Never Underestimate the Power of a Home Visit

Stronger Together — Lessons from a Home Visit and the Incarnation

I recently was privileged to speak to the Eastern Region of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The theme was “Stronger Together.” I drew inspiration from the example of Vincentian Fr. Pedro Opeka, who was recently privileged to have two meetings with Pope Francis. I share with you his story.

[The full text of The Impact of a Home Visit concludes with a reflection on an even greater systemic change we describe as the Incarnation. Jesus came into the world we call home, not to change God’s mind — He came to change our minds by opening them to what it would look like if we really lived as the image and likeness of God who loves us with a “no matter what” love.]


 Impact of a Home Visit

As members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, you know a thing or two about home visits. I imagine you have experienced some squalid conditions. But let me tell you of what I think was an Extraordinary Home Visit.

In 1989, Vincentian Father Pedro Opeka was transferred from rural Madagascar to the capital, Antananarivo, to head the local seminary. He’d left rural Madagascar because he couldn’t bear the sight of hungry children anymore. But what he found in the capital was ten times worse.

Upon his arrival, he was struck by the sight of huge garbage dump sites. When he went to see them, he was shocked to find thousands of people, adults and children, scavenging for food like wild animals.

He found children sleeping on the site with cardboard boxes as mattresses and flies as their blankets. He found people who died amidst the garbage, with no one there to give them a proper burial.

“When I saw thousands of children fighting for their food against pigs and wild dogs, I was speechless,” he told reporters at a recent press conference in Rome.

That night he kneeled at his bed, and with his arms towards heaven, said: “Lord, help me help these children.”

The following day he went back and was questioned by the locals. They derisively asked,“Hey, white man, what do you want?” At that moment he experienced the bias of being a “white” person in a country that still bears the scars of white colonizers.  It was one of the many hurdles he had to overcome.

But he was, quite literally, a man on a mission.

He told those confronting him that he was a missionary priest and that he wanted to speak with them… “but not out here, invite me into your home.”

By home, he meant a cardboard structure that was some three feet tall. He had to crawl on hands and knees to go in, and when they sat on the floor — a carpet of garbage — the roof was some 10 inches above his head!

He asked the owner of the “cardboard house” to invite others to a meeting. A dozen people showed up. Opeka asked them a question: “Do you love your children?” When he received an affirmative response, he said: “Let’s work together, give them a future.”

Akamasoa was born that day.

Fewer than 30 years later, they’ve virtually built an entire city, divided into 18 neighborhoods with dignified brick homes for some 23,000 people, connected by paved roads. He taught them the brickmaking and bricklaying skills he learned from his father. With these skills, they literally built these homes by themselves. There are 3,000 masons on the project, and work is never lacking.

What may be just as eye-opening for most of us … some 10,000 of the people living in Akamasoa attend the Mass Fr. Opeka celebrates each Sunday. A shed becomes an open-air cathedral. The liturgy is a three-hour affair, where the faithful take time “to pray, to sing, to look at each other.”

He continues… “Of course, I will not fail to mention the Sunday Mass, which is a true celebration for all the people because everyone participates: we all pray, we dance, we sing in communion – it is an expression of gratitude to God for all the people of good will who have helped us.”

All this because of a home visit, a man on a mission who asked questions, listened and worked side-by-side with his friends.

Today, the lively communities Fr. Opeka literally helped build are considered a “miracle” in Madagascar. Salaries in this country average $900 a year, and 76 percent of the country’s 25 million inhabitants live in extreme poverty, making less than $1.90 a day.

Full text (PDF)

Fr. Michael J. Carroll, CM Named Director of the Miraculous Medal Shrine

The Miraculous Medal Shrine Welcomes New Shrine Director, 
Fr. Michael J. Carroll, CM

The Miraculous Medal Shrine is pleased to welcome Fr. Michael J. Carroll, CM, as the new Director of the Miraculous Medal Shrine and Spiritual Director of the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM). Fr. Carroll was appointed by the Very Rev. Stephen M. Grozio, CM, Provincial Superior of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission, and will begin his new role on July 1, 2018.

Fr. Carroll, who formerly held the position of Provincial of the Eastern Province, succeeds Fr. William O’Brien, CM, who is retiring from his position after serving for two years as Shrine Director and Spiritual Director. He also previously served as CAMM’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2002.  In addition to these roles, Fr. O’Brien continues to serve as Director of the Our Lady of Angels Association at Niagara University.

After the noon Mass on July 9th, there will be a reception for both of them in the Lower Shrine. All are invited to join us in thanking Fr. O’Brien for his years of dedication–and to help us welcome Fr. Carroll!

Introducing Fr. Michael J. Carroll, CM

Fr. Carroll, a native Philadelphian, remembers attending the Monday Novena at the Miraculous Medal Shrine with his mother and four siblings. After 41 years as a Vincentian priest in numerous leadership positions, his journey of prayer that began as a child at the Shrine has now come full circle.

Fr. Carroll has been training for this assignment all his life. He, like all Vincentians, has a strong devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. “To me, the Miraculous Medal is the Medal of Hope. It is a clear sign of God’s care for each of us. Mary’s invitation to come to the foot of the Altar and share in her Son’s graces is a gift from God Himself. Her message couldn’t be simpler: God loves us and cares for us. I invite you to let God touch your heart.”

He talks passionately about his role in promoting devotion to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. “The Blessed Mother gave the Miraculous Medal to St. Catherine Labouré, and the task of promoting the Medal was given to the Vincentian Fathers. It was the wisdom of CAMM’s founder, Fr. Joseph P. Skelly, to invite men and women who knew the promise of the Medal to become Promoters. My hope as Director is to share the promise and gift of the Miraculous Medal with as many people as possible, and this can only be done with the support and help of our Promoters.”

Fr. Carroll will be assisted by the Shrine’s team of associate directors, four Vincentian priests who help support people’s spiritual needs when they visit the Shrine: Fr. Michael Shea, CM, Fr. Michael Callaghan, CM, Fr. Francis Sacks, CM, and Fr. Thomas Sendlein, CM.

The Miraculous Medal Shrine, home of the Miraculous Medal Monday Novena, welcomes all visitors to our beautiful Shrine, located in the heart of Philadelphia. The Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal provides a sanctuary for prayer, meditation, and pilgrimage to God and to The Blessed Virgin Mary. Visitors are also encouraged to enjoy our Museum’s historical collection of Marian and religious artwork. The Shrine and Museum are run under the auspices of the Vincentian Community and the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal.
For over 100 years, The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal (CAMM) has dedicated itself to spreading devotion to Mary Immaculate and her Miraculous Medal. CAMM also supports the formation and education of seminarians, provides care to the aged and infirm Priests and Brothers of the Vincentians’ Eastern Province, and supports programs that assist the poor. For more information about upcoming events at The Central Association of the Miraculous Medal and the Miraculous Medal Shrine, please visit

What are You Really Doing? A Lifetime of Waking Up

Waking up to what you are really doing

They were all doing the same thing… or were they?

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man said: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” He said: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked. He asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I’m building a cathedral!”

It’s an old story that has many applications. Here I would like to share some thought about a calling in life as more than just a decision made once. Responding to a calling is actually a lifetime task of waking up to what we think we knew. We actually spend our lifetime waking up to our vocations.

Let me be personal

I once thought I understood what priesthood was about. I thought I knew what I wanted in in 1955 when I entered the seminary of the Congregation of the Mission. I thought I knew what priesthood was all about in 1965 when I was ordained. Then, after 25 years as a priest, I thought I knew more about it. Now, after more than 50 years a priest, I am realizing that I am still learning what it means.

Each year I appreciate more the words of an 81-year-old Benedictine monk, Bede Griffith, said in a television interview in his 81st year of life. “I learned more in the last year than in my previous 80.”

This is my 81st year. I hope and pray that I continue to wake up to what it means during the course of this year.

What I now understand better is that responding to a calling, whether priesthood, marriage or any other form, is a lifetime project. We spend our lifetime waking up to our vocations.

What about you?

Where are you in responding to the specific call God has for you?

Are you just laying bricks?

Do you see any further meaning to what your laying of bricks is creating?

Do you see how what you are doing is a response to God’s call to wake up to being made in the image and likeness of God and to love as the God who is love loves?

Prayer request for brother of Fr. Mike Mazurchuck, CM

Please pray for Rick Mazurchuck, the brother of Fr. Mike Mazurchuck, C.M. (deceased), who is having bypass surgery tomorrow in Washington, DC.
Por favor oren por Rick Mazurchuk, el hermano de nuestro difunto cohermano, P. Mike Mazurchuk, CM.  Rick tendra una operación de corazon mañana en Washington, DC. 

Vincent Was a Life-Long Learner

Vincent was a life-long learner

Vincent didn’t just happen. Vincent spent his lifetime waking up to the demands of the Gospel and the needs of those who were poor.

I am reminded of the monk Bede Griffiths, a life-long learner, who said in the 81st year of his life that he learned more in the previous year than in the prior 80 years.

J. Patrick Murphy writes:

Vincent used mentors and he chose world-class advisors, Fr. Pierre de Berulle, St. Francis De Sales. Vincent became a mentor of others and brought out the best in them: Jean Jacques Olier, St. Jane De Chantal, and St. Louise de Marillac.

Lesson: Mentors make a difference. Get a good one. Be a good one.

J. Patrick Murphy is on to something. I have rarely thought of Vincent in terms of his mentors. Not only did Vincent have mentors, but he was blessed with some of the best. Here is not the place to dwell on the specifics of what Vincent learned from these world-class mentors.

Instead, I wonder how they happened to become his mentors. There is a saying, “When the student is ready the mentor will appear.” (This saying is apparently falsely attributed to Buddha.) Regardless of who said it, it speaks of life-long learning.

Recognizing my mentors

This raised the question for me, “Am I ready to be mentored?” Or am I too comfortable in my present stage of growth?

Apparently, Vincent was ready. So how did the mentors appear? My hunch is they appeared because Vincent was a seeker, restlessly looking for something more. Initially, he thought that “something more” was a secure position whereby he could take care of himself and his parents. But apparently, something more gnawed at him.

I suspect they appeared because he responded to people he sensed were on the “right track.” He sought them out, engaged them in dialog.

Who are the people I know who are on the right track spiritually? Do I seek them out in conversation? What can I learn from them? Do I reflect on why and how they are on the right track?

It might be very worthwhile spending a few moments thinking about the people you admire and what you can learn from them.

Being a mentor

This also raises questions for me about being a mentor.

A mentor is someone who walks with others and listens to the longings of their hearts. How often do I take the time to listen to the longing of others and walk with them on their personal journey?

Some lessons worth repeating: Mentors make a difference. Get a good one. Be a good one.


  • Who are the people I know who are on the right track spiritually?
  • Do I seek them out in conversation?
  • What can I learn from them? Do I reflect on why and how they are on the right track?

This post first appeared on FamVin


Welcoming the Stranger in a Time of Crisis


A record 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world at the end of 2017. That total was 2.9 million more than at the end of 2016. Read the full story

Religious women, as so often, have been in the forefront of addressing the immediate needs of refugees. Now Global Sisters Report has compiled a helpful list of resources of numerous Catholic organizations involved in the worldwide refugee and migration crisis, including the Vatican, congregations of women religious and local parishes. [See also Sisters of Charity Federation statement on the crisis at the US border and Pope Francis support of American Bishops].

Migration Policy Institute

United Nations statistics on international migration

Four facts to know about the global refugee crisis from the United Nations

The latest facts about forcibly displaced people and refugees worldwide from the United Nations’ refugee agency

Share the Journey — Share the Journey is an online project of the Vatican dedicated to encountering and accompanying migrants and refugees.

Among those joining this effort are:

• Catholic Charities

• Caritas Internationalis

• Catholic Relief Services

• U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Jesuit Refugee Services also endorses the campaign.

The Vatican’s Migrants & Refugee Section

The Vatican’s document on the proposed global compacts on migrants and on refugees

Catholic Social Innovation in Today’s Global Refugee Crisis — This report from the Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) and Boston College takes a look at how church-led organizations and programs are creatively serving refugees and migrants.

Migrant Project/Sicily — A program founded by the International Union Superiors General (UISG) in Rome to aid migrants in Sicily by developing one-on-one relationships with them and helping them assimilate to their new home. Read more in our story about it.

The U.S. Catholic Sisters against Human Trafficking world refugee toolkit for World Refugee Day, June 20

UISG Migrants — A summary of the work sisters at UISG do to assist migrants.

Scalabrini International Migration Network

Global Sisters Report’s coverage of migration since April 2014

Niagara University’s Role in Underground Railroad Heritage Center

The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University, speaks during the grand opening of the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center.

The much-anticipated Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center celebrated its grand opening on Friday.

Wikipedia reminds us “The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early to mid-19th century, and used by African-American slaves to escape into free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause.[1]”

[I must note the irony of writing this as the country experiences a different kind of underground railroad heading toward our borders.]

The Heritage Center, developed in part by Niagara University, is an experiential museum that reveals authentic stories of Underground Railroad freedom seekers and abolitionists in Niagara Falls.

“It’s rare when you can walk into history and touch eternity in the same steps, and that’s really what we celebrate today,” said the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., president of Niagara University.

Father Maher, “All of us at Niagara University are proud to be part of such a historic day for Niagara Falls, Western New York and the United States. My predecessor, Father Joseph Levesque, C.M., initiated this collaborative project with the City of Niagara Falls in 2008 and our students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and partners – especially Dr. Thomas Chambers, Sara Capen, Ally Spongr and Christine Bacon – have been actively involved ever since. Consistent with our Catholic and Vincentian mission, we are steadfastly committed to advancing community engagement and economic development in Niagara Falls and beyond. This project, the first one dedicated to heritage tourism in Niagara Falls in over 35 years, is the latest example of this pledge.”

“The Underground Railroad Heritage Center tells the stories of the freedom seekers from the moving perspective of those who lived it and from the unique Niagara Falls experience,” Congressman Brian Higgins said. “This project is designed to help visitors learn and grow as individuals, while at the same time growing opportunities for the region’s tourism industry.”

Bill Bradberry, president and chair, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage commission, said, “As the first new cultural attraction in the City of Niagara Falls in over 35 years, opening the Underground Railroad Heritage Center is an incredibly significant event, both to the people of Niagara Falls and throughout the world.”

For more information, visit

Our Vincentian Heritage Through the Eyes of a St. John’s Student

FamVin presents Julia as she visits the St. John’s Paris campus and nearby Vincentian heritage places in this video walking tour.

Julia visits the St. John’s Paris campus and nearby Vincentian heritage places including the Congregation of the Mission where she is granted exclusive access to the Saint Vincent de Paul Chapel, which holds the reliquary containing his body high above the main altar.

About the video
From the St. John’s University YouTube channel:
Julia Schwan ‘17CPS will earn her M.B.A. from The Peter J. Tobin College of Business in May 2019. Tune in as she takes us behind the scenes of her adventures … Originally from Brazil, Julia was recruited by St. John’s for Track and Field where she was selected as a member of the BIG EAST All-Academic Team and earned ALL-BIG EAST Indoor Team Honors.

Learning about the Father from my own

Learning about the Father from my own

Joy Clough is a retired Sister of Mercy living in Chicago. In Learning About the Father From My Own, she shares how she is still learning from her father.

An important lesson in my life is one that I’m still learning. It involves welcoming and trusting God as a loving father, rather than as a severe judge or “divine tester.”

…Then, one day when I felt particularly distraught, I found myself yelling at God (yes, out loud) that “my father wouldn’t do this to me.”

And there it was. Right out there, reverberating in the air, echoing in my own ears. My father wouldn’t do this to me, and God my Father wasn’t doing this to me either. I was doing it to me.

…The father doesn’t weigh his love for his child; he simply loves. The child doesn’t think about trusting its father; it simply does. Oh, is that what Jesus meant about “unless you become as little children”? Hmmm. I’m still learning.

Be sure to read her whole story Learning About the Father From My Own

My personal experience

As I reflect back on my 80 years of life I realize how blessed I have been and what I have learned from my father (and mother… but that is another story.)

One particular incident rushed back to my mind. I think I was in eighth grade. Perhaps it was the beginning of my teenage rebellion.

A friend of mine (easily) talked me into playing hooky from an afternoon in school. Who would know? The only problem was that I left my book bag in the schoolyard. Of course, by the time I got home, Sister has already called expressing concern about whether I was sick!

My mother was waiting! But then my father came home. To this day I can not forget the look of pain on his face. He was a very gentle and loving man. He was not angry. He was just so disappointed and hurt by what I had done. That look was the worst punishment he could have given. (As I write this I can still feel the emotions!)

As you may suspect I am still unpacking that look. It taught me so much about his love for me … and his hopes.

Lessons for all of us

Whether we are fathers, biologically or spiritually, we can learn much from our fathers (and others).

But as I reflect on it from the vantage point of more than 65 years of Vincentian formation and trying to live the charism of St. Vincent I realize that we are all called to live the lessons that Sister Joy and I learned.

I am also painfully aware that there are many who were not as fortunate as Sr. Joy and I were.


  • What lessons have I learned about me being the image of God in the lives of others?
  • How can I be sensitive to those who were not blessed with living images of God?

P.S. I never missed a day of class, even for sickness, in my years of high school!

There Must be a Path Here…

Have you ever wondered about the path you are on?

Finding one’s path

I have often shared the story about the time I really made vows … some 35 years after I made that commitment the first time.

But it is only relatively recently that I made the connection with Vincent’s life. J. Patrick Murphy’s thumbnail reflection in his booklet, Mister Vincent, helped me do just that.

Vincent spent 25 years finding himself and becoming free of false starts and his own greed.

Lesson: It is okay to get a little lost on the way to finding yourself.

Becoming aware of my longing for privilege

It was 1993, some 35 years after I pronounced vows for the first time.

Then I was relatively successful as the Chair of Department of Theology. But after a severe auto accident, I lay for two weeks in the intensive care unit of a major trauma center on Long Island. I do not remember much but what I do remember so clearly is the longing to be transferred to the local Catholic hospital where they would take care of “Father!”

And then it hit me. I wanted the trappings of being cared for in a Catholic hospital. But those who are poor, especially in war-torn countries, often don’t have the luxury of even minimal hospital care of bandages or painkillers.

I remember laying there beginning to have moments of clarity and thinking, Who am I to demand such care? I don’t remember whether it was day 6 or 10. But I do remember clearly the moment I made a powerful admission … I was not strong enough to be a Vincentian.

At that moment, I understood so clearly how much “clerical privilege” had taken hold of me.

It is an irony that I sit at this keyboard today 25 years later precisely because I was taken to a major trauma care center rather than to the Catholic hospital.

Waking up to a call

Since then I have considered that moment to be the real moment of committing myself to serving those who were poor.

And now I wonder about that moment when Vincent woke up to what he was being called to.

Interestingly enough it was while I was convalescing that I woke up to the ministry I have found life-giving for the last two decades… using the tools of digital communications to form, strengthen, and unite those who feel called to serve those who are less fortunate.


  • Are there any events that in retrospect changed your life?
  • Have there been times when you realized how much good came out of something that seemed so bad at the time?
  • What might be the unconscious “privileges” that you are clinging to?

This post is part of a series that originally appeared on FamVin