If you are interested in joining the Wausau SVDP, please email us at [email protected]
Types of Membership
In the United States, there are three types of memberships in SVDP: Active Member, Associate Member, and Contributing Member.
- 1. Active Members must belong to the Catholic Church, accept the Basic Principles or Charter of the Society, be accepted as an Active Member by a Conference and be enrolled in it. In addition, they need to take part in the life of the Conference to which they belong. Participation implies a reasonable degree of involvement in SVDP meetings, charitable activities, and religious observances.
- 2. Associate Members, like the Active Member, are affiliated with the Society by formal action of the Conference or Council with which the member will be joined. Associate Members include those who sincerely and publicly accept the Society’s basic principles but may or may not belong to the Catholic Church. Associate Members are kept informed of the developments and activities of their immediate groupings, as well as the general progress of the Society, particularly in the local area or diocese. Associate members are invited to attend the general meetings and special observances of the Society. They participate, as the are able, in the charitable activism of the Society in their area.
- 3. Contribution Members require no formal action for enrollment. Recognition of such status is simply granted by the Society in acknowledging the financial donations of generous or regular contributors. Contributors are invited to be present at general and special meetings.
An Introduction to Membership
The present SVDP Rules states that “the Society is open to all who wish to live their faith by loving and serving their neighbor.” But the Vincentian call or vocation involves much more than just “loving and serving.” In fact, “loving and serving their neighbor” is the third goal. When Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and his companions formed the Society, they developed a plan which we know as the Rule.
The Rule is based on a number of principles but there are three basic goals for members:
- That each member pursue holiness with the support of friends in the Conference through prayer together and acts. Pursuing holiness is basically learning how to live a Christian life based on the Gospel and answering our Baptismal call by being involved with a community of friends in the Society. We grow in holiness through mutual friendships with other Vincentians and find Christ not only in them but also in those we serve. Ozanam said: “The principle of true friendship is charity, and charity cannot exist in the hearts of many unless it spills over externally and is nourished by good works.” Ozanam felt that being involved in charitable works is the best link for nourishing these friendships.
- That each member proclaims the Good News of Jesus Christ in word and action. We need to let our light shine and witness to others what living the Gospel has done in our lives.
- That each member serves the poor directly, person-to-person, and has a deep concern for people who are poor. We are on a spiritual journey with them, and we need to see Christ in those we serve. Service only is not enough with the SVDP spiritual dimension. Ozanam was “Incarnational” in that he saw the risen Christ and his wounds in the poor person who comes with problems.
When members undertake to serve those in need in the spirit of Vincent and Frédéric through the Society, they have available to them a rich history and tradition, and centuries of experiences in preparing themselves for this sacred work. The Vincentian way of meeting Christ in the poor is true to the Gospel, and stresses particular values and virtues. The Vincentian way invites each member to love the poor and to serve them effectively. Members have much to learn from their Vincentian heritage and charism.
Members join the Society, not because they are perfected in their faith, but because they seek to develop faith by living it both individually and communally with other members. Progress, not perfection, is what is desired in a member. The Society is for people who acknowledge the need to improve their living of the Gospel life and want to do so through the Society.
The membership of the local SVDP Conference should be as diverse as possible, so as to reflect the community in which it is located and those they serve. Every effort should be made to attract people from all ages, races, cultures, ethnic groups, and walks of life to reflect the whole family of God. Members of the Society are united in the same spirit of poverty and sharing. There is no distinction regarding wealth, position, social status, or ethnic origin in the Society. Members form throughout the world, with those they help, one and the same family.
An Invitation to Serve
The Conference is the basic unit of the Society, and this is where the strength of the Society lies. Each Conference member needs to value the special “treasure,” the “pearl of great price,” that each one has as a Society member. Each needs to share it with others because a potential member’s happiness (now and eternal) depends on it. The Conference as a whole, and each member, needs to encourage recruitment of new Active and Associate Members in the Society.
In today’s Church many people are realizing the call of the Gospel of Jesus and the need to serve others as part of their faith commitment. The Society strives to be creative and discover opportunities for meaningful charitable work. It desires to enlarge the scope of its concern by reaching the hidden and new poor, and to match the skills and interests of all its members (both Active and Associate) with the need of people. The Conference has a responsibility to provide to willing Christian helpers, opportunities to serve in its special projects or those of the District Council. An early Society motto is, “No work of charity is foreign to the Society.”
Use of the Associate Member category might be one way to involve more people in the work of the Society at many levels. People could be involved in special projects of the parish Conference or the local District or Diocesan Councils (e.g., Back to School Collection, Thrift Store Bundle Sundays, Blanket Sunday Collections, Holiday Baskets, Christmas Giving Tree, twinning with an inner city SVDP Conference, etc.). The Conference could partner with a local social service program dealing with hunger needs, homelessness, etc. Associate Member may form a pool for recruiting regular Active Members for the Conference. Associate Members could also be involved because of their skills (lawyers, social workers who know resources, repair people, transportation, chore services, etc.).
Members are responsible for recruiting new members and developing opportunities to serve. They are also responsible for keeping in communication with their parish staff, parish council, and other parish social ministry programs. The Society’s Rule relates that “faithful to the spirit of its founder, the Society constantly strives to renew and adapt itself to the changing conditions of the world.”
The Conference needs to maintain an awareness of its presence in the parish community. It needs to find ways to keep people in the parish community. It needs to find ways to keep people in the parish informed about the Conference’s charitable works and to invite them to become part of this special ministry. Consideration should also be given to participate in special parish days to acquaint parishioners with parish organizations. The Conference could have a display of literature and photographs showing the work of the Society and the various projects in which the Conference is involved. One-on-one personal recruitment works best.
The local Conference needs to create a welcoming environment where men and women of all ages and all backgrounds can work together with others who share their Christian values. Perhaps “recruitment” needs to be an agenda item at every meeting. Members also need to keep Conference meetings interesting, focused, productive, and held at times that are convenient for everyone who might want to join. The Conference also needs to listen with sensitivity to other generations and cultures poorly represented in its ranks to find out why they are not attracted to the SVDP ministry. Are members joyful people whose demeanor in service would attract others? The future of the Society lies with each and every Vincentian. Actively inviting others to join is as important as the service rendered to the needy.
M. Pierre Chouard, International President of the Society from 1955-1967, said: “If Frédéric Ozanam, twenty-year-old college student and founder of the SVDP in 1833, were a college student today with the same soul, the same spirit, the same attraction to sanctity, the same tenderness to the distressed, the same understanding of the world today, would he become a member of one or another SVDP Conference? To tell the truth, who would dare to reply always in the affirmative?”
The National Office of the Council of the United States has recruitment models and other resources available for Conference and Councils.
The President of the Conference is usually the member initially involved when someone requests becoming an Active member of the Society at the local parish, or when an Active member wishes to propose a possible candidate. The President may contact potential members and privately discuss their interests, qualifications, and background with them, along with the responsibilities of membership.
These initial meetings and the explanation of membership responsibilities may, on occasion, result in a decision to withdraw or defer the petition for membership.
If the decision is to proceed, information about the recommended person will be made known to the Conference by the President at a regular Conference meeting. If approved by the Conference, the candidate will be admitted and welcomed.
The Rule and SVDP tradition also allow as an option for acceptable candidates a tentative membership in the Society. This option would apply to all who want to try their vocation in SVDP ministry before making a firm commitment.
In regard to Associate Members who help with the special projects of the conference, local Council, or joint ventures with other charitable groups, each Conference would be responsible for developing their own procedures and guidelines in this area. The same would be the procedure for Contributing Members.
Introduction of a New Member
Although not required by SVDP rule or regulation, the new member may be formally received in an appropriate ceremony. Participation in a Mass or prayer service by members would, for example, constitute a fitting ceremony. Several versions of commissioning rituals exist either for use during Mass or as a ceremony by themselves. These are available from the National Office of the Council of the United States.
Formation and Training
A major responsibility of SVDP members involves lifelong growth in many areas. This includes knowledge of Vincentian spirituality and charism and their integration in a member’s life and ministry. To be an effective member of the Society, more than a kind and loving heart is needed to serve those in need, though that is a good beginning. Members need to continually deepen their Vincentian spirituality and charism personally and as a community of friends to find the Christ hidden in each other and the needy they serve.
Initial training for new members is provided informally by the local Conference. Local District and Diocesan Councils need to have yearly sessions to provide new and veteran members the opportunities to understand the nature and purpose of the Society, its vision and potentialities, local, state, and federal resources in their area, and finally, to learn the proper attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed in effectively serving and empowering those in need as exemplified in Jesus’ Gospel message of love. Associate Members also need the opportunity to reflect on their experiences in the Society to deepen their spiritual life.
All members need to understand the importance of attending and participating effectively in SVDP meetings as well as formation and training sessions at the local, diocesan, regional, and national levels. This helps continue the spirit of friendship that Frédéric Ozanam saw as one of the primary goals of the Society. Attending SVDP meetings is part of the basic Vincentian commitment that ensures the growth of Vincentian Spirituality. In this way, members can be seen as the true successor to Frédéric Ozanam. If members do not attend meetings, they risk not growing spiritually and forgetting what the Vincentian Charism is about and who they are called to be.
The National Office of the Council of the United States has training models of Ozanam Schools and other resources available for use by Conferences and Councils. In addition, materials on helping skills, home visits, interviewing, etc. are available for members.