Saint Vincent de Paul Society celebrates 150 years at Saint Mary

By Jim Laroco – President of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society at the Basilica of Saint Mary

The Basilica of St. Mary has a long and rich history which continues to unfold to today’s parishioners, visitors and pilgrims. A fact few may know is that in 1868, 150 years ago, St. Mary’s hosted the first St. Vincent de Paul Society in what is now the Diocese of Arlington.

In the 1860s, the St. Vincent de Paul Society was new to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and shortly after the Society established a chapter here at St. Mary’s, another was founded at St. John the Evangelist. The Society had been active for many years in Maryland, especially in the Baltimore area, but was a late comer to the Commonwealth.

St. Mary’s had long been regarded as a parish that spawned many other parishes in northern Virginia, while also a parish whose charity was a model for communities throughout the area. To this day, we are reminded after every Mass to remember the poor. The St. Vincent de Paul Society is joined by other apostolates at the Basilica who look for ways to carry this out.

During the ensuing years after its founding, the devotion of parishioners to St. Vincent was such that one of the benefactors provided for the stained glass window that now graces the church, a photo of which is above. That window, regarded as one of the most beautiful stained glass portraits of St. Vincent in the world, was executed by artisans from New York who were trained in Munich, Germany.

All Vincentians are reminded of St. Mary’s special relationship with the needy in our community and St. Vincent every time we come to church. Visitors will find prayer cards to St. Vincent in front of the stained glass window. These cards contain several of his most quoted prayers.

Today’s Vincentians here at St. Mary’s trace their current work to 2004 when the current chapter (known as a “conference”) came into being. This year, 2018, on our 150thanniversary, we were formally re-established and recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Diocese of Arlington and National Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Our current data base is approaching 5,000 families and individuals whom we have helped in recent years. We have 34 active members and disbursed more than $120,000 to our needy neighbors this past year, thanks to the generosity of our benefactors. We partner with other apostolates, the Basilica School of Saint Mary, the City of Alexandria government and many other assistance providers throughout our region.

We ask that all share in the joy of our work, our history and our future, serving the poor in the name of Our Lady and St. Vincent.

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