Vincentians’ face-to-face encounters transform community in need

Moira Cullings

All it took was just over 500 volunteers to shape the lives of more than 20,000 individuals in need here in Colorado last year.

Those served were both families and individuals from a variety of backgrounds seeking anything from food and clothing to help with rent.

“For a lot of them, that’s their life,” said Steve Loftis, Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Denver Metro Council. “They go from one resource to another seeking help.”

Fortunately for those at risk of homelessness or going through a tough time financially in the Denver area and beyond, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is there to help.

The Society has been in Denver for over a century and is currently made up of 32 conferences, all affiliated with a parish, and spanning from Loveland to El Paso County. Volunteers known as Vincentians meet individuals face-to-face to help in any way they can.

“They do the home visits,” said Loftis. “They’ll interview a family or an individual and see what their needs are — if it’s rent, utilities, food and clothing, or wherever we might be able to help.”

Through donations, grants and partnerships with other organizations, the Society maintains various funds, which allow conferences to cater to the needs of those who approach them, often after learning about the Society through word of mouth or other organizations, such as Catholic Charities.

Although the biggest need Loftis sees is rent, the Society has several programs, including Fresh Start Loan, which helps individuals get out of the pay day loan system and improve their credit scores.

The Society also partners with arc Thrift Stores, which sells the Society gift cards at half price, and they in turn offer them to individuals in need.

For volunteer George Maes, serving the community in this way has been a pleasure.

“Meeting and helping those in need has truly been a blessing in my life,” he said. “It truly has changed my life. It has made me understand what it is to be humble and appreciate what God has given me, not to mention what it has done for my spiritual life.”

Maes has been with the Queen of Peace conference since 2006 as a volunteer and served for three years as president of the conference.

“Being a Vincentian, meeting people face-to-face [and] listening to their hardships in life most definitely allows you to see Christ in your neighbor who is in need,” he said.

During his time with the Society, Maes has seen everything “from a quiet thank you to tears and everything in between” from those he’s served. “No matter the type of response, they are all very appreciative and thankful for the help that was given to them.”

Loftis hopes the organization can continue having a profound impact on the Colorado community in years to come.

“Maybe instead of 20,000 people, next year we can help 40,000 people,” he said.

“As I look at our numbers last year for the housing fund, the money that I reimbursed our conferences with — the over $100,000 — allowed us to assist over 800 adults and over 600 children to avoid homelessness.

“That’s the type of thing we’re able to do with the funds that we receive.”

Highlights of services offered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 2018
  • 2,647 home visits conducted, helping 6,029 individuals
  • 2,676 individuals provided with food
  • 613 other in-kind services delivered totaling $14,728
  • 5,648 other visits made, assisting 11,580 individuals
  • 797 visits made to 2,478 individuals in eldercare facilities
  • 59,398 miles driven to assist those in need
  • 12 individuals aided with dental, legal or medical assistance
  • 20,091 people were helped
  • 41,771 hours of volunteer service were completed
  • 6 new conferences were established

For more information, contact Steve Loftis at svdpden@outlook.com or visit the website at svdpden.org.

To mail a donation, send to:

Society of St. Vincent de Paul Denver Metro Council

558 Castle Pines Pkwy Unit B-4 #107

Castle Pines, CO 80108

 

COMING UP: Catholic school teachers are ‘ministers’, SCOTUS rules

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The Supreme Court on Wednesday delivered a long-awaited religious liberty decision on the right of religious schools to hire and fire teachers. The court found in favor of two Catholic schools in California, ruling that a “ministerial exception” to government interference applies to teachers in religious schools.

The ruling came in the consolidated cases of Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru and St. James Catholic School v. Biel. The justices ruled in a 7-2 decision that teachers at Catholic grade schools qualified for the “ministers exception” established by the court in the 2012 Hosana Tabor case.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.

“Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the First Amendment does not tolerate.”

The two California Catholic schools did not renew the contracts of the teachers in 2014 and 2015. In separate cases combined by the Supreme Court, the teachers alleged that their dismissals were based on disability and age, not poor performance. The schools claimed they were exempt from employment discrimination laws under the ministerial exception, the legal doctrine under which government cannot interfere in the employment decisions of churches and religious institutions regarding the hiring and firing of ministers.

In both cases, the teachers’ suits were dismissed by federal courts, and then reinstated by the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeal.

When the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the combined case in May, lawyers for the schools argued that “for hours on end over the course of a week,” teachers in Catholic schools were the “primary agents” by which the faith was taught to students. Argument – and questions from the bench – focused on how broadly the ministerial exception could be applied to the employees of religious schools.

The decision comes just weeks after the court’s ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, that employers cannot fire employees because of their sexual orientation or “gender identity.” Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion in that case, acknowledged that religious freedom cases related to the decision would probably come before the Court in the future.

The decision about who qualifies as a minister could directly impact future cases in which teachers might be dismissed for failing to adhere to Church teachins on same-sex marriage or transgender issues, both of which have been subjects of controversy in recent months.

“Requiring the use of the title [minister] would constitute impermissible discrimination,” the court ruled. Referencing the previous decision in Hosana Tabor, Altio wrote that there must be “a recognition that educating young people in their faith, inculcating its teachings, and training them to live their faith are responsibilities that lie at the very core of the mission of a private religious school.”

The verdict also explicitly referenced the policy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, home to both of the schools designating all teachers in Catholic schools as being effectively ministers.

“Like all teachers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Morrissey-Berru was “considered a catechist,” i.e., “a teacher of religion,” Alito noted in his decision for the majority.

“There is abundant record evidence that [both teachers] performed vital religious duties. Educating and forming students in the Catholic faith lay at the core of the mission of the schools where they taught, and their employment agreements and faculty handbooks specified in no uncertain terms that they were expected to help the schools carry out this mission and that their work would be evaluated to ensure that they were fulfilling that responsibility.”

The court concluded that “when a school with a religious mission entrusts a teacher with the responsibility of educating and forming students in the faith, judicial intervention into disputes between the school and the teacher threatens the school’s independence in a way that the First Amendment does not allow.”

Joining Alito in the majority decision were Justices Thomas, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, as well as Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Sotomayer and Ginsburg dissented.