The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul Officers
- President: Gerald Quinn
- Vice President: Open
- Secretary: Marj Rohlf
- Treasurer: Don Schneider
- Spiritual Advisor: Myrna Udelhofen
An international association of Catholic laymen engaging systematically in personal service of the poor; was founded in May, 1833, when eight young men, students at the Sorbonne, assembled in the office of the “Tribune Catholique” to formulate plans for the organization of a society whose object should be to minister to the wants of the Parisian poor. The master-mind conceiving the project, which was destined to make an indelible impress upon the history of modern charity work, was Frederick Ozanam, a brilliant young Frenchman, lawyer, author and professor in the Sorbonne. With Ozanam’s name must be linked that of Père Bailly, editor of the “Tribune Catholique”, the first president of the society, and whose wise and fatherly counsels did much to direct properly the activities of his more youthful associates. The society’s establishment was due partly to the desire of the founders to furnish a practical refutation of the reproaches directed against Christianity by the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, and other popular teachers of the day. “Show us your works!” taunted the St. Simonians. “We admit the past grandeur of Christianity, but the tree is now dead and bears no fruit.” To this taunt Ozanam and his companions retorted by forming themselves into a Conference of Charity, later adopting the name of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
In organizing the Society, Ozanam, following the inspiration of its chosen patron St. Vincent de Paul, modeled the rule upon the same principles that were in vogue in the seventeenth century. The rules adopted were very simple; it was forbidden to discuss politics or personal concerns at the meetings, and it was settled that the work should be the service of God in the persons of the poor, whom the members were to visit at their own dwellings and assist by every means in their power. The service of the members was to embrace, without distinction of creed or race, the poor, the sick, the infirm, and the unemployed. It is a noteworthy fact that, at the first Vincentian meeting, there was enunciated by Père Bailly a principle of vital importance, now universally accepted wherever organized charity is known, namely that the service of the poor ought to consist not merely of the doling out of alms, but must be made a medium of moral assistance and that each member should help in his special line. Simplicity characterizes the society. The membership is divided into three classes, active, subscribing, and honorary. The active membership is composed of Christian men who desire to unite in a communion of prayers and a participation in the same works of charity. Subscribing and honorary members are those who “cannot devote themselves to the works in which the society is engaged but who assist the active members by their influence, their offerings and prayers”. In the make-up of its membership the society is most democratic. Men of all walks of life are engaged in its service; the lawyer, the doctor, the professional and business man freely mingle with the untutored laboring man in relieving the wants of the poor. The conference is the unit of the society and is an integral part of the parish organization. While the clergy are not included in the normal membership, they are always welcomed in the work. The conference exists only with the approval of the pastor who as spiritual director enters actively into the work.