Although he’s had a successful career and is now retired, Larry Mitchell has never forgotten the feeling of having grown up, in his words, “very poor.”
Mitchell’s firsthand knowledge of poverty, he said, has fueled his desire to help others in need. He has now done that numerous times over the past three decades, mainly as a charter member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul chapter in Holy Family Catholic Community.
The society is an international Catholic volunteer organization named after St. Vincent de Paul (1581–1660), a French priest dedicated to serving the poor. He was canonized in 1737, and his feast day is Sept. 27. According to Mitchell’s wife, Sharon — who has been involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society since the late 1990s — the local chapter’s chief function is to provide emergency financial assistance, most commonly in such areas as rent and utilities. For instance, Holy Family’s June 27 parish bulletin noted that the chapter assisted a family in Wayland with medical bills; and the Aug. 8 and 15 bulletins reported that families in Cohocton and Dansville, respectively, received aid for housing expenses.
Those efforts reflect the initiative’s substantial geographic reach. Since its inception at Wayland’s St. Joseph Church in 1991, the chapter has come to encompass all four churches in the Holy Family Catholic Community parish that was established in 2004. The parish’s other churches are St. Pius V, Cohocton; Sacred Heart, Perkinsville; and St. Mary, Dansville. Each of the four worship sites has a donation box for cash contributions to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. There also is a small pantry at Holy Family’s parish office, located at St. Joseph Church, containing nonperishable items so that society members can provide emergency food assistance.
Sharon Mitchell noted that the St. Vincent de Paul chapter originated as a volunteer group to help folks contacting St. Joseph Church in need of financial help. Among the many people served over the years, a few special cases stand out to her: A young boy in need of an insulin pump; a disabled young man who lived alone and needed a ramp; and a group-home resident who died and had no family in the area, so four St. Vincent de Paul Society members served as pallbearers for the funeral.
Another significant — and more long-term — endeavor of the chapter is Vincent House, a home for the dying located in a former convent across from St. Joseph Church. Opened in 2000, Vincent House was founded through the efforts of St. Vincent de Paul Society members.
There are currently seven active members of the chapter, with Larry Mitchell being the lone remaining charter member. They meet every Sunday at 8:30 a.m., immediately following the 7:30 a.m. Mass at St. Joseph, and they review requests for help that are made to the society’s phone number. The chapter also includes associate members who participate in its various charitable activities.
People who reside in the region encompassing Holy Family’s four churches are invited to make requests by calling 585-728-5192 and leaving a message. Sharon Mitchell said that interactions between society members — known as Vincentians — and the folks they assist are typically kept anonymous. She added that the society frequently networks with other social-service agencies in northern Steuben and southern Livingston counties to meet people’s specific needs.
Holy Family is among a handful of St. Vincent de Paul Society chapters in the Diocese of Rochester, as well as the only one in the Southern Tier. However, the organization — which was founded in 1833 to serve the poor of Paris, France — is a large one worldwide. According to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul website, there are 800,000-plus members in 155 countries, with nearly 100,000 active members across the United States.
One of those loyal Vincentians is Larry Mitchell, who considers his association with the society a perfect match for his desire to perform outreach work.
“People are put on earth for a reason, and helping people was my reason,” he stated. “It’s just something that gives you a good, warm feeling.”