The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is one of the longest-serving charitable organizations in the world. The Society was founded in 1833 in France by six university students. Committed to offering person-to-person service to people who are poor, suffering or forgotten, the Society those young people founded rapidly spread across Europe, reached the United States by 1845 and was operating in Milwaukee by 1848.
A membership organization, the Society began working in Madison in 1925 with two parish-based groups of members serving their neighbors in need. Today, programs the Society operates in Dane County include a large customer-choice food pantry, a charitable pharmacy, storage for the goods of persons who are homeless, seven thrift stores offering direct charity, housing at Port St. Vincent de Paul and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton House, and several other forms of assistance for people struggling with poverty.
More than 400 St. Vincent de Paul members serve through 18 member groups (“conferences”) around Dane County. These volunteers continually strive to carry on the compassionate work begun when our founders formed the Society in France more than 180 years ago. We operate locally as the District Council of Madison, Inc., Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Services our Society provides are offered without regard to race, ethnicity, religious belief, gender or other characteristics unrelated to the need we encounter among those we are privileged to help. (Click here for more information about the history of our work in Dane County. Click here if you are looking for the “Contact Us” page.)
For information about the nonprofit status of the District Council of Madison, Inc, Society of St. Vincent de Paul – as well as IRS and financial documentation – click the seal at left (for another organization’s informational site).
Among our founders were Frederic Ozanam, one of those six students, as well as an adult mentor, Emmanuel Bailly. Young Frederic, a Catholic, wanted to help the poor, who found themselves reeling from the major social changes wrought by the Industrial Revolution.
Taught in part by Blessed Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity revered for her work to help the poor of Paris, Frederic and his friends visited the homes of the poor and helped them by sharing whatever food, fuel and other necessities were available to give. More importantly, the young men provided food for the spirit through their many acts of kindness and friendship. The home visits our Society’s founders began became a hallmark of our Society. Our members’ home visits to families and individuals requesting assistance continue to take place today around the world – and right here in Dane County.
Frederic also wanted to help improve the spiritual lives of his peers by urging them to perform works of charity rather than simply talking about the problem of the needy. Today a candidate for recognition as a saint, Blessed Frederic founded the Society in the name of St. Vincent de Paul, a French priest from the late 16th and the 17th centuries. Sometimes called “the Apostle of Charity,” St. Vincent organized efforts to bring resources to bear on the needs of those struggling with poverty – a characteristic that made him an ideal patron for the work of charity Frederic and friends began.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul now operates in 150 nations. When the Society crossed the Atlantic in 1845, it began what is now the National Council of the United States, headquartered in St. Louis. Today, there are more than 150,000 U.S. members of the Society – and more than 800,000 worldwide.
Our global mission is to help people in need, primarily through person-to-person contact made by our volunteer members. We accomplish this mission through our parish- and community-based member conferences and through special projects conducted at the next level of organization, the “council.” Our members, known as Vincentians, continually strive to promote the dignity of the people they serve while helping alleviate their suffering and working to correct conditions that cause the problems of those we help.
For links to sites of some other member organizations of the Vincentian family, click here.
“Helping at the food pantry has always been a good way to meet those in need and has helped me to understand and relate to them as people who are just like me. … Conversations with our clients have done a lot to make the problem of poverty a personal one involving real people instead of an abstract issue.”