“What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?” With these words, the idea for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was born. Frédéric Ozanam was a 20-year-old law student at the Sorbonne in the spring of 1833. When confronted by another student about practical applications of his Catholic faith, Ozanam was inspired to found a “conference of charity” to assist the poor. The fledgling group adopted the name the “Society of St. Vincent de Paul” in honor of the saint revered for his work among the needy. The Society quickly established a relationship with Sister Rosalie Rendu, a member of the Daughters of Charity, who organized the distribution of aid in one of Paris’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Within a few years, the original group of seven grew to 600, spreading to 15 other cities and towns in France, numbering more than 2,000 members.
Twelve years later, in 1845, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul crossed the ocean to St. Louis, Missouri, where the first American conference was formed. The first members met at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, known locally today as the Old Cathedral. To this day, St. Louis remains the Society’s American headquarters, hosting both the National Council offices, as well as the local St. Louis Council.
The international Society of St. Vincent de Paul today is the world’s largest social assistance organization, with operations in over 140 countries on five continents. More than 800,000 Vincentian volunteers worldwide work to further Bl. Frédéric’s vision to “embrace the whole world in a network of charity.”
The Society is organized into “conferences,” or all-volunteer neighborhood support groups. The conferences are grouped into district councils, which are then grouped into regions. There are currently 4,433 conferences in the United States grouped into 380 district councils and eight regions. We believe that Helping neighbors starts at home. Our structure allows the Society to function locally and flexibly on the neighborhood level, while maintaining a uniform standard and adherence to the Vincentian rule around the globe.
I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity.
– Bl. Frédéric Ozanam