The Holy Year of Mercy and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting, and dirty because it has been out on the streets.” – Pope Francis.

Meeting our neighbors in need, on the streets and where they live, is not only the goal of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP), but it is also what Jesus commands us to do.

This Year of Mercy speaks directly to the heart of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Our efforts are directed to bringing both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to the streets in our own local communities.

Founded in 1833 by Blessed Frederic Ozanam, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has grown to be an international Catholic lay-organization dedicated to not only serving the poor in our local communities, but also to providing many other acts of kindness. The St. Vincent de Paul motto is “no work of charity is foreign to the Society.”

But let’s back up a minute and understand, briefly, how the Society came into being, and then look ahead and see what it is doing today.  Historically, it was the time of the post French Revolution, of Victor Hugo, and the setting for Les Miserables. While attending law school at the Sorbonne, the University of Paris, Frederic Ozanam joined a student group that would meet to discuss religion and social issues of the day.
During one of these meetings, a friend named Jean Broet confronted Frederic with a challenge. In a heated argument, he told Frederic that the Church was once a great Church, but “what is your Church doing now? What is it doing for the poor?”

Frederic accepted the challenge. And with that, the Society was born. He reached out to others for guidance and adopted St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Father of the Poor, as its patron. Frederic is quoted as saying “we are not blessed with two separate lives—one for seeking the truth, and the other for putting it into practice.”

Internationally, there are 700,000 Vincentians in 150 countries. Catholic Digest listed it at number 1 of the “Top Five Charities You Should Know About.”

Here in the Diocese of Shreveport there are 22 conferences and 300 Vincentians.  Last year, we served over 21,000 neighbors in need and made 3,100 home visits.  Without exception, every Vincentian will tell you that the blessings and growth we receive in our own spirituality from the people we serve is much greater than anything we can hope to do for them.

This is part one of a four-part series, which will introduce you to the works, history and people who influenced SVdP.  Next Month: Sister Rosalie Rendu and her impact on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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