Several charter members of the St. Peter Parish conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Jefferson City set their sights on Dean Dutoi.
“My invitation was basically, ‘We’d like you to join,’” Mr. Dutoi recalled.
“‘... And we’d like you to be president.’”
With that, the now-retired nuclear technician was off on an adventure that has brought him into contact with people in need all over the Capital City, as well as people in several central and northeastern Missouri locales who want to help.
The Missouri Catholic Conference (MCC) honored Mr. Dutoi on Aug. 30 with its 2022 Citizen Recognition Award for the Jefferson City diocese, for his years of service to the local and regional conferences of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (SVdP) and the Church.
Each year, in bestowing the award, the MCC, public-policy agency of Missouri’s four Roman Catholic dioceses, “recognizes a Catholic citizen from each diocese who has exemplified good citizenship in promoting Catholic values in the public square.”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight presented this year’s award to Mr. Dutoi.
“Thank you, Dean, for helping our Church to be recognized as a center of charity and a sanctuary of mercy, not only among parishioners but also in the wider community, so close to the State Capitol in our faithful city,” Bishop McKnight stated.
“St. Vincent de Paul Society conferences are a very important structure for us — a mode of proclaiming the Gospel in not only how we worship but also in how we live,” the bishop said.
Mr. Dutoi served for over a decade as president of the SVdP local conference at St. Peter Parish and as founding president of the society’s North Central Missouri District Council.
“We’re ordinary people,” Mr. Dutoi noted. “But together, and with God’s help, we’re doing extraordinary things ... always mindful of our absolute dependence on God for the grace to do it.”
“A lot of hours”
Millie Aulbur, who nominated Mr. Dutoi for the award, pointed to several of his accomplishments as president of the St. Peter SVdP conference.
“It’s worth noting that Dean led the local St. Vincent de Paul response to the May 2019 tornado in Jefferson City and surrounding area,” Mrs. Aulbur wrote. “He coordinated the assistance received from a SVdP response team based in St. Louis. This required a lot of hours.”
She also highlighted his diligence and persistence in getting the regional SVdP district council established.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society is an international Catholic organization of lay men and women dedicated to helping its members grow spiritually and to addressing immediate needs in the community by offering person-to-person service.
The society has more than 900,000 members worldwide, spread among more than 46,000 conferences in 30 countries on five continents.
Five parishes in this diocese — Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia; St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City; St. Brendan Parish in Mexico; Immaculate Conception Parish in Montgomery City; and St. Pius X Parish in Moberly — have active SVdP conferences.
Each of these reflects the needs and resources of the parishes and communities they serve.
Each conference has active members, who carry-out most of the services; associate members, who help whenever they can; and contributing members, who offer financial and prayerful support.
Anyone in need is eligible for help, regardless of religious affiliation.
“We can’t fix everybody’s problems, but the people we do help, it makes a difference to them, and they are important,” said Mr. Dutoi.
“From God, through us”
Mr. Dutoi joined the St. Peter Parish SVdP in Jefferson City in 2012, a few years after its founding.
Members of the St. Peter conference logged over 200 hours of service and distributed over $47,000 to people in need in 2021.
Much of its assistance to people comes as new mattresses for children, help with utility bills, a monthly meal at the Salvation Army Center of Hope, and aid for stranded travelers.
Money for these activities comes from parishioners of St. Peter Parish and Cathedral of St. Joseph Parish, along with grants from the Three Rivers Electric Cooperative Foundation and gifts from various members of the community.
Members understand that they are encountering Christ in the people they serve, and commit to treating them with dignity and respect.
“We all see that there’s nothing we can do without God’s help,” Mr. Dutoi noted.
With his help, the conference uncovered specific needs that were not being met in the community and found sustainable ways to meet those needs.
For instance, it came to light over time that people living on the edges of financial security tend to move a lot.
“In doing so, many of them have to leave behind whatever they can’t fit in the back of their car or a friend’s car,” said Mr. Dutoi.
That often rules out mattresses, and children wind up sleeping on the floor.
“We have developed a relationship with different furniture places, to get twin-size mattresses and sometimes bedframes at a reduced price,” he said.
Volunteers deliver the mattresses.
“And while they’re there, they evangelize to people in a quiet and servant-oriented way,” Mr. Dutoi noted. “The people are aware that this comes from God, through us.”
Likewise, the conference has a helpful approach to giving utility assistance.
“When someone gets a disconnection notice from a utility, usually electric, it says, ‘If you don’t come up with this much money’ — not the whole bill, just something — ‘we’re going to shut you off,’” said Mr. Dutoi.
He noted that having a utility turned off is usually “the first domino of disaster.”
“When that happens, you can’t get reconnected unless you pay the entire bill, which is much, much more than the smaller amount, along with a huge deposit,” he said.
“Then, whatever home they live in is deemed uninhabitable,” he continued. “You can’t keep children there. Enter the Division of Family Services. It ends up breaking up families.
“So we step in to try to keep that from happening, to keep families together and help keep their finances from spiraling out of control,” he said.
Typically, SVdP will help someone pay the last $100 of whatever they need to keep their utilities from getting shut off.
“We work with them,” said Mr. Dutoi. “They have to do the bulk of the work to come up with the rest of the money. But we help make that work possible.”
People also need help with transportation.
“The recent spike in gas prices has been brutal,” Mr. Dutoi noted. “The cost of getting to and from work has been ruinous for people whose finances are already hanging on by a tread.”
The St. Peter SVdP conference has opened up an account at a local gas station, with authorization to give a certain amount of fuel to people the conference sends there.
“That can hopefully keep them rolling long enough to get another paycheck,” Mr. Dutoi said.
Regarding food, the council tried sponsoring monthly hot meals in St. Peter Parish’s fellowship hall.
Few people came, due to transportation and other logistical issues.
Members of the conference now pay for, prepare and serve a meal at the Salvation Army each month.
Volunteers who answer the phone also know where to send people in need of things the conference can’t provide.
This helps the local conference maximize its resources by minimizing duplication of services.
“It’s all about adapt and overcome, and ‘where is our niche?’” he said.
Mr. Dutoi noted that since the United States’ first SVdP conference was established in St. Louis in 1845, the society’s organizational structure has grown up around cities.
The scattered conferences in this diocese were not part of a district council, which brought added administrative burdens to each local conference’s officers and the national council.
Cooperating with people in the national headquarters, Mr. Dutoi helped organize the North Central Missouri District Council to serve all the current and future conferences in this diocese.
“It’s all about leveraging,” he stated. “It allows us to adapt the mostly urban model of organization to the geographical situation we have in our diocese.
“Having a district council helps with the paperwork at the local and the national levels,” he said. “Ideally, the better organized you are, the better your overall health is.”
Changing of the guard
Mr. Dutoi recently got “term-limited” out as president of St. Peter Parish’s SVdP conference.
Parishioner Mary Telthorst has succeeded him as president.
“I’m thrilled to have her as our leader,” said Mr. Dutoi. “She brings a different skillset, a wider skillset and a wider perspective than I have, and she’s doing great.”
He said that in accepting the MCC award, he was representing all the people in his parish who make SVdP work.
“The volunteers and the donors and the support of our pastor — none of this happens without them,” he said.
“I hope people see that I’m just an ordinary guy who fell in with a bunch of wonderful people in the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and we’ve been able to do extraordinary things together,” he said.
He emphasized that his wife, Carol, has been amazingly supportive of his work with St. Vincent de Paul.
“She’s been right here, all along,” he said. “During the tornado response, she was right there next to me, or running an errand to help the cause.”
Mr. Dutoi encouraged people — especially younger people — to volunteer as members of their local SVdP conferences or in other charitable efforts.
He noted that it’s usually to easier to recruit volunteers for specific tasks than for open-ended commitments.
“The challenge is convincing people to volunteer to do unnamed things,” he said, noting that both are essential for this kind of work.
“The pandemic really threw a grenade into so much of what we do,” he noted. “The needs never went away, but COVID made it that much harder to help address them.”
Mr. Dutoi asked for prayers, especially for future members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society: “for the strength and courage to step out of their comfort zone and do something they admire but normally wouldn’t do.”