Six men, all of whom are eligible for AARP membership, gathered in a knotty pine paneled room in the St. Bernardine Rectory basement at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 18. It was the 4,323rd Tuesday in a row that the St. Bernardine chapter of Society of St. Vincent de Paul had met.

The men began the meeting as usual with prayer.

 Lord Jesus, deepen our Vincentian spirit of friendship during this meeting, make us responsive to the Christian calling to seek and find the forgotten, the suffering or the deprived so that we may bring them your love. Help us to be generous with our time,our possessions and ourselves in this mission of charity. Perfect in us your love and teach us to share more fully in the Eucharistic Sacrifice offered for all men.

As the prayer indicates, the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP), like other charitable organizations, seeks to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless, clothe those who are without and provide comfort to the sick. 

But the prayer also reveals how those six men meeting every Tuesday evening are attempting to integrate more fully than most charities their Catholic faith with the work they do. The goal is sanctification — through serving the poor and disadvantaged.

Not only did the group not allow the names of the people they serve to be printed in the Review, they didn’t want their names to be known either. Alex [all names are not real] said, “We maintain strict confidentiality outside this room. We want to respect the dignity and privacy of the people we serve. Some are our neighbors. We don’t want to embarrass them. 

“We also don’t want our names made known because we want to remain humble and sincere. We are not on an ego trip.”

The SVDP website elaborates that approach to charity by declaring that the society is “composed of women and men who seek their personal holiness through works of charity. In this essential way, the Society differs from charitable associations or agencies whose principal objective is not the spiritual advancement of their members but the doing of good for someone else.” 

Bob cited the gospel reading for the previous Sunday, in which Jesus says “when you do it to the least of these, you do it to me,” as part of his motivation for spending every Tuesday evening in the rectory basement. He also likes the structure of SVDP. “I go there every Tuesday and give them some money,” he explained. “If I wasn’t going every week my giving and my ‘charitable participation’ would be a little more haphazard.”

He added that another part of what he shows up every Tuesday is the local, face to face nature of how his group does their charitable work. “You send money off to these big charitable organizations,” he explained, “and you’re not sure where the money goes and who you are helping. Here we see the people we help face and often form relationships with them.”

Indeed, a good part of the meeting was devoted to discussing requests for help, many from people with whom the group was familiar. “Our motto is ‘trust but verify,'” Calvin explained. “We’re aware that we’ve been scammed several times, so we try to make sure that the assistance requested is really needed.”

The group talked about Mary’s situation. She ran out of food again, and the group was considering giving her a voucher to redeem at Ed’s Way. They also agreed to stock up on coffee for their food pantry since it was on sale at Ultra Foods. They then considered Jane’s request for transportation. She reported that her car had broken down and needed a rental car or a ride to work. Finally, they tried to figure out what to do with Gary, who they discovered was drinking while he waits to enter a substance abuse program.

The six men also decided to send a monetary donation to Christmas Cheer, the program which delivers 8,000 meals on Christmas Day to needy people in this area. They will send a list along with the check of ten or so names of people they know who would are in genuine need of that kind of assistance.

Don noted ways in which SVDP is less than the big charities. He said that when a big disasters like a flood or tornado hits a locality, their small organization has nowhere near the resources to respond in a meaningful way. He added that most of their members have no social work training, so they wind up referring many people who come for help to agencies like Catholic Charities or Prevail in Oak Park which are better able to connect these folks with the help they need. 

Ed acknowledged that being charitable isn’t always easy. “Around Christmas time,” he said, “I get bombarded with requests to give to so many charities. I’m aware that there are great needs in the world, but I simply don’t have the resources to give to them all. It’s hard to prioritize which ones to give to.”

Fred said that is motivated to be part of SVDP because he has been blessed in his life and wants to share those blessings with others. One of the prayers the group sometimes uses to close their meetings expresses Fred’s sentiments in terms of the blessings the group receives from those they serve.

 We thank You, Lord, for the many blessings which we recieve from those whom we visit. Help us to love and respect them, to understand their deeper needs, and to share their budens and joys as true friends in Christ.

For more information about the St. Vincent de Paul Society call the St. Bernardine Rectory at 708-366-0839.

The St. Vincent de Paul website relates the following origins of the Society:

Frédéric Ozanam left his home in Lyon, France, in the autumn of 1831, for Paris. He registered in the School of Law at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. Frédéric collaborated in reviving a student organization . . . “The Conference of History.”. . . .At one of their meetings, a student challenged Frédéric and the practicing Catholics. He admitted that the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, but “what do you do now?”. . . .[Responding to that challenge] Frédéric decided to found the “Conference of Charity” to assist the poor. . . . .They changed their name to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of their patron.