The St Vincent de Paul Society is integral to the Church’s outreach to the poor. BRIAN MOORE writes about his 40 years as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society and about the influence of the society on his childhood
IN talking about the St Vincent de Paul Society I’ll have to go right back to when I was five-years-old. That was in 1941 during the Second World War.
We lived at Kelvin Grove in Brisbane. It was a very hard time for my Mum and Dad trying to provide a roof over a family of seven children and put enough food on our plates.
At that time my father was employed as an insurance salesman.
In those days, the only money an insurance salesman got was a commission on what policies he sold, and not many people were keen on buying insurance during the war years.
With Dad not earning a regular wage it was very difficult for the family to make ends meet.
There certainly were no Social Service benefits to write home about, and our family had to exist on whatever Dad could earn, which wasn’t much.
To supplement his income, he had a horse and cart and he’d cut down branches of trees and make them into clothes props which he used to sell for two shillings (two bob) each to people to prop up their clothes lines. This was before Hills Hoists were invented.
My twin brother Les and I used to go out in the cart with him and we’d be shouting out as loud as we could “Props 2 bob each – props 2 bob each!” We were amazed at the number of people who purchased them.
My mother was a seamstress. She was a good tailoress, but in those days married women didn’t work but stayed at home and looked after their family.
The men from the local St Vincent de Paul Society used to come to our house from time to time to help Mum and the family out with some of life’s necessities.
They would also supply Mum with material for our school uniforms.
In addition they would give Mum material for her to make school uniforms for other needy families that went to the convent.
We weren’t Catholics at that time, but because St Vincent de Paul and the nuns were so good to Mum and the family, she had us all baptised Catholics – except Pop until about six months before his death at the age of 82.
After finishing school at St Laurence’s College, I went to work for a couple of years, at 18 becoming an honorary bearer with the Queensland Ambulance Transport Brigade in Brisbane.
I then met Beverley at the Alderley Theatre and we married in 1955.
During this period, as an ambulance officer in Brisbane, I had to go to the morgue one evening and identify my twin brother Les who was killed in a motor accident.
He was 28, and my mother was critically injured in the same accident.
To see Mum come out of that with broken legs and fractured skull was a very, very low point in my life.
My mother was a wonderful role model for me as a caring person … she was beautiful.
After 11 years with the QATB in Brisbane I was promoted to superintendent of the Dirranbandi centre in south-west Queensland in January 1966.
My career in the ambulance service lasted 38 years, of which 26 were spent as a serving superintendent.
The parish priest Fr John Bennett came round to me one night soon after our arrival at Dirranbandi and said, “Brian, you should join the local St Vincent de Paul conference”. That’s when my involvement with Vinnies began – over 40 years ago.
My wife Beverley became involved with the society at Dirranbandi in 1970.
She’s still an active conference member and shop co-ordinator after 37 years.
As a Vincentian you get some very sad requests for assistance but you also get some humorous ones.
For example, a fellow wrote us a letter saying he had a problem and could we visit him about 30km away.
He didn’t want to talk about it in the letter but he said “sitting here and talking to you I could explain it better”.
I was at Beaudesert then, and we went out to see him. When we pulled up at his place, the dogs were barking and the house was about 100m off the road.
I heard this fellow yelling out “What in the hell do these so and so’s want?”
Then, I yelled out, “We’re from St Vincent de Paul. You wrote us a letter”.
He invited us into the lounge room. Over a cup of tea he explained his problem.
“I’m a very lonely man and St Vincent de Paul has a very good name and you say you can always help people no matter what their circumstances,” he said.
“Now I’m badly in need of a companion. I need a nice woman to love me and look after me.
I said to him “Where do you think we’re going to find her? There are a lot of lovely women but that’s really a job for you to do.”
Then I made him a deal.
“You know we’re always looking for volunteers,” I said.
“We have a big sorting centre at Beaudesert – you could come over on a regular basis and help us to do various chores like shifting bales of clothing and carry bits of furniture here and there.
“There are a number of unattached ladies who visit the centre and you’d be meeting them all and who knows, with your charisma you might find someone nice that you like, and at the same time you’d be helping Vinnies!”
“Yes, I’ll be in that” he said, but he never turned up.
When we called back he said, “Oh look, I’d be too embarrassed to do that. I’d rather you do that for me.” Anyway he didn’t come!
On a regular basis we would go to prisons to visit prisoners and to the hospitals to visit patients.
You’d go in and say you were from Vinnies and you’d have a chat.
We’ve had some wonderful successes. We’ve seen people get up on their feet for the first time, which is very rewarding.
We’ve done budgeting with people and it’s been wonderful to see them getting back to helping themselves again.
When I was superintendent at Beaudesert a woman came in and said to the administrative assistant at the counter, “I’d like to see Brian Moore; he belongs to St Vincent de Paul.”
Her face was bruised and she had her arm in plaster and she had two little children with her.
We arranged for her to go to a safe house.
We had her counselled and we had specialist people assist and look after her.
They relocated her into a house on the southern outskirts of Brisbane.
It appears she had left her partner and could no longer live in a domestic violence situation. She was pregnant and she wanted no more contact with him.
Finally, with Vinnies assistance, she’d got on her feet and she sent me a beautiful letter.
She said she was really happy and couldn’t thank St Vincent de Paul enough.
As Vincentians we don’t look for any thanks for the work we do, but the joy that we feel when we have assisted someone or a family to get up on their feet and to lead a dignified life is really wonderful.
I’ve been with Vinnies for 40 years and I’ve filled many roles, from conference member to diocesan president.
What stands out for me in all that time is the fellowship of my Vincentian brothers and sisters; that’s really a beautiful thing.
In conclusion I commend the Vincentian vocation to any person, young or old, who would like to help make a difference in someone’s life.
Footnote: Brian Moore was recently featured in an anthology by author Joan Burton-Jones Queenslanders All Over which pays tribute in the state’s sesquicentenary year to wonderful but often unknown Queenslanders.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.