Claire Victory got involved with the work of the Society when she was just ten years old, when her mum set up a Young Vinnies group in their parish, as a way of keeping Claire and her friends from primary school connected to the parish and each other once they went to separate high schools.
What excites me most about Congress is the idea of Vincentians coming together from across Australia to meet and to share their passion for the Society. We have so many members doing such remarkable good works within their conferences and regions, but I think many of them are unaware of the breadth and depth of the Society—that there are so many members across Australia and around the world, in 140 different countries.
In my role on National Council over the past six years, and on national youth committees before that, I have been fortunate to meet Vincentians from around Australia and from other nations. It is always such an enriching experience to meet someone from a vastly different background with whom you share a spiritual and cultural connection through your mutual membership of the Society. It is a good reminder to ensure we live by our mission, not by the habits we have built up over time. This is what can help us to be innovative and courageous in meeting need in the face of real or perceived challenges, whether they be external (government policies forcing people further to the margins) or internal (recruitment and retention of members).
It is easy to feel hopeless when we are constantly faced with questions around our membership (‘Our membership is aging!’, ‘We can’t retain young members!’), but I think it’s important to remember that the Society here and abroad has survived war, natural disasters, financial crises and demographic challenges over its 184-year history. Our members, inspired by our mission, are continually initiating new projects and new approaches, through their conferences and special works, to help those in need and to thereby deepen their own faith. Vincentians in Australia are trialling new conference models, instituting effective recruitment programs, establishing conferences that attract members from different sections of the population, and initiating member induction, training, formation and recognition programs—but often, news of those initiatives does not spread very far. By bringing together Vincentians from across Australia for the first time in over 60 years, I hope that Congress will encourage us to become better at joyfully telling the Society’s story and sharing our individual stories with one another to ensure we remain inspired—in the words of Blessed Frederic Ozanam: to do without hesitation whatever good lies at our hands.
Claire Victory is Deputy President of the Society’s National Council. She is chairing a panel titled: “Are conferences a place of welcome and diversity?” at the Society’s National Congress 2017