The Beginnings of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
In the midst of the political, social, religious, and economic turmoil of early 19th century France, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul originated. As a young student at the Sorbonne, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam was appalled by the conditions he saw in Paris. At a student meeting, another student challenged Ozanam and other practicing Catholics, admitting that while the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, he could not see what good the Church was doing currently.
On April 23, 1833, his 20th birthday, Ozanam invited five other students to a meeting, where they founded the first Conference of Charity to assist the poor. This Catholic lay organization was intended to help members increase in holiness by loving service to those in need.
The six students chose Emmanuel Bailly, a married layman, as their first president. Shortly thereafter, they changed their name to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of their patron saint, a French Catholic priest who was dedicated to serving the poor.
The Society in Dayton
In 1845, the first St. Vincent de Paul Conference formed in the United States in St. Louis, Missouri. The Dayton District Council of St. Vincent de Paul formed in 1948. In 1985, the Conferences of the Dayton District began sheltering homeless persons in an old fire station in downtown Dayton. In 2005, the shelter was moved to Apple Street, eventually expanding in 2009 to offer separate shelters for men and for women and families. Today, the Conferences and Special Works of the Dayton District Council seek to continue Frédéric Ozanam’s original vision through the intercession of St. Vincent de Paul.
How is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Different?
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is composed of women and men who seek their personal holiness through works of charity. In this essential way, the Society differs from charitable associations or agencies whose principal objective is not the spiritual advancement of their members but the doing of good for someone else.
For more reading, please visit www.svdpusa.org/about-us/history