History of Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Although the Galveston-Houston Council of Society of St. Vincent de Paul is part of an international organization, it is very much a grassroots charity. The Galveston-Houston Council raises money and creates programming that targets the specific needs of local residents, while drawing on the experiences of other councils throughout the country. Whenever appropriate, these councils work cooperatively to better help people in need.
From Paris to Galveston-Houston in 1871
In 1833, a 20-year-old college student and his friends began serving the poor in Paris, France. This was the beginning of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Today, there are more than 777,000 members serving in 149 countries around the globe.
There are 60 Conferences in the Galveston-Houston Council involving more than 1,800 members in spiritual growth, friendship and service to the poor throughout the 10 counties that comprise the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul originated in Paris, France in 1833. Frédéric Ozanam, a young Sorbonne student, met regularly with his fellow Catholic students to discuss the issues of the day. At one of their public meetings, a challenger admitted that the Catholic Church, at one time, had been a great source of good, but asked, “What is your Church doing now?… Show us your works and we will believe you.” Unable to respond, Frédéric and his friends conceded.
Shortly afterward, Frédéric drew six friends together and inspired them to create the Conference of Charity, with the purpose of serving the poor of Paris. Frédéric and his friends decided that no act of charity would be foreign to their organization. For people in need, the Conference members provided food, clothing, shelter, financial and spiritual assistance. They also established tutoring programs and libraries.
Sr. Rosalie Rendu
Under the guidance of Sr. Rosalie Rendu, Frédéric impressed upon the Conference members the need and importance of offering the kindness, respect and compassion of God to the people they visited. In his view, this was as important as the food or clothing they brought with them.
Frédéric chose the 17th-century priest St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Apostle of Charity, as patron of the Conference. Subsequently, the Conference of Charity was renamed the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Ozanam’s faith was very important to him and it guided him throughout his life. He was also a very humble and compassionate man. These traits enabled him to successfully assist many people in need and laid the foundation for the Society to spread throughout the world. As the Society grew, its members established volunteer groups in parishes. These groups became known as Conferences. The Society started in the United States in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1871 the first Conference in Galveston-Houston was formed by parishioners at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston. The Galveston-Houston Council of the Society was instituted in 1874 to serve as a resource and support system for the Conferences.
Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (or “Vincentians”) are men and women who strive to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to individuals in need. We are young and old. Our members come in every shade of skin color. Some of us are wealthy, some are financially poor, but all of us are blessed with an awareness that our blessings (time, talent or treasure) are to be shared with our brothers and sisters in need. We know that we are not alone. We are part of an international society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection, mutually supportive gatherings, and adherence to a basic Rule.
Energized by the awareness that service to our brother or sister in need is in fact an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are keenly aware that poverty, suffering and loneliness are present for millions in our communities. For that reason, we collaborate with all who seek to relieve need and address its causes.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis. It is this personalized involvement that makes the work of the Society unique. This aid may take the form of intervention, consultation, or often through direct dollar or in-kind service. An essential precept of the Society’s work is to provide help while conscientiously maintaining the confidentiality and dignity of those who are served. The Society recognizes that it must assume, also, a role of advocacy for those who are defenseless or voiceless. Some 12 million persons are helped annually by Vincentians in the United States.
How does the Society differ from other charities?
We serve because we are spiritually called to do so. Our mission is to bring together men and women to grow spiritually, to provide them an opportunity to live the Gospel values and challenge us as people of faith; it’s a lot about how we do it, not just what we do.