Being merciful is a divine gift from God. All members
of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul
History of SSVP
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was founded by a group of seven Catholic laymen, who initially named the society The Conference of Charity. Six of the seven men were young students at the Sorbonne University, with a brilliant young lawyer Antoine Frederic Ozanam, who was just 20 years old, and Joseph Emmanuel Bailly being the leaders of the conference. The other members include Francois Lailier, Augustus Le Tallandier, Paul Lamache, Felix Clave, and Julius Devaux (Treasurer).
The seven men came together on a Tuesday, 23 April 1833, at 18 Rue de Petit-Bourbon (now 38 Rue de Saint Sulpice, Paris, France). With the objective of serving the Parisian poor in mind, they formulated plans to provide assistance to the homes of the poor people around the area.
The team worked closely with another charitable organisation, The Daughters of Charity, in planning the distribution of help to the poor. With influence from Sister Rosalie Rendu (1786-1856), a nun from The Daughters of Charity, the newly-formed Conference of Charity took St Vincent de Paul as their patron saint, thus changing the name of the conference to The Society of St Vincent de Paul. The decision was made because the idea of helping the poor was in line with the works of Saint Vincent de Paul, who dedicated his life to serve the poor.
By the end of the first year, the society had increased in numbers to the point where it became necessary for the society to be divided into several smaller groups. Thus, the Rule of The Conference was drafted, introducing the concept of “Council General” and “Conference”. The first President-general was Joseph Emanuel Bailly, who was in charge from 1833 to 1844.
The Holy See approved of the aims and methods of The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and enriched it with its precious approval at the end of 1845.
The society quickly grew in numbers, not only in France, but also throughout the world. The society reached Italy (1842); England (1844); Belgium, Scotland, and United States (1845), Germany, Holland, Greece, Turkey and Mexico (1846); Canada and Switzerland (1847); Austria and Spain (1850). The motivating factors that led to the rapid growth can be attributed to firstly the desire to see Christ in the poor and secondly the need to visit the less fortunate in their homes on a person-to-person basis, before any help could be given.
Between 1860 and 1870, the Council General was dissolved by force of law because the French government feared that this widely rooted society would become possible opposition. However, after 1870, the conferences resumed their activities and gradually continued with their work in serving the poor.
By 1933, a century after it was started, The Society of St Vincent de Paul had representations in more than 33 countries including Zambia. In 2008, the society had grown to include more than 45,000 conferences with more than 700,000 active members, existing in 143 countries worldwide. The Society of St Vincent de Paul of Singapore is a part of the global Vincentian family.