NEWPORT — To paraphrase an old saying, good things come in small parishes. But despite its modest size, Jesus Saviour Church thinks big when it comes to sharing God’s blessings with the community.
"We’re doing this to grow in holiness and to see Christ in everyone who comes to us,” said Lydia Reynolds, president of the Conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and a longtime member of the parish, which is steeped in the Portuguese tradition and devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.
“We are getting bombed with need,” exclaimed Reynolds. “Some people say we should just help our own, meaning our parishioners. But Jesus never discriminated. Whoever comes for help, we need to help them.”
Founded in France in 1833, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international, Catholic lay organization whose members minister to people in need through food programs, job training, homeless shelters, disaster aid, and in countless other tangible ways.
“When you learn of a disaster, you hear the Red Cross has stepped in,” noted Mike Vieira, current secretary, and past president of the Jesus Saviour Conference. “But St. Vincent de Paul is right there. We just don’t get the ink. The Red Cross gives immediate aid but St. Vincent de Paul stays until the need is fully met.”
At a time when Newport County’s unemployment rate hovers around nine percent, Reynolds and her husband Paul faithfully set up shop each Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. in the basement of the historic church on Broadway. Mainly by word of mouth, people from all over Aquidneck Island learn that they can come to the Catholic Church for help.
Vieira elaborated, “It’s people who are laid off for the winter or looking for a new job or getting back on their feet,” who need help. “Maybe they put off the electric bill for five months because they wanted to eat.”
The money distributed by the Society comes from yearly parish collections, Rosary Sodality fundraisers, private donations, and a Shrove Tuesday sale of malasadas (Portuguese doughnuts) fund grants, that with few exceptions, are limited to $100 per recipient.
In one recent month the Society gave away $3,100. “That was a record for us,” said Reynolds, whose $100 lifelines offer hope to people tossed around in the growing financial riptide.
Take Amanda, for example. Amanda recently missed two weeks of work when she needed surgery. “I’ve only been at my job (at a major chain grocery store) for a year so I don’t qualify for sick time,” she explained. When the Reynoldses gave her $100 toward rent, Amanda brightened. “This is the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Forcing back tears, Jamie - a married mother with two children - reluctantly came to Jesus Saviour after exhausting her own resources. “I get no assistance at all and I’ve budgeted everything. My husband’s business just failed and the mortgage is killing us,” she said. “I don’t believe in divorce so we are in counseling,” she confided.
The Reynoldses referred Jamie to several other Newport County resources and also gave her money toward an overdue electric bill. At that, Jamie insisted on helping to clean the church. “I don’t like anything for nothing,” she commented. Then, as she walked out the door, she handed the Reynoldses her cleaning-company business card to demonstrate her sincerity about giving back.
“Father Frank is unbelievable,” exclaimed Vieira when asked about Father Frank O’Loughlin’s decade-long support for the Society’s efforts in his parish. “He got us up and running because he felt this is the best way to help people who come knocking on the rectory door.”
Other St. Vincent de Paul Conferences on Aquidneck Island include St. Anthony and St. Barnabas churches in Portsmouth, and St. Joseph Church in Newport.