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The SSVP in Scotland is organised geographically in line with the Catholic Dioceses. The history is presented in the same way.
St. Andrews and Edinburgh
The St. Vincent de Paul Society came to Scotland in 1845 only twelve years after the very first Conference was founded by Frederic Ozanam in Paris. The 1840s in Scotland were years of the Irish immigrants and "hungry forties", with a crying need for those in better circumstances to help poor, unjustly-treated and often sick people trying to eke out a living in Scotland. The Holy Guild of St Joseph had been founded by Bishop James Gillis and had 300 members by 1845. It was from this group that the first Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul was founded. It met on 25 May 1845, in the rooms of the Guild of St Joseph at 7 Hunter Square, Edinburgh.
Each member had to promise to receive the sacraments regularly and to recite every night the Litany of Loretto, one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and the Prayer of St Vincent de Paul. Their main task was to visit the homes of the poor and sick, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, pray at their deathbeds and follow their remains to the cemetery. It was this more than anything else which impressed the non-Catholics in the city. The members of the Society gave great edification by their simple piety and great faith. They also found time to instruct children and adults in the faith and to prepare them for the reception of first communion.
In the parishes of St Mary's and St Patrick's, half the collection taken up at the doors of the churches was given to the Conference. There were soon fifteen honorary members and one aspirant preparing for a month to be taken into the conference. Their ideals were for a night shelter, the supervision of apprentices and an orphanage. Soon, however, the work was becoming too much to cope with, especially financially. Other Conferences began to appear with the springing up of new parishes. More immigrants were arriving and the city was becoming unhealthier-there was so very much to do.
In the years 1850 to 1867 the Society continued to grow. A new Conference was founded and met in the new clergy house of St Patrick, Brown Square, and a Council of Direction was set up to monitor the work of both city Conferences. In 1855, a new Conference was founded in the old St Cuthbert's, later moved to Lauriston. In Edinburgh an apprentices' association was founded in 1854 and in 1858 an orphanage was founded in South Bank, Canongate. In 1889 a home for working boys was opened in Lauriston: these were to become less necessary in years to come, thankfully, with new social trends.
By 1900 there were 13 Conferences in the Archdiocese – 6 in Edinburgh, plus Musselburgh, Broxburn, Dunfermline, Stirling, Falkirk, Denny and Kilsyth. The Society spread gradually reaching 27 Conferences by the end of the Second World War. As new parishes were established a further 38 Conferences were established by 1989. Since 1990 there have been only 6 new Conferences started and the average age of our members has risen sharply.
In the last fifty years we have set up special projects to tackle problems which persist despite the Welfare State. We pioneered the recycling of furniture as early as 1962 and are still actively involved through our project in Fife plus partnerships with other agencies in Edinburgh and Stirlingshire. Since the late 1980’s we have provided a soup kitchen in Edinburgh in cooperation with the Jericho Benedictines. For almost thirty years, thanks to the joint efforts of members throughout the Archdiocese, we have offered families Caravan holidays in East Lothian and Fife. Conferences now recognise that loneliness, loss of mobility and isolation from family members affect people regardless of their financial circumstances. Social events like Christmas parties and outings for older people in our communities supplement our visiting. We care for people’s spiritual needs by transporting people to our special Masses.
The Society has succeeded in the last forty years by attracting more and more women. Recruitment of youth has been patchy. Youth Conferences have tended to do excellent work for a few years and then decline as members became adults. Our school Conference at St Modan’s, Stirling has run a very popular lunch club for senior citizens for 25 years until the relocation of the school now makes that project impractical. Some Conferences are recruiting a few teenagers and the future of the Society depends on recovering the youthful energy of our founders, who were in their early twenties.
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The SSVP started in Aberdeen with the setting up of St Mary’s Cathedral Conference on 7th August 1914, followed a few days later by St. Peter’s Church Conference. The first meeting place of the St. Mary’s Conference was a small room in the Cathedral, later converted into the ladies toilets. We were then moved into the very small works sacristy for a number of years. Finally, at the suggestion of Fr. Chalmers, we gratefully moved into the large basement of the Chapel House.
The Society moved fairly slowly through this diocese and on 23rd June 1935 St. Mary’s in Inverness at long last opened their Conference, followed by St. Joseph’s in Aberdeen on 6th March 1938. In 1955 a Conference was raised in the Sacred Heart Church, Torry and named after Blessed John Ogilvie. The President at that time was Albert Mc Dermott, Vice President Charles Blackhall, Secretary Patrick Harrington and Treasurer Albert Prest. Records for 1966 show Fr. John McCabe as Spiritual Director.
An interesting fact emerged from the notes found in the Our Lady of Aberdeen’s accounts for the years 1967 to 1971. It appears that Aberdeen’s annual returns were sent to the Superior Council, Brandon Street, Edinburgh in those days, the records also show that Mr. John Harkins was the very popular conference president from 1985 until his death a few years ago.
On 23rd November 1980 a Conference was opened in St Ninian’s Church Inverness, followed by the opening of St. Sylvester’s Conference in Elgin on 17th June 1982. Ten years later another two Conferences were raised, St Joachim’s in Wick on 4th March 1990 and one day later St. Anne’s Conference in Thurso. These two Conferences are now closed. In September 1999 St. Mary’s Conference in Nairn was opened.
Records for the year 1955 show us that the Spiritual Director of the Cathedral Conference was Rev Gordon Robson, and in 1982 the Director was Canon John Symon. The president was James Breslin, treasurer Lewis Mackie while two of our longest serving members Sandy Main and Jack Finnie who celebrates 50 years in the SSVP this year were also in the Conference at this time. James Breslin was followed by Douglas Cruickshank, who was also the Diocesan President. In 1983 Eve Murray became President of St. Mary’s Aberdeen.
In 1966 John McCabe was the spiritual Director in the Blessed John Ogilvie Conference. Unfortunately this Conference is now closed and there is no further record of it.
On 21st June 2001 the Aberdeen Diocesan Council were delighted to welcome our Scottish Council President Ian McTurk to our Quarterly meeting in St. Peters Church. Our Spiritual Director of the time was Canon Andrew Mann. In 2002 the Holy Family Conference closed with the resignation of the three members. It was restarted two months later with new Conference members led by Anne Sharkey. In the year 2006 St Peters Conference closed due to the ill health of its president Patrick Conway and the death of the treasurer Dennis Moloney, both long serving members of the SSVP. It re-opened last year and is now a strong Conference with seven members.
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Within 30 years of the foundation of the Society in the Sorbonne University in Paris in 1833 a new Conference was formed in Perth at Saint John the Baptist Church, to serve the poor within the City of Perth. This Conference was founded on 6th January 1861 and became Aggregated within the Society on 25th March 1861. The Conference still flourishes today and plans to celebrate its 150 years in existence are well advanced.
The work of the Society quickly spread within the Diocese and the 19th April 1863 saw the founding of the next Conference at Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, Dundee with Aggregation granted on 13th July 1863. Sadly this Conference ceased to exist early in the 21st century due to the age and illness of existing members and the failure to recruit new members. Four years went by before the next Conference was formed at Saint Mary Our Lady of Victories Church, Dundee on 15th July 1867. For some unknown reason Aggregation was not granted until 8th June 1874, almost seven years later.
Following a gap of over twenty years a new Conference was formed at the Immaculate Conception Church, Dundee on 18th January 1889 with Aggregation granted on 21st July 1890. Two years later the fourth Conference to be formed within the City of Dundee was founded on 4th July1891 at Saint Patrick’s Church with Aggregation granted on 21st September 1891. Sadly this Conference too has folded in recent years through lack of members.
The first Conference to be formed outwith Perth and Dundee Cities was at Saint Mungo’s Church, Alloa. This was founded on 1st January 1896 with Aggregation granted on 30th November 1896. There then followed a gap of over ten years before the next Conference was formed at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, Broughty Ferry, on the 14th November 1909 with Aggregation granted on 28th February 1910. During the years 1929 to 1933 three further Conferences were formed. The first of these was at Saint Peter and Paul’s Church, Dundee on 1st September 1929 with Aggregation granted on 13th January 1930. This was followed by the formation of a Conference at Saint Serf’s Church, High Valleyfield on 1st May 1932 with the granting of Aggregation on 28th November 1932. Saint Francis Church Conference, Dundee was formed on 10th September 1933 with Aggregation granted on 27th November 1933.
The only Conference to be formed during the 1940’s was at Saint John Mary Vianney Church, Alva on 1st January 1946 with Aggregation granted on 23rd September 1946. The start of the 1950’s saw the formation of a Conference at Holy Family Church, Dunblane on 2nd July 1950 with Aggregation granted on 2nd April 1951.
The post war years saw a rapid increase in the number of Conferences formed throughout the Diocese. With the splitting of many of the older parishes and the building of Catholic Churches within the Housing Estates created by the building of Social housing the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s a total of fifteen new Conferences were formed between 1951 and 1987. These additional Conferences were formed in Blairgowrie, Dundee, Tullibody, Perth, Montrose and Arbroath.
The start of the 21st century saw the formation of the first Youth Conference at Dundee University. This Conference was formed in 2004 and was granted Aggregation in December 2006. The members of this Conference are available mainly during term time but those who reside locally continue their involvement within the Conference throughout the year. As Dundee University stands adjacent to Saint Andrew’s Cathedral the University Conference members respond to the needs of the poor within that parish following the closure of the Cathedral Conference. Members also help to run a soup kitchen for homeless people two evenings per week and visit residents in nursing/rest homes in their area.
Many of the Conferences throughout the Diocese are flourishing at the start of the 21st century. Two of the oldest have closed in recent years and a couple of others have closed or amalgamated with adjoining Conferences due to changes within parish boundaries. Sadly many are also struggling to stay active and depend very much on elderly members to remain functional. Recruiting new members is something many of our Conferences find virtually impossible and it is questionable how long some Conferences can survive before they are forced to close. We can only place our trust in God and pray individually and collectively that the “God of the Harvest” will imbue many more people with the Spirit of Saint Vincent de Paul and Blessed Frederic Ozanam to step forward and join in His work for His people within the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Over the years members of the Society within the Dunkeld Diocese have continued their charitable and spiritual work through the visitation of the sick in their homes and during visits to hospitals and nursing homes. In addition visits to the housebound have helped to maintain contact with parishioners who live alone or are unable to attend Church Services or parish social events. Many of our Conferences organise parties, day outings, lunch clubs and other social events for our elderly parishioners.
The Furniture Projects run by the Dundee, Perth and Clackmannan Group Councils have over the years been in constant demand and a great source of help for clients being re-housed or those in need of replacement items. Keeping these Projects going has not been easy due in part to the increasing age of the members involved, the limited number of fit members available to do this work and the problems of storage and transportation.
The Perth Group Special Works Conference have taken a long lease on unused Church property from Bishop Logan and after renovation, following a large grant from the National Activity Fund, are now able to offer good quality accommodation to homeless people.
The Ozanam Club in Dundee continues to provide an opportunity for children and young adults with disabilities to meet weekly where games, social interaction and outings are encouraged under the supervision of volunteers.
The SSVP Shop in Dundee has been a great success since it opened and provides a wonderful source of income which is donated to local worthy causes and National and International Appeals in times of crisis. This shop is run by volunteers.
Caravan holidays are provided by the Dundee Group in two caravans sited at Arbroath. These provide holidays for young families and elderly members of all communities who might not otherwise be able to afford a holiday. The Nairn caravan has also been widely used for families who would benefit from such a holiday.
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The Society was founded on 23 August 1848, in Glasgow in St Andrew’s Cathedral with the approval of Bishop Murdoch, Vicar Apostolic for the West of Scotland and under the direction of Father William Gordon. The needs of the growing city, packed with Irish immigrants and full of poverty and need and disease were immense. The first president was John Burns Bryson, a solicitor who had joined the Society in Edinburgh the previous year; the treasurer was Hugh Margey of Great Clyde Street; the vice-president was David Rodgers of Anderston and the secretary, John Trainer of Clyde Terrace. In the first 10 years, 13 additional Conferences were established; there were 131 members with upwards of 6,000 poor people as their “masters”.
In 1887/88 in conjunction with a Marist Brother Walfrid , the Society’s food kitchens for the poor of the East End were supported by the formation of the Celtic Football Club. Throughout the rest of the 19th Century the work in Glasgow expanded - as well as the visitation of the poor in their homes other works were quickly to spring up according to the needs of Glasgow and the West of Scotland. It was not only the practical needs of the poor that the Society worked to alleviate - the Society also became well known for the way that we served those who passed away. The burying of the dead if they could not afford a funeral and the reciting of the Rosary were just some of the ways that dignity was shown to the deceased. Some Conferences to the present day are still involved in the funerals of their parishioners.
Throughout the 20th Century the Society expanded both in membership and in its works. Prior to the implementation of the Welfare State after the Second World War the Society strived to do its best to assist those who came for help. In 1948 the Archdiocese of Glasgow was split into 3 parts; Glasgow Motherwell and Paisley.
After this separation in Glasgow with the building of new estates and the removal of the previous tenements there was an increase in the number of parishes which in turn increased the number of the Conferences throughout the early post-war period. The works of the Society developed throughout this period and there was a change away from homes for boys etc which had been established in the 19th Century to new works by the early 1970’s such as the Ozanam Centre.
From the 1970’s to the end of the 20th century there was much change within the Society in Glasgow. With the change in the Rule female members were allowed to join and over the years the numbers increased and with this, the type of work carried out has changed. In 1997 members of the Archdiocese attended the beatification ceremony in Paris by Pope John Paul II where Frederic Ozanam was declared Blessed.
By the start of the 21st century there were a number of changes taking place within the Archdiocese. The Furniture Project ceased after it was decided that this project had run its course. The shop which had been opened at the same time as the Furniture Project continued. The Ozanam Centre which has moved now on a number of occasions to new premises, has changed from its initial work of providing clothing to homeless men to doing the same for women also and operating a Sunday lunch club. In 2001 the Louise Project was formed to work with women involved in prostitution and this has continued and developed throughout the intervening years. A caravan project has also been started to provide free holidays in Saltcoats - again another successful project. The newest Project is the Rendu Group which has been developed to learn sign language mainly to assist the Catholic deaf community at Mass - particularly the weekly Archdiocesan Mass for the deaf. As like all our other projects the Rendu Group has developed and the members have received accredited training for British Sign Language.
Also at the start of the 21st Century an Ozanam Talk and Week have been instituted to promote both the life and cause of Blessed Frederic Ozanam and the works of the Society.
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The first Conference was established at St. Margaret's, Airdrie on 30/07/1854, and a further 8 Conferences were formed by 1890. There were no further Conferences formed between 1890 and 1899.
There were 18 Conferences formed between 1900 and 1935, and another 10 Conferences formed between 1940 and1949. A further 17 Conferences were formed between 1950 and 1959, and between 1960 and 1976 a further 17 Conferences were formed. The last Conference to be formed was St. John Ogilvie in Blantyre in 1980.
Our largest Legacy was left to Motherwell SSVP in 1992 , for the Poor of the Diocese, by Fr. Lawrence Kenny, who was the Parish Priest of St. Edward's, Airdrie and he left the magnificent sum of £97,000. This Legacy helped the Society to purchase 3 Caravans at Port Seton, outside Edinburgh, and to purchase Vans for the Furniture Project, which has been going over 25 years. We trust that we used the Legacy wisely and have done as requested and helped the Poor of the Motherwell Diocese.
Jim Lynch started the Ozanam Clubs, with the first club opening in Viewpark in May 1989,and this was followed by Hamilton in 1991, Carfin in 1992. Airdrie Club was opened in 1993 but closed in 2000. East Kilbride was opened in 1994 but closed in 2001, and Lanark opened in 1995. These Clubs do great work with Adults and Children with Special needs, in addition to providing a welcome respite for their family/carers, when the Clubs are in session.
The members of the Society in Motherwell are getting older every year and unless we find a way to attract new members, we will see a lot of Conferences closing.
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In October 1948 Bishop Black established a Paisley Diocesan Central Council of St Vincent de Paul. Prior to this date Renfrewshire, as existed at that time, formed part of the Archdiocese of Glasgow.
The present Diocese of Paisley encompasses the areas of Inverclyde, Renfrew and East Renfrewshire District Councils.
The first Conferences were formed during 1853, being St Mirin’s, Paisley and St Mary’s, Greenock both of which have served continuously to this day. Further Conferences were formed throughout Barrhead, Greenock, Port Glasgow , Paisley, Renfrew, Johnstone and Neilston and by 1900 there were 10 Conferences existing.
The Society continued to grow during the first half of the 1900’s and by 1948 the total number had reached 19, stretching from Gourock in the west through Greenock and as far as Clarkston. Conferences also sprung up in the villages of Bishopton, Houston, Howwood and Linwood. At present there are 37 active Conferences.
The first major undertaking by the St Vincent de Paul Society in Paisley was a concert attended by Bishop Black in February 1949.
The latter part of the 1900’s saw massive growth in housing developments with new parishes being set up and new Conferences being formed. All the major towns saw new Conferences formed and Newton Mearns welcomed St Cadoc’s to help in that area. During this period some Youth Conferences flourished for a period but have all now closed, mostly as the members joined the ‘senior’ conference.
Paisley Diocese has 4 Special Works Conferences:
- Holy Spirit, Inverclyde, who support Jericho in their drug rehabilitation work;
- St Vincent’s Hospice, Johnstone, who provide support for those who care for the terminally ill;
- Our Lady of the Wayside, Paisley, who run the Paisley Ozanam Centre to feed the homeless and distribute clothing;
- Rosalie Rendu, Paisley, who run the Paisley Ozanam Club for those with special needs.
St John the Baptist conference, Port Glasgow held an 150th anniversary Mass of thanksgiving on Sunday 18 March 2007. The principal concelebrant was the Right reverend Philip Tartaglia, Bishop of Paisley and a large number of former priests of the parish were present. St John’s is also unique in having a ladies auxiliary group, formed in 1891. The group promote social functions and raise funds for the Conference.
Unfortunately, due to various circumstances a number of Conferences have closed over the years. Our most recent casualty is St Mungo’s, Greenock where the parish has closed. Fortunately the members will join with other local Conferences.
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