The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul celebrates 190 years of service to charity

The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul celebrates 190 years of service to charity

He wanted to “enclose the world in a network of charity”. The dream of Frédéric Ozanam, founder of the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul has come true. From six young men to 800,000 volunteers today, its lay heirs have spread to 150 countries in less than two centuries.

Paris, 1833. We are under the July Monarchy: Paris is still rumbling with revolutionary days and dressing up an epidemic of cholera. Misery is great in the capital, and even more so in working-class neighborhoods.

On this Tuesday, April 23, Frédéric Ozanam has an appointment with five friends to celebrate his 20th birthday, rue du Petit-Bourbon-Saint-Sulpice. The band of young Christians are struggling to stand idly by in the face of so much poverty. They feel deprived and aspire to something other than sterile appointments: they want to make themselves useful. “Doesn’t it seem to you that it is time to match the action to the word and to affirm by works the vitality of our faith?” asks young Frederic.

This is how this spring evening will give birth to the first “charity conference”. Its dual ambition: visiting the poor of Paris and the spiritual life of its members.

As none of the young people knew of the poor, they turned to Sister Rosalie, a Daughter of Charity who was very active with the needy. The following week, Sister Rosalie gave them addresses. On April 30, a family is assigned to each student. The first conference is quickly emulated. Quite quickly, the patronage of Vincent-de-Paul was essential and Ozanam became a forerunner by founding the first charitable association of lay volunteers dedicated to the service of the poor.

An original lay apostolate

In the Conferences – team of volunteers -, inhabitants of the same neighborhood, Christians of the same parish come together to serve their brothers in need together. Local charity is their heart of action. Their distinguishing feature? Kindness. Their turn of soul? Friendly. Their commitment? Long duration.

A commitment that is not limited to the social dimension of their actions: it is also nourished by faith and prayer. The spirituality lived by the confreres within their conference is even the cornerstone of the Vincentian commitment.

Serve in listening

Over the years, new generations of “Vincentians” get involved alongside the poorest. They are today more than 800,000, thus animating a network of 45,000 Conferences present in 150 countries. In France, the 17,000 volunteers of the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul are divided into more than 1,000 conferences, fifteen of which are led by young professionals. Thanks to them, every year more than 17,000,000 people receive human, material, food support…

Solidarity holidays, administrative support, school support, solidarity grocery store, marauding: if the range of their actions is very wide, it is because they all meet a targeted and specific local need. 190 years after its creation, the Society of Saint-de-Paul is constantly seeking to innovate and be as close as possible to the needs of the territories by adapting to new types of precariousness.

That is the whole challenge: if poverty remains everywhere in the world, it is also changing its face. The Conferences are not lacking in imagination to adapt.

Recently, France has seen “smiles places” flourish in several of its regions. Meeting places “like at home”, to face the vertiginous rise of isolation and loneliness. You can have a coffee there, chat, take part in activities, receive material assistance… and above all, lots of smiles!

To know more…

To find out more about the actions of the Society of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, visit their website.

Who is Frederic Ozanam?

Intended for the bar by his father, he opted for the teacher’s chair. It radiates within the university. Noted for his eloquence, he attracts, speaks several languages… Everything succeeds, and he devotes his life to others. To his students, to the poor whom he considers “the sacred images of this God whom we do not see”. Very pious, he is never a preacher. His faith does not put off those who do not share it. Historian Gérard Cholvy depicts him as “a unifier of energy whose ascendancy adds to the intelligence of situations and decisions to be made”.

At the Sorbonne, Ozanam has only one fight: to reconcile science and faith. According to the historian, he “works to reduce the distance between the Church and the world, reconciles Catholicism and freedom, the poor with the rich”. In his home, he lives intensely his bonds of husband, father. He is the friend of many artists. He meets the Lacordaires, Lamartines, Renans and Hugos… A full life. But brief. He died in 1853, barely 40 years old. And leaves a 7-year-old daughter, Marie. Beatified in August 1997 in Paris, while World Youth Day was taking place, this simple layman, father of a family in ordinary life, continues to inspire. If Ozanam’s life was brief, the work endures. Mr. Michael

Key dates

1813: Birth of Frederic Ozanam.

1833: Creation of the first Company in Paris.

1853: Death of Frederic Ozanam. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is present in 29 countries.

2023: There are 45,000 Conferences worldwide, and 800,000 volunteers

According to a file on Frédéric Ozanam, by Magali Michel, published in Le Pèlerin 6803 of April 18, 2013

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