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What is the St. Vincent de Paul Society?
The St. Vincent de Paul Society is a catholic lay organization, inspired by Gospel values, that leads men and women to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are 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. Organised 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.
Our Spiritual Values and Ethos
Our vision, which is inspired by Christ’s message to love our neighbour as ourselves, is for individuals and families who are in any form of need to have hope, together with a sense of dignity, worth, well being and peace of mind.
Our mission is to seek and find those in need, to help them in a spirit of justice and to tackle the causes of poverty.
We do this:
As members – in our active membership of local groups, through which we befriend and offer support, within our means, to any person in need.
As Staff – through working in or supporting projects indirectly that provide services to those in need and supporting the members in their work.
As a Society – by working together to provide a national, and international, network of support – by providing a range of projects which address particular needs for those who are economically disadvantaged – by working together with other Vincentian groups to raise awareness of the level of need and the causes of poverty.
Christ Centred The St. Vincent de Paul Society acknowledges the presence of Christ everywhere.
Compassionate We aim to show a compassion that is non- judgemental towards those with whom we work.
Respectful We respect the dignity of all in the knowledge that we are all equal.
Generous We aim to be generous with our time, our possessions and ourselves in the service of others.
Responsive We aim to be alert to the ever changing needs within the communities in which we work and to respond accordingly in order to alleviate poverty in all its forms as well as we can.
Accountable We recognise our accountability to those we seek to help; whilst acting within the limits of our own knowledge and skills.
Confidential We respect the confidentiality of those we help, whilst recognising that the physical and mental wellbeing of any vulnerable party must be always paramount.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society strives to achieve these values through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, through prayer, friendship, mutual support and encouragement.
How does the Society differ from other charitable organisations
The Mission Statement of the Society answers the question specifically. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is composed of men and women who seek their personal holiness through works of charity. In this essential way, the Society differs from the charitable associations or agencies whose principal objective is not the spiritual advancement of their members but the doing of good for someone else.
In his Circular Letter of December 12th 1915, Vecomte Hendecourt, President General writes
‘this Society has two aims: to do a great deal of spiritual good to its members through the exercise of charity, and to do a little spiritual and temporal good to a few poor families in the name of Jesus Christ. If it did not continually seek to combine these two aims, it would lose its raison d’etre. If we were to seek only the holiness of its members through pious exercises, there is no lack of Confraternities and Third Orders to meet that need. If on the other hand, it were to seek only the relief of the temporal miseries of the poor, it would only add one more to the list of public and private institutions founded for that purpose’.
The Mission Statement is clear; Vincentian Ministry is a means of acquiring holiness. Vatican II states that the principal means of holiness for bishops and priests is their ministry. This applies to the laity also, because, in attending to the needy and suffering a Vincentian is ministering to Jesus Christ Himself.
V.I.P Vincentians in Partnership.
The Founders of the Vincentian family, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise Marillac, Blessed Frederic Ozanam and Blessed Rosalie Rendu encountered Christ in the poor of their time. The God revealed in that encounter was a God of compassionate love. Through their relationships with people who were oppressed because of poverty, Frederic , Louise and Vincent were themselves transformed.
That transformation led them:
To look at society from the perspective of people who are excluded.
To become more compassionate and caring and
To a deep commitment to the elimination of poverty and suffering.
This highlights the specifically Vincentian way of approaching Justice issues. It emerges from the ‘bottom up’ not from the ‘top down’, being based on active involvement with the poor. In opening our hearts to people who are poor, it is our hope that we will be similarly transformed on a personal level, and inspired to work for the transformation of society in their interests.
The SVP supports justice and peace by encouraging communities and individuals to improve their quality of life, but works to address the causes of need. It gathers and uses information about the effects of legislation on grass roots poverty, examines relevant draft legislation and responds to government on issues that adversely affect the poor, mainly by co-operating with other Christian and voluntary groups in the UK and World Wide
The S.V.P. is part of the Vincentians in Partnership V.I.P., an umbrella organization set up to oppose structural injustice and foster collaboration among those organizations, groups, trust, charities and religious congregations which are influenced by the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul. The Vincentian Family is present in 103 countries worldwide with over 6million members.
The major organisations included in the Vincentian Family are:
Daughters of Charity, Vincentian Fathers, Vincentian Millennium Trust, Depaul (UK), St. Vincent de Paul Society (England & Wales), Society of St. Vincent de Paul (Scotland), Brothers of Charity, Company of Mission Priests, The Passage, Famvin – World Wide Vincentian family (international), International Association of Charities, Vincentian Service Corps (central and western USA).
In the UK membership organizations run over 1,845 projects, serving vulnerable sections of society, such as children and families, homeless, elderly, young people, those with disability or chronic illnesses, asylum seekers, migrants and those who are trafficked. Member organizations belonging to the Vincentian Family offer support and help to all regardless of age, religion. sexual orientation or ethnic background.
You can find out more about the global work of the Vincentian Family by visiting www.famvin.org.
Prayer of the Vincentian Family.
Lord Jesus, You who willed to become poor,
Give me eyes and a heart directed towards the poor,
Help us to recognise you in them-
in their thirst, their hunger, their loneliness and their misfortune.
Enkindle within our Vincentian family,
unity, simplicity, humility, and the fire of love
that burned in St. Vincent de Paul.
Strengthen us, so that, faithful in the practice of these virtues,
We may contemplate You, and serve You, in the person of the poor
and may one day be united with You and them in Your kingdom.
Structure of the Society.
The structure of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in England and Wales divides into five levels:
- District Councils.
- Central Councils.
- National Council.
- National Board of Trustees.
This provides a communications network so that opinions and ideas can go from local level to National level; and so that decisions and initiatives from the National level can reach the local level by the same route.
This is the basic unit and is defined as “a small group of members meeting regularly to help the needy in a particular locality”. The members should meet weekly and carry out at least one visit every week.
“Auxiliary Members” are not committed to a weekly meeting or weekly visits but help, for example
With fundraising, taking people to Sunday Mass and helping at social occasions. This enables busy people to contribute their talents and goodwill.
Conferences are mainly parish-based, but there are also ‘Special Works’ Conferences covering projects such as furniture stores, hospital visiting and prison visiting.
Each Conference elects a President who then appoints the vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.
The District Council
The Conferences are grouped into convenient geographical areas known as Districts.
These areas covered by a District often correspond to the local Deanery. The Conference Presidents in those areas meet together periodically as a District Council. The District Council meets at least once a quarter to discuss problems, projects and other events in the wider area.
As with Conferences, the District Council elects a President who appoints the Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer.
The Central Council
There are 23 Central Councils in England and Wales, roughly corresponding to the Roman Catholic Dioceses. Central Councils provide a local focus for co-ordinating the activity and development of the District Councils and Conferences within their area. They also play a key role in the identification of local needs and the steps which might be taken to address them most appropriately. Central Council Officers and District Council Presidents meet periodically to direct the works of Central Council.
As well as District Council Presidents and Central Council Officers – President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer – the Central Council may have a number of ‘Special Works’ Representatives (e.g. covering Twinnage, Furniture Stores or Youth) who attend meetings by invitation when their area of activity is on the agenda.
National Council for England and Wales
The National Council consists of the 23 Central Council Presidents plus a National President, a National Vice Chairman, a National Secretary, a National Treasurer, members of the National Board of the Society and members of special boards and committees.
Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland have their own National Councils.
National Board of Trustees
The Presidents of the 23 Central Councils, which form the National Council, elect a National President from within the membership of the Society every five years. The National President then forms a National Board of Trustees elected from the membership with a broad range of skills and experience.
SVP National Office.
Who was St. Vincent de Paul?
Vincent de Paul is the patron saint of all works of charity. He was born in 1581 into a peasant family living a few miles outside the town of Dax in southern France. He was a middle child of six, two girls and four boys. He was intelligent, so much so, that his father sold oxen to get the money to send him to school in Dax. Probably inspired by a cousin, who became a priest and was able to help his family financially; Vincent too set out to be a priest and was ordained at the early age of nineteen. His efforts to find a parish brought much travel and many false hopes. On one of his journeys he wrote of being captured by pirates and sold as a slave in North Africa. He escaped and having visited Rome for a second time he eventually ended up in Paris. He became one of the queen’s chaplains which involved distributing alms to those in need. Then twelve years after becoming a priest he became parish priest of Clichy on the outskirts of Paris. He loved this parish and did a lot to improve the church as well as encourage the parishioners to support and care for each other.
A year after he went to Clichy he was asked to become tutor to the sons of the De Gondi family. They were a rich and influential family with vast estates. Surprisingly in view of his desire for a parish he accepted the post. In 1617 whilst accompanying Madame De Gondi on a visit to her estate in Folleville he encountered a man dying in great spiritual and emotional turmoil. Having spoken of God’s love for each person expressed through the sacraments Vincent encouraged him to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation which brought him relief from his suffering and joyful peace. This incident made Vincent aware of how little was being done to ensure that country people were given a sound understanding of the Gospel and the teachings of the church. The next day he preached about the love of God and the Sacrament of Reconciliation and so many people came to receive the sacrament that he had to send for priests to come from other parishes to help. This was the first sermon of what came to be known as Missions. Later having gathered around him some priests to help him in this work and with the help of Madame De Gondi he founded the Congregation of the Mission to spread the good news of the Gospel to poor country people.
Vincent’s concern for the spiritual needs of these people led him to work at improving the spiritual formation of men desiring to be priests. He organised retreats for those about to be ordained, started Tuesday Conferences to provide on going formation for them after ordination and along with other reformers opened a seminary for the spiritual formation for men desiring to be priests. During his life time he sent his missioners to Italy, Spain, Tunis, Poland, Ireland, Scotland, Algeria and Madagascar.
1617 was a pivotal year for the thirty six year old Vincent. Shortly after the Folleville experience he left the De Gondi household and ran away to Chatillon a frontier town not far from Geneva where he was offered another opportunity to be parish priest. One Sunday just as he was getting ready for Mass he was told of a poor family who were on the brink of starvation because they were too sick to feed themselves. During Mass he spoke so eloquently about their plight it touched the hearts of the congregation. When he went to visit the sick later in the afternoon he passed a procession of people returning from bringing them food and remedies. Vincent realised that this support needed to be organised and he set about organising a group of women who committed themselves to take it in turns on a weekly rota to provide food and support for poor sick people in their homes. He modelled it on a confraternity that he had seen during one of his visits to Rome. This was the first Confraternity of Charity in France and the beginning of Vincent’s network of Charity which during his life time was to expand across France to Poland and Spain.
The De Gondi’s missed Vincent and begged him to return to their household in Paris. He agreed provided he could continue with his mission work so he was relieved of tutoring duties. Monsieur De Gondi was General of the Galleys and Vincent became chaplain to the Galleys. This brought him into contact with the most depraved section of society, the galley slaves. These men were brutalised by the treatment they received to keep the Galley ships working at full speed. Vincent did what he could to improve their conditions setting up a rest house for them on the banks of the Seine and later when the Daughters of Charity were established he sent them to care for them.
As the work of the missions increased and the demands for Confraternities of Charity multiplied Vincent invited more and more of his acquaintances to help him. In 1629 he asked one of his spiritual Directees, Louise de Marillac, to visit the Confraternity of Charity in Montmirail to support the members there and ensure that the service to the poor sick was of the highest quality. This was the beginning of a partnership that would see Louise providing the training and supervision needed for the multiplicity of charitable works that Vincent saw the need for and was called upon to establish. Together they developed the work of the Confraternities of Charity, provided nursing care in hospitals, set up schools for poor village girls, took care of orphans, set up a fostering wet nurse system for sickly babies, provided care for the elderly, distributed relief to the famine stricken, and set up a prison visiting service. The need for full time committed servants of these works led to the establishment in 1633 of the Daughters of Charity. Louise took them into her home and not only trained them to provide skilled service but also with Vincent nurtured their spirituality and co founded a new form of committed service in the church. She was made Patron Saint of Christian Social Workers in 1960.
In 1632 Vincent was asked to take over St Lazare, the largest clerical estate in Paris. Reluctantly he agreed and it became a centre for the initial and ongoing formation of priests. It also provided resources for the ever increasing charitable works he initiated and was the hub for all his undertakings. He lived there for the rest of his life.
Through the events of his life Vincent learned to place Jesus at the centre of his life and see him in everyone he met. He was a people person who had the gift of being able to tap the generosity of others so that they made his undertakings possible. His network of charity was rooted in and supported by laypeople. He mixed with all strata of society, royalty, clerics, cardinals, prisoners, galley slaves, men and women, saints and sinners alike. When he died in 1660 at the age of seventy nine he had shaped the compassionate face of the church and 350 years later is still an inspiration for all those who care for the needs of others. It is no wonder that nearly two hundred years after his death Frederic Ozanam chose him as patron of the new society he founded for young men desiring to express their faith in action.
Sr. Maria Parcher.
Who was St. Louise de Marillac?
St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660) a contemporary of St. Vincent de Paul was inspired and directed by Vincent’s spiritual leadership. She was Vincent’s collaborator in founding the Daughters of Charity and organizing hospitals for the poor who were sick, asylums for the orphaned, workshops for the unemployed, championing literacy for the uneducated and establishing standards for local charities. Louise was a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker and religious foundress.
Who was Blessed Frederic Ozanam?
Frederic Ozanam was a child of the Napoleonic era his father was an officer in Napoleon’s army and he was born in 1813 in Milan, then under French rule. When the city fell to the Austrians in 1815, his family returned to Lyons in France where his father practised as a doctor and his mother often helped to care for the sick in their homes. Frederic was the fifth child of fourteen born to ardent middle-class catholic parents. Only three of his siblings survived to childhood, two brothers and a dearly loved older sister, Elise, who died at the age of nineteen when he was seven.
By the time he went to school at the age of thirteen his exceptional intelligence and thirst for knowledge was evident. During his study of philosophy he became greatly disturbed by doubts of faith. He made a promise that if he could see the truth, he would devote his entire life to its defense. Subsequently when he emerged from the crisis he was committed to defending his belief in God and a Christian Church based on revelation which would create a peaceful and just society for all.
Despite Frederic’s leaning toward literature and history, his father apprenticed him to a local attorney to follow a career in law. Frederic went along with this but, in his spare time, pursued the study of language and managed to contribute historical and philosophical articles to the college journal. In the spring of 1831 he published his first of many articles, “Reflections on the Doctrine of Saint-Simon,” a defence against biased social teaching prevalent at the time. That same year he went to the Sorbonne in Paris to study law.
At first he was quite homesick and troubled by the unsuitable company he encountered in his boarding house surroundings. This was resolved when he went to stay with the Ampere family. It was there that he met some the key figures in the Catholic Revival Movement, who tried to ensure the relevance of Christianity in post Revolution and Napoleonic France. Possibly influenced by these encounters he decided to write a literary history of the Middle Ages from the fifth to the thirteenth centuries to show the role of Christianity in guiding the progress of civilization. His aim was to help restore Catholicism to France where materialism and rationalism, irreligion and anti-clericalism prevailed.
Despite the hostility to Christian belief prevalent in the Sorbonne Frederic did find kindred spirits among some of his fellow students and with the assistance of an older ex-professor, J. Emmanuel Bailly, revived a discussion group called a “Society of Good Studies” and formed it into a “Conference of History” which quickly became a forum for large and lively discussions among students. Their attentions turned frequently to the social teachings of the Gospel. At one meeting during a heated debate Frederic and his companions were challenged by, “What is your church doing now? What is she doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works and we will believe you!” In response, one of Frederic’s companions, Auguste de Letaillandier, suggested they did something practical for the poor, Frederic agreed, “let us go to the poor!”
So instead of continuing to just engage in discussion and debate, Frederic and seven companions met one May evening in 1833 determined to undertake practical works of charity. After this, the “Conference of History” became the “Conference of Charity” and eventually having adopted St Vincent de Paul as its patron became the “Conference of St. Vincent de Paul.”
At the same time as promoting church teaching and pursuing his academic and professional studies, Frederic, realised expertise was needed to provide practical assistance to the poor people in the slums of Paris. Under the tutelage of Sister Rosalie Rendu, he and his companions were guided to those in most need of care and attention. Their energies and enthusiasms were channelled into respectfully seeing Jesus in the persons of the poor people whom they tried to help.
Not content with this, Frederic also worked hard to improve the quality of sermons preached in Notre Dame Cathedral by petitioning the Archbishop of Paris to invite the likes of Pere Lacordaire to give Lenten talks. Thousands were inspired and enlightened by these sermons and they are now an annual event in the life of the Cathedral.
After attaining his Doctorate, ever obedient to his father’s wishes, Frederic returned to Lyons to practise law. His father’s death in 1837 meant that he was the sole supporter of his mother until her death in 1840. This didn’t prevent him from attaining a doctorate in literature in 1839 from the Sorbonne. His brilliance enabled him to lecture on both Commercial Law as well as Foreign Literature in his home town of Lyons. His skills as a lecturer ensured that the halls were always packed when he spoke. When his friend Lacordaire went to Rome to join the Dominicans he wondered whether that was where his future lay but his commitment to the expanding Conferences of Charity and advice from his spiritual director helped him realise his role was to serve the church as a lay man.
In 1844 he married Amelie Soulacroix, the daughter of the rector of the Lyons Academy and four years later his only daughter Marie was born. His eagerness to change society for the better out weighed the vigour of his strength and his years of married life were marked by failing health. Although forced to take rest he always seemed to continue his research and visits to the poor.
When the Revolution of 1848 broke out, Frederic served briefly and reluctantly in the National Guard. Later, at the insistence of friends, he made a belated and unsuccessful bid for election to the National Assembly. This was followed by a short and somewhat stormy effort at publishing a liberal Catholic journal called The New Era which was aimed at securing justice for the poor and working classes by promoting Christian Democracy.
Ill health was taking its toll, during the academic year 1851-52 he barely managed to get through his teaching responsibilities. The doctors ordered him to give up his teaching duties at the Sorbonne and he went with his family to rest and recuperate in Italy. However, this did not deter him from continuing to promote the work of the Conferences of St Vincent de Paul. His health continued to fail. At the end of the summer in 1853 realising that death was near and that he wanted to die on French soil he set sail for Marseilles enroute to Paris. He never reached Paris alive. He died in Marseilles on September 8, at the age of forty. He was beatified in Paris in 1997.
The society began by Frederic and his companions in Paris in 1833 with the big vision to bring peace and social justice to society flourished and has spread to 132 countries throughout the world. It is the largest lay organisation in the church. His desire to “embrace the whole world in a network of love” began to happen then and is happening now.
Sr. Maria Parcher.
Who was Blessed Rosalie Rendu?
Blessed Rosalie Rendu DC (1786-1856) was a Daughter of Charity who served for 54 years in the Mouffetard area the most impoverished district in Paris. Emmanuel Bailly, the President of the Society, sent the founding of the Society to Sister for guidance and direction. Sending them of home visits, she formed them in the spirit of St. Vincent, teaching them how to serve the poor with respect and compassion.
How did the Society get Started?
In 1831 Frederic pursues a more academic life at the Sobonne University at a time when there was acute poverty in 18th century Paris. Frederic and his friends participated in many debates and to become better equipped to face persuasive and materialistic orators the small group of friends formed themselves into what they called the Conference of History. Their defence of the faith was always positive and well reasoned but each time their opponents argued that the Church was useless, a thing of the past, unable to cope with the problems of the new industrial era. They threw down the gauntlet ‘WORDS, WORDS – SHOW US YOUR WORKS‘.
Works! Where? How? Frederic and his fellow students, barely out of their teens, inexperienced and lacking authority visited a Vincentian nun, Sister Rosalie Rondu, who advised them and allowed them to visit some of the families in her care who were living in abject poverty. In 1833 the ‘Conference of History’ was transformed into the ‘Conference of Charity’ and placed under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul (1580 – 1660) a man of deep faith and known for his work with the poor. The students began to beg money, food stuffs, coal, anything of value and visiting the poor in their homes on a regular basis. They me weekly to report on families visited, take stock of their resources and plan activities. Each of the meetings opened and closed with prayer. This basic structure of a ‘Conference Meeting’ has remained unchanged since 1833.
The SVP’s commitment to personal contact appeared to preclude it from assisting developing countries until Pope John XX111 suggested a Twinnage programme whereby financial support be given to members of developing countries, by groups in the developed world. Groups in England and Wales are twinned with groups in India, Grenada, Guyana Romania and the Sudan.
What does Twinnage involve
Prayer is the key aspect of any successful Twinnage. The promise to pray for the Twin is really what sets Twinnage apart from ant secular exercise.
Correspondence it is impossible to really have a good relationship with a Twin without a closer link. Correspondence is the answer and letters should be exchanged at least three times a year. In this way a true bond can be established.
Financial Support. The tangible evidence of our sharing is shown by our Financial Support. This helps our overseas Brothers and Sisters to increase their efforts to overcome the poverty in their own parishes.
Other Aspects of Twinnage
Projects are always initiated by a Twinned Conference overseas and approved by the National Council. The chance to support a project is always offered first to the twin in this country. Projects may be for Training Institutes, starting small businesses, equipment for tradesmen, sanitation, housing supplying bicycles, sewing machines or animals and many others.
Student Sponsorship helps with the education of poor students in India. Currently £60 is all that is needed to help one student in their studies for a year.
Disaster fund is designed to meet the immediate needs of the poor ANYWHERE when a disaster strikes. Almost as soon as it has reached the news, it is likely that a donation is on its way to the National Council of the affected country.
When was the Society first established in England?
George Wigley, a student of architecture, was a member of the first Conference established in France and on his return to England he contacted Frederick Lucas editor of the Tablet. Lucas enthusiastically took up the cause, bringing together a number of prominent Catholic, among whom was Charles Pagliano, the proprietor of the Sabloniere Hotel in Leicester Square. Here the first meeting was held on January 29th 1844 and on February 12th a Conference established under the temporary president Pagliano. This was only 15 years after the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829) and still 6 years before the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850. Wigley translated the rules and other documents into English, returning to France in 1848.
Today, the SVP still shows that Christian love is real and active. It is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, comforting the lonely and helping our brothers and sisters in time of need. This is the kind of witness and commitment which has made the SVP a welcome, familiar and trusted presence in our parishes. Their care for the poor and needy in our parishes is recognised as being discrete, direct and effective. Living in personal contact and united in spirit with those who suffer, is still the very essence and character of the Society in the 21st century.