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Vinnies Queensland celebrates 125 years, the living potential of a parish’s act of charity

Helping hand: Vinnies state spiritual advisor Canossian Sister Mel Dwyer and membership and volunteer services general manager Carolyn Sauvage after the anniversary Mass on February 17.

PAUL Finch had personal reasons for joining the St Vincent de Paul Society, just like thousands of others over their 125 years.

Mr Finch lost his Ipswich home in the 1974 Brisbane floods and, inspired by the people who helped him in that difficult time, decided “it’s time to give something back”.

But, for Mr Finch, a 40-year veteran of the organisation, Vinnies was more than just a charitable organisation.

“My experience is you get much more out of it than you ever put in,” he said. 

“The philosophy of Vinnies is we join the St Vincent de Paul Society to deepen our faith. That’s the whole guts of it.”

And this sentiment was clear in the organisation’s Queensland origins when, a year on from Brisbane’s Great Flood of 1893, churchgoers at St Brigid’s Church, Red Hill, gathered to see what they could do for those still struggling from the natural disaster.

This simple act of charity kicked off the first Vinnies Queensland conference.

St Brigid’s was also where, 125 years later, hundreds of Vincentians gathered to celebrate the milestone anniversary on Sunday, February 17.

A liturgy and historical display was held for the 125th anniversary, with a morning tea afterwards where familiar faces had a chance to mingle.

Mr Finch said one of key lessons Vinnies taught him was how privileged he was.

“I started work at 14 and went back to study in my mid-20s, and finished up with a very good job,” he said. 

“I had a pretty good income and pretty good super – really, I’m privileged. 

“And to my mind, Vinnies keeps reminding me about that; I think you need to be grounded.”

But it was also about family.

Mr Finch said his family always supported him and went with him on his work.

His son, Michael, continues the tradition, being an active Vincentian at Coorparoo. 

“It’s interesting isn’t it. The main appeal for funds to help people in Townsville and the northwest is being managed by Vinnies,” Mr Finch said. 

“You look at it on TV, this is the number to ring; I think that’s an indication the state government thinks we’re a pretty worthwhile organisation as well.”

And it wasn’t just the organisation’s official phone numbers always ringing. 

Mr Finch said Vinnies Queensland chief executive officer Peter Maher was a great example of the organisation’s strength, saying being a Vincentian was a 24/7 job.

“I’m president of Petrie (conference), and really, we’re at it everyday,” he said. 

“It’s not unusual for my phone to be ringing on Saturday or Sunday. 

“Because when people are in trouble, it doesn’t matter what day it is, they need help.”

Vinnies Queensland state president Dennis Innes said it was the charity’s 9000-plus members and volunteers who were key to helping thousands of struggling Queenslanders each year.

“We assisted more than 331,500 Queenslanders last financial year and gave more than $231 million in service and support to families and individuals in need,” he said.

“We couldn’t achieve this without our dedicated members and volunteers who give freely of their time, making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged Queenslanders.”

Speaking ahead of the event on Sunday, St Brigid’s Red Hill and Rosalie Sacred Heart Conference president Richard Robinson said he was honoured to carry on the legacy of those first Vinnies volunteer members in Queensland – some of whom visited the struggling members of the community, handing out money for food and clothing.

“Times may have changed but our work helping people in need in this part of Brisbane hasn’t, we’re still here 125 years later when those who are doing it tough are in need of our help,” Mr Robinson said.

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