Our History

``Show us your good works that we might believe``

The year was 1833. The place, Paris.

A group of Catholic university students, led by Frederic Ozanam, were involved in debates on religion. Against sceptical opponents, Frederic argued that throughout history, Christianity had always fostered human progress.

He was challenged: “But what is the Church doing now? What are you doing? Show us your works, and then we might believe!”

Ozanam took up the challenge. “We must do what Jesus did … let us go to the poor”.

That night Ozanam and his room mate took some of their own fire wood to an old man living in an attic a few doors away. From then on, they continued offering help and care wherever they could.

More and more friends, young students in Paris, sought out the group who had found a way to live the Gospel. By 1835, the society, named after St Vincent de Paul, a French Saint who dedicated his life to the poor, had grown to more than 100 members.

The Society continued to grow throughout France, and over time spread to other countries. Today, the Society operates in 155 countries and has over 950 000 members.

In South Africa, St Vincent de Paul Society has approximately 2 500 members and volunteers who work hard to assist people in need and combat social injustice.

We rely on contributions of cash and kind from other caring people who allow us to be their hands – carrying comfort, compassion and practical help to those most in need.

Please join them! Your donation will be put to work to give the poor and disadvantaged people of our country a ‘hand up’. Any amount, large or small, makes a difference.

Thank you and God bless you.

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Blessed Frederic Ozanam
founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society
in Paris in 1833.
Who was St Vincent de Paul?

Born to a peasant family in France in 1580, Vincent de Paul spent his early life in a determined struggle to escape his humble roots. His family shared his ambition, hoping that a career in the priesthood would better the family fortune.

However, he suffered a rude awakening when he was appointed to a rural parish in Gascony, where desperately poor farming community members were dying of starvation.

Vincent began to take stock of his resources. His former connections with the wealthy and influential led him to seek their financial assistance; he organised them into groups to go from house to house requesting disposable items of furniture, food and clothing. The response was overwhelming and the project snowballed.

Poor parishes all over France began to seek him out to learn from his example. The lives of thousands of people were changed for the better – not by receiving luxuries, but by being given a chance to take steps to improve their living conditions for themselves.

Vincent was transformed by the experience.

Faced with the extreme poverty of his surroundings and the spontaneous generosity of those who had never thought to share their resources with those in need, he went through a spiritual revolution.

He came to realise that assisting the poor was not only a matter of charity but also a matter of justice. Vincent became a legend in his own lifetime and was canonised as a saint in 1737.

Global Community

The Society of St Vincent de Paul is active in 140 countries where over 55000 conferences, with 800000 members and 1.3 million volunteers, provide services to over 30 million people who are poor and in need.

Representing the conferences at international level is the Council General of the Conferences of Saint Vincent. Based in Paris, since the Society was founded in 1833, the primary function of the Council General is to support the Conferences around the world, providing financial and humanitarian resources for the work being carried out.

It acts as a link between the poorest and the richest countries where the Society is represented, to support technology transfer, economic and financial help, and ensures that funds are used in accordance with the authorised programmes to help the poor.

The Society’s central administration is handled by the Council, which grants the status of Conference to new groups as they are formed around the world. All of its members are volunteers, and only a small group (of ten people) is employed in the Paris office to provide continuity of service.

Renato Lima de Oliveira is the XVI International President of the Society of St Vincent de Paul. Succeeding Dr. Michael Thio, in office since 2010, he heads one of the largest charitable Catholic organizations in the world.

During his inauguration speech, he said: “All those present here, have a dream, or many dreams for the SSVP. Let’s dream together! Let us have faith that our dreams come true. Enough to believe and to want. There is still much to do, so within the General Council and in our Superior Councils.

The challenges are enormous. Service to the poor, sustained by faith, hope and charity, which promotes the encounter with the “incarnate Christ” in the figure of the poor as Ozanam thought, depends on us! Let us continue together on the path of services and initiatives that can provide more velocity and efficiency to our Councils and Conferences! ”

Let your light shine before men in order that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father in heaven. – Mt 5:16

Click here to visit the international website of St Vincent de Paul.

Renato Lima de Oliveira
the XVI International President
of the Society of St Vincent de Paul