Joe Mueller remembers as a child sitting with his mother and brother in his parents’ car while his father made home visits as part of his work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
It was around the 1940s and ’50s, when people were recovering from the Depression. Seeing his father’s care for others in need left an impression on him, said the now 83-year-old Mueller.
“They were having a hard time, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul would help them — very quietly,” he said. While there were never specific discussions about the clients receiving assistance, “I was profoundly grateful for his conduct and so proud of what he was doing.”
Mueller and his wife, Nancy, 81, of Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Webster Groves, were recipients of the Citizen Recognition Award from the Missouri Catholic Conference at its annual assembly Oct. 6. Each year, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops recognizes a Catholic citizen, couple or group from each of the four Missouri dioceses who exemplify good citizenship in promoting Catholic values in the public policy arena and in their local communities and parishes.
For more than six decades, Joe Mueller has given in service to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. He joined the conference at Little Flower Parish in Richmond Heights as a 21-year-old law student. It was just a month after his father unexpectedly died. Mueller’s mother asked him to take his father’s paperwork to the conference meeting, but at first he claimed being too busy as a new law student.
“There was a lawyer and two doctors who were members of the conference,” he recalled. “I thought boy, if they’ve got time, I’ve certainly got time to be an active Vincentian.”
Joe Mueller went on to reactivate the conference at Mary Queen of Peace in the 1960s. He also served as chair of the society’s Midwest region, first vice president of the Council of the United States (1987-93) and national president (1993-99). In 1999, he became the first vice president of the International Council of the Society in Paris, and served in that role until 2005. Mueller also attended the 1997 beatification Mass in Paris for Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who founded the society in 1833.
Nancy Mueller had an impression of serving others in need going back to her Catholic school days. An associate pastor at Holy Redeemer had started up the Legion of Mary for high schoolers. “That was extremely quiet,” she recalled. “You did not talk about that at all. They put on fashion shows and different things, and we raised money for the poor. It was — always think about others.”
She joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the 1970s, when women in the United States were first allowed to join the organization. She has also served meals to the poor through St. Patrick Center and the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen in north St. Louis — she still visits the soup kitchen regularly. For a quarter of a century, she organized her parish’s monthly casseroles for St. Patrick Center.
“Two ladies from St. Vincent de Paul came in and said St. Patrick’s was starting a casserole program,” she said. “We had to have 20 casseroles, so I said sure.”
The two of them have found the face of Christ in all of whom they have served over the years. Sometimes seeing Christ’s presence in others comes easily. And in some cases, it isn’t always as apparent — but both see that as an opportunity to go deeper with those whom they encounter.
A hidden aspect of the society, Joe Mueller said, is that its primary purpose is for Vincentians to seek sanctification — aka holiness. “People say, well, you’re a charitable organization and that’s true,” he said. “But we’re supposed to increase the personal sanctification of our members by serving those in need. No act of charity is foreign to the society. What am I doing? Am I helping this person? Am I doing what I should be doing?”