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My wife, Pat, and I are members of the St. Vincent De Paul Society, SVDP, the largest lay Catholic organization in the world. The mission of the Society is for “women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering”. Simply said ‘home visits’ to people in need is what we are all about and were we find our ‘blessings’. Normally we make about 3 or 4 home visits in less than 2 hours. Today we made eight home visits to persons in need in 3 1/2 hours, an extra dose of blessings.
Each family had a story of why they suffer in poverty. There were some common themes like unemployment or lack of health insurance but each story was unique. We gave persons what we could, vouchers for appliances or beds, but the blessings came from listening to each story, seeing the smile on a child’s face and feeling the gratitude as we left a house. There were some light moments when a mother of nine with two grandchildren living in the house told us she received a lots of Mother Day cards from her children in school. There were some sad moments when a woman unemployed after suffering a major illness spoke of her adult son with a mental illness unable to get benefits for those who are disabled. There were prayerful moments when we prayed together at the end of some visits.
Since moving back to Milwaukee in 1995 I have been trying to get the Milwaukee SVDP to focus more on the main mission, home visits, than other supplementary endeavors like stores, social service work, meal programs etc. Also over the years many Catholic churches have closed, and thus their SVDP conferences, in the poorest and most segregated area of the fourth poorest city in the USA and the most segregated city in the USA. Where once there were 17 Catholic Churches helping those in need now there are only three and the three suffer from a lack of financial resources. All but one person we visited today were African American. The one white person we visited, who had recently moved to Milwaukee and was really outside of our conference area. There was a SVDP conference near her but by not making home visits, the heart of our mission had faded away. This woman had been told by her landlord in the almost all white neighborhood to stay out of the areas that were ‘dark’ as she called the African American neighbors nearby. We tried to assure her that African American neighborhoods were a result of racism and not to be feared. I do not think we were too successful since all she hears from people around and the white politicians and police chief is how terrible these neighborhoods are.
I, along with others, have made several attempts to restructure the St.Vincent De Paul Society in Milwaukee to more effectively serve those and need and to bring in more resources of people and money. For the most part we have not been successful as organizations do not want to change, even when they can serve their mission more effectively. At times, like recently I feel like giving up on the efforts to change and restructure our Milwaukee SVDP. However, after hearing stories like I did today I know we must keep up our efforts for change and to adapt to serve our mission, person to person home visits. Home visits are the mission of St. Vincent De Paul Society.