By Dorothy K. LaMantia | Correspondent
“Is there a Vincentian in the house?” Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., quipped as he welcomed those attending the diocesan celebration of the 400th anniversary of St. Vincent de Paul and the Vincentian Charism.
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Two hundred members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul from more than 50 parishes in the Diocese, three Vincentian priests and four seminarians preparing to enter the order gathered Sept. 9 in St. Aloysius Church, Jackson, to celebrate Mass and reflect upon their mission.
Carrying banners representing their parish conferences, members of the society known for outreach to the needy led the procession, which included Bishop O’Connell as well as the priests concelebrating Mass: Father John Bambrick, parish pastor; Vincentian Father Martin McGeough, diocesan coordinator of jail and prison ministry; Vincentian Father Joseph Agostino, international coordinator of the Vincentian Family Office; Vincentian Father John Timlin, novice master for the order; Father Jack Bogacz, diocesan St. Vincent de Paul Society spiritual director, and Msgr. Edward Arnister, pastor of St. Rose Parish, Belmar.
In his homily, the Bishop related the foundation history of the Vincentian community, which includes orders of priests and brothers known as “The Congregation of the Mission” as well as consecrated women known as “Daughters of Charity.” In 1833, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, inspired by the Church’s Universal Patron of Charity, founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris.
“Today is a beautiful day … as we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Vincentian Community, first set ablaze with the charism of St. Vincent de Paul and continued through this society,” Bishop O’Connell said.
“It is a day we demonstrate the depth of our Christian commitment as we remember Ozanam’s mission: ‘It is our duty,’ he wrote, ‘to set people’s hearts ablaze, to do what the Son of God did, who came to light a fire on earth in order to set it ablaze with his love for the poor,” Bishop O’Connell said.
He ended his address with a prayer containing a petition: “Revive in us the flame of the Charism … which has animated our missionary life for 400 years.”
After Mass, the congregation entered the church hall for fellowship and breakfast. Father Agostino, serving as keynote speaker, discussed the society’s history, mission and future.
“We are part of a family,” he said. “We are called to respond to poverty – spiritual and material – in all people. Jesus is the rule of our mission and reason for our work. We are called to the peripheries to serve the poorest of the poor.” Father Agostino noted that the society exists in 154 countries and now numbers 850,000 members worldwide.
As part of a panel that included Father Agostino and Vincentians Brenda Terrell, Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, and Jodi Finn, St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, Father McGeough reflected on the insight he has gained through his experiences, particularly in his work as a prison chaplain.
“Vincentian spirituality has been a part of who I am and how I live,” he said. “In varying places and groups of people, I try to find the face of Christ in the poor and marginalized. Whether I was in rural Alabama, in a Hispanic community on Long Island or a black community in Baltimore, the spirit of Vincent and the charism became alive in what I did for and with people.”
Father McGeough said he learned great lessons from Dominican Sister Elizabeth Gnam, who has spent 30 years ministering at the State Prison in Trenton.
“She said, ‘First thing – you must be present.’ I learned from her and the inmates that was important. One guy in prison talked about how through the prison ministry, he learned God and Church had not abandoned him.”
Joseph T. Williams, diocesan president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said he was pleased with the celebration’s success.
“We meant to observe Vincent’s charisms in a spiritual way,” he said. “The most significant aspect is that we had 200 Vincentians gather to hear dramatic witness of those who share in the ministry; we had the opportunity to have four candidates for the priesthood here to see the work of the society in action, and we had Bishop O’Connell with us.”
Paul Miller, a five-year veteran of the society’s conference in St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, said the day’s events reinforced the society’s purpose and ministry.
“We have a 400-year line to look back on, to see how much good has been done and to think how much more we can do,” he said.
Frankie Winrow of Mother of Mercy Parish, Asbury Park, who works the conference’s pantry at St. Peter Claver Center, found meaning in the mission of the society.
“Seeing all those who come together to help those in need warms my heart,” she said. “We see the face of God in our clients. We see needs in them and ourselves. When we feel poor in spirit, this ministry makes us become like Christ to give generously.”