Diocesan Vincentians Celebrate 100 Years
By Amanda Hudson, News Editor
October 12, 2023
DEKALB—It was a mix of tears and cheers at Christ the Teacher University Parish as 145 diocesan Vincentians — members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Rockford Council — gathered on Sept. 30 for the council’s annual Fall Festival to “Reenergize (Their) Spiritual Batteries.”
A Bit of History
In 1617, St. Vincent de Paul founded parts of what is now the Vincentian Family: the Congregation of the Mission, the first Confraternity of Charity, and the Daughters of Charity.
Since Blessed Frederic Ozanam founded it in Paris in 1833, the St. Vincent de Paul Society has grown to over 800,000 members in over 150 countries.
In 1895, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago Peter James Muldoon was instrumental in establishing the first conference outside the Chicago Archdiocese: St. Patrick in Amboy.
From 1911-1923, the SVDP spread to St. Mary-Rockford; St. Mary-Elgin; St. Patrick-Rockford; St. James-Rockford; and Cathedral of St. Peter-Rockford.
On Oct. 1, 1923, the Rockford Council was instituted by the International SVDP Council in Paris as a Particular Council of Rockford.
Conferences expanded and ceased over time. In the 1990s only two conferences existed in the Diocese of Rockford: St. Mary-Sterling and St. Mary-Byron.
In 2001, Bishop Thomas G. Doran sent letters to all pastors and worked to revive the SVDP Society in the diocese, and 10 conferences soon were formed. In June 2002 the first council meeting was held and Nancy Jung was elected president. The North Central Region serves Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Kane, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside and Winnebago counties. 
The Rockford Council now has approximately 697 active Vincentians and 45 conferences.
Most of the tears had roots in remembering and honoring Deacon Steve Pulkrabek who died last January in a car accident on his way to an SVDP training. Awards established in his memory were presented to four Vincentians who embody the SVDP qualities lived by Deacon Pulkrabek: simplicity, humility, gentleness, selflessness and zeal.
The cheers mostly circled around retiring Rockford Council President Susan Wiland and new president Laura Ortiz. Wiland finished her two 3-year terms as president and now will serve the society as the North Central Regional Vice President. She and Ortiz were both presented with bouquets of flowers with thanks and applause for their service past, present and future.
The day began with the sacrament of reconciliation, a rosary, and Mass with Bishop David Malloy. In his homily, the bishop congratulated the group for the 100-year anniversary of the founding and commissioning of the Rockford Council.
He spoke of the spiritual and intellectual union that is a part of the communion of saints, including those canonized and “that holy and charitable neighbor that you grew up next to … the unnamed but true saints …
“This is a moment of joy and also a reminder of the challenge that faces us,” he said. “You have committed yourselves to the continuation of the charitable work for which St. Vincent and his followers have long been known — dealing with the poor, the hungry, the mentally-challenged, those who are incarcerated, of course the list goes on and on … in them we all minister … to Christ Himself.
“We are both the hands of Christ, and we are ministering to Christ Himself.”
He also spoke of faith in the Eucharist, saying, “it must be a direct connection to what we’re doing here.”
“Like St. Vincent de Paul, your calling is wide and deep. It may express itself in a particular way (in service), but it is linked to Christ, it is linked to the faith.”
Mass was followed by a buffet breakfast and fellowship before keynote speaker, Deacon Allen Tatara of the Archdiocese of Chicago, began his presentation.
Some years ago, says Wiland, the Rockford Council decided to focus the annual meeting on prayer and spiritual renewal instead of a business meeting. Through spiritual insights peppered at times with wry humor, stories and song, Deacon Tatara focused on everyone’s need for physical, emotional and spiritual renewal. He, for example, quoted one preacher, saying, “If you don’t come apart and rest (as Jesus instructed His disciples), you’ll eventually come apart.”
He provided thoughts about six spiritual practices: pause, pray, plant, praise, participate and pursue. His reflections included a perspective on difficult people — that they are “saint-makers” for those who are willing to pray for them and for virtuous insights for themselves. 
The Deacon Steve Pulkrabek Award presentations followed a short break, presented by Wiland, Ortiz, Council spiritual advisor Deacon James Dombek, and Jeanne Pulkrabek who expressed her gratitude for the love and support she’s received since Steve’s passing. “Steve would have loved this,” she said.
Awards were presented to Deacon Jack O’Leary of Marengo, Jerry Corcoran from Amboy, Bill Hartwig of Byron and Nancy Jung of Aurora, each of whom were described in some detail as living the spirituality of the SVDP Society.
That spirituality was expressed earlier when the members renewed their Vincentian commitment. They promise to follow Christ and “be a witness to God’s boundless love for the poor, the lonely, the marginalized, those without faith and those who feel unloved …
“to treasure the warm friendship and unity (of the Society) …
“to seek and find the forgotten, the suffering or the deprived (and bring them love) …
“to be generous with (their) time … possessions and (themselves) …
“to persevere in regarding (their) home visits as a sacred trust”
and to accept God’s graces “to grow in holiness of life … to grow in humility and simplicity … to respect and not to judge or blame (those served) … to always serve in justice and charity … (and) to be more aware of the blessings” received from those they visit.
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