Society of St.
Vincent de Paul
by Gospel values, the Society of St Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay
organization, leads women and men to join together to grow
spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and
suffering in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frederic
Ozanam, and patron, St Vincent de Paul.
reflection of the whole family of God, members, who are known as
Vincentians, are drawn from every ethnic and cultural background,
age group, and economic level. Vincentians are united in an
international society of charity by their spirit of poverty,
humility and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection,
mutually supportive gatherings and adherence to a basic Rule.
locally, Vincentians witness God's love by embracing all works of
charity and justice. The Society collaborates with other people of
good will in relieving need and addressing its causes, making no
distinction in those served, because in them Vincentians see the
face of Christ."
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Taken from chapter one of the United States Manual
of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Internal Faith -
Inspired by Gospel
values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay
organization, leads women and men to join together to grow
spiritually by offering person-to-person service to the needy and
suffering in the tradition of its founder, Frederic Ozanam, and its
patron, St. Vincent de Paul.
As a reflection of
the whole family of God, members are drawn from every ethnic and
cultural background, age group, and economic level. They are united
in an international society of charity by their spirit of poverty,
humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection,
mutually supportive gatherings, and adherence to a basic Rule.
into small working groups known as Conferences, members witness
God's love by embracing all works of charity and justice. The
Society collaborates with other people of good will in relieving
need and addressing its causes, making no distinction among those
served, because, in them, members see the face of Christ
specific ministry is to relieve suffering and to provide moral
support and Christian friendship on a person-to-person basis.
Whenever possible, this assistance is essentially local, adapted
according to the particular needs, places, and circumstances.
the home visit has been a major element in Vincentian
service. Assistance is not
limited to material need, but includes all activities to bolster and
advance the human spirit, such as visitation to the lonely, moral
encouragement, support for the down-trodden, and so forth. The
Vincentian members discover through home visitation the multiple
needs of the poor. To address these needs, the Society has developed
numerous special works. These include such ministries as the food
pantry clothing room, homeless shelter, thrift store and sheltered
Universal Lay Organization
The members of the
first Conference (the name given to the Society's basic unit of
organization), nearly all of them college students, dedicated their
spare time to helping needy families living in the neighborhood, not
only with gifts, but also and chiefly by fraternal contacts.
Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1995 comprises 46,400 Conferences
made up of 875,000 members, men and women, young people and adults,
"brothers and sisters," in 130 countries: 39 in Africa, 33
in the Americas, 22 in Asia, 27 in Europe, and 9 in Oceania.
Sharing Resources To
The Society of St.
Vincent de Paul is present in city, suburb, and rural area. Members
may themselves be of low means. All are tied together primarily by
the spirit and Rule of the Society and secondarily by the structure
of Councils and Conferences.
The Society is
enriched by the contribution of each individual, each culture, and
each tradition. Financial resources are shared readily and
generously throughout the Vincentian family, some members giving
from their surplus and others from their need.
Working Together In Time Of Tragedy
When a major
catastrophe occurs anywhere in the world - a flood, earthquake,
civil or foreign war - the emergency program of the Society is
activated. Funds are sent directly to the National Council or to the
Conferences of the stricken country for immediate relief
The Society realizes
that it does not have expertise in all areas of need. Its members
collaborate with organizations, agencies, and people of good will in
alleviating need. In all such collaborative relationships, the
Society maintains its autonomy and a focus on the involvement of its
members in person-to-person ministry.
Voice For The
Nationally, as well
as internationally, the Society is a voice of the poor. It avoids
involving itself in party politics, but it tries not only to
alleviate poverty but also to discover and remedy situations that
cause poverty. It does not and will not hesitate to take unpopular
stands in order to obtain justice and combat the alienation of the
is often material and emergency in nature, the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul supports and encourages recipients to become
personally empowered to be free from the need for on-going help.
While the Society's
strength is based on its personal contact with people in need, the
Society does not ignore that there are many systemic causes that
affect the poor. On such issues of social justice, the Society joins
its voice with the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the
United States Catholic Conference. While avoiding partisan politics,
the Society does not hesitate to share with legislative bodies the
combined and extensive experiences of its members in visiting the
poor in their homes.
The Society of St
Vincent de Paul is an activity of lay persons - of men and women who
are trying, in accord with their beliefs as followers of Jesus
Christ, to become fully human through caring and sharing. Responding
to local needs and conditions, members seek, together with those of
greater means, to apply the most effective solutions to the needs of
the poor and suffering, not by words, but by personal action.
The Manuals of the
Society - from the first version until now - have consistently
emphasized both the internal movement of faith and the external
action of charity. These are the essential elements of the
Conference of Charity, as the first Conference of the Society of St.
Vincent de Paul was called:
1) To bear witness
to Christ and to His Church by showing that the faith of Christians
inspires them to work for the good of humanity;
2) To bring together
men & women of good will and to assist them by mutual example and true
friendship in drawing nearer to the Divine Model by fulfilling His
essential precept; namely, the love of God in the person of others;
3) To establish a
personal contact between its members and those who suffer and to
bring to the latter the most efficacious and charitable aid
Show Me Your Works
It was this idea of bearing witness that
according to the Society's Youth" founder, Frederic Ozanam, was
decisive. For several years the young man from Lyons had dreamed of
a small group of friends working together in defense of the Catholic
religion. He thought for a while that he was realizing his dream
when, after his arrival in Paris, he enrolled in the Conference of
History, in which questions of the highest moment were freely
debated. He soon found himself leading a group of young Christians
who took an active part in the discussions. Now, one evening an
adversary replied to them:
Christianity in the past performed marvelous things but what are you
doing today? Where are the works which show your Faith?"
friends were given furiously to think. It was not enough to stand up
in defense of their religion. It was necessary to show the fruits of
the Faith they held. It was necessary to take positive action, to
bend over the bed of the sufferer; not only to adore the God of the
Gospels but to follow Him. The Conference of Charity was to be the
result of these reflections.
Along with the idea
of bearing witness, our founder wished by uniting his friends in the
Conference of Charity to promote their sanctification. From the time
of his arrival in Paris, he sought a means of helping, by an
organized Christian friendship, those "poor birds of
passage," the students who are thrown far from the protecting
warmth of the family hearth into the indifferent environment
sometimes hostile, always dangerous, of a great city.
The Conference of
Charity would be for them an intimate and cordial circle radiating
youth and health, where they would find shelter for their purity and
their faith, and at the same time an opportunity to exercise by
mutual assistance a charity within their means, modest, intelligent
and practical. Its
success was such that soon the little seed germinated and sent forth
an ever-growing abundance of shoots. Charity between the members
kept its position of importance; but the program had to be enlarged.
A simple and precise expression of this is to be found in the
Articles of the Rule. Prayers said together and mutual example are
the means offered for advancing in the love of Jesus Christ and of
His suffering members.
This love is
essentially a giving of oneself. The Society, in taking for its aim
the sanctification of its members, does not urge a self-centered
pursuit incompatible with the very idea of charity. A world peopled
with saints would certainly not be a selfish world. Ozanam, so
prompt to be moved at the sight of human wretchedness and so filled
with zeal in over- coming it, was also too well informed a Christian
to be held back even for an instant by the risk of such a distortion
of the true idea of charity. He believed in the Communion of Saints
and knew that, in the order of Grace, the merits of each assist the
good of all. The soul that raises itself raises the moral and
spiritual level of mankind. To help Christians to practice charity
towards one another; to cause to be born in them, by an
understanding of evil, the will to relieve it; and in doing so reap
the benefits of union and experience - such was one of the principal
aims of our founders. It is inscribed in our tradition.
Visiting The Poor in Their Homes
The third aim that Ozanam and his friends propose for themselves
was a corollary of these two others. Witness is of value only if it
is manifested in action, and action is not less necessary if the
aim of mutual support is to be realized. That is why the members of
the Conference of Charity, at their very first meeting, were led to
make the decision to practice visitation of the poor. This work has
remained the principal one in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and
all those which have since been added have the same characteristic
of direct and personal assistance.
It is this
activity that has made it easy to attract new members, that gave the
Society its first impetus and that has made possible its continuous
development. The program of visitation can, in fact, be set in
motion quietly and without complicated organization. It demands no
great expenditure either of time or money; it is adaptable to the
most diverse situations.
The personal contact
which visiting necessitates has the advantage of giving members an
actual knowledge of want, of widening their outlook, and of causing
them to undergo an apprenticeship in social service. Furthermore, it
brings about immediate relief of suffering which the best
legislative organization can neither prevent nor suppress. Finally,
it creates between visitor and visited an atmosphere of
friendliness, supernatural in its principle, humane in its
manifestations, salutary in every way for both. Ozanam saw in it an
opportunity and a duty for the members to play a role of appeasement
in social conflicts. We can, at least, be certain that friendly
contact softens the bitterness felt by those who need to accept
Our Society cannot
claim to abolish want. Neither its means, its structure, nor their
budgets are equal to such an ambition. If it were to direct all its
efforts to building up funds and the establishment of a powerful
organization of distribution, it would lose the features that assure
its efficacy in the spiritual field, a primary consideration with
it. But that does not mean that it should resign itself to giving
only a trifling assistance, inadequate to the needs and demands of
modern times. We could not radiate Christianity around us, we could
not cause the charity of the Divine Master to flourish in us, if we
were content to practice charity in a routine fashion and as it
were, in a paltry way.