Today is the Feast of Saint Vincent de Paul, the 17th century French priest renowned for his generosity in serving the most vulnerable. Happy feast day!
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, named in his honor, is a Catholic lay organization founded in 1833 by Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam and five other university students at the Sorbonne in Paris. Today there are over 800,000 “Vincentians” throughout the World including over 4,500 local conferences across the United States.
One remarkable local conference is to be found in the parish of Saint Joseph in Saint Johns in Clinton County, Michigan. Founded in 1946, the apostolic work of the conference took a new and unexpected direction 26 years ago, as John Thelen, Director of Saint Vincent de Paul in Saint Johns, now explains:
"In 1996, the former Clothing Center in St. Johns was scheduled to close and the St. Joseph Conference was asked to take over their retail operations."
"After prayerful consideration, the Vincentians of the St. Joseph Conference decided to expand into the retail arena. Even though our organization didn’t have retail experience, the Vincentians decided that if we didn’t agree to this retail opportunity to serve our community with reasonably priced items, then who else would do so?"
"Now 26 years later, we’ve grown from a 2,300 square feet store to a 12,400 square feet operation in our current location in the Southpoint Mall."
"In the beginning, the retail store was operated by volunteers. Now we have a small staff of 11 employees and over 90 active volunteers. The volunteers typically work a 3 hour shift each week."
The secret to our store success is the commitment of our growing volunteer base and our dedicated staff who all believe in our mission to serve. We are also blessed with a growing base of donors and shoppers who partner with us in our mission to serve."
"Our Conference currently has 22 active Vincentians who serve our neighbors in need. We assist families with emergency needs such as rent, utilities, transportation, homelessness, prescriptions, clothing, household items, and many more."
"Since we began operating our retail store in 1996, we’ve provided over $2.2 million dollars for emergency needs of Clinton County families! On average, we assist over 500 families each year."
"None of this would have been possible if we hadn’t been open to the invitation of the Holy Spirit to serve in a different way that we had done in the past. The Vincentians in 1996 stepped outside of their comfort zone to be open to something new. We had no idea what God had in store for us."
"This is a good reminder to all of us personally to be open to the words of the Holy Spirit. His view is likely much broader than our own narrow view."
"Any Clinton County resident in need of emergency financial assistance, can call St. Joseph Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Johns at 989 292-7057."
"If you’d like to support our work and find some really good bargains in the process, please consider donating/shopping at our St. Vincent de Paul Store at 1009 S. US-27 in St. Johns. Store hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m."
"If you’d like to explore opportunities as a store volunteer or as Vincentians to serve our neighbors in need, please call 989 292-7057."
Saint Vincent de Paul, pray for us!