One hundred eighty-eight years ago in Paris in 1833 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is created by 7 college students; 176 years ago in 1845 in St. Louis, MO. the first Conference is established in the United States(sixteen years before the Civil War; 137 years ago in1884 the first Conference is established in Detroit, MI.; 122 years ago the Council of Detroit is established in 1899. (We keep telling young people to wait to tell they grow up before we let them do stuff.)
It was a Saturday, it was 8:00 in the evening, and a small group of seven young men met for the first time in the newspaper office of Tribune Catholique. The publisher was an elderly fellow by the name of Joseph Emmanuel Bailly. He had agreed to serve as a mentor to the seven young college students gathered around the table. Bailly had founded a student organization called The Conference of History. They met to discuss a wide range of topics. The conference attracted a variety of individuals with differing opinions and beliefs. During this meeting a heated verbal exchange was underway, a fellow by the name of Jean Broet challenged Frederic and his friends: “ We agree that at one time your church was a great church and was a great source of good. But what is your Church doing now? What is it doing for the poor? Show us your good works.” Ozanam accepted the challenge. He and several of his friends agreed to meet again and discuss what they might do in response to this challenge.
On April 23, 1833, Frederic’s twentieth birthday, he and five other students, Auguste Le Taillandier(22), Paul Lamache(23), Francois Lallier(19), Jules Deveraux(22), Felix Clave(22) gathered in Emmanuel Bailly’s(39) newspaper office. As our Rule, Part I Article 1.1 reminds us Ozanam’s words moved all those present: “We must do what is agreeable to God. Therefore, we must do what our Lord Jesus Christ did when preaching the Gospel. Let us go to the poor!” And so, in the Providence of God, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was born. They formed the first Conference of Charity. These very first Vincentians selected Emmanuel Bailly as the first Conference President. The new Vincentians then sought out Sr. Rosalie Rendu(47), a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul for her assistance and suggestions in ministering to the poor in Paris. She guided and mentored them in the spirit and charism of St. Vincent de Paul teaching them how to serve their neighbors in need with gentleness, kindness, humility and respect when visiting them in their homes. (a historical fact- she was very much loved by the poor of Paris and when she died at age 69, over 50,000 folks from all walks of life in the city attended her funeral). It’s important to remember that during the time of the founding of the Society life in France was extraordinarily difficult, it was a time of bloody wars and revolutions, extreme poverty, and confusion. Frederic Ozanam brings much to the table because of his knowledge of history, law and his deep faith. His contributions, over is short life of forty years, are to numerous to delve into here. I commend a book titled Antoine Federic Ozanam by Raymond L. Sickinger, a member of our Society from Providence, Rhode Island- a great book. You can order it on the National SVdp Website.
SVdPUSA Members site, click on Shop, select Materials Shop, then chose Heritage. Frederic was beatified by Pope John Paul ll in 1997 during World Youth Day in Paris, France. The Vincentian Family is praying for and awaiting his being named a Saint of the Church with great anticipation.
Ozanam and the other founders chose St. Vincent de Paul as their patron because his name was almost synonymous with charity. The Church has called him The Apostle of Charity and Father of the Poor as far back as the 16 century. The Rule that we still adhere to today was developed in 1835. Between 1833 and 1860 the Society grew exponentially and today provides help to “our neighbors in need” in over 150 countries on six continents, in places like Syria, Russia, China, Ethiopia, Israel, Brazil, India to name just a few. We are an independent Catholic Lay Organization, which means we govern ourselves in all matters except faith and morals. Anyone can be a member but only active Roman Catholics can hold office. World-wide and here in Detroit we do amazing work to help our neighbors in need because no work of charity is foreign to us because we see the face of Christ in those we serve and because we see the possible. Our challenge now is for each member in each Conference and each Council to leave the Society better off than we found it.
Pray, reflect and act, and keep Frederic’s and his friend’s spirit alive. Make it happen.