St. Vincent de Paul Celebrates 170 years of Service
HOW IT CAME TO BE...
It was said that despite the obviously wide gap, the St. Patrick’s conference had a closer and a more direct tie with the pioneer Vincentians than any other group in the country.
William Blair Lancaster had gone to Paris to complete his studies, after graduating from St. Joseph’s college in Bardstown KY in 1844. He soon made the acquaintance of Frederic Ozanam and his followers, actively engaged in their work, and imbibed the spirit which animated them. In 1847, Lancaster returned to New Orleans, with a copy of the Manual of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It was turned over to Fr. Cyril Delacroix, then assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s; thus, the first conference was born.
Fr. Delacroix, who was elected the first conference president, and Lancaster, who would become his successor, are considered part of the founding group of the Society in New Orleans.
Fr. Delacroix was the first conference president, and likely the only clergyman to ever the position. From its inception, the Society was a layman’s organization. Traditionally, all officers, except the Spiritual Director are layman.
Since its inception, most conferences assisted distressed families and individuals through food or meal tickets, redeemable at local grocery stores; but was not limited to providing families in need with clothing, medicines, financial assistance with rent and burials
Some of the inaugural conferences were established at the following local church parishes:
Others to follow included St. Francis of Assisi, Mater Dolorosa, and St. Matthias church parishes, to name a few.
Ethel Fazande has been an active conference member at Blessed Trinity (formerly St. Matthias Parish) since 1970. She believes her involvement, which now spans five decades, was simply a calling.
“I’ve been helping people since I was a little girl,” Fazande said. “My family had a farm in Reserve, when people needed help with food, I would take food to them. Whenever anybody needed anything, I would help them. I knew that’s what St. Vincent de Paul did for people, so I knew I wanted to be a part of this. I think I was destined to be a part of this organization.”
"I remember my home visit /outreach partner was Martha (Anderson); of course, it was always 2 people-we’d have our little mailboxes, with intake information (in the rectory), so we could determine if and how we could help." she shares. "We were quite fortunate to parishioners who generously gave, so we were able to help so many people."
From holiday celebrations to bingo to getting together for the Rosary; Vincentians also enjoy getting together.
"I loved the St. Vincent de Paul fundraisers every year," Fazande said. I’d make sure I’d get my picture taken with the Archbishop-Every year!"
Fellowship was fun, but helping our neighbors in need came first, Fazande states.
“You have to be committed to help people and care about those we help,” she adds. “It’s not always easy. People are suffering. But you’ve got to pray with them if they need you to, and understand what they're going through and show compassion.”
Women were officially accepted into the Society in 1968, just two years prior to Ms. Fazande joining the conference.
In that same decade, Ransdell Hebert sat in on a presentation given at his church parish, Resurrection of Our Lord, in New Orleans East.
“It was around December of 1977 and Jim Bialis came to speak about St. Vincent de Paul,” he remembers. “It had been announced that the parish wanted to form a Social Ministry. I had no idea what that was but I wandered into that meeting and took a seat. I always add ‘and I never got up’ when I share this story.”
The group was to be made up primarily of Eucharistic Ministers who were comfortable visiting Sick and Shut-Ins. Hebert, the destined leader, became head of the Ministry.
“There was a little Italian lady already waiting on the books,” Hebert recalls. “Chris (my outreach partner) and I took up the call. The apartment was clean but sparse of furniture. Chris and I took places at the kitchen table. She said “call me Grandma. That’s what everybody calls me.”
"What are your needs”, I asked. She teared up and said, “I don’t want to beg.” I reached across the table to pat her hand and said we represent our parishioners and are here to help you.” She took my hand and never let it go. I say she’s still holding my hand even from heaven.”
Hebert went on to become president of the conference at Resurrection and later was elected president of the Archdiocesan Council from 2003 until 2006.
Many things changed over the years, but the work and the mission have and will continue. The organization became an essential resource to the community during the epidemics of yellow fever, which ravaged the city between 1832 and 1857 (just a short time after the conference was established).
“Lots of stories to tell. Lots remain untold. But that’s how it has been during my 40 plus years out of the 170 years of existence in New Orleans. Wonderful and wonderment.” says Ransdell Hebert.
Currently, over 30 groups of volunteers have continued to assist the needs of our residents during challenging circumstances, natural disasters, and most recently, an unprecedented pandemic. In 1952, the 100th anniversary of the New Orleans establishment was celebrated, it was noted that the purpose was not solely to review the historical development of the Society during the past century, but to highlight the growth and development of servant leaders, and formation and expansion of the Society over a large area.
From William Blair Lancaster and Fr. Delecroix to Ethel Fazande and Ransdell Hebert… we are blessed to have nearly 500 individuals effectively carrying on the work and mission of the society, eager to pass on the example of hope for the next century.