175th Anniversary of SSVP in England
On 12th February, 1844, thirteen men met in the Sabloniere Hotel in Leicester Square, London and agreed to form a Conference of the “Brotherhood of St Vincent de Paul”. Frederick Lucas was elected President, but declined and Charles Paglioni, (the hotel’s owner) was elected as its first President. This followed earlier efforts made in London and Paris.
In 1840, Frederic Ozanam had returned from Lyon to the Sorbonne in Paris, where he gained a great following as a lecturer and in 1841 he met a student from the L‘École des Beaux-Arts’ named George Wigley, who was born in Manchester, but raised in Boulogne and educated there through a maiden Aunt.
Wigley asked Ozanam how he could form a Conference in London, and he was advised to use his contacts with the Catholic press. Knowing Frederick Lucas, the owner and editor of “The Tablet”, a weekly Catholic magazine, George sent him a translation of the Rule.
Meanwhile, an Anglican clergyman who in 1830 was converted to Catholicism, George “Ignatius” Spencer had become enthusiastic about the Society. He had been ordained a Catholic priest and had been appointed spiritual director of the seminary, St Mary’s College, Oscott. His family was rich and aristocratic –being the great-great Uncle of Winston Churchill and great-great-great Uncle of Diana, Princess of Wales. While at Oscott he met M Baudon, then the International Society’s General Secretary. On returning to Paris, M. Baudon sent him the first 1841 Annual Report.
In 1843, Fr Spencer wrote an article for the “Catholic Magazine” suggesting Catholics should form and join such the Society. This article was reproduced in The Tablet and further articles followed, probably written by Fr Spencer, who has recently been declared a “servant of God” as a first step towards sainthood. This was the background to that meeting in London.
By the end of 1844 there were five Conferences in London and by 1850 throughout England there were 18 Conferences and 293 members. Today, in England & Wales, there are over 1,000 Conferences with 8,000 members.
After the Society’s foundation in Paris in 1833, Conferences were formed in Italy (1836), Belgium (1842). Ireland followed England in 1844 with Scotland a year later.