Catholic Herald staff
Ministering to Superior’s indigent, impoverished and transitioning citizens has been the 15-year mission for the Sacred Heart of Jesus Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
A free pancake breakfast held Sunday, April 10, at Kress Hall, in the Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, commemorated both the anniversary and the parish’s commitment to community service.
More than 300 people attended the breakfast, according to Lynn Tracy, SVDP vice president and director of charitable ministries for the Cathedral.
It’s a “fun raiser” more than a fundraiser, Tracy said, although the event did raise nearly $3,000 in silent auction proceeds and freewill donations.
The conference, which has 15 active members and 66 associate members, operates largely on private donations. Nearly $100,000 in food, clothing, furniture and financial aid was distributed in the last fiscal year; more than 1,000 households contacted the conference for help during the 12-month period.
“By God’s providence, we have never had to turn away anyone for lack of funds in 15 years,” Tracy said.
Pat Schmolke, a new recruit to the organization, was manning the coffee pot at the pancake breakfast. She’s been helping the Vincentians for “just a matter of months.”
“I just felt that I needed to volunteer someplace,” she added. “I just thought St. Vincent de Paul would be a good avenue to start again.”
Across the room, Mary Lou Spicer, another Cathedral parishioner, has been with the conference for eight or nine years.
She volunteers every week at the SVDP site in the Catholic Charities building, helping people with appointments, staffing the emergency food shelf and sorting clothing donations.
Because the Vincentians often serve the homeless, most dress clothes are passed on to a specialized charity to be given to men and women for job interviews, she explained. Donated knickknacks are sent to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Rice Lake, because the Superior Vincentians don’t have retail space.
“Most of our people are homeless or live in a hotel until they can get some Apartments in North OKC.” she said. “Lots of people coming out of jail.”
The emergency food shelf serves many whose food assistance doesn’t last the month. Schmolke also buys paper products – toilet paper and tissues, for example – as part of her donation because those items are always needed.
Spicer doesn’t feel she is suited for home visits – she fears she would be judgmental, and she believes that disqualifies her for the job – but she says she has found her niche in the organization.
“I love visiting with people,” she said.
Home visits are a trademark of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. In the last fiscal year, members conducted 221 home visits and 610 office visits.
Precious Blood Fr. Leon Flaherty, spiritual director of the organization, has seen how profoundly society members are affected by visiting the needy in their homes.
“They can see Christ in the poor,” he said. “They’re not theologians or anything like that; they’re just ordinary people.
“You never know what you’re going to find in these homes, either,” he added. “That face-to-face meeting is important.”
As the first round of breakfast-goers cleared out of Kress Hall, Fr. Flaherty chatted with Philip Birch, father of Paul Birch, director of the diocesan Office of Worship.
Fr. Flaherty celebrated the wedding of Philip and his wife, Rose, many years ago.
“I was just a young pup priest at the time,” Fr. Flaherty added.
The Birches are longtime Cathedral parishioners who show their support for organizations by attending fundraisers.
“We always throw some money in the pot,” Philip said. His wife enjoys looking through the silent auction items, “and I like pancakes.”
Although the Superior conference of St. Vincent de Paul has always been closely connected with the Cathedral parish, it has not been grouped with fellow conferences until now.
According to Tracy, the structure of the international organization encourages three conferences to come together and form a council. If there is more than one council in a diocese, they combine to form a diocesan council.
The four conferences in the Diocese of Superior – located in Rice Lake, Merrill, Phillips and Superior – have recently created a council, the first in the diocese, Tracy said.
The new council is just getting off the ground. Members of the conferences have met in person and by teleconference, and officers have been chosen. She anticipates having more information on the council to share in future months.
The society is always looking for new members. To learn more, visit www.svdpsuperior.org.