Several times a month, Fr. Mark Payne, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, mentions the good works of the Vincentians of the Blessed Sacrament Conference in his homilies.

His ongoing support of the organization has garnered interest from the Milwaukee area and around the country. As a result, donations to the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVDP) have grown and allowed the Conference to help more individuals in need.

During a Sept. 23 Mass celebrating the organization’s 90th anniversary of service to the poor, marginalized or those experiencing distress, they recognized Fr. Payne for his support of the Vincentian ministry. Additionally, there was the annual recommissioning of 70 members of the SVDP Society.

Milwaukee Council President Penny Krafczyk acknowledged Fr. Payne for his ongoing encouragement of the society and quoted St. Vincent de Paul, “If the love of God is the fire, zeal is its flame. If love is the sun, then zeal its rays.” She went on to say that she knows many who exemplify the prayer.

“I can think of zillions of them, Fr. Mark, Dcn. Paul (Klingseisen) and all the Vincentians through the U.S. and foreign countries who have zeal and the love of God in their hearts,” she said. “Here at Blessed Sacrament, through the generosity of the parishioners, especially, we have assisted people to the tune of $16,000 this year. This includes beds, appliances, utilities, gifts in kind, food, the meal program and on and on. It is a phenomenal thing and Blessed Sacrament has journeyed with the St. Vincent de Paul Society for 90 years. That is some accomplishment.”

According to Christe Banach, president of Blessed Sacrament St. Vincent de Paul Conference, the lay organization serves at the convenience of the pastor.

“Lately, SVDP is being removed from parishes, since more focus is going toward the parish efforts, but Fr. Payne reinstated St. Vincent de Paul when he was at his former parish and grew the program so much that they were able to put roofs on people’s garages,” Banach said. “We had good support with Fr. (Robert) Turner when he was here at Blessed Sacrament and when Fr. Payne came, the program grew because he mentions the society in his homilies and wherever he goes. Because of him, we have been very successful in helping so many people.”

In his homily, Fr. Payne said his heart for the poor began when he was a young Norbertine priest serving in Philadelphia. Part of his formation was working in ministry to the poor.

“I remember showing up and was completely overwhelmed and frightened,” Fr. Payne said. “I couldn’t believe how many needed assistance. The ministry provided clean clothes and they would wash your clothes, (and) offer them a shower and shave and an opportunity to clean up. I was watching the multitudes and sitting with my spiritual director when he pushed me to talk to them. I was afraid but didn’t know why.”

Once Fr. Payne sat down and spoke with the individuals at the center, he realized he was not only seeing the face of Christ in them, but they also saw the face of Christ in him. He explained that the homeless taught him a lot, especially one man who was addicted to heroin.

“He taught me about God’s gift of love, God’s personhood and also my heart,” he said. “So, as we minister to others, you are touching your own heart. We want to love and be loved. We want to be accepted. We don’t want to be that invisible person that people walk by and ignore.”

In gratitude for Fr. Payne’s devotion to the SVDP Society in the Parish, the Vincentians presented him with a relic of St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac (essential partner of service to the poor) and several other saints.

“The relic was acquired through Sr. Tess Engel of the Sisters of St. Francis,” said Banach. “I had gone to Stemper’s and contacted a few priests, deacons and the SVDP Central Office, but no one had any idea how to get a St. Vincent de Paul relic because they cannot be sold, despite being available on the internet for hundreds of dollars. Someone told me the Sisters of St. Francis had taken the responsibility to secure and preserve the relics that no longer had a religious home, so to speak. I spoke to Sr. Tess the next day and, two days later, delivered a relic containing the remains of six individuals, with one of them being St. Vincent de Paul.”

Fr. Mark Payne was presented with this relic of St. Vincent de Paul during a Mass on Sept. 23. (Submitted photo)