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Our History


A college student, Frederic Ozanam, and a group of five peers founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris in 1833, with their mentor, Emmanuel Bailly. They set up the first local group, which we call a “Conference,” to show that their faith inspired them to love and care for others; and to learn about, deepen and be strengthened in their faith, so as to grow closer to God. They took as their patron St. Vincent de Paul, a well-known saint of Christian charity who lived in France two centuries earlier. 

After its humble beginnings in Paris, the Society grew to over 2,500 Conferences around the world during the lifetime of Frederic Ozanam. Since then, the Society has expanded dramatically. Today there are more than 44,600 Conferences with more than 800,000 members working in 154 countries throughout the world.

From its foundation, the primary goal of the Society has been the spiritual development of its members. Vincentians are called to journey together towards holiness, which is perfect union with Christ and the perfection of love.

The work of a Vincentian is not either spiritual or active—it is both. This is eminently practical. On one hand, an essential way to draw nearer to Christ is by serving Him in our neighbors-in-need and in our fellow Vincentians. It is in our compassion and care for those who are suffering that members grow and develop as Christian men and women. On the other hand, the more we strive to deepen our faith, the more Christ-like our witness of love will be. Our ideal is to help relieve suffering for love alone, without thinking of any reward or advantage for ourselves.

Inspired by our principal founder Blessed Frederic Ozanam, we strive to bring the love and peace of Christ to those we serve in the spirit of the Gospel message:

          “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever  you did for one of these least brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” [Matthew 25:31-46]

Our Founders

St Vincent de Paul (1581-1600):

Vincent was on the path to a comfortable life as a chaplain to an aristocratic family when he realized that God wanted him to work with those living in the poverty he saw all around him. He embodied energetic, humble service to those in need but also recognized that charitable work must be well-organized in order to be effective. Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission (an order of priests and religious brothers), the Ladies of Charity (an organization of lay women), and the Daughters of Charity to respond to the needs which he had a burning desire to alleviate. Almost two centuries later, the Society took St. Vincent as its patron. His feast day is September 27.

Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853):

Both as a student and later as a professor, Frederic was a committed Christian and a strong Catholic voice. Though his intelligence and sincerity made him a formidable defender of the faith at a time of great skepticism in Paris, Frederic recognized that the most persuasive argument he could make for the Church was through humble service to those in poverty. At age 20 he responded to a peer’s rebuke—“what is your Church doing for the poor of our city?”—by inviting a group of friends to join him in going directly to those in need. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was born. Committed to works of charity, Frederic also pursued spirituality and justice with zeal, understanding all of these elements to be integral to the Christian life—even for married lay people like him. Blessed Frederic’s feast day is September 9.

Blessed Frederic Ozanam.jpg

Blessed Rosalie Rendu (1786-1856):

Sister Rosalie was a Daughter of Charity whose dedication to living and working in the impoverished Mouffetard district earned her the respect of those across the societal spectrum. From the Society’s beginnings, she mentored Frederic Ozanam and the other young members, giving them practical skills for providing assistance to those in need and teaching them to see Christ in those they served, in the spirit of St. Vincent and St. Louise. Blessed Rosalie’s feast day is February 7.

Rosalie Rendu.jpg

St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660):

The illness and early death of Louise’s husband left her almost overwhelmed with distress and spiritual anxiety. But with Vincent de Paul as her spiritual director, Louise’s inherent desire to know and accomplish God’s will blossomed into a life of ministry to those who were sick and destitute. Her contagious spirituality and strong organizational ability led her to co-found with Vincent the Daughters of Charity, a group of sisters who serve the poor and who inspired our Society. The feast day of St. Louise, patron of social workers, is May 9.

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