August 4, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Volunteer group helps sisters care for Vietnamese orphans

Several months ago, I wrote a column about the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C.

Reader response told me there are Catholic conscientious objectors to that war or any war.

I understand this, even though I support men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces, and I respectfully mourn and pray for them and their families when lives are lost.

This reminds me of how elated I was when listening to church bells chime relentlessly after the end of the Vietnam War, and how pleased I was when recently learning that good Americans still contribute to peace in that country in practical ways.

Californian Dave Chaix spent 1967-68 in Vietnam’s Central Highlands with the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division. Earlier this year, he returned to visit the Sisters of the Miraculous Medal in Kontum, bringing them sewing machines for two orphanages.

There, the sisters teach “life skills.” They also provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care and education to more than 450 orphaned Montagnard children. The Vinh Son Montagnard Orphanages (VSO) are also called Vinh Son or Vinson to honor St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of the Daughters of Charity, from which the Sisters of the Miraculous Medal are an offshoot.

Chaix, president of Friends of VSO, has been working with orphans and caregivers for five years. He and Californian Pat Keegan, a VSO board member, also delivered medical supplies, vegetable seeds, thread, toothbrushes, toothpaste, balloons, candy and toys from various donors.

“Propeller toys were a big hit,” said Keegan. The children considered them “cherished possessions.” The toy distribution created a family feeling—“a tribute to the great job the sisters are doing.”

While there, Chaix and Keegan noticed that children had no fresh bread. The bakery had burned, so they provided money for a new bakery. (It’s interesting to note that the machines and accessory needs were bought in Vietnam so that there would be no transportation costs. When these men go abroad, they pay all their expenses so that VSO funds only benefit VSO.)

The organization’s Web site——is fascinating. It identifies key persons in this ecumenical organization (which includes Catholics), and explains more than I could ever include in this space. It features beautiful photographs and a “virtual video” of the people and children in that area.

Perhaps some readers will wonder why I am featuring this charity. It is because there are many faces and many sides to war and its aftermath.

This project proves that Americans still care. How appropriate it would be if we—especially Vietnam veterans or families losing loved ones in the war—could help VSO and the Sisters of the Miraculous Medal do God’s work.

Information is available on the Web site, and personal questions can be answered by sending an e-mail to

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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