The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 to help impoverished people living in the slums of Paris, France. The primary figure behind the Society's founding was Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, a French lawyer, author, and professor in the Sorbonne. Frédéric collaborated with Emmanuel Bailly, editor of the Tribune Catholique, in reviving a student organization which had been suspended during the revolutionary activity of July 1830. Ozanam was 20 years old when he founded the Society. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Emmanuel Bailly was chosen as the first President.
The Society took Saint Vincent de Paul as its patron under the influence of Sister Rosalie Rendu, DC. Sister Rosalie, beatified in November 1999 by Pope John Paul II, was a member of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, earlier known for her work with people in the slums of Paris. She guided Frédéric and his companions in their approach towards those in need.
Blessed Rosalie Rendu, DC
SVP gradually expanded outside Paris in the mid-19th century and received benefactors in places such as Tours where figures such as the Venerable Leo Dupont, known as the Holy Man of Tours, became collaborators.
The Society is part of the Vincentian Family which also includes two congregations founded by St. Vincent de Paul – the Congregation of the Mission with Vincentian priests and brothers and the Ladies of Charity – along with the Sisters of Charity in the Setonian tradition and several others, including some religious groups that are part of the Anglican Communion like the Company of Mission Priests.
England and Wales
Servant of God Fr. Ignatius Spencer from London came to know the Society in visits to Paris. Parisian Monsieur Baudon, who would assume the presidency of SVDP in 1847, visited London in 1842 and persuaded Spencer to write about the Society in the Catholic Magazine. Then in January 1844 M. Pagliano, a London restaurateur and recent convert to Catholicism, gathered 13 Catholic men and the first English SVP conference was founded. Early initiatives included the formation of the Catholic Shoe Black Brigade, providing boys with gainful employment and the first home of “the Rescue Society” which under various names still offers child care in many dioceses.
In 2013 there were more than 10,000 members in more than 1,000 Conferences in the United Kingdom, making over 500,000 recorded visits annually to more than 100,000 people.
The Society’s first Conference in the United States was established in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri, at the Basilica of St. Louis King of France, or "Old Cathedral". Fr. John Timon, CM, had learned of the Society while visiting with his Vincentian superiors in Paris. From Dublin, Ireland, he brought to St. Louis copies of the SVP Rule. On November 16, 1845, Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick dedicated the new St. Vincent de Paul church on South Eighth Street and invited Timon to preach. Timon discussed the Society in his sermon, in the presence of prominent laymen who took hold of the idea and held an organizational meeting on November 20, 1845. The Conference included Dr. Moses Linton, founder of the St. Louis Medical and Surgical Journal, and as chair Judge Bryan Mullanphy who would become mayor of St. Louis. Bishop Kenrick appointed Fr. Ambrose Heim as spiritual advisor to the Conference.
Father Gerald Ward was born in London in 1806 and was recruited for the Melbourne mission by the pioneering father, later bishop, Patrick Geoghegan. Ward was familiar with SVP from London and, observing the plight of the poor after the Victorian gold rush, established the Society in Australia in 1854. Ward served as its first president and helped establish the SVP orphanage in South Melbourne. Charles O'Neill, an engineer and parliamentarian who had led the Society in Scotland, established it in Sydney.
Fr. Chataigner, SM, established the first Conference in New Zealand in July 1867, but did not affiliate with the Council-General in Paris. The first to affiliate was the Wellington Conference founded in 1908 by Fr. Petitjean, SM, and Charles O'Neill, followed by other Conferences out of Wellington.
Charles Gordon O'Neill was born in Glasgow in 1828. He graduated as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Upon graduation he had joined the Society of St Vincent de Paul. He was secretary at Dumbarton in 1851. He led the St Vincent de Paul Society in the Western Districts of Scotland between 1859 and 1863. By 1863 he was president of the Superior Council of Glasgow and a member of the Council-General in Paris.
SVP came to Mumbai in 1862 when the Conference of Our Lady of Hope, Bhuleshwar, was established at the cathedral by the future bishop Fr. Leo Meurin, S.J. With the closure of the cathedral in 1942, the Conference was transferred to the Church of Our Lady of Health, Cavel. Meurin also established a Conference at St. Teresa, Girgaum, in 1862, and four more in Mumbai in 1863: St. Peter, Bandra; St. Joseph, Umarkhadi; Our Lady of Victories, Mahim; and St. Anne, Mazagaon. The Society is active in southern India, especially through the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church headquartered in Kerala.