of the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul
Ozanam - Founder of the Society
"Conference of Charity," from which the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul sprang, was founded in Paris in April, 1833 by a few
young men and a Catholic publicist. The principal founder was a man
of twenty years of age, hailing from Lyons, named Frederic Ozanam.
short time after his arrival in Paris, Ozanam found himself
unexpectedly the center of a little group of Catholic students. The
atmosphere after the July revolution was stormy. The battles of
ideas were lively. AU these young men took part in the battles,
chiefly in a society called the Conference of History, which met
under the auspices of Joseph Emmanuel Baily, founder of the Tribune
Catholique and a one-time fellow-worker of Lammenais.
this society Ozanam and his friends encountered one day an objection
flung in their teeth: "You praise the Church to us as the
benefactor of humanity., That was true in former times, but what are
you doing in our times for the people? What do you provide for
them?" This reproach caused them to think.
did not suffice, then, to believe in or even to defend the faith; it
was necessary to study its activity. It was not enough to adore the
God of the Gospel, it was necessary to follow Him; it was necessary
to love and assist His children in need. Thereupon one of the
students attached to the Conference
of History, Augustus Le Taillandier, asked himself whether it would
not be possible to bring together a small number of the Christian
members, not for the purpose of discussion but for action, to set up
a "Conference of Charity."
Ozanam seized on
the idea at once. It fulfilled one of his dearest wishes, namely to
set up for these "birds of passage," those students taken
away from their parental homes, a center for Christian friendship.
of Charity would be at once an intimate and cheerful circle,
radiating healthy youthfulness, where those who had left home would
find new life and the means by which they could both help one
another and exercise a form of charity within their Conference which
would be modest, intelligent and practical.
decision was made by the students to form a "Conference of
Charity," there was no delay in proceeding. A publisher,
Emmanuel Bailly, was contacted; busy as he was in publishing
material and relieving spiritual miseries which abounded in the
city, he approved of the project and accepted the direction of the
new group which consisted of Frederic Ozanam, Joseph Emmanuel Bailly,
Francois Lailier, Augustus Le Tallandier, Paul Lamache, Felix Clave,
and J. Devaux.
of First Conference
Our founders were very far from foreseeing that their first meeting,
in the offices of Bailly's Tribune Catholique, was to be the origin
of an institution destined to last and to extend. It is not
surprising, then, that their memory should not have retained all the
circumstances relating to that first meeting.
What is for us
most important is the date of the first meeting; from the report of
the first meeting the date Tuesday, April 23, 1833 is named in two
places. The offices of the Tribune Catholique were located at No.
18, rue de Petit-Bourbon-Saint Sulpice. Today, No. 18 rue de Petit-
Bourbon bears the address No. 38, rue Saint-Sulpice; this is the
cradle of our Society.
At this first
meeting, the seven members simply resolved to bring some assistance
to- homes of a few poor persons. Sister Rosalie, of rue de
Mouffetard, obtained the first addresses of these poor, and lent the
It will be seen
that the students of 1833 thought neither of founding a big
organization nor of participating in a widespread campaign against
misery. They wished to help one another to remain faithful to their
baptismal promises and to carry out supported by their mutual
friendship, one of the essential duties of the Christian life.
ideas were quite in keeping with the tradition of St. Vincent de
Paul whom the little Conference chose as their patron at an early
stage. St Vincent who accomplished such great things, never
proclaimed high ambitions.
astonishing creations began in small waves and their growth was the
result of time and necessity. So it was with the Society which bears
It was born at
an opportune time. With objects and methods exclusively religious,
interests entirely social and completely sundered from old- time
political parties, its program harmonized with the ideals of a large
section of Catholic youth.
the Conference developed very rapidly. The founders were surprised
and even a little troubled. What was going to become of the intimacy
of their meetings? Ozanam, alone, appears to have understood the
possibilities of the apostolate which success brought into being.
end of the first year the Conference in Paris had grown to the point
where it needed to divide into several sections. It became necessary
to set up a "Council of Management." When the development
of the organization led to the establishment of intermediary links
between the Conference and Council, the Council assumed the title of
"Council General." It also became necessary to draw up a
Rule. This was drawn up and formulated in 1835. The drawing-up of
the general principles was the work of Bailly; the Articles of the
Rule were prepared by Lallier.
The first Annual Report of the first Conference was stated in
correspondence from Ozanam to Cumier in February, 1835 to have been
lost. Read at the general meeting of the 27th of June, 1834, it had
for its author Gustave de la Noue, member of the Conference of
History, friend of Ozanam, whose ideas he reflects. He was
introduced to it at the third or fourth session by Lallier, who,
supported by Ozanam, overcame the hesitations of the other founders
about expanding the Society.
report has probably been handled by several persons who did not
realize its importance. It does not seem to have been searched for.
Structural alterations made in the offices of the Council General in
1947 and the results of several changes of residence had upset, to
some extent, our archives. A Paris brother, a conservator of the
devoted himself to
a fresh classification of the documents. In a miscellaneous bundle
of papers he found this little copybook. He at once recognized it
and in this way has restored to us our most ancient annual report
which went astray 120 years ago. This report takes up 18 pages and
is in the somewhat romantic style characteristic of La Noue. Ozanam
had certainly inspired certain parts of it.
of the Society
1833 and 1860 the growth of the Society was rapid; not only young
intellectuals but Christians of every class were eager to do some-
thing to improve the lot of the people. After spreading throughout
France, the Society reached into Italy (Rome) in 1842; England in
1844; Belgium, Scotland and the United States in 1845; Germany,
Holland, Greece, Turkey and Mexico in 1846; Canada and Switzerland
in 1847; and Austria and Spain in 1850. The Society from that time
onward was built on a solid foundation.
Holy See approved of its aims and methods, and at the end of 1845
enriched it with precious Indulgences.
years after Its foundation, the Society throughout the world
comprised about 2,500 Conferences embracing 50,000 members. Its in-
come amounted to almost four million francs.
The period from 1860 to 1870
was a critical one for our Society, especially in France. On the one
hand, the parallel progress of luxury and materialism caused men's
minds to grow colder. On the other, the public authorities, in
particular the French Empire, and later the Spanish Republic, took
measures against the Society which they wrongly regarded as a
possible center of opposition. With the dissolution by force of law
of the Council General, many French Conferences disappeared.
Nevertheless, a certain amount of progress was shown elsewhere,
chiefly in North and South America.
1870 the Council General, having fully resumed its activity, devoted
itself to repairing the losses in France and to renewing the links
with other countries. The fiftieth anniversary (1883) was solemnly
the eve of the World War, in 1913, the results achieved were
manifested in the course of the jubilee celebrations which marked
the centenary of the birth of Ozanam.
spite of the breaking off of diplomatic relations between France and
the Holy See, St. Pius X arranged to be represented in Paris by a
Cardinal Legate. The statistics of that year, 1913, showed 8,000
Conferences, 133,000 members and
that fifteen million francs had been distributed to the poor.
The War of
1914-1918 gave an opportunity to the Brothers of the St. Vincent de
Paul Society to exercise their devotedness both to civilian
casualties and to prisoners.
latter, Conferences were started in certain German camps. But the
mobilization dried up recruitment and economic difficulties
With the coming
of peace, much ruin was evident, especially in the countries which
had been the principal theatres of operations. In the endeavor to
restore things, the Society made every effort to adapt its pro- gram
and methods to the new social conditions and to penetrate into
places where it was hitherto unknown.
Japan, the Malayan Archipelago, Indo-China, Burma, India, Sri Lanka,
Madagascar, and East Africa saw Conferences established or
multiplied. The United States of America now counted as many
Conferences as France itself.
celebrations in 1933 consummated this world-wide expansion, since no
less than 33 nations were represented at them. His Eminence Cardinal
Verdier, who presided in the capacity of Papal Legate, was greeted
on this occasion by representatives of the public authorities.
there were about 20,000 Conferences with an active member- ship of a
quarter of a million. In September 1953, the Society solemnly
commemorated the centenary of the death of Frederic Ozanam under the
presidency of His Eminence Cardinal Feltin, Archbishop of Paris,
Legate of the Holy Father, with the participation of delegates from
all countries of the Christian world where the Society existed.
These festive meetings have drawn closer the fraternal bonds
existing between even the most distant countries and have
strengthened the Society's approach to the mission undertaken by our
International meeting of the Society in Paris, 1960, the Council
General embarked on an extension and development program throughout
the world. The idea of adopting Conferences between Nations was
initiated; this later led to self-help projects, assistance in times
of National disaster, and, finally, Council to Council adoptions.
This plan led to the International Congresses in Europe, South
America and S.E. Asia in order to develop a closer liaison and
knowledge of our Society between members in many countries. The
International meeting of National Presidents in Paris, 1960 was
followed by similar assembles in Paris
(1963), Paris (1967),
Dublin (1973), Paris (1979), Montreal (1986), and Paris (1992).
The Society is
still expanding throughout the world and at the present time (1995),
it is established in about 130 countries with about 875,000 members.
In 1983, the Society celebrated its 150th anniversary with
world-wide. The Society has had for International Presidents
General-. Joseph Emmanuel Bailly (1833-1844) and after him Jules
Gossin (1844-1847); Adolphe Baudon (1847-1883); Antonin Pages
(18&3-1902); Paul CaHon (1902-1913); Vicomte d'Hendecourt
(1913-1924); Henri de Verges (1924-1943); Jacques Zeiller
(1943-1954), Pierre Chouard (1955-1969); Henri Jacob (1969-1975);
Joseph Rouast (1975-1981); Amin A. de Tarrazi (1981-1993); and
Ceasar A. Nunes-Viana (1993-).
Society in the United States
first Conference in the United States was organized at the
"Old" Cathedral (Church of St Louis of France) in St
Louis, Missouri on November 20, 1845. Both clergy and laity had
important roles in these beginnings. The Society's Rule was brought
from Ireland by Rev. John Timon Oater to become the Bishop of
Buffalo) who gave a copy to Archbishop Peter R. Kenrick. The rafter
brought the idea to the attention of his assistant priest Rev.
Ambrose Heim, affectionately known as the "Little Priest of the
Poor." He catalyzed the early organization of the Society. Dr.
Moses Linton, a prominent physician and convert to the faith, was
elected president of the nascent group. Bryan Mullanphy, widely
known for his wealth and philanthropies, served as vice president.
Application for affiliation with the SVDP parent union followed
quickly and the American unit was aggregated by the Council General
on February 2, 1846.
as Vincentianism had spread throughout France with spontaneous
enthusiasm, so also was the movement quickly and widely supported in
the United States. Early foundations included New York 1847; Buffalo
1847; Milwaukee 1849; Philadelphia 1851; Pittsburgh 1852; Louisville
1853; Brooklyn 1855; St. Paul 1856; Chicago and Washington D.C.
1857; New Orleans 1858; Dubuque 1859; San Francisco 1860; Boston
1861; Baltimore 1864; Cleveland 1865; Cincinnati and Portland 1869;
and San Antonio
1871. To New York belongs the distinction of having organized the
first District Council in this country, in March, 1857.
towards national unification proceeded slowly. After 1860, several
major Vincentian centers developed, each reporting directly to the
international headquarters. From time to time general assemblies
were convened, the first of which took place in New York in 1864. In
1915 the seven major independent jurisdictions - New York, St.
Louis, New Orleans, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn -
agreed to form a single national body; and the Superior Council of
the United States was officially instituted by Paris on June 7,
inauguration ceremonies took place at the Catholic University of
America on November 21, 1915. Thomas Mulry, "The American
Ozanam," served as the Council's first president. He died the
following year and was succeeded by George Gillespie, who held the
post for many years and under whom the Society continued to
experience notable growth.
U.S. National President has been associated with a particular phase
of Vincentian organization or activity: Thomas Mulry (1915-16),
ecumenical cooperation with others; George Gillespie (1916-1952),
expansion of the Society; Borgia Butler (1952-1956), introduction of
presidential tenure; George Heneghan (1956-1969), twinning
arrangements with SVDP in Third World countries; T. Raber Taylor
(1969-1975), introduction of women into the Society in the United
States; Howard Halaska (1975-1981), Council Leadership development;
John Simmons (1981-1987), reorganization of National Committee
structure; John Coppinger (1987-1993), establishment of permanent
national headquarters; and Joseph Mueller, elected in 1993, who
focused on developing adherence to the Rule, strengthening the
spiritual life of members of the Society, and encouraging the
Society to be an advocate for those we serve.
The story of the
Society in the United States constitutes a significant chapter in
Catholic social action and awareness in the developments of the
Catholic Charities movement. In the beginning, Vincentian efforts
were largely at the parish level. These contacts, however,
acquainted members with the broader needs and problems of struggling
immigrant groups. Solicitude for the immigrant impelled Vincentians
to investigate and try to change conditions in public life that were
prejudicial to the faith of Catholics. The Society founded or helped
to establish such institutions as the Catholic Protectory in New
York, the Industrial School for Boys in Chicago, St. Vincent's Home
for Boys in New Orleans. Vincentians established boys' clubs,
libraries, and home-finding bureaus; they worked with juvenile
officers to provide rehabilitation rather than punitive care for
interesting to note that, just as the Society was the first to
challenge public child care policies that were hostile to the rights
of Catholic children, so also was the Society among the first to
recognize the many genuine contributions of non-Catholic and secular
organizations and to effect with such groups sound and cordial
Msgr. John O'Grady, generally recognized as a significant Catholic
Charities leader, credits the Society with being a prime originator
and sustaining force in developing among Catholics a consciousness
of national socio-religious problems and the need for a national
response. Vincentians became in fact the backbone of the National
Conference of Catholic Charities when it was first established in
1910. The two organizations have maintained strong ties throughout
their separate but closely associated histories.
Society continues to show modest and steady growth and remains an
influence in more than one-fifth of the operating parishes in the
United States. It is represented in every diocese.
emphasis on recruitment of youth and youth programs form the basis
for the Society's capacity to serve in the future.
Vincentians try to ease the burden of suffering they do so with a
scrupulous devotion to the protection of the privacy and dignity of
those they serve. At the same time the Society recognizes that it
must assume a role of advocacy for those who are defenseless or
unable to speak for themselves.
is important that a growing number of individuals know of the
Society's work and are moved to participate by sharing themselves
and their means in furthering this cause.
from United States Manual of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul,
1995 pgs 7 - 14)