Frédéric Ozanam founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833 while he was a student at the Sorbonne School of Law. During that time, France was undergoing a social and economic upheaval caused by the migration of farmers to the cities. Poverty and disease were rampant as the agrarian population learned to adapt to an urban environment, adjust to a new way of living and find a way to support their families.
A cholera plague struck Paris in 1832. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions caused the disease to spread rapidly through the slum areas, killing thousands of men, women and children. The ravages of this deadly disease would be felt for decades.
A number of organizations were formed to help the poor during this period of migration, plague and poverty. Followers of Saint-Simon, utopian socialists, formed societies of laborers to give strength to the workers’ demands for decent working conditions and a livable wage. This movement attracted many college students, most of whom were self-proclaimed atheists.
The followers of Saint-Simon accused Ozanam and all Catholics of avoiding their responsibilities toward the poor by putting that burden on religious orders and then “washing their hands” of the problem. They challenged Ozanam to demonstrate his Catholic faith in action – to “do something – show us your works.”
These words – this challenge – haunted Frédéric Ozanam. Although he and several of his friends had been helping Sister Rosalie Rendu and other Daughters of Charity care for the plague-stricken poor, he saw the need to organize laymen to assist the religious in caring for the poor.
On April 23, 1833, Frederic Ozanam, August LaTaillandier, Paul Lamache, Felix Clave and Jules DeVaux held the first meeting of the Conference of Charity – later renamed the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The Society quickly spread throughout Europe. The first American Council was established in 1845 in St. Louis, MO. Today, St. Vincent de Paul internationally consists of over 700,000 members spread amongst nearly 50,000 Conferences on 6 Continents in 139 Countries.
The Society’s national and international mission is to aid the poor through personal service – a mission that is as true today as it was back in the 1800s.
The Society on Long Island
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Long Island was founded in 1948 and is comprised of 58 Conferences (volunteer groups), 3 Thrift Stores, 13 Food Pantries, and 2 Transitional Housing Programs. We serve over 200,000 people annually through a myriad of direct services that help people overcome hardship.
The Long Island Council supports the charitable works of its Conferences in Nassau and Suffolk County, and also links Conferences with the National and International Councils to learn from each other and to allow Society members to respond to worldwide needs.