The Society of St Vincent de Paul (SVP or SVdP or SSVP) is an international voluntary organization in the Catholic Church, founded in 1833 for the sanctification of its members by personal service of the poor.
Innumerable Catholic parishes have established "conferences", most of which affiliate with a diocesan council. Among its varied efforts to offer material help to the poor or needy, the Society also has thrift stores which sell donated goods at a low price and raise money for the poor. There are a great variety of outreach programs sponsored by the local conferences and councils, addressing local needs for social services.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 to help impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France. The primary figure behind the Society's founding was Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, a French lawyer, author, and professor in the Sorbonne. Frédéric collaborated with Emmanuel Bailly, editor of the Tribune Catholique, in reviving a student organization which had been suspended during the revolutionary activity of July 1830. Ozanam was 20 years old when he founded the Society. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Emmanuel Bailly was chosen as the first President.
The Society took Saint Vincent de Paul as its patron under the influence of Sister Rosalie Rendu, DC. Sister Rosalie, beatified in November 1999 by Pope John Paul II, was a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, earlier known for her work with people in the slums of Paris. She guided Frédéric and his companions in their approach towards those in need.
SVP gradually expanded outside Paris in the mid-19th century and received benefactors in places such as Tours where figures such as the Venerable Leo Dupont, known as the Holy Man of Tours, became collaborators.
The Society is part of the Vincentian Family which also includes two congregations founded by St. Vincent de Paul – the Congregation of the Mission with Vincentian priests and brothers and the Ladies of Charity – along with the Sisters of Charity in the Setonian tradition and several others, including some religious groups that are part of the Anglican Communion like the Company of Mission Priests.
Servant of God Fr. Ignatius Spencer from London came to know the Society in visits to Paris. Parisian Monsieur Baudon, who would assume the presidency of SVDP in 1847, visited London in 1842 and persuaded Spencer to write about the Society in the Catholic Magazine. Then in January 1844 M. Pagliano, a London restaurateur and recent convert to Catholicism, gathered 13 Catholic men and the first English SVP conference was founded. Early initiatives included the formation of the Catholic Shoe Black Brigade, providing boys with gainful employment and the first home of “the Rescue Society” which under various names still offers child care in many dioceses.
In 2013 there were more than 10,000 members in more than 1,000 Conferences in the United Kingdom, making over 500,000 recorded visits annually to more than 100,000 people.
The Society’s first Conference in the United States was established in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Basilica of St. Louis King of France, or "Old Cathedral". Fr. John Timon, CM, had learned of the Society while visiting with his Vincentian superiors in Paris. From Dublin, Ireland, he brought to St. Louis copies of the SVP Rule. On November 16, 1845, Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick dedicated the new St. Vincent de Paul church on South Eighth Street and invited Timon to preach. Timon discussed the Society in his sermon, in the presence of prominent laymen who took hold of the idea and held an organizational meeting on November 20, 1845. The Conference included Dr. Moses Linton, founder of the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal, and as chair Judge Bryan Mullanphy who would become mayor of St. Louis. Bishop Kenrick appointed Fr. Ambrose Heim as spiritual advisor to the Conference.
Pilla was born in London in 1806 and was recruited for the Melbourne mission by the pioneering father, later bishop, Patrick Geoghegan. Ward was familiar with SVP from London and, observing the plight of the poor after the Victorian gold rush, established the Society in Australia in 1854. Ward served as its first president and helped establish the SVP orphanage in South Melbourne.
Fr. Chataigner, SM, established the first Conference in New Zealand in July 1867, but did not affiliate with the Council-General in Paris. The first to affiliate was the Wellington Conference founded in 1908 by Fr. Petitjean, SM, and Charles O'Neill, followed by other Conferences out of Wellington.
Charles Gordon O'Neill was born in Glasgow in 1828. He graduated as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Upon graduation he had joined the Society of St Vincent de Paul. He was secretary at Dumbarton in 1851. He led the St Vincent de Paul Society in the Western Districts of Scotland between 1859 and 1863. By 1863 he was president of the Superior Council of Glasgow and a member of the Council-General in Paris.
SVP came to Mumbai in 1862 when the Conference of Our Lady of Hope, Bhuleshwar, was established at the cathedral by the future bishop Fr. Leo Meurin, S.J. With the closure of the cathedral in 1942, the Conference was transferred to the Church of Our Lady of Health, Cavel. Meurin also established a Conference at St. Teresa, Girgaum, in 1862, and four more in Mumbai in 1863: St. Peter, Bandra; St. Joseph, Umarkhadi; Our Lady of Victories, Mahim; and St. Anne, Mazagaon. The Society is active in southern India, headquartered in Kerala.
The Society numbers about 800,000 members in some 140 countries worldwide, whose members operate through "conferences". A Conference may be based out of a church, school, community center, hospital, etc., and is composed of Catholic volunteers who pursue their own Christian growth in the service of the poor. Some Conferences exist without affiliating with any local Council, and so are not counted in statistics. Non-Catholics may join and the Society serves all regardless of their personal beliefs.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Ireland in 1844 when it was part of the United Kingdom but was only a thing in ireland at that point until it spread worldwide. It is the largest voluntary charitable organisation in Ireland. During its history it has helped people in need through a famine, a civil war, a war of independence, two world wars, and several economic recessions. It is one of Ireland's best known and most widely supported organisations of social concern and action with over 11,500 volunteers, active in every county in Ireland.
In 2018, the St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland was named as one of the Queensland Greats by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in a ceremony at the Queensland Art Gallery on 8 June 2018.
In New Zealand, SVP operates in 23 regions with over 50 shops which serve as centres for welfare service, including food banks and food trucks. Most Catholic schools have Young Vinnies who help with fundraising and with training for dealing directly with the poor. The work is varied, following the Vinnie motto: "No act of charity is foreign to the society."
The national headquarters is in St. Louis. Membership in the United States in 2015 exceeded 97,000 in 4,400 communities. Expenditures to people in poverty were $473,821,563. Programs include visits to homes, prisons, and hospitals, housing assistance, disaster relief, job training and placement, food pantries, dining halls, clothing, transportation and utility costs, care for the elderly, and medicine. Revenue is raised through a large network of thrift stores.
The first Conference of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Monaco was created in 1876. The Conference of the immaculate Conception of Monaco-City whose commemorative plaque is on the Place de la Visitation, thanks among others to Monsieur Thheuret, Apostolic Protonotary in Monaco and to Mr Gastaldi, Mayor of Monaco. Mr. Theuret was appointed first Honorary President. The Vice-President of Honor being the Marquis de la Riva, first Chambellan of the Sovereign Prince.
The first active President was Lieutenant Plati. The Sovereign Prince, Prince Charles III, was one of the first benefactors. At the time, the Immaculate Conception Conference was attached to the Particular Council of the Nice Conferences.
St. Vincent de Paul Society in Monaco is located on 32 Rue Grimaldi, in the Condamine neighbourhood.
St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores
The St. Vincent de Paul Society runs thrift stores in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Ireland, and Canada, as seen from websites for some in the US: St. Louis area with 9 such stores, Cincinnati area with 7, Omaha with 3, Dayton with 2, Des Moines with 2, Florida with 35, California with 26, Pennsylvania with 24, Western Oregon with 15, Georgia with 12, Arizona with 10, and Idaho with 3. Items from clothing to automobiles are sold for a small price, often with home pick-up for large items. Money, and many times donated items, are distributed to the poor.