Fr. Dennis Holtschneider’s presentation to the Vincentian Family in Rome reminds us how much change has been part of our history. The presentation is titled “From Here to Where?” and offers 5 ways we can work smarter and more effectively in serving those who are on the peripheries.
Our work has been changing almost since St. Vincent started it.
•In [the] Congregation, Vincent loved his Tuesday afternoon conferences for the clergy, but he had no interest in seminaries whatsoever. That was, until the bishops started asking him and then assigning the Congregation the smaller and more rural seminaries, which he saw as a chance to educate priests for the poor and rural populations.
•St. Vincent was against ever taking charge of parishes. He wanted his priests to be free for the missions they were giving across France. But again, bishops insisted and the priests in the Congregation began to age. Vincent realized he needed a place for the older priests who couldn’t travel easily to work, and so parish ministry was begun in his lifetime.
•St. Vincent thought that the mission to Madagascar was the “crown in the jewel.” Soon after his death, however, Fr. Almeras, his successor as superior general, pulled the Vincentians out.
•That same generation after Vincent was also presented with a request from Queen Anne of Austria herself to staff Fountainebleau Palace, which then led to the same at Versailles, which led to Vincentians being named bishops. Suddenly, the Vincentians were enmeshed in circles of royalty and power rather than the work Vincent had started. Was that a misstep? It was a wrenching question at the time. History suggests that it strengthened the finances and political connections of the Vincentians after St. Vincent was no longer there to do it himself, ensuring the work for the poor would continue.
•The Daughters were founded to serve the Ladies of Charity, but they eventually took on their own works.
•The Ladies of Charity were designed to be localized without a central governing body, but as soon as they were reestablished after the French Revolution, they developed a strong central governing body which has made them the largest women’s organization in the Church. They also focused with a new intentionality on poor women, which gave Ozanam room to reclaim the original parish-based idea to serve poor families.
He is convinced that in the midst of serving the individual needs of the poor at our gates, the Vincentian Family today can do MORE, and we can do it MORE EFFECTIVELY. But it will require change on our part.
He suggests five ways:
- We need to work together as a Vincentian Family.
- We also need to work with others.
- We need to work smarter.
- We need to inspire others’ hearts to care about the poor.
- Finally, we need to make sure our tradition is passed on.
Given our history of change, we need to consider these changes as we move “From Here to Where?”