Finding Christ in brokenness
By Tony Rossi
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is known as a global force for good because of the services and human kindness they provide to people in need. Michael Vanderburgh is now helping to further that mission even more in his Dayton, Ohio community by becoming its executive director there. It’s a job he took because he felt drawn to it as a Catholic. But Vanderburgh is also someone whose faith journey has not been a straight line because he is a survivor of child sexual abuse by a priest. His struggles, however, have made him the perfect person to help those in vulnerable situations.
During an interview on “Christopher Closeup,” Vanderburgh said, “Over my lifetime…where I felt the presence of Jesus Christ the most was in my accompaniment of the poor.” In his work, he oversees Dayton’s Vincentian volunteers who commit their lives to accompanying and serving the poor, running food pantries and two homeless shelters, and keeping residents in their homes if possible. Recently, a family came to the Society because the 11 members of their household were facing eviction. The Society not only helped them stay in their home, but also guided them in seeking assistance from both private and government groups that could stabilize their situation.
Vanderburgh admits that he is a cradle Catholic whose faith was always in the background, but he wasn’t a regular fixture at Sunday Mass like he is today. He credits his mother “with being the strong, stable foundation for my faith.” But over time, he says, “I’ve learned to know the love of Christ and to fully embrace my faith as my brokenness allows.”
Part of that brokenness stems from the fact that during his childhood, Vanderburgh was sexually abused by a priest. Being able to move forward from that experience without losing his faith was difficult, but he learned to differentiate the Church as the mystical Body of Christ from the fallible human beings who run it.
Vanderburgh says, “Through grace, I came to the realization that what Christ has planned for His church is not necessarily represented by the humans that make it up at any given point...And so that humility, to recognize that God has challenged us to work together to spread His Gospel, that means that I have a responsibility, even as someone who was hurt by the Church; I have a responsibility to do what I can to live my life and to help lead others in a similar way that brings us closer to God.”
In the end, Vanderburgh has his share of scars from the past, but he sees them as a link with the people he serves through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, who have also struggled and endured. He concludes, “We have to remember that God humbled Himself to come among us in a vulnerable fashion: a baby in a manger. How much more vulnerable can you get than that? And not only that, He witnessed in a very public way in His adult ministry how to be vulnerable, and how to endure suffering, and how to make that part of understanding what God is; what is love, how do we understand the depth of love apart from suffering? How do we understand light apart from darkness? So this theme is really important to me in my Christian experience, and I hope that my work and my ministry helps others discover the same.”
Tony Rossi is director of communications, The Christophers
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