SVDP Memphis

Q. How does the society differ from other charitable organizations?

A. The Mission Statement of the Society answers the question specifically. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul 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. President-General Adolpe Baudon, in his Circular Letter of January 1, 1877, writes:

"It is laid down in our Rule, and it has been always understood among us, that in uniting to serve our masters the poor, as St. Vincent de Paul expresses it, our object is not only to relieve material misery, a very laudable purpose in itself, but to aspire, especially, through the practice of that most sublime of virtues "charity" to render ourselves better and more fervent Christians, and to make our poor enter on the same path, if we have the happiness of succeeding."

In his Circular Letter of December 12, 1915, Vicomte Hendecourt, President-General writes:
"The Society has two aims: to do a great deal of spiritual good to its members through the exercise of charity, and to do a little spiritual and temporal good to a few poor families in the name of Jesus Christ. If it did not continually seek to combine these two aims, it would ose its raison d'etre. If it were to seek only the holiness of its members through pious exercises, there is no lack of Confraternities and Third Orders to meet that need. If on the other hand, it were to seek only the relief of the temporal miseries of the poor, it would only add one more to the list of public and private institutions founded for that purpose."

The Mission Statement is clear: Vincentian ministry is a means for acquiring holiness. The ministry of a Vincentian to those and with those who stand in need is the powerful means that affects holiness of life for the individual Vincentian. Vatican II states that the principal means of holiness for bishops and priests is their ministry. This applies to the laity also, because, in attending to the needy and suffering, a Vincentian is ministering to Jesus Christ himself.

 

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The Society

The primary focus of The Society since 1865 has been the assistance of individuals that call for help. That help may include assistance with utility bills, food baskets, rent or mortgage assistance.  It could also include help paying medical bills and whatever else the person may need to get back on their feet.

In Brief

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul first arrived in Memphis in 1865. The first conference (or group of volunteers) gathered at St. Peter and Paul parish in downtown Memphis. Since then the Society has grown to ten conferences, with hundreds of Vincentians, as the members are called. That number does not include the scores of volunteers that work at the food mission.