The purpose of St. Vincent de Paul Society is to fulfill the two great commandments — love of God and love of neighbor.
A local conference of the St. Vincent de Paul Society was formed just over a year ago at Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Bismarck. Deacon Tony Ternes said the motivation is simply, “doing what Jesus asked of us.”
“Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, shelter and clothe those without,” Deacon Ternes said. “We are called to do this. We have to do this. It’s all part of the corporal works of mercy.”
The conference of St. Vincent de Paul in Bismarck formed by a group of volunteers who were called by this mission to serve as Jesus served. Vincentians, as they are known, are trained to help individuals in need, meeting physical and material needs, offering prayers and conducting home visits. Member and vice president, Tedi Maher, said she joined because of memories of her parents’ involvement in a local chapter many years ago and a calling she felt to help those in need.
“We basically follow the guidelines of the national society to end poverty through systemic change,” Maher explained. “Locally, we focus on being hands on with those in need, growing spiritually as a group and seeing all people equally.”
Vincentians also advocate for the poor, through referrals to existing community agencies. “We don’t set out to duplicate what’s already available. If there is a particular need better served by a local shelter, for instance, we would refer them,” Deacon Ternes said. “It’s more about filling the gaps. Let’s say someone is living in a shelter and is being held back by not having enough money for a deposit on an apartment. We could provide that to get them toward that next step.”
Maher added, “We are not social services. Our community already has a wonderful network of shelters, thrifts stores and social programs. We refer people to resources they may not be aware of, offer financial support for an immediate need or crisis and meet those critical needs first.”
A unique feature of the society is the person-to-person involvement achieved through home visits, which are done in pairs. Maher said these home visits prove to be very uplifting for both the volunteers and those in need. “We seek to provide for their needs as well as assistance through prayer and show of support,” she said.
Requests range from just about anything relating to short-term needs for food, shelter and clothing. Those in need are sometimes seeking money for gas, rent, utilities, car repairs or something as simple as a dress they couldn’t afford for their daughter’s First Communion. The local conference also has a donated storage unit where they store gently used furniture given to the group. Most recently some of the furniture was given to an individual who was able to move into an apartment after being homeless and didn’t have furnishings. There are also generous contributing members who donate and maintain inventory of new items such as clothing, towels, bedding, household items, toys and such that can be distributed as needed.
“It could be anything from what you might characterize as a bump in the road to a serious setback,” explained Maher. “Sometimes it’s a serious illness or loss of a job. Many we see are suffering from addiction, mental illness or just plain poor judgment. But we are not here to judge. We are here to help. And sometimes that help comes through a group effort partnering with other agencies in the community.”
“We evaluate each situation based on the individual circumstances,” added Deacon Ternes. “We function on generous donations from members of our parish or the public. We are also called to be good stewards of those donations. It’s something we take very seriously.”
Donations and volunteers needed
Donations have been coming in, but more are always welcome. “Our budget is based entirely on donations,” Maher said. “We work with local thrift stores to arrange for vouchers for free clothing and household items. Referrals are also directed to local soup kitchens, food pantries and services for reduced housing and healthcare. Another wonderful partner has been Sister Kathleen Atkinson and the Ministry on the Margins program.”
Vincentians come from different backgrounds and professions. The group at Cathedral includes a few social workers, some currently employed and some retired, volunteering their time. “They have been the backbone of our society,” Maher said.
New members are welcome at any time and from all parishes in the diocese. There are three forms of membership. Active full members participate in regular meetings and activities of the local conference. Associate members are kept informed of the group’s meetings and activities and may or may not attend conference meetings on a regular basis, nor engage in the works of the Society on a regular basis. Contributing members provide financial support, but do not engage in the group’s ongoing activities. In all, the current membership is around 30 and growing.
Active full members meet twice a month to take part in prayer and training sessions. There is no membership fee and all members’ time is on a volunteer basis. There are also many opportunities to volunteer on special projects or contribute financially.
Those wishing to make a financial contribution to the local conference may do so through the diocese website at
. Donations can also be directed to Deacon Ternes at the Cathedral parish. There are also two church collections during the year, one in the spring and one in the fall, designated for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. To learn more about the local conference at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, go to
Those with a request for a particular need can call 701-204-7111 or email
to set up a meeting in the Bismarck/Mandan area. Private meetings, to preserve the privacy of those they help, are set up to discuss individual needs and available resources. Confidentiality is always honored.
“The local conference has taken on a life of it’s own through wonderful volunteers,” Deacon Ternes said. “It’s still developing its unique identity and in the process doing some very good things for those in need. Other parishes in the diocese are welcome to start their own conference. It’s the type of thing that will run with the right people taking the reigns.”
The history of St. Vincent de Paul Society
The largest lay Catholic organization in the world, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is operating in 135 countries, and is best known for its thrift stores and food pantries, and for the personal visits of its members to the homes of the poor and needy. Established in France in 1833 by a college student named
, the Society began its existence in the United States in 1845 in St. Louis.
The Society’s mission, inspired by Gospel values, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering, in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul. As a reflection of the whole family of God, their spirit of poverty, humility and sharing unites members in an international society of charity, which is nourished by prayer and reflection, mutually supportive gatherings and adherence to a basic rule to serve as Jesus served. For more information, go to