Throughout her adult life, Teresa (Terry) Skelley had always been an active volunteer for organizations that helped those in need. So, after her husband passed away in 2016, her priest at St. Robert Bellarmine asked her to attend a meeting of their St. Vincent DePaul Conference one evening.    

Terry went in as a curious potential volunteer and walked out as the new President of the Conference!   She has been in that position for the SVdP Conference at Mary, Mother of God parish ever since.  On top of that she is also the current Central District Council President. Such are the sometimes amusing ways that God works with us.

As a musician and church Music Director, Terry had long contributed to the work and mission of the church in many ways. But apparently the group that night, along with God, knew that Terry possessed the leadership skills that would help her in this calling.

Besides those skills, her faith has helped and sustained her through all the challenges.  Those challenges included the Covid pandemic crisis several years ago as well as continuous membership changes within the conference. The Holy Spirit really stirred up that faith when, as a young 15-year-old girl, Terry connected with the charismatic movement within the Church, a movement that began right here in Pittsburgh from within Duquesne University in 1967.  Since then, she has been a faithful servant of the Lord in many ways. 

Terry sustains her faith with her attendance at Mass, often daily but most certainly weekly as her music playing circulates her throughout the diocese. Privately, she also spends at least an hour of regular daily prayer time that begins with a reading of either the lessons for the day or other personal devotionals that she has. She also runs an on-line intercessory prayer chain.   Terry likes the quote attributed to St. Francis de Sales that says “Every one of us needs a half hour of prayer a day, except if we are busy – then we need an hour”. 

While the Covid-19 period was tough for all conferences, Terry laments the continual frustration of having limited funds to help those friends in need throughout her community. And, as with most conferences, she struggles with the need for more volunteers. She has been uplifted, however, by the help from other conferences who have lent a hand to financially ‘strapped’ conferences like hers, who are surrounded by a community with many needs.

But those challenges are offset by the sheer joy she finds when she and her fellow volunteers can see where they make a difference in people’s lives.  Her first memory was a stark example of how the need is great in their service area. On a home visit one of her members discovered that the sole contents of the refrigerator for the person was a stick of butter. And maybe the most memorable case involved helping a woman who was a cancer patient but could not eat her food bank items because of the reaction it gave her that conflicted with her cancer medicine. The woman did not even have a stove with which to prepare food. After the conference purchased her a new microwave, upon opening the package the woman began to cry, saying “Do you know how long it’s been since I received something new out of a box”.

As important as these stories are, Terry reflects on the big picture which reminds her that SVdP does more than ordinary social agencies do by bringing personalized attention to friends in need.   That attention focuses on the individual in an effort to lift up the dignity of each of the persons they serve.

She also feels blessed in having in her conference “a crew that is uniquely gifted” as well as connected within the greater community. Those connections enable them to do what they can for others through the work of SVdP and beyond. She is also grateful for her local priest along with the parish who supports the work that they do. That support is not just from collections twice a year and moments during Mass when SVdP can ask for help, but also from the spiritual support that comes through the dedicated attention of their local Deacon.

What does the future hold for Terry? She only knows that she will continue to serve the Lord, through the Church and other places, in whatever manner she is summoned to do so. Accepting that this may present itself in unexpected ways, just as it did eight years ago!

A good part of the blessing for those in need that comes from SVdP begins with a simple request for assistance. And whether it’s a need for a bed and some furniture, being behind a few months in back rent, mounting unpaid utility bills, hungry children, or an eviction notice, those friends in need who contact us are, for the most part, initially responded to by our volunteers.

Besides direct contact with churches, or referrals through the Findhelp program, the new SOS Collab network, or the SVdP website itself, most contacts reach us through phone calls to the Council Office. Those calls are often more than just requests, they are pleas for help filled with distress and desperation from persons whose stories can tug at your heartstrings.

These calls are met with empathy, compassion, patience, and understanding from our volunteers who respond to over 1,000 calls we receive monthly. Sr. Jan Franklin and Joe Mulvaney are regular volunteers navigating the many calls and resources we offer to friends-in-need. Student intern Dominque Jetter is pitching in during the school year and Pete Hutchinson also helps (prior to this, Rick Musser did this job all week long, all by himself!).

When we return these phone calls, the potential clients receive the needed personal connection, but volunteers must also determine which SVdP Conference covers the area where the person lives. From there, clients are directed to a local parish along with the explicit message that we will try to help them in their time of need. If there is no Conference located in the area in which they live, or help is unavailable, our volunteers attempt to find other resources or organizations which might be able to assist the friend in need.

From that point, the Vincentians (who are also volunteers) in each Conference follow up and, if they are able, provide assistance. Sometimes a moving story will trickle back to the Council Office volunteers, but mostly we just pray that those who are struggling have had their burdens relieved, even if just a little bit. Sadly, those thousands of calls are likely the tip of the iceberg since our voicemail is limited to 100 messages at a time and, until those calls are responded to, others calling for help after the phone bank is filled may be shut out. 

It would be a great blessing if there were a few more volunteers to help us meet the tremendous need that is out there. Doing this volunteer work is a rewarding experience. The people you help will often let you know how much your service means to them. Besides that, the staff at the SVdP Council Office will never let you forget how much your work is appreciated.  And finally, the Holy Spirit knows and will, in some way, let you know how much it matters.

If you are inspired to volunteer some of your time for this, please call the Council Office and leave a message with anyone there (412-321-1071) or you may email phutchinson@svdppitt.org. We’ll get back to you right away!

In addition, we need another kind of volunteer. Are you organized and good at planning events and connecting people? The Help Thy Neighbor Walk Planning Committee meets year-round to plan, enhance, and grow the annual Walk in North and South Parks, calling attention to the important work of Vincentians in the fight against poverty and social injustice, and in the growth of their commitment to their faith and Christ. The next planning meeting will be held on January 29, 2024, at 11am, by Zoom. Please contact director of formation, Karen O’Keefe, at 412.321.1071 x 1203 or kokeefe@svdppitt.org with your interest. If you have even just a couple of hours to give each month, we need and welcome your involvement.

January marks the beginning of the new calendar year, a time when individuals often reflect on their personal and financial goals. This period of introspection can prompt you to think about your legacy and the impact you want to leave on the world. Planned giving, which involves making provisions for charitable donations in your estate plan, aligns seamlessly with this contemplative mindset. As you set resolutions for the year ahead, integrating philanthropy into long-term financial planning can be a meaningful way to ensure your values endure beyond your lifetime.

Moreover, January is commonly associated with tax season, as people start preparing for the upcoming filing deadlines. This financial awareness can motivate you to explore tax-efficient strategies for charitable giving, and planned giving offers several options, such as charitable bequests, trusts, and gift annuities, which may provide tax benefits. Taking advantage of these opportunities allows you to optimize your contributions and support charitable causes while also managing your financial responsibilities.

The start of the year also often coincides with a fresh perspective on personal values and the desire to make a positive impact on society. This renewed sense of purpose can allow you to consider planned giving as a strategic and intentional way to support organizations and causes that hold special significance to you. By planning your philanthropy in advance, you will ensure that your charitable contributions align with your Catholic values and will leave a legacy that reflects your personal passions and beliefs.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul relies on consistent support to fund its programs throughout the year. By initiating a planned gift, you will contribute to the Society’s stability and ability to plan for the future. This foresight ensures that the Society can continue its mission of serving those in need with compassion and dedication.

January is the perfect time to contemplate planned giving due to its association with reflection, resolution-setting, tax considerations, and a renewed commitment to making a meaningful impact on the world. This month provides a strategic starting point to weave philanthropy into your long-term financial plans, leaving a legacy that extends well beyond your lifetime.

To start this important and confidential conversation regarding your planned giving intentions with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, please contact Jennifer Thoma at 412.321.1071×1204 or jthoma@svdppitt.org.

Every organization has a variety of people who are important in the various functions that they perform. However, we all know that most operations have one person who is essential because they have their fingers on the pulse (or in the pie) of just about everything that happens. In the SVdP Council Office, that person is Administrative Executive Assistant, Lisa Sherwood.

Lisa came to us after 32 years working for the Family Court of Allegheny County. It began one day at a Zumba class when the Human Resource Director for SVdP at the time told Lisa about an opening that she thought Lisa would be good for. The HR Director added that SVdP feels like a family more than what Lisa experienced working for the County. Lisa ended up interviewing for the SVdP position and, eight years later, she is still here doing her thing(s) for us.

Lisa grew up in the Pittsburgh area in Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills, so she knows the region and its people well. And people, or actually helping them, is what she likes most about her job. Lisa embraces that and says that she treats those she encounters with the same care and compassion “as if they were family.”  

This desire to care for and help others was inspired partly by her faith but also by a great aunt who taught her about what things are important and how to live a good life. Lisa had schoolteachers, too, who blessed her with ideas about character that went beyond simple classroom instruction. Those things and people contributed to her desire to connect with and help “the least of those among us” just as Jesus called us to do. And while that is incredibly rewarding, Lisa says, it also is often the most challenging part of her job. She feels the frustration of not being able to help every single person as she would like to.

Lisa also loves working with her colleagues, which is important in an operation with limited staff who all work so closely together. And speaking of working together, Lisa says that, in a perfect world, the work of SVdP would be integrated with similar work that is done through churches and volunteers of other denominations to ensure the goodness we all pursue is carried out most efficiently and effectively. Something to think about for the future?

Thanks for your service, Lisa!

by Karen O’Keefe

Advent is a season of longing and preparation.  The question is, are we longing and preparing for the right things?  Admittedly, I do long for the taste of homemade Christmas cookies, to see the bright, cheerful lights, and to hear my favorite Christmas carols each year.  But I also recognize that without a heart that is spiritually prepared, these can be very fleeting pleasures.  With a heart united to the Lord, it is possible to savor the delights of the season and to experience Advent and Christmas as time infused with joy and peace.

As Vincentians, our calling to spiritually prepare is amplified.  We are called to receive Christ’s love so that we can then pour out His love to our neighbors.  So many Conferences increase their activities to bless neighbors this time of year through beautiful Angel Trees, toy drives for children, and providing boxes of special foods to make festive family meals.  Our Vincentian organizing, shopping, wrapping, decorating, and baking are important preparations!  For the neighbors we serve, we are the face of Christ.  We see their material needs and accompanying pain and respond in the most beautiful ways!  Are we also attuned to the spiritual needs of our neighbors, and do we look for opportunities to share with them the true source of joy and peace?  Can there be opportunities to share how we are preparing both materially and spiritually for the coming of Jesus Christ?

As Catholics, particularly during Advent, we long to be united with Christ.  Our hearts are made for Him, to be loved unconditionally and to love in return.  He alone is the source of all that is good.  In Him alone can we find the lasting joy and peace we crave so ardently.  At Christmas, we celebrate with grateful hearts God’s revelation of Himself through the coming of Jesus Christ into our world.  While we experience God now and can glimpse the perfection that awaits us eternally, we know that God’s fullness will not be revealed during this life.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux talked about the 3 comings of Jesus which we prepare for during Advent.  Our Lord’s first coming is in the flesh and in weakness; another coming is hidden as souls see within themselves, receive rest and consolation, and are saved. His last coming will be in glory and majesty, and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.” 

  1. Jesus’s First coming; His Birth in Bethlehem.  God became Man!  We hear it so often, but have we taken the time to contemplate what this actually means?  God, creator of everything in the universe, took on human flesh and poverty.  He took on our frailty, failings, and sin for the sake of our redemption.  God, Wisdom and Strength incarnate, took the form of a humble baby!  Let us reflect and celebrate with praise and thanksgiving the goodness of God in the event of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ!
  2. Daily Grace: God is present with us each moment throughout our life.  He sustains, loves, guides, and protects us while quietly revealing Himself in the sacraments, prayer, and our daily situations.  Have we basked in the grace He is pouring into our life today?  Do we take the time daily to look for, acknowledge, and thank God for the many small ways he is loving us?  Have we taken the time today to honestly share our heart with the Lord, our struggles, our positive and negative emotions?  God wants to know, heal, and redeem all that is within us.  We have only to turn to Him.  Let’s not delay!
  3. The Final Coming:  “I am with you always, until the end of time.” (Matthew 28:20)  One day, the Earth, sun, and stars will cease to exist, but our human souls will live beyond.  We will even receive our perfected physical bodies back at that end of time!  God has prepared an eternal place for each of us in paradise.  Are we like the wise virgins who have their lamps lit and are ready to meet our bridegroom at any time?  (Matthew 25: 1-28).  At the time of our death, we will meet Jesus Christ face to face as our Just Judge.  We know too that at some point, an unknown hour, Jesus will certainly return in His full power, glory and might!  Let us take time this Advent to ponder these sacred mysteries.

As you prepare this Advent for the coming of Jesus, may Christ be at the center of your preparations and longings.  May you experience deep and abiding peace and joy this Christmas!

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