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!

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is committed to helping friends in need in a variety of ways, not the least of which is through providing clothing and furniture to many. But that all happens because of an elaborate system of donations, sorting and selecting, transportation and distribution that is centered at our warehouse in Penn Hills.

Director of Business Operations Bryan Engel and his assistant Dawn Dietz work tirelessly in coordinating this effort that relies on, not only the kindness of those donating items and funding, but also on the work of many employees. These workers serve in both the Penn Hills warehouse as well as the four thrift stores located throughout Allegheny County.

Bryan has been working in various capacities managing St. Vincent de Paul’s business operations for five years and Dawn has been at this and several thrift store sites for nine years. Together, they help to ensure that warehouse operations run smoothly, that coordination exists within the processes used, and that local stores get the materials they need to serve the many who shop there.

Donations are made at local stores and at many parishes and then are either used immediately at the stores or are picked up from churches and stores to be processed at the warehouse. There, clothing and household items are sorted and may be either sold individually or in bulk. Some items are sold via the e-commerce program through eBay to help the overall mission of SVdP. However, just as important is the program in which the bulk clothing items that aren’t needed or don’t make it to the thrift stores are sold to third party entities. Those companies and organizations then ship them to other countries that have extreme levels of poverty and can desperately use them.  

Furniture items sometimes remain at the stores if they are donated there, but most often are picked up and then stored in the warehouse until a voucher is submitted through a conference for a friend in need.

Thanks, again, and a big kudos to Bryan, Dawn and all the store staffs as well as to employees at the warehouse, without whom, none of this would happen. It’s quite frankly an impressive amount of planning, organizing and just plain old hard work within this whole system that enables us to generate the kind of help that the Society is able to give. And it’s these things that help us be one of the most efficient and effective SVdP Councils in the state and even the nation!

It was a glorious day for the Bishop’s Mass and Brunch on October 15th at the Diocesan Pastoral Center in East Carnegie. Around 130 Vincentian volunteers turned out for a special Mass officiated by Bishop David Zubik followed by a wonderful brunch in celebration of all those Vincentians present and past that through their faith and good works have made the geography of the Council of Pittsburgh a better place to live for all.

The brunch guests were edified by Keynote Speaker Alicia Hartle who discussed the Holy Spirit. Alicia provided new and deeper insight into our SVdP traditional Opening Prayer for Conference meetings, the “Come Holy Spirit” prayer:

Come, Holy Spirit, live within our lives.

And strengthen us by Your love.

Send forth Thy Spirit and new life will be created.

And the whole face of the earth will be renewed.

In addition to teaching about the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity, Alicia encouraged Vincentians to have expectant faith and trust in Divine Providence. If you missed the brunch or would like to contemplate these powerful words again, please click here.

Another event highlight was the drawing of winners for the Help Thy Neighbor Walk cash raffle.

Winners included:

Five $1,000 3rd Place Prizes:

  1. Karen B. – Ticket #07413 (Sold by: St. Michael the Archangel Conference)
  2. FX W. – Ticket #06822 (Sold by: St. Michael the Archangel Conference)
  3. Dave P. – Ticket #05077 (Sold by: Good Shepherd Conference)
  4. Mother Teresa Conference – Ticket #13596 (Sold by: Mother Teresa Conference)
  5. Joan E. – Ticket #08432 (Sold by: Our Lady of Hope Conference)

One $2,500 2nd Place Prize:

  1. Janice R. – Ticket #01972 (Sold by: Divine Redeemer Conference)

One $5,000 1st place prize:

  1. Rich P. – Ticket #13024 (Sold by: St. Isidore the Farmer Conference)

A warm, heartfelt thanks to Bishop David Zubik, Alicia Hartle, SVdP Director of Formation Karen O’Keefe, the Board of Directors of SVdP, sponsors, raffle ticket purchasers, and all the volunteers who made the Help Thy Neighbor Walk and the Bishop’s Mass and Brunch a great success.

As an annual donor to the Society of SVdP, Justin Luzar is, in a lot of ways, your typical Vincentian.   Justin, who lives with his wife and two children in Scott Township, is a member of St. Raphael the Archangel parish.   He learned about the Society of St. Vincent de Paul when the church’s organizations had a ‘get to know us’ session after Mass one Sunday.    But he liked the idea of the work done by the SVdP people because they were “directly involved” with those they served.   As he put it, they were “down in the trenches” dealing with the needs of people.

Prior to that day, however, Justin was inspired by the biblical verse “those to whom much has been given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).  That made him think about all the blessings that he has, some of which he feels he earned, but many, he realized, were the result of circumstances into which he was born which were inherently much better than many others.

After that Sunday about 15 years ago, he ventured into the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and began contributing to our work.   Since then, two particular cases have left a lasting impression on him.   

One, had to do with a poor single woman who said she needed some furniture.  When he went to do the home visit with her, he found that she lived within a world that he could never imagine or relate to.   A world surrounded by extreme hardship and violence that saw her son killed in a shooting and others in her family suffering the same or similar horrors.   It opened his eyes to just how terrible and hopeless the world of poverty is, even beyond the obvious lack of money.

The other case was, some would say, milder, albeit also potentially devastating.   He visited a young couple who had all the niceties that he and his wife enjoyed in the suburbs – their own home, good jobs, and two cars.   What was jarring in this case was that when the husband’s mother took ill, he lost considerable income having to work less in order to tend to her.   Then his wife got laid off, and before they knew it their world was hanging on tenterhooks.    It jarred him that these friends in need “were just like me in many respects”.   He learned that hardship can strike at any time.

And, as with most Vincentians and conferences, Justin and his conference struggle with the dilemma of how to allocate limited funds.  Not all needs are equal and not all friends in need can be helped by a conference.   That is one reason that Justin believes that ‘twinning’ between conferences is such a great idea.   The greater good, he feels, is the ultimate goal in the Society’s mission.  

Unlike many Vincentians, Justin is not retired and yet he devotes whatever valuable time he can to the work of SVdP.   He also does not keep the light of his service to God under a basket, but instead he and his wife share the work that he does, along with their other charity efforts, with their children.   In doing so they hope that their children will be inspired to do the same kinds of things when they grow up.

To those considering whether to join in and become a member of a SVdP conference within their church, he urges folks to simply take the first step and go from there.   It may be resources that can be offered, or it may be time that can be shared.   But simply thinking about it alone, he says, won’t make it happen.   In the end, it’s the few, in this world, who end up doing what accomplishes so much!

The staff at the Council office of SVdP recently welcomed student intern, Dominique Jetter, as she joined them in their work.  Dominque is a freshman at Nazareth Prep High School, which is affiliated with and operated by the Holy Family Institute of Pittsburgh.  

Nazareth Prep High School was founded about ten years ago and it currently enrolls about 100 students.  The school requires that all students in grades 9-12 participate in an internship one day a week throughout each of their high school years.   Those internships may be served in both the corporate and the non-profit sectors within the greater Pittsburgh area.   The school even provides transportation for students to and from their internship sites.

The coordinator of the program, Randy Lheureau, says that students are graded at the end of the year for the work that they have done.   However, the goal is to have them learn and understand the various skills and abilities that they will need in whatever career interests they eventually pursue.   Things like good communication skills, the ability to meet deadlines and expectations, and general overall growth as young people entering the working world.

Dominique will be working on a variety of things in the main administrative office, but so far has been assisting with the many phone call messages from friends in need who contact the office seeking assistance.  Receiving those calls, she then directs people to the appropriate conferences with the hope of obtaining some help.  In doing so, she is learning many of the skills that will eventually help her as she moves through life.  She says that she is enjoying what she does and is even ‘having fun’!

Our best wishes to Dominique and to the Nazareth Prep program.   If anyone has any further interest or questions about it, feel free to contact Randy, who will be happy to speak with you.  He can be reached directly at the school at 412-307-0230 x1395 or