You might have seen them at special events in the archdiocese wearing their flowing capes — the men wearing felt berets and the women fine lace mantillas.
But who are they, and what do they represent in the Church?
They are Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a sacred Catholic order, including both laity and clergy, with direct ties to the Vatican. Their purpose: to preserve and promote the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
Members are invested into the organization by recommendation from their local pastor and ordinary, which ultimately is approved by the grand prior, an appointed bishop who represents the Vatican in an administrative function, and then Rome.
“People may think that we’re into preserving the buildings and monuments, and those are important, but really our purpose is to sustain and support the Christian community there,” said George Zirnhelt, lieutenant of the order’s Northern Lieutenancy in the United States, which is composed of eight states, including Missouri. “That is the birthplace of our faith. If we can’t survive there, we’re in trouble.”
Several programs offered by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are helping to provide those in need with options in their health care.
The Pharmacy Program, which was initiated in January 2008, provides free prescriptions to those who can’t afford them. The Society has partnered with St. Louis-based Express Scripts to provide more than 160 drugs for blood pressure issues, diabetes, and to help clients quit smoking, among others. The program does not offer artificial contraceptives.
In the first year of the program, more than 2,100 prescriptions were filled, according to Steve Rupp, director of conference support for the St. Louis Council. More than 1,600 prescriptions already have been filled in 2009.
“This was really started as a pilot — we have meetings with Vincentians on a regular basis, and we were asking them what their needs were,” said Rupp. “Many of them said with the rising cost of prescription drugs, this is becoming a real issue” for the clients. “They tell us, ‘Do I take my medicine or do I eat?’”
The goal is to help low-income seniors remain in their homes by providing volunteer labor to make their homes safer and more accessible.
For the last couple years, the Good Works Program of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has met that goal. For example, the program assisted 97 clients from mid-June through July.
Good Works provides seniors with basic home maintenance and repair. The program was initiated with funds from two grants, one from the Daughters of Charity Foundation of St. Louis and the other from the Citigroup Foundation. Ryan Carney, development director of the society, said he drafted the grant proposal in response to the increasing rate of injuries sustained by seniors in their homes.
A summertime blitz called the Big Crew Season, which included more than 100 projects, included help from the Catholic Heart Work Camp, Young Neighbors in Action, Project Life of the archdiocesan Catholic Youth Apostolate’s Office of Youth Ministry and the Week of Hope Group Work Camp.
He was concerned that he would end up dying on the streets.
Homeless for many years, the former college professor with a doctorate in chemistry had done a turnaround after hooking up with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Project More, which provided an apartment and support. He had been addressing his issues with alcohol and was considering work as a tutor.
A couple months ago he confided in case worker Joe Piskulic about his fear, noting he had spent so much time on the streets and had seen what death was like there.
A few weeks ago, Piskulic stopped by the apartment for a visit and found the man had died from a heart attack.
“He didn’t die in the street. That was his wish. He died with dignity,” Piskulic said, adding that for every five years a person is homeless on the streets he ages 25 years. “It took a real toll on him.”