It’s easy to assume that the Society was founded by Saint Vincent himself. However, that’s not the case. It actually starts in Paris with a man named Frederic.
Frederic Ozanam studied at the Sorbonne during the early 1800s. He was profoundly upset by the misery and inequity he saw around him, especially in the slums of Paris. As a deeply Catholic man, he was able to see Christ in the poor. It motivated him to reach out to offer comfort and charity. When he was challenged to “practice what you preach,” he did just that.
He gathered some of his friends and made a pact to help those who needed it. They collaborated with the Daughters of Charity who instructed them in the best ways to support their disadvantaged neighbours. In particular, Sister Rosalie Rendu guided them. They formed a society and took Saint Vincent de Paul as their patron. The first meeting of their society was held on April 23, 1833.
So, why Vincent? He dates back to the 1600s when he dedicated himself to serving the poor. He led a group of priests who took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. The group came to be known as the Congregation of the Mission, but members were also called “Vincentians,” a name we still use today for members of the Society. Vincent de Paul and his colleagues collected funds for missionary projects, founded hospitals, and raised money to ransom slaves from North Africa. He was canonized in 1737 and is venerated as a saint in both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion.
Today, the legacy of Frederic Ozanam and Saint Vincent de Paul is present in 153 countries around the world. We have about 800,000 members worldwide. The Vancouver Island team of Vincentians began formation in 1914, and has over 150 people who work in communities all over the island.
If you are interested in getting involved with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, or want more information about our projects across Vancouver Island, give us a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone us at 250-727-0007.