old, and we’re getting kicked out of our place at 11 a.m. if we don’t come up with $58.00, and we ain’t got a dime.”

“Where are the kids now?” Joe asked.

“With a neighbor. Look, we don’t care so much about us but the kids need a bed tonight, know what I mean?”

“I do Andre, I do. And for what it’s worth, you guys need a bed too. Where you staying?”

“Barkley Motel over on—“

“Oh yeah, I know the place well. Here’s the thing, Andre, we don’t pay rent monies from this office. We just don’t have the funds. But let me make a call.”

Joe picked up the phone and pushed the numbers for the Barkley. He knew them by heart. He smiled kindly at them and, as he waited for an answer, twirled his finger in the air as if to say, “C’mon–pick up already”.

After several moments went by he said, “Hello, hey Sam, this is Joe over at the St. Vincent de Paul outreach office. I have a couple here, Andre and Jessica—–What? What are you talking about? You have to be kidding me. They have until 11:00 a.m. Look Sam, these folks need that room now–not a new one tomorrow. You should have called me. Now, just “unrent” their room. I’ll be over myself about 12:15.”

Andre’s and Jessica’s hopes had risen and fallen in a matter of moments. Andre, a big man, said, “Man, what we gonna do?”

Joe asked, “What happens after tomorrow? Getting through today is almost like a stay of execution.”

“No, no, tomorrow I know I can get some work. Just gotta get through today. Plus, we got a place lined up for next week. Her mom worked it out. She’s up in Jersey and she knew someone and, anyway, come Saturday we’ll be okay. She’s even sending bus tickets for the greyhound over on 9th St. We leave Saturday afternoon. Next week is 4th of July and we plan on being in Jersey and celebrating. We just gotta get through till Saturday.”

“No kidding, Andre. That’s awesome. But today is only Wednesday. Well, we can’t have the kids without beds tonight….and tomorrow too. Now, here is a food voucher. Go across the street to the pantry and get some groceries. Then bring them home with you.”

“They ain’t been too nice to us over at the motel. And if I ain’t got the $58.00 they won’t let us in.”

“Don’t you worry about that. Trust me, okay. You go back there, everything will be all right.”

It was almost 1 p.m. when they arrived back at the motel. They walked to the front desk  and Sam, the manager, smiled at them. “Okay, I have good news for you. You’re paid up through Saturday.”

Jessica almost collapsed from relief. Andre held her up and a happy tear rolled down his cheek.

Back at the St. Vincent De Paul office Joe finished up the paperwork from the 23 clients he had served that day. As he filed Andre and Jessica’s sheet into the folder, he held it up for a moment, looked at it and smiled. And a well-deserved smile it was.

* An edited version of this appeared in Aleteia on July 2, 2016

                             ©  Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

3 Saints Who Never Knew the Impact They Would Have on Others –

IT MAKES SENSE TO ME

By Larry Peterson

This article appeared in Aleteia on May 18, 2016
St. Vincent de Paul, Blessed Frederick Ozanam, St. Jeanne Jugan

Saint-Servan, France,1839:  On a bitterly cold winter night,  Jeanne Jugan , 47, looked out from her bedroom window and saw a person huddled outside. She went out and somehow managed to carry the shivering woman into her own home and place her in her own bed.

The woman’s name was Anne Chauvin and she was blind, paralyzed and quite old. She was also close to freezing to death. And so it began, for on that very night Jeanne Jugan turned her life to serving God by caring for the elderly poor. 
Word spread quickly throughout the small town and before long more elderly sick and poor were being brought to Jeanne. Other women, younger and healthier, were coming to her also. But they were coming to join her in her work. The small group of women grew and became known as  The Little Sisters of the Poor
By 1879, there were over 2400 Little Sisters of the Poor in nine countries. That year was also the year that Pope Leo XIII approved the by-laws of the order. Ironically, it was also the same year Jeanne Jugan died at the age of 86. She was canonized a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Saint Jeanne Jugan never knew that when she was founding the Little Sisters of the Poor a young countryman of hers in Paris was responding to God’s flowing graces. Frederick Ozanam was a 20 year old student at the University of Paris. Challenged by his “enlightened” college peers, he embraced their taunts “to practice what you preach”.  
Accepting the challenge, Frederick went out and gave his coat to a beggar.  Shortly thereafter,  he and his four pals founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society . That was in May of 1833.  They named the society after St.Vincent because he was known for his work with the poor.
Vincent de Paul never knew that 170 years after his death an organization named after him would take up the mantle of helping the poor all over the world. Frederick Ozanam died at the age of 40 and was beatified and declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Frederick  would never know that the organization he had founded would one day work side by side with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their mission of charity toward the elderly poor.
 St. Jeanne Jugan could never have known that from the moment she carried Anne Chauvin into her home she would change the world for thousands upon thousands of the sick and disabled elderly. She could never have imagined that in the 21st century her order would be serving the poorest of the elderly in cities all over the United States and in 31 countries around the world.
 Blessed Frederick would never have imagined that his Society of St. Vincent de Paul would become a worldwide organization with close to a million members helping the needy all over the world. The grand irony is that over the course of several centuries the paths of these three saints have been interwoven dramatically as their followers help the poor, homeless and downtrodden no matter where they may be.
The three saints mentioned here never knew what their simple acts of kindness would lead to. The difference with them was that, unlike most folks, they responded to God’s grace. Jeanne took care of that sickly woman and Fred gave away his coat. Vincent worked with poor tenant farmers and founded the Daughters of Charity.
These three unpretentious, God loving people had two things in common.  First, they embraced God’s grace and followed His call. Secondly, they asked for NOTHING for themselves and welcomed whatever came their way, including poverty. Their legacies live on in the thousands upon thousands of their followers and in all those millions who have been helped by their simple acts of faith. This is a beautiful thing.
 As a Catholic I love these people and I am proud to consider myself part of their extended family. They set examples for us that we are supposed to emulate. They are our Catholic heroes and therefore members of our Catholic Hall of Fame. They asked for nothing and gave everything. I love being able to talk to them. What I love best is when they talk back. And they do, sooner or later and one way or another.
 St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jeanne Jugan and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, please keep praying for all of us. And —THANK YOU.

                            ©Larry Peterson 2016 All Rights Reserved

Frank Bernardone (aka St. Francis of Assisi) Would They 'Baker Act" Him in 2013?

by Larry Peterson

On October 4th, we Catholics celebrated the feast day of the great St. Francis of Assisi.  Pope Francis, during his homily at the Mass, encapsulated his namesake with this one brief sentence; “In all of Francis’ life, love for the poor and the imitation of Christ in his poverty were inseparably united, like the two sides of a coin.” 

The  Catholic Church has a rich and fabulous history of people who have been elevated to the rank of Canonized Saint.It is a four  stage process to sainthood.  Reaching the first stage a person is then called “Servant of God”. The second stage is called “Venerable”. Beatification is the third stage and then a person is called Blessed. Last but not least is the actual canonization. That is when a person is declared a saint.

All of  these people belong in our Catholic ‘Hall of Fame’ and among them are some who are so well known that  their names are recognizable by most people even after  two thousand years. St. Francis of Assisi is one of those ‘Hall of Famers’ and he lived about 850 years ago.

I am a cradle Catholic  and I went to Catholic school from grades one through twelve. I learned about many saints and martyrs and it always seemed to me that what we were taught placed these folks in a heavenly world more so than in a real, earthly world. As a kid, I never understood how the martyrs were willingly and happily dying for Jesus. Weren’t they scared? Did some of them possibly cry? Were they so filled with the Spirit that they were always stoic and reserved accepting their horrible fate with  joy while thanking God for the honor of a martyr’s death?

Fear is a normal emotion. Courage is when you stare it down and confront it regardless of the consequences even unto giving up your life.  Filled with a faith that was unshakable they loved God and their fellow man so much  that their courage knew no bounds even as they faced death. These were people of valor filled with grace, honor, fortitude and foremost, love.

My namesake and one of my favorite saints is St. Lawrence. Legend has it that he  was roasted alive by the Emperor Valerian in August of 258 A.D. The story is that Lawrence, having been tortured for a period of time over hot coals said to his executioners,“I believe I am done on this side, please turn me over.” 

I do not believe that really happened but it goes to my point of being taught about the saints being “happy”  even as they endured the most horrible tortures. Anyway, I try to take my supernal heroes and bring them  into my world of the 21st century. Then I imagine them doing their thing in the zero tolerant, politically correct, secularist world that we living, wannabe saints exist in. How do you think St. Francis of Assisi would have fared in the year 21st century?

Peter Bernardone, a wealthy silk merchant from Assisi, and his wife Pica, also from a wealthy family, gave birth to a son in 1181. They named him Johnny but later his father changed his name to Francis because he loved France, a country where he had made a lot of money (maybe dad had his own issues). Anyway, Frank grew up as a wealthy kid and had everything money could buy. He was handsome, courteous and dashing.

In 1204 frank went off to war and had a dream directing him to go back to Assisi. He did return and for some reason lost all desire for the worldly life. He joined a pilgrimage to Rome and joined with the poor who would beg in St. Peter’s Square. The experience moved him to want a life of poverty. Back home in  Assisi he began preaching in the streets and soon he had a following.

St. Francis of Assisi dedicated his own life to the poor and to Christ in poverty. He founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Poor Clares. In 1224 he received the Stigmata, which are the wounds that Christ received when He was crucified. This is not folklore or rumor or an “old wives tale”. The Stigmata has been documented and St. Francis did have it. In addition, the man was known for his love of animals, and many of the statues erected in his honor have a bird sitting on his extended finger and maybe a squirrel at his feet. 
So how would Frank Bernardone have fared in modern day  America? What would have happened if he decided to throw off his expensive clothing and don some old clothes he got from a thrift store? What if he wore those clothes to Main Street and started preaching on the corner? What if he had tried to preach that way in front of  a church? What if he went and knocked on the door of the nearest Catholic rectory and asked for some food?

More than likely the priest probably would have given him a number to the parish ‘outreach’ or maybe St. Vincent de Paul Conference, wished him well and closed the door. Then Frank would have had to find a phone to use and maybe he would have found one and maybe not. Sooner or later he would definitely have been spotted by the cops who would want to see ID and find out what he was doing and where he lived. They probably would have called his father. 

Eight hundred years ago in Assisi, Frank’s dad was so infuriated at his son’s behavior that when Frank came home from Rome, his dad beat him and locked him in the basement for a year. Today,  Frank’s father could not legally  beat his son and lock him in the basement. So he might have asked the cops to ‘Baker Act” his grown son. If you do not know what  “Baker Act” means, it is simple. In Florida there is a law that allows the police or family or most anyone to have someone who is acting “irrational’, and could be a danger to themselves or others, to be taken into custody and placed in lock down for 72 hours so they can be evaluated. The person has no say in the matter. Then it is up to the courts. If Frank told a modern day judge that he would rather live with the poor and beg for food even though he did not have to that judge may have put him in the ‘booby-hatch’ for a lot longer than 72 hours. 
Let me, as they say, “cut to the chase'”.  Francis of Assisi was a spiritual man who loved Christ and loved the poor. He gave up everything worldly to serve the poor. He asked for nothing and eventually thousands followed him as Franciscan priests, friars, brothers and missionaries. The Order of Poor Clares came into existence because of Francis. Francis of Assisi changed the world through the love of the poor and the love of Christ in poverty. 
I cannot imagine how a man like Francis would do his thing today.  But, all things are possible with God, even in the pompous, secularist, meistic world of the 21st century. Just take a look at who suddenly became our Pope. A simple Argentinian named Jorge Bergoglio  was elected and he took the name of Francis, a simple man from Assisi.

                                                  copyright ©Larry Peterson 2013             

Saints Jeanie, Fred, Vinnie — Our Catholic Christian Families Must All Stand Together

by Larry Peterson

When Jeanie Jugon began working in the hospital in Saint-Servan she was 25 years old. She hated poverty and all it wrought and she wanted desperately to fight back against it. One bitterly cold winter night in 1839, Jeanie looked out from her bedroom window and saw a person huddled outside. She went out and  somehow managed to carry the freezing woman into her own home and place her in her own bed. The woman was blind, paralyzed and quite old. And so it began, for on that very night Jeanne Jugan turned her life to serving God by caring for the elderly poor.

Word spread quickly throughout the small town and before long more elderly sick and poor were being brought to Jeanie. Other women, younger and healthier, were coming to her also. But they were coming to join her in her work. The small group of women grew and became known as the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Forty years later there were over 2400 Little Sisters of the Poor in nine countries. 1879 was also the year that Pope Leo XIII approved the by-laws of the order. That  was the same year Jeanie Jugon died at the age of 86. She was canonized a saint on October 11, 2009 by Pope Benedict XVI.

Saint Jeanne Jugon never knew that when she was founding the Little Sisters of the Poor a young man hundreds of miles away in Paris was unknowingly doing something quite similar. Fred Ozanam was a 20 year old student at the University of Paris and, challenged by his “enlightened” college peers, embraced their taunts “to practice what you preach”.  So he went out and gave his coat to a beggar.  Then he and his four pals founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. That was in May of 1833.  The society was  named after St.Vinnie because he was known for his work with the poor.

 Vincent de Paul never knew that 170 years after his death an organization named after him would take up the mantel of helping the poor all over the world. Fred Ozanam died at the age of 40 and was beatified and declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Fred would never know that the organization he  had founded  would one day work side by side with the Little Sisters of the Poor in their mission of charity toward the elderly poor. Saint Jeanie could never have known that from the moment she carried her first old, sick woman into her home she would change the world for thousands upon thousands of the sick and disabled elderly. She could never have imagined that in the 21st century her order would be serving the poorest of the  elderly in cities all over the United States and in 31 countries around the world. Blessed Fred would never have imagined that his St.Vincent de Paul Society would become a worldwide organization with 3/4 of a million members helping the needy all over the world. The grand irony is that over the course of several centuries the paths of these three saints have been interwoven dramatically as their followers help the poor, homeless and downtrodden no matter where they may be.

The three saints mentioned here never knew what their simple acts of kindness would lead to. The difference with them was that, unlike most folks, they responded to God’s grace. Jeanie took care of that sickly woman and Fred gave away his coat. Vinnie worked with poor tenant farmers and founded the Daughter’s of Charity. The two things they all had in common was a) they welcomed God’s grace and followed His call and b) they asked for NOTHING for themselves and embraced poverty. Remarkably, their thousands and thousands of followers, separated by centuries, work together to this day. This is a beautiful thing.

 Using the names of saints as I have done here bothers some folks. I really do not care about that.  My brother’s name is Daniel but I call him Danny. As far as Jeanie, Fred and Vinnie go, they are my family too.  You see, I love all of these people and using their names like that makes me feel closer to them. They set examples for us that we supposed to emulate. They are our Catholic heroes and therefore  members of our Catholic Hall of Fame. They asked for nothing and gave everything. I love being able to talk to them. What I love best is when they talk back. And they do, sooner or later and one way or another.

We must remember to pray hard for The Little Sisters of the Poor as they stand their ground against the HHS mandate that threatens their very existence. The forces of secularism are hard at work to remove religion from our lives. All our family members, including Vinnie, Jeanie and Fred, need  to stand together defending each other against this enemy.

St. Vincent de Paul, St. Jeanne Jugon and Blessed Frederick Ozanam, please pray for us.