St. Vincent de Paul Society marks 175 years of caring for Canada’s poor

16 November 2021

Appears in: Archdiocesan News

Quinton Amundson
Canadian Catholic News

Richard Pommainville, in his latest Society of St. Vincent de Paul(SSVP) newsletter address, likens the non-profit global charity to the Energizer Bunny.

“We’ve all seen the Energizer Bunny commercials with the underlying message ‘keeps going and going and going,’ ” wrote Pommainville, the society’s executive director.

“It is the ultimate symbol of longevity, perseverance and determination that Energizer is communicating.

“These symbols of longevity, perseverance and determination are also applicable to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, now celebrating its 175th founding anniversary in Canada.”

Being in operation for nearly two centuries would certainly lend this lay Catholic organization plenty of examples of how it remained resolute in its mission to espouse Christian values and serve the poor despite societal turmoil.

But you need not look further than the past 20 months. Vincentian chapters, including the Edmonton chapter, from coast-to-coast did not slip into a COVID-19 hiatus. Instead, members adapted to the new terrain and continued to provide food aid, home visits, shelter, refugee support, educational help and emergency relief in ways that aligned with public health guidelines.

Thus far, the society has been able to keep up its revenues despite the hardship brought by the pandemic. Revenue has remained quite steady as bigger donations have compensated for a drop in the number of donors.

Canada’s SSVP legacy was toasted on Nov. 13 in Québec City with a special commemoration Mass celebrated by Archbishop Emeritus Sylvain Lavoie and Bishop Martin Laliberté, auxiliary bishop of Québec.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Canada was consecrated to be under the holy protection of St. Marguerite d’Youville (1701-1771), known as the Mother of Universal Charity. This French-Canadian nun founded the Order of Sisters of Charity of Montreal, commonly known as the Grey Nuns of Montreal.  Father Lacombe invited the order to the St. Albert mission.

Pommainville said he appreciates that these festivities occurred on the same weekend as the World Day of the Poor Nov. 14.

“It is an interesting coincidence. In the message from Pope Francis that he released in June, there are some really key points that challenge us as Catholics about what we can do to further assist the poor. That is the heart of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, the bread and butter of our mission,” he said.

He adds that he is perennially impressed when he witnesses the high level of passion exhibited by the more than 15,000 members of this charity and how it translates into ambitious initiatives. Pommainville cites the North of 60 project, the annual food and goods drop-offs in the remotest northern Canadian communities, as a shining example.

“They really live Catholic social teaching through their actions. People out of Edmonton are supporting communities in the Northwest Territories, Ontario parishioners are helping Nunavut and Quebec is helping northern Quebec.”

SSVP will carry forward after the anniversary event with a fresh three-year strategic plan that was approved in June, the same month Pope Francis challenged lay Catholics to encounter the poor in a greater fashion in his World Day of the Poor message.

“How do we complete a transformation to a current environment,” said Pommainville, “and how do we focus on recruiting? That remains a key challenge for any religious organization whether it be Catholic, Christian, Muslim or Jewish. How do we rejuvenate, get younger participation and transition our fundraising activities?”

This is default text for notification bar
This is default text for notification bar