By Paul Ainslie, President, SVdP Indy Council
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) in the U.S. celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2020, having been founded in St. Louis in 1845, just 12 years after the founding of the Society in Paris in 1833. Today, thousands of Vincentians across the U.S. work tirelessly to help our neighbors in need. In our pantries, thrift stores and warehouses, we try to carry on the tradition of service that is central to our work. It is an honor for me to see that work firsthand every week.
But how exactly do we work? Are we like Goodwill or the Salvation Army? How are we unique? The answer is simple and goes back to the founding mission set forth by Blessed Frederic Ozanam: to grow in spirituality, to work in friendship and to personally serve individuals in need.
Our Service Model and Structure
The core of SVdP is an inverted organization, where the neighbor in need is at the top and supported locally by an SVdP Conference. There are 57 Conferences in the Indianapolis SVdP area. Each Conference is typically comprised of one or more parishes, and three or more Conferences are grouped into a District. There are six Districts that make up the SVdP Indianapolis Archdiocese Council. The Council is the foundation, existing to support the work of the Conferences.
SVdP accomplishes our mission through a one-to-one service model. The home visit is at the heart of how we serve those in need, though such visits have been suspended during the pandemic. When a call for help comes into SVdP, it is assigned to the parish located closest to the individual in need. Usually, two Vincentians visit the home and meet first in friendship. Eventually the needs are discovered, and help is offered in the way of household goods, food and community resources.
Finally, SVdP is a worldwide organization with a global focus on those in need—a principal we call solidarity. On the other hand, the work and decisions are done at the level closest to those we serve, usually the Conference level—a principal we call subsidiarity. One organization, working one-to-one with those in need.
What Defines a Vincentian
To become a Vincentian only requires a dedication to our three elements:
- Grow spiritually
- Work in friendship
- Serve those in need
All Vincentians are asked to participate in formation training such as the Ozanam Orientation and are given other opportunities to grow spiritually. Numerous resources are available for individual and group study.
Being a Vincentian has been life-changing for me—so much so that I invite all to consider joining the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and unite in serving those in need.