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St. Vincent de Paul Together, we can make a difference

The St Vincent de Paul Society is part of an international Christian voluntary network dedicated to tackling poverty in all its forms by providing practical assistance to people in need. Founded in Paris in 1833 and in Britain in 1844, it fosters diverse and inclusive connections, as a Society that is welcoming of people of all faiths and none. They joyfully extend a hand in the care and personal service of individuals and families who need support.

Our thousands of members, motivated by faith, visit vulnerable or isolated people across the world and offer them friendship and practical support. The essence of our work is person-to-person contact and spending time with people is our greatest gift.

This is about The Global reach of St. Vincent de Paul and their kindness to a foreign teenager.

When I was 16 years old, in the summer of 1954, I decided to travel from my home in Edinburgh to join my mother, brother and stepfather in St. Helier Jersey, a British island off the coast of France. They were booked at a hotel which provided games, parties, dances and family activities. I was told that I would have to get my own accommodations, but I could join my family for events at their hotel.

It is a long way by bus from Edinburgh to London and then by bus to Southampton then by ferry to St. Helier, Jersey. I had saved enough money to cover tickets to Southampton and return to Edinburgh and 5 nights at a Bed and Breakfast close to the hotel where my mother was staying. My mother was paying for my ferry tickets.

After the overnight buses I slept in a deck chair on the overnight ferry from Sauthampton to Jersey.

When I arrived in St. Helier I found out that the hotel where my mother was staying would not let me join my family for daily activities as I was not a paying guest at the hotel. I used up my time exploring St. Helier and learning all about its history and part in World War II. I walked all over the island and found my favourite spot high on a hill beside a building painted peach colour with a big advertisement for a women’s cosmetic company. The ad was a huge bumble bee stuck on the wall. I found myself quite often on a bench up there resting and enjoying the view.

I was invited to attend the last night’s dance at the posh hotel where my mother was staying, which was lovely, and then back to my B.& B. to get ready to leave in the morning.

The next day I was packed and ready to go to the ferry when my mother came to tell me that they did not have any money to pay for the ferry tickets back to England.

I was absolutely devastated. I had no more money to pay for another night at the Bed and Breakfast or to buy more food. I had to get back to Edinburgh to go back to work at Thomas Nelsons, publishers, where I was a junior clerk-typist. My mother was talking about having to find work for us on the island!!! I did not know what I was going to do.

This taught me not to depend on anyone else to take care of my expenses (I should have bought my own ferry ticket) - make sure that the outcome of any travel is secured by your own hand. That applies to your whole life really.

I wandered off to my spot up on the hill and sat on my bench praying to God that I would think of something I could do. There was no one else to contact. My older brother 20 and sister 22 were in Edinburgh and we had no phone, but I would not have asked them to help me – they had no money to spare – and how would they get it to me back then?

How my mother found me later that day is amazing - my landlady probably knew where I was. My mother did find me and told me she had the ferry tickets for the next day. I was over-joyed and remembered to thank God.

I still had to pay my landlady for one more night at the Bed and Breakfast and I had no more money. When I explained to her what had happened, she told me that I could send her the money when I got home and had enough to pay her.

My mother and step-father had spent all their money and had forgotten about the ferry tickets. Perhaps they thought the tickets they purchased to get to St. Helier, Jersey were return tickets and they were not.

When I asked my mother where she got the money to pay for the ferry tickets, she told me St. Vincent de Paul had purchased the ferry tickets for her. I was able to send the one pound one shilling back to my Bed and Breakfast when I got my next wage packet back in Edinburgh.

I was a Scottish Presbyterian and I knew nothing about the Catholic Church and this charitable, global organization. I now have many Catholic friends and when I visit their Churches, usually for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, I remember to make a donation to St. Vincent de Paul.

The St Vincent de Paul Society is part of an international Christian voluntary network dedicated to tackling poverty in all its forms by providing practical assistance to people in need.

I have never forgotten the relief and gratitude I knew when I was able to leave that island and get back to Edinburgh, home and my job because of the kindness of St. Vincent de Paul and their international reach.

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