The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is an international organization of Roman Catholic lay men and women of all ages, whose primary mission is to help the poor and less fortunate.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by eight men who wanted to create an organization dedicated to helping those impoverished people living in Paris, France. The primary figure behind the Society's founding was Blessed Frederick Ozanam, a French lawyer, author, and professor in the Sorbonne.
The Society took Saint Vincent de Paul as its patron under the influence of Sister Rosalie Rendu, DC (Daughter of Charity). Sister Rosalie (who was beatified in 2004 by Pope John Paul II) was a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, a group of religious women who take vows to serve the poor and those in need, founded by St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. Sr. Rosalie, who was well known for her work with the most poverty stricken people in the slums of Paris, guided Blessed Frédéric and his companions in their approach towards those in need.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is part of the Vincentian Family which also includes the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian priests and brothers, also founded by St. Vincent
de Paul), Daughters of Charity, Ladies of Charity (organization of lay women who help the poor, founded by St. Vincent de Paul), Sisters of Charity in the Setonian tradition (founded
by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton), Vincentian Service Corps, and several others, including some religious groups who are part of the Anglican Communion (Church of England, Episcopal Church USA, etc.).
The Society numbers about 190,000 in some 90 countries worldwide, whose members operate through so-called "conferences". A conference may be based out of a church, community center, school, hospital, etc., and is composed of Catholic volunteers who dedicate their time and resources to help those in need in their community. Non-Catholics may join with the understanding that the Society is a Catholic organization. St. John's University in New York embraces the Vincentian tradition and runs the Vincentian Center
for Church and Society at its Queens campus.
Frédéric Ozanam left his home in Lyon, France, in the autumn of 1831, for Paris. He registered in the Schoolof Law at the Sorbonne, University of Paris.
Frédéric collaborated with Mr. Emmanuel Bailly, editor of the Tribune Catholique, in reviving a student organization which had been suspended during the revolutionary activity of July 1830. They called their new association "The Conference of History." The group met on Saturdays to discuss various topics, everything but politics.
At one of their meetings, a student challenged Frédéric and the practicing Catholics. He admitted that the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, but "what do you do now?". Frédéric called for a meeting of five of his friends; they agreed to meet at Mr. Bailly's office. The date was April 23, 1833, Frédéric's twentieth birthday. Inspired by words, Frédéric the seventh decided to found the "Conference of Charity" to assist the poor. Emmanuel Bailly, the married layman, was chosen by the six students as their first President. In a short time, they changed their name to THE SOCIETY OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL after their patron.