Posts with the tag: St. Vincent de Paul

The Archivist’s Nook: An Apostleship of the Laity – The St. Vincent de Paul Society

An Apostleship of the Laity: The St. Vincent de Paul Society

Later this month, a mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. At that time, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will gather in celebration of their 175th year of existence. Though the Society’s name comes from their patron Saint, Vincent de Paul, a seventeenth century servant of the poor, Ozanam was the chief force behind the establishment of the organization in Paris, France, in 1833. As such, the Society became a member of the Vincentian Family, a group of Catholic organizations that includes the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

On January 26th, 2020, a 30” x 20” mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Vincentian chapel or “Miraculous Medal Chapel,” of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. The above is a likeness of the 4,000 stone mosaic.

Ozanam took his Catholic teaching seriously. A scholar of Catholic social doctrine, he was once accused of being all talk and no action. His response was to found a group of men whose goal was direct service to the impoverished of Paris. Soon after the founding, the members carried food and other necessities directly to the homes of the poor. Key to the Society’s identity is the “apostleship of the laity,” hence members were parish based and comprised of lay members who ministered to their own communities. Their 1834 annual report noted that:

We understand very well that charity must be done in secret, that the work must be unobtrusive. Here we are not strangers to one another; what we have done has been accomplished with the cooperation of one another. The principal end of our association is to do everything with one heart and one soul, of a sort that we recount to one another the different services we have delivered not to be adulated but to give advice and mutual encouragement, to give better service.[1]

“Frédéric Ozanam Accepted the Challenge of 1833,” cover, (Society of St. Vincent de Paul United States, 1933). This pamphlet commemorates the centennial of the establishment of the Society in the United States, emphasizing that they “accepted the challenge” to the lay apostleship to serve those in need.

Reflecting the necessity for such services, particularly in a rapidly industrializing world, the Society expanded rapidly outside of France. When Bishop John Timon of Buffalo, serving in St. Louis at the time, visited France and saw the work of the Society, he went about establishing the group’s first conference in St. Louis, Missouri in 1845.[2]

The Society’s rule called for “visiting the poor in their dwellings” and the distribution of “moral and religious books” especially to children, but in the United States, these activities expanded from activities like supplying food to needy families and distributing rosary beads to running thrift shops, day nurseries, and youth camps, visiting nursing homes, among other activities.

Modern photograph of the interior of the “Old Cathedral of St. Louis, Missouri, birthplace of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the U.S.

The National Council in the United States began sponsoring foreign Councils in third world countries with its twinning program during the 1970s-1990s. Long-serving executive secretary Dudley Baker served thirty years, from 1955-1985, and helped establish many modern charitable organizations. Baker not only aided several presidents during his tenure, but also helped to modernize the society in America. Though the society in America has focused on disaster relief throughout its history, a greater emphasis has been placed on this recently, especially through the training of Rev. Ronald Ramson and the National Council’s Charity Seminars.

 

The Society is organized into five levels. The first level is the International Council in Paris, France that oversees the organization throughout the world. The second level is the National Council, which oversees each individual country’s society. The third level is the Diocesan Councils, of which there are 51 in the United States that oversee individual Councils in the society. The fourth level is the District council which oversees all the individual conferences throughout the United States. Lastly, at the fifth level are the conferences, based on the parish level. Headquartered in St. Louis, the Society has nearly 100,000 members in the U.S., and more than 800,000 members worldwide.

Thousands of young people from cities across the country have attended St. Vincent de Paul camps. Here, boys from Detroit learn to use the bow and arrow, circa 1970s.

The Society’s records offer an extensive collection of organizational files, but includes also publications and audio-visual equipment from the society. Among the files are organizational correspondence, records from executive meetings, yearly reports and bulletins, membership files for the society and regional files from different councils, and financial files for the Society’s thrift stores. Many of these materials date back to the beginning of the Society in the United States. Also, there are videotapes and audiotapes of society meetings.

 

See the finding aid for the records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here

For blogposts on other Catholic charitable activities, see these posts on Monsignor John O’Grady, pioneer in Catholic charity: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9465/ and https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9315/ as well as this post on the history of the National Catholic School of Social Work at The Catholic University of America: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/10957/

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Raymond Sickinger, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), chapter 3, “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” 61-62.

[2] The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, Michael Glazier and Thomas Shelley, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) p. 1249-1251.:

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Local Angles – D.C. History at the Archives

I recently presented on our Washington, D.C.-related collections at the Conference on High Impact Research held at American University here in the District. I was asked simply to talk about collections in the Archives related to Washington, D.C. The audience was an interdisciplinary group of academics at American University. As a participant, I learned about collections at the DC Public Library, George Washington University, and American University, but I also compiled a list of our own D.C.-related collections, something we surprisingly hadn’t done until now. Of our 431 manuscript collections, 13 have materials related to D.C.  Our D.C. collection materials date back to the eighteenth century with the Brooks-Queen Family Collection, and extend into the 1990s with the Paul Philips Cooke Papers.

“All kinds of Repairing and Painting done with neatness and dispatch,” according to this receipt for a wagon brake from a wagon and carriage maker operating in Northwest Washington, D.C. in 1880. From the Brooks-Queen collection.

We like to say that “if it’s Catholic and it’s national, we probably have it,” because we have so many collections related to national Catholic history. However, we also have some local records of interest to researchers seeking insight into local Catholic life. The records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Washington, D.C., for example, document the efforts of this Catholic institution to attend to the spiritual and material wants of the poor in the city from the 1940s through the 1960s. Other Catholic records include those of Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C. and the Washington Catholic Evidence Guild.

For the horticulturally-minded historian, the Rose Society of Brookland minutes chronicle the organization’s activities from 1912-1920. Above, the cover of the organization’s book of minutes.

 

Our local materials are not exclusively Catholic. The Brooks-Queen collection is comprised of materials related to the founding families of Washington, D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood. Another Brookland-related collection is the Cecilia Parker Woodson Collection, which contains hundreds of letters from Woodson’s husband and daughter to Woodson, who lived with her family in Brookland in the early twentieth century.

 

 

Charlotte Parker Woodson, native of Brookland in Washington, D.C. married Victor Tyree, another native Washingtonian, in Lima Peru, in 1917. Charlotte’s mother, Cecilia, kept this newspaper clipping of the marriage she could not attend in her papers, now held here at the Archives.

 

Nor are our local materials exclusively documents. The archives has digitized more than a thousand images from the collection of Terence Vincent Powderly, most of them related to Washington, D.C. and the vicinity. Better known as the head of the Knights of Labor, a union whose membership swelled under his leadership in the 1880s, Powderly was also an amateur photographer. Powderly lived in Washington, D.C. in the early twentieth century, when he served in a variety of bureaucratic posts.

 

 

G Street Blacksmith: Caption: This image from the Terence Powderly Photographic Prints shows a blacksmith on G Street in Washington, D.C., 1913.

Powderly photographed a great variety of subjects bearing on social, economic, and political life at the turn of the century in both Europe and America, but of the 1300 images that are digitized, 900 are related to Washington, D.C., where Powderly lived from 1897 until his death in 1924.

 

For a full list of the Washington, D.C.-related collections, see:

https://guides.lib.cua.edu/c.php?g=942599

The Archivist’s Nook: Have You Been Served?

Archives Stacks
The stacks, epicenter of all reference questions.

Tucked away on the northern reaches of campus, one may expect the Archives to receive little in the way of visitors. One may imagine us as a group lost amongst stacks of record boxes, shunning outside contact. However, our little space is frequently called upon by University staff, students, and faculty, as well as scholars from across the country and world. Researchers as varied as middle school students to Yale professors to PBS documentarians grace us with visits and inquiries. But what do they ask of us and how do we handle reference questions?

Whether via phone, email, or letter, the CUA Archives receives a variety of reference questions from a spectrum of inquirers. As one can imagine, calls and email requests pour in from University offices, students, and alumni regarding the history of CUA or the broader Brookland neighborhood. But more than anything, as indicated in an earlier post, our collections dealing with the history of American Catholicism as well as labor history are a major draw for scholars outside the campus community. These two source bases provide a wealth of research material for scholars of American religious and labor history, not to mention those curious about genealogy or Catholicism in general. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Have You Been Served?”