Program will involve youth in acts of charity

By Paul A. Barra

AIKEN – A big new move for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the Midlands is to prepare for its own future. The Vincentians, who dedicate themselves “to seek and find the forgotten, the suffering and the deprived so that we may bring them (God’s) love,” plan that preparation by introducing a SVDP youth group.

The pilot program for young people will begin this fall at St. Anne in Rock Hill.

“Please pray for us,” said Donna Willis, president of the St. Anne’s SVDP conference and organizer for the youth group. “We decided to try this at St. Anne’s because we have a large and active youth ministry and because Father William (Pentis, pastor of St. Anne) agreed with the concept.”

Her parish will begin with high school juniors and seniors because they are mature, Willis said, and can drive. They will be responsible for holding their own meetings, electing their own officers and scheduling their own works of mercy. They will operate separately from the parish youth ministry but will coordinate with it.

“We want them to actually do projects, not cut just grass and help around the parish,” said Midlands District President Tom Serra. “We learned the hard way how to do things, and we should pass that on to our youth.”

District Officer Greg Flach said that the junior Vincentians will not interact directly with clients of St. Vincent de Paul, the people who need monetary help, other assistance and counseling; they will feed the hungry, visit the sick and perform other acts of charity, according to Willis. Paulette Campbell-Miller of St. Peter in Columbia and Carol Simmons of St. Mary Help of Christians in Aiken both saw a need for a youth ministry because of the increasing average age of active Vincentians in South Carolina.

“I’m excited about it. We’ve been at it for so long, we need some youth,” Campbell-Miller said.

District Officer David Mullaney said that a young Vincentian corps will do more than provide fresh troops for the war against poverty and hunger: “Youth can give us a way to redefine our mission. We’re so busy fighting fires all the time, we’ve become responsive. Kids can find the suffering and deprived for us.”

Father Ernest Hepner, temporary administrator of St. Mary Help of Christians, is a retired priest from Cleveland, where the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is strong. He supports a young Vincentian program.

“It’s a good idea. An initial experience in charity like this will be good for them,” Father Hepner said.

Willis said that the St. Anne pilot will “start small and spread.” She told her pastor that involvement with the Vincentian mission will indeed be good for teens: “(It) will enhance their spiritual growth and increase their experience of Christ in our lives.” She will report quarterly on progress with the movement.