Bringing Faith Alive
Through service to others, St. Vincent de Paul Cincinnati (SVDP) was established more than 150 years ago to compassionately care for those in need throughout Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Volunteers deliver care to more than 7,500 homes in neighborhoods, providing help with food, utilities, and more. Additional services include stores and donation centers, a pharmacy, education programs and retreats.
As either conference members through local parishes or volunteering with the many programs offered at the district level, Sisters of Charity have long felt connected to the mission and heart of SVDP. Sisters Nancy Bramlage, Patrick Ann O’Connor and Mary Ann Humbert reflect on their time with the organization and what they have learned and loved.
S. Nancy Bramlage
As a volunteer for the St. Vincent de Paul conference at St. Dominic parish for the past two years, S. Nancy has met weekly with other volunteers to discuss what help is needed and how they can respond. Needs include food, clothing, furniture and help with rent or utilities. Once every six or seven weeks she is “on call” to respond to any incoming requests for help.
When asked what brought her to the ministry, S. Nancy says, “It was helpful for me to find the pockets of poverty right in our parish, and get to meet some of our neighbors who desperately need assistance from time to time.” She has witnessed many families who are living paycheck to paycheck and when one piece of the picture falls apart, they become desperate and need help.
She recalls one father who asked for help paying his rent. “I learned as we talked that he had recently been freed from prison and had just gotten a job, but had not yet received his first paycheck. His landlord was demanding his rental fee. We were able to cover his down payment and first month fee.”
In the midst of the pandemic, S. Nancy feels SVDP’s services are needed even more. “There are many people who have lost their jobs, don’t have any backup money or family to help, or who have nowhere to go. They ask at the churches, and thank God we have parishioners who have been willing and able to donate to these causes, to help their neighbors.”
S. Patrick Ann O’Connor
Patrick Ann joined St. Dominic’s St. Vincent de Paul conference approximately three years ago. In that time she has attended weekly or biweekly meetings as well as provided boxes of food to families in need.
“Since joining the committee I have experienced lots of happiness resulting from all the people we are able to help and their gratefulness,” she begins, “plus I realize how blessed I have been throughout my whole life. I have experienced sadness mostly when we help young women with one to five or six children who have no husband, no support from the child’s father, no job, little financial income and can’t get out of this cycle. I realize that those children probably will grow up thinking this is how life should be and the cycle continues.”
Patrick Ann says that the support from parish members and others who believe in the cause is simply amazing. She has grown to appreciate the faithfulness of committee members to fulfillment of the mission and their willingness to gather weekly to discuss people’s requests and make a decision based on the knowledge that they have heard.
S. Mary Ann Humbert
Throughout her ministry years in spiritual direction and retreat work, S. Mary Ann Humbert felt something was missing. She recalls asking God to connect her more directly with the poor, and eventually those prayers were answered. In 2012, S. Mary Ann accompanied S. Nancy Bramlage to an interview for a position with the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Cincinnati District. When the interview was finished she says it was obvious that the timing was right for her to get involved. She was named the district’s spiritual advisor and also began serving on SVDP’s central board, which she calls a gift. Immersing herself in books to learn more about its founders, S. Mary Ann quickly realized the depth and breadth of the organization and was inspired.
S. Mary Ann recalls many graced moments in her years with the organization. “One of many dear memories involves a man who was in a homeless shelter and trying to find work. He leaned across the desk and asked, ‘Does St. Vincent de Paul have socks? I just need socks.’ It was such a simple need. I got home that night and looked in my drawer and thought I have more socks than I’ll ever wear. It was so humbling. It’s simple but that stayed implanted in my heart.”
For the last six years S. Mary Ann has been a member of the SVDP team for St. Bernard’s parish in Spring Grove Village. As part of the conference, and also rooted in the SVDP mission, team members provide in-home visits to those in need. After accessing the needs, volunteers – through the donations and help of the parish and district – are able to provide the support and resources needed. As with most organizations these last few months, the pandemic has changed how volunteers are able to help and remain involved. S. Mary Ann says that while she is unable to do home visits, she has tried to offer other support whether it be by asking for grant funding from the Sisters of Charity to purchase grocery gift certificates or donating used beds from the Motherhouse’s Seton Hall to families without a place to lay their heads. “I have walked into an apartment and seen a woman pleading for a bed,” she shares. “She showed me where she sleeps on a tile floor with a blanket and pillow. The fact our Community could offer some beds to people willing to take a used bed, that’s been a contribution I’ve been glad to make.
“The needs are great and always will be,” she continues. “The people at St. Bernard’s are incredibly generous and it’s an inspiration to be a part of them. … There is such a commitment with SVDP to recognize the humanity of people, to see Christ in the people we visit and to bring Christ to them. We receive such gratitude for our approach with them. That makes such a difference.”
As S. Mary Ann has witnessed, spiritual support has also been important to the mission of SVDP. “I remember meeting a woman in her 60s; she had a lot of health issues. She ended up with two teenage granddaughters in her little apartment and was at the end of her rope. We could offer her some assistance but when we were preparing to leave we offered to pray with her. We prayed that she could get the help she needs, and that her family would get back together. She just sobbed, and I just held her as she cried and cried. It stays in my heart. To this day I continue to pray for her.”
Personally, S. Mary Ann says that her years with SVDP have been blessed. “It is humbling to realize how often people who have so little are so gracious and appreciative. We leave and they say thank you, we’re so blessed. You think, me too. The joy and privilege comes in being able to share a little piece of that journey with them. We come away blessed by their presence and stories.”