Origins of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
During the early 19th century, Paris was amid upheavals and was greatly affected by social and political unrest. The July revolution negatively affected the efforts of the Old Bourbon Monarchy. There was a decline in religion, and atheism was beginning to gain ground. More and more skepticism started to grow in the teachings of St Simon. Many farmers were leaving their lands and migrating into the large cities in search of employment. More often than not, they only found unemployment or jobs with little wages. The impoverished state of life in the slums on the outskirts of Paris would later inspire the beginning of the SVP Society.
The Origin of the SVP Society
The SVP Society was started in Paris in 1833 by Christian students led by Frederic Ozanam. The vision of Ozanam was to embrace the world in a network of charity. What started as a small conference of charity would later spread across the globe and alleviate the suffering of many low-income families, thus living to the founder’s ideals.
In 1832, Cholera was claiming more than 1200 people every day in Paris. During this time, vast slums were setting in the suburbs of Paris. Many people were living without resources, and some in extreme poverty. Starvation, disease, and homelessness were common among the slum inhabitants. Frederic Ozanam, then a young student, had to walk through some of the poorest suburbs in Paris each day on his way to attending university lectures. He became deeply moved by the challenges faced by families that had been affected by the epidemic.
Ozanam and some of his friends with whom he used to debate world events in history conferences, decided to come together as fellow Christians in order that they may set up a philanthropy conference. Emmanuel Bailly, then the editor of Tribune Catholique, agreed to help in their project and offered them a place they could meet. On 23rd April 1883, they held their first convention near St. Sulpice Church. The convention comprised of Frederic Ozanam, Emmanuel Bailly, Jules Devaux, Paul Lamache, Auguste Taillandier, Felix Clave and Francois Lallier.
The group named itself “The Society of St Vincent de Paul” after the Patron Saint of Christian Charity and put themselves under the guidance of the virgin Mary. After the gathering, Frederic and one of his friends put together all their winter wood stock and presented it to a widow. They later asked for the advice of Sr. Rosalie Rendu, a daughter of charity member who used to visit low-income families in the more impoverished neighborhoods. Sr. Rendu introduced them to people they could help and coordinated the allocation of aid from Mouffetard Street, which was in Paris’ 12th District. They resolved to meet every week to nurture their relationship and to respond to the needs of the neighborhoods they served. The SVP Society was born.