home visits, food banks, outreach: reflections on putting reciprocal encounter at the heart of the SSVP’s action.
186 years of charity and love alongside those who suffer
people helped in the world
years of existence
April, 23th: Frédéric Ozanam and his companions – Emmanuel Bailly, Paul Lamache, Félix Clavé, Auguste Le Taillandier, Jules Devaux and François Lallier – held their first meeting, near the church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. The group placed itself under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul and contacted a Daughter of Charity – Sr Rosalie Rendu – working in the Mouffetard district. The SSVP was born.
The movement expanded and its first members, who were mostly students, set up Conferences in the French provinces. Since a management structure was needed, the Management Council (subsequently called the General Council) was established. The first President General is Emmanuel Bailly.
The SSVP moved out into Europe and throughout the world: Rome, then Belgium, Scotland and Ireland in 1843, England in 1844 and, during the years that followed, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Turkey, the USA, Mexico, Switzerland, Canada, Austria and Spain.
On September 8, 1853, Frederic Ozanam died in Paris, swept away by the illness that had weakened him for several months. At this time, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was now present in 29 countries and growing constantly. Ozanam's desire to “embrace the world in a network of charity” was being fulfilled via some 900 Conferences involving around 15,000 members.
Practically absent when the SSVP was founded, women wanted to join the Society and adhere to the rules established by its founders. Celestina Scarabelli founded the female branch in Bologna (Italy) on 10 January 1856. The two branches merged over a century later, in 1967.
For a while, the Society flourished under the Second Empire before its activities were suddenly stopped by Persigny's circular ordering the dissolution of SSVP Councils. Accused of relaying Catholic opposition to Napoleon III's regime, the Society lay dormant until 1870.
The two bloody world conflicts of 1914–18 and 1939–45 caused entire Conferences to disappear. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was banned in Eastern Bloc countries by their Communist regimes, after the Second World War
On the 22nd of August 1997, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul's main founder – Frédéric Ozanam – was beatified by Pope John-Paul II during a ceremony that gathered many Vincentians in Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris. This recognition by the Catholic Church was the first step in the long canonization process started in 1925.
On 23 April 2013, the General Council celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of its main founder. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was then present in 153 countries and had around 800,000 members. It is now one of the world’s oldest active Catholic lay organizations.