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Neighbors helping neighbors the Vincentian Way


February 25, 2022

What is a conference? Who are members?

In 1925, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul began serving in Madison at St. Bernard Catholic Church and Holy Redeemer Church. Each parish formed a conference of members dedicated to providing help to people in need. Ninety-seven years later, the Society continues to serve in Dane County with 18 member conferences which together make up the District Council of Madison. Today, each conference is located at a Catholic church.

“I wanted some hands-on work to help people, not just talking about helping people,” Ed Emmenegger, Blessed Sacrament (Madison) conference member, said, “It lets me put what’s in my heart into action.”

One way Society members provide relational care and support is by visiting people in their homes. A person in need calls for help and two conference members go to their home to hear their story and learn what assistance they need. “I like how respectful home visits are,” Jeanne Bauhs, Our Lady Queen of Peace (Madison) conference member, said, “We’re just showing someone that people care when they are down and out.” Often, the conference will help with rent, utility bills, or other financial needs, and direct that person to additional resources that may provide support, including the District Council and its programs of assistance.

In 1941, the church conferences established what is now the District Council, to operate larger programs than any conference could manage on its own. The “Special Works” of the District Council include all our programs and resources you know about today! These include our customer choice Food Pantry, Charitable Pharmacy for uninsured adults, housing programs for men, women and children, Vinny’s Lockers long-term goods storage, and our seven St. Vinny’s Thrift Stores. The District Council may also provide additional funds to help people whose needs exceed a conference’s ability to help.

“It’s great to have real assistance as part of an organization,” Mike Meehan, St. Thomas Aquinas (Madison) conference member, said, “We couldn’t do all this as an individual or a church, but we can do big things as part of a larger group.” Beyond home visits, conference members provide volunteer service at various St. Vincent de Paul — Madison events throughout the year, run food drives, help with our Recycle the Warmth blanket drive and more!

“I encourage others to get involved in whatever way they can,” Brenda Welhoefer, Saint Ann (Stoughton) conference member, said, “Even if you can’t be a home visitor, you can donate, you can raise money, you can volunteer, you can donate things you no longer need. It’s all done by local people for local people.”


Are you interested in becoming a member? Email Membership Director Gayle Westfahl at


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