With the 150th anniversary of the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s Portland ministry approaching, Veronica Kennedy was devoting more than her usual over-the-top energy last month to wrapping up a symbolically important task.

Kennedy, the Portland council’s liaison to 49 parish-based conferences, was working with leaders at St. Mary Cathedral to relaunch that parish’s long-dormant conference. The timing of a launch this fall would be exquisite: the Portland chapter’s anniversary celebration is pegged to the Oct. 12, 1869, start of the city’s first St. Vincent conference, at Cathedral Parish.

Mission accomplished. Volunteer leaders are now in the process of defining their fledgling chapter’s works of mercy in Portland’s downtown community.

Kennedy played a crucial role in the relaunch, says Msgr. Patrick Brennan, the cathedral’s pastor. “Veronica gave me the confidence that we could get this going and that it would grow,” Brennan says. “We just needed to get the volunteers.”

Kennedy’s active involvement at St. Mary Cathedral is no surprise to leaders in other conferences scattered among five Northwest Oregon counties. She is the face of St. Vincent de Paul’s district office to many of the 2,200 Vincentians who provide food, rent, utility assistance and other basic necessities in their communities.

Her job takes her to countless chapter, regional and districtwide meetings of volunteer leaders for exchanges of questions and challenges. She fills multiple roles as a bridge-builder between conferences, a trouble-shooter helping resolve local conflicts, and a recruiter of chapter leaders. At times she plays the “bad cop” role as enforcer of changing rules and policies coming from district, national and even international offices or the Oregon Food Bank.

“I get to work with amazing Vincentians,” says Kennedy, who often finds herself helping clients and volunteers deal with personal struggles. “Every time I do, I am touched spiritually.”

Brian Ferschweiler, the St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council’s executive director, says Kennedy “goes above and beyond” what her job requires. “She embraces what St. Vincent de Paul stands for,” he says. “She lives it.” Kennedy’s extra effort includes working as a volunteer food pantry team leader at Holy Redeemer Church, her home parish in North Portland.

She began as a volunteer 32 years ago after a neighbor encouraged her to help out at Holy Cross Parish in North Portland. That neighbor, Janice Pelster, later become the Portland council’s executive director. Kennedy volunteered at both Blessed Sacrament and Holy Redeemer parishes as she and her husband, Pat, were raising their five children.

When her husband died of cancer in 1994, Kennedy took a break from volunteer service. One year later, Holy Redeemer’s pastor put out a call from the pulpit for St. Vincent volunteers. Kennedy’s son Scott, then 11 years old, tapped her and said: “That means you, Mom.” To Kennedy, the “invitation to serve” coming from the pulpit meant that God was calling her back to her service work.

Kennedy joined St. Vincent’s staff in 2002. She says her struggles after her husband’s death help her relate to the people that St. Vincent de Paul serves. “I have been in the same chair that some of our poor people have been in,” she says. “I’ve been down the road.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy shows no signs of slowing down. “I want to do what I feel I am called to do,” she says. “I feel this is part of my spiritual journey.”

Oliver is vice president of the St. Vincent de Paul conference at Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland.