Society of St. Vincent de Paul and It’s Work Today
On 5th March 1854, the Society was initiated in Australia by Fr. Gerald Ward, an English missionary in Melbourne. Fr. Ward, who was familiar with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul from his time in London, had observed the difficult predicament experienced by the low-income families in Melbourne following the Victorian gold rush. Therefore, he established the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Australia and became the first president. The new conference in Melbourne aimed to relieve poverty and visit the less privileged families. He started by addressing the most prevalent social issue at the time – A growing number of homeless and deserted children on the streets. Fr. Ward subsequently help set up the SVP Orphanage in Melbourne. In 1857 children started being accepted to the Orphanage.
In 1862, the Society expanded to India when Fr. Leo Meurin established the Conference of Our Lady of Hope, Bhuleshwar, at the cathedral. Fr. Meurin also set up a Conference at St. Teresa, Girgaum the same year and subsequently established four others in the year that followed; Our Ladies of Victories, Mahim; St. Peter, Bandra; St. Anne, Mazagaon and St. Joseph, Umarkhadi.
The Society also expanded to Canada, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and many other countries.
First Women’s wing of the Society
At the inception of the Society of St Vincent de Paul, women did not take part in forming the group since they were practically absent from the university. Although St. Vincent and Louise Marillac had established the Ladies of Charity for young women, women still wished to be members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and observe the rules laid out by its founders. On 10th January 1856, Celestina Scarabelli established a women’s wing of the Society in Bolonia.
Since the Society was first established, it has witnessed three wars, one revolution, and many trails. The Society was put on hold between 1861 and 1870 when the Perigny memorandum called for Councils to be dissolved. From 1939 to 1945, many conferences were forced to close down owing to World War 2. The Society also faced resistance from anti-Christian doctrines. Conferences were halted in some countries where they were considered as an insurgent. In other countries, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul went underground.
The SVP society today
Today the SVP society continues to maintain its influence. Most of the influence is in developing nations, which currently account for about two-thirds of the conventions. As of 2020, the Society has about 800,000 members stretched out across the world, all carrying on the vision of St Vincent de Paul and the benevolent work of Ozanam to offer help to the less privileged in Society while spreading the word of Christ. The members operate through conferences, which may be based out of a community center, church, school, hospital, etc. The conferences comprise of Catholic volunteers who pursue Christian growth through service to the poor. Although the majority of the members are Christian Catholics, Non- Catholics are allowed to join since the Society serves everyone regardless of their beliefs. The SVP Society also runs charity shops in many countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, where they sell items from clothing to books to automobiles at a low price. Proceeds from the charity shops and donated items are distributed to the poor, who are already quite burdened by credit troubles and even bankruptcy. In terms of its accomplishment to date, the SVP society has indeed lived up to its founder’s ideals of charity. Through the Society, many people have been able to exercise their faith and have alleviated the suffering of countless lives.