60th Ann. of St Patrick’s Conference SVDP
On 24 September, St Patrick’s Conference of St Vincent de Paul celebrated its 60th anniversary with Mass in St Patrick’s Church, followed by a light lunch in the Supper room. Current members were joined by State Vice-president, Michael Cashman and wife Marie, North-East Central Council President, Frank Purcell and wife Margaret, General Manager of Service Development, Kate Johnson, Development Officer, Kate O’Brien along with past members, fellow Vincentians and parishioners. Everyone enjoyed a delicious meal and an equally delicious birthday cake which was cut by longest serving member, Terry Conway and current president, Doreen Holmes.
During Mass, which was celebrated by Fr Novelito Lim, new Conference president, Doreen Holmes and new regional president, Robert Waterman were commissioned, whilst conference members Peta Dillon, Les Davey and Shirley Sullivan were presented with their badges.
Sixty years ago, at a meeting convened at St Patrick’s presbytery by the then parish priest Father (later Monsignor) Hussey, it was resolved to form a branch of the St Vincent de Paul Society. School teacher Jack Rogers was elected president and among the first members were Michael Dalton, Leo Connolly, Bill Nolan, Mick Seymour, Tom Busst, Frank Toohey and Vern De Prada.
From the outset, members were determined to put into practice the motivating philosophy of Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the Society: to assist the spiritual and material benefit of the poor. Home visitation was the first priority and the early minute books illustrate how much of their time the small group gave to visiting those in need.
The track travellers of yesteryear were supplied with a meal and accommodation, which was provided at Lister House (of incidental interest, Lister House was once a private Hospital, where Sir Edward Dunlop was born in 1907). We still have arrangements made with a café to supply meals, or the alternative is McDonalds Vouchers, and accommodation is provided where possible.
So whence came the finance in early years? There were two collections at every meeting and periodically a rag drive was held. However there must also have been some anonymous Good Samaritans in the Parish. Today we are so generously supported by our parishioners and the schools – with the Fifth Sunday collection, the poor box, the Christmas Giving Tree, donations for Poor Man’s Mass and also by the money raised in the store by the dedicated volunteers. We would like to acknowledge the assistance from these sources.
In the early period, all the Vincentians were male and most were in fulltime employment. In 1972, Mrs Mary Ryan was admitted as the first female conference member and she was soon followed by Doreen De Prada, Mary Appleton, Kath Gibb, Ivy Brady and Rita Rees. During this early period, the conference assisted in the formation of branches at Benalla, Beechworth and Our Lady’s. So the rock-solid foundations of the society spirit were laid by the early members and, we who followed, have them as our examplars.
Distribution of clothing and furniture was also a priority and it is noteworthy that the first storage depot was a shed at the back of Callander’s store. Later, thanks to a substantial legacy from a deceased member, a store was built abutting St Patrick’s Primary School. In 1970, a more sophisticated store in Ryley St was blessed and opened by Monsignor Hussey. The store was staffed by a manager, Jack Bryan and a group of women volunteers. Later, Val Coonan and Kath Gibb were in charge. Mike Iverson and Terry Conway were part of the committee at this time. When K-Mart moved to its present location, the St Vincent de Paul store moved from Ryley St to its present location in Rowan St. The two Conferences also worked out of here. Jack Bryan, John Hehir and Graham Wise were the bulwarks of the society during the late 70s and early 80s. Most of the old guard had passed away or retired and on many occasions there was only this trio at meetings, sometimes less, or so the minutes suggest. Nevertheless, despite the paucity of numbers, the work of the society continued and, for a time, an additional project was undertaken: providing weekend transport for families to the Beechworth Prison. Today we still support the prison with fuel vouchers and accommodation for long distance family members to visit. Food and St Vincent de Paul vouchers are provided to prisoners (if needed) when they have no support on leaving prison.
During the mid-80s, the membership increased and in 1985 the President, Gerard Keogh, was pleased to report “The Conference was now at full strength after five years.” Laurie Dykes succeeded Gerard, by which time there were 19 active members. A twin conference was adopted in the Philippines and we have, in later years, adopted another in Thailand.
Some members became Meals-on-Wheels helpers and home visitation continued. Three ladies who left for those of us who joined the society in the early 90s, a strong legacy full of compassion, respect and dedication to the values of St Vincent de Paul, were Margaret D’Arcy, Sheila Reid and Mary Bryan. They gave splendid service for many years, beginning their weekly visits to the Hospital which lasted for 20 years. This visitation was continued by Barbara Waterman and Eileen and Jim Lloyd at the Hospital and Illoura Residential Aged Care for a number of years.
Margaret Darcy became our first female President. A number of our Past Presidents were present for the celebration: Terry Conway, Gerard Keogh, Margaret O’Brien, Peter Carney, Robert Waterman as well as current President, Doreen Holmes.
On 23 May 2010, St Vincent de Paul House in Templeton St was opened and blessed by Rev Monsignor White. St Patrick’s and Our Lady’s Conferences both operate from here and are open from Monday to Friday 1.00pm-3.00pm. However, while the distribution of food parcels, Christmas Parcels, fuel, accommodation and clothing vouchers and assistance with paying utility bills, are a constant, members are aware that more home visitation is desirable.
No summary of the last 60 years would be complete, without recognition of the contribution made by the Conference’s spiritual directors, from Monsignor Hussey down to our present day priests and nuns, for the strong support given to us throughout the years.
To finish, with the late Bill O’Callaghan’s words, “May the spirit of our Founder, Frederic Ozanam, continue to inspire and may the honoured name – ‘The St Vincent de Paul Society’ – be retained.”