Among our founders were Frederic Ozanam, a college student, 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.
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.
The District Council of Madison — Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization in which members join together in friendship to grow spiritually by providing person-to-person services to our neighbors in need.