BY PAUL A. BARRA
WEST COLUMBIA — Vincentian leaders from across the state met at a Holiday Inn on Nov. 16 to discuss past efforts and learn new ways to serve the poor. They also heard a stirring reminder of their raison d’etre from one of their spiritual advisors.
“It’s important to call ourselves back to our roots, to remember why we do what we do,” Father Lee Selzer told the annual meeting of the diocesan council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. “We’re not a group of people doing philanthropy; we’re a group grounded first and foremost in the living Gospel.”
The spiritual advisor to the St. Joseph’s chapter of St. Vincent de Paul in Columbia told The Miscellany that he has long been interested in social justice work and asked to join the Vincentians because they attack poverty in a balanced way.
“St. Vincent de Paul is a constant in parishes around the state. Vincentians bring Catholic spirituality to social justice action,” Father Selzer said.
The diocesan priest told the annual meeting that there need be no dichotomy between prayer and good works, no need to choose between praying for the poor and actually helping them: “We do both. We’re going to pray in order to do outreach. That’s the charism of St. Vincent de Paul.”
The Vincentians also heard from Ken Trogdon Jr., director of Commun-I-Care, a charity serving the working poor in South Carolina with medical care and prescription drugs. Commun-I-Care has a network of physicians across the state who donate their services to people who do not have medical insurance and a pharmacy which fills prescriptions for them.
“Our focus is helping folks who are trying to help themselves,” Trogdon said. “The idea is to cut back on emergency room visitations, because that’s where sick people go when they don’t have medical coverage.”
After questioning Trogdon and listening to Father Selzer, the Vincentians went into breakout sessions to discuss such practicalities as setting up services and youth groups, updating computer applications for Society record-keeping and ideas on fund raising. The officers of the council also met and reported to the group-at-large.
The 2002 annual meeting was the largest in recent years. According to David M. Mullaney, an officer for the Vincentians, 241 people are actively involved in South Carolina. There are conferences in each of the four diocesan deaneries and they spent about $325,000 annually in help for the poor, putting in more than 12,000 service hours. Mullaney said that most of the money collected and dispersed by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in South Carolina comes from parish tithes and collections.
“We rely on the generosity of parishioners,” he said.
Thousands of poor people in South Carolina rely on the Vincentians, who walk in the footsteps of their namesake, drawing spiritual sustenance from the poor they serve.