In a worthy occasion, the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Christchurch recently celebrated a total of more than 400 years of apostolic work carried out by nine members of local conferences. Each had been an SVDP member for 40 years, some for more than this.Those presented with long-service awards were Allan Ashton, Ray Casey (absent)
and Babs Casey, Jerry Cuddy, Peter Dravitzki, Dave Mallia, Russell Morris,
John Mulvaney, Sr Deirdre Nelson, Keith Norton. Three others preferred to be not
officially recognised.

At a Mass at St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, diocesan administrator Fr Rick Loughnan
emphasised the importance of this work. “The harvest is rich, but the labourers
are few.”

He added that success is not always the benchmark. “At times you have grown
through your actions but you may be even given to fail. Sometimes failure is
richer than we think.”

He said St Vincent de Paul in the 17th century focussed on the souls of those whom he was meeting. “It is through the growth of holiness that the Lord works most powerfully in those who we work with, even through the smallest act,” the saint said.

Post-earthquake Christchurch has brought continuing high demand for SVDP services and food parcels, especially in the east. In two weeks in October, 32 families in the Mairehau conference requested food parcels. This has kept all
SVDP members moving.

All members spoken to found the work rewarding and fulfilling, with the expected share of difficulties. John Mulvaney said: “I have always taken it as a vocation — it’s been most of my life. St Vincent de Paul stressed how important the spiritual side of the work is.”

Keith Norton moved from being a truck driver to a conference member, council president, National Board representative and is now coordinating 14 countries in Oceania for the society.  Allan Ashton served three terms as president in the Aranui conference, two on the SVDP board at Stanmore Rd and is currently president of the Brighton- Aranui conference. Babs Casey, who managed the SVDP Christchurch shop
for 18 years, said she has always found it challenging, but enjoyable. “People
have so much to offer . . . when the call is there you go.” Dave Mallia, Mairehau conference president, finds the work time consuming and sometimes frustrating.

“But I think the reward is seeing people visibly relax when you turn up and offer
them some help.”

Like others he was embarrassed by being officially recognised. “Traditionally SVDP has been a very quiet organisation and I have been very privileged.” He intends to remain committed as long  as he can.