Holy Family Vincentians celebrate 75 years of positive impact
FORT WORTH — Face-to-face visits, suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, have resumed, but requests for help have hardly subsided, said Laura Michaelides, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Conference at Holy Family Church in Fort Worth.
“There’s still a lot of people suffering,” Michaelides said. “During COVID and [even now] we’ve had people who had never contacted us before. We couldn’t go see people face-to-face like we like to do during the pandemic, so we did a lot of phone interviews, lots of signing papers in parking lots because we couldn’t be in peoples’ houses.”
Now a worldwide Catholic lay organization, the St. Vincent de Paul Society — founded in 1833, not by St. Vincent but rather Sorbonne University student Blessed Frederic Ozanam in response to poverty in Paris slums — strives to help those struggling with bills, food, housing, and other necessities as well as providing emotional support and undertaking a mission to deepen the faith of others.
The Society’s Holy Family Conference was established in 1947, when the parish was still named St. Alice Church.
“Seventy-five years ago, a long time,” Father Hoa Nguyen, pastor of Holy Family, joked during an April 28 Mass to celebrate the anniversary. “I wasn’t born yet.”
Holy Family’s is the oldest conference in the Diocese of Fort Worth, Michaelides added.
“It started in someone’s garage,” Michaelides said. “We were still the Diocese of Dallas then. But 75 years is amazing for a ministry.”
Fr. Nguyen noted that Vincentians with Holy Family’s conference distributed about $100,000 in financial help to those in need last year, the majority of which came from parishioner donations.
Fr. Nguyen described his parish as active, generous, and welcoming, including the Vincentians.
“Our [Vincentians] work to uplift those in need so they may be able to live their lives once again,” Fr. Nguyen said. “From 1947 to now we’ve seen how they always served the poor, working face-to-face to connect with people so that they can see the face of Jesus through that.”
Michaelides became involved in Holy Family’s conference shortly after she moved to Fort Worth from New Orleans in 2011. Initially, she joined to meet new people, though she quickly realized the blessings of giving back.
“It’s been a wonderful [journey], absolutely amazing,” Michaelides said.
Former Conference President Paul Smith agreed.
“It feels good,” Smith said of helping others. “I mean, you need more than words. You need deeds and actions to back those words.”
Holy Family’s Conference serves three area ZIP codes with most requests for aid originating from non-parishioners. Area need is great, Michaelides said, especially in neighborhoods surrounding Las Vegas Trail and the Como neighborhood.
“I love it because you see results right away,” Holy Family Vincentian Lourdes Roberts said. “It’s wonderful to come to church, but Jesus was on the streets. He went to people, and I love that because I see people out there who are really struggling and need help.”
Pat McMann, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Fort Worth Diocesan Council attended the April 28 celebration, as did Vincentians from conferences in other Diocese of Fort Worth parishes.
McMann spoke of a face-to-face visit to a man who emphatically stated he did not believe in God but who, by the end of the Vincentians’ visit, was willing to at least consider the possibility of God’s existence. She went on to recount episodes of others who relayed that the Vincentians’ visits and subsequent assistance felt like Jesus answering their prayers when no one else would listen.
“That’s, wow!” McMann said. “That’s what we’re all about, seeing the face of Christ in others and hoping they can see the face of Christ in us.”
McMann added that the Diocese of Fort Worth contains 13 conferences, all of which are associated with parishes, but that she would love to see one at every parish because the need is there.
“Many have no hope, feel alone, and don’t think anybody cares,” McMann said. “What we try to do is bring hope to them and let them know they’re not alone.”