SEATTLE – The centennial celebration for St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County kicked off with Mass at St. Benedict Parish, the place where the local organization got its start.
The gathering on January 26 happened 100 years to the day from when the first SVdP chapter in Western Washington was formed in 1920 by Charlie Albert, a transplant from Chicago who had been active in the society back home.
At the end of Mass, the “Centennial Hearts Ablaze Torch” was blessed and lit by Father Bryan Dolejsi, parish priest at St. Benedict’s.
The torch, a “physical symbol of our spiritual zeal for our mission of love and charity,” will move around the county’s seven precincts until a Mass on September 27, 2020, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, according to the organization’s website. Then the torch will be permanently housed at the main office in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle as a reminder of the organization’s mission to meet and serve the most vulnerable members of society.
“It’s that coming in contact with Christ and bringing Christ,” said Mirya Muñoz-Roach, the nonprofit’s executive director. “It’s in that encounter that we Vincentians are enriched spiritually. It’s not the doing the work, but the encounter.”
Helping more than 45,000 annually
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Paris in 1833 by law student Frederic Ozanam and five friends who wanted to help the poor. Today, it is a worldwide organization, with volunteers meeting the poor face-to-face, listening to their needs and providing assistance.
SVdP of Seattle/King County receives more than 51,000 requests for assistance each year and serves more than 45,000 people annually, through programs like the Georgetown Food Bank and the Centro Rendu outreach program for Latino immigrants. It operates five Seattle-area thrift stores whose revenues, along with donations and grants, help fund the organization’s programs.
The core of SVdP’s work is the “home visit.” In King County, more than 1,000 volunteer members of conferences (chapters) in 53 parishes go out in pairs to respond to requests for aid. Relying largely on donations from fellow parishioners, they help their neighbors with rent payments, utility bills and basic needs.
“We like to make a visit because people like to give us their story and just talk about what their difficulties are,” said Leonard Andrews, president of the SVdP conference at St. Benedict’s. Last year, his conference provided $22,000 in assistance, about half from parish donations and the rest from a bequest.
“People are very, very grateful for the help,” Andrews said. “They’re very, very grateful for the conversation.”
As the society enters its second century in King County, the needs in the community are great, Muñoz-Roach said. Meeting those needs will require more donations, more partnerships with parishes and more volunteers, especially younger people, she said.
“We want to bring more young people to experience faith in action through St. Vincent de Paul, to get to know the spirituality of encounter,” Muñoz-Roach said.
As the needs of the community change, so does St. Vincent de Paul.
“We respond to the needs as they come through the years,” Muñoz-Roach said.
Read more about the work of St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County in the March issue of Northwest Catholic magazine. Listen to a centennial podcast.
The mission of St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle/King County
“Compelled to action by the convictions of our founders, St. Vincent de Paul of Seattle and King County joins the community to listen, engage, and build relationships that assist and advocate for individuals and families to meet basic needs and achieve stability and self-sufficiency.”
Jean Parietti is the local news editor for NWCatholic.org and features editor for Northwest Catholic magazine. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Jean Parietti es editora local para el sitio web NWCatholic.org y destacada editora de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic. Pueden contactarle en: firstname.lastname@example.org.