Society Mission

 

Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Mission Statement:

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, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, and patron, St Vincent de Paul.

As a 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.

Organized 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."

 

Description of the
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 - External Charity 

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.

Organized locally 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

 

Person-to-Person Assistance 

The Society's 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.

Traditionally, 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 workshops.

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.

The 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 Help 

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

Cooperating With Other Organizations 

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 Poor 

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 poor.

Although assistance 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.

Action-Oriented Lay Organization 

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 possible.

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:

"Without doubt, Christianity in the past performed marvelous things but what are you doing today? Where are the works which show your Faith?"

Our young 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.

Mutual Assistance

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 help.

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.