SSVP History in Scotland

The St. Vincent de Paul Society came to Scotland in 1845 only twelve years after the first Conference was founded by Frederic Ozanam in Paris. The 1840s in Scotland were years of the Irish immigrants 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.

St. Andrews and Edinburgh

The first Conference of the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Scotland was St. Patrick’s, Edinburgh, and was founded on the 25th May 1845.

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.

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. There was so very much to do with more immigrants arriving and the city becoming unhealthier.

In the years 1850 to 1867 the Society continued to grow. 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, with new social trends.

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. There was so very much to do with more immigrants arriving and the city becoming unhealthier.

In the years 1850 to 1867 the Society continued to grow. 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, with new social trends.

By 1900 there were 13 Conferences in the Archdiocese. 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 7 more new Conferences started.

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 women. Recruitment of youth has been patchy. 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.


 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. On 23rd June 1935 St. Mary’s in Inverness opened their Conference, followed by St. Joseph’s in Aberdeen on 6th March 1938. In 1955 Blessed John Ogilvie Conference opened in the Sacred Heart Church, Torry.

 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. In September 1999 St. Mary’s Conference in Nairn was opened.


6th January 1861 marked the formation of the first conference at the Saint John the Baptist Church, to serve the poor within the City of Perth. The work of the Society quickly spread within the Diocese and there was a steady stream of new conferences being established.

Then 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.

In 2004 a Youth Conference was formed at Dundee University. Members help to run a soup kitchen for homeless people two evenings per week and visit residents in nursing/rest homes in their area.

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 Project run by Dundee Group Council has over the years been in constant demand and a great source of help for clients being rehoused or those in need of replacement items.

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.


 The Society was founded on 23 August 1848, in Glasgow in St Andrew’s Cathedral. The needs of the growing city, packed with Irish immigrants and full of poverty and need and disease were immense. In the first 10 years, 13 additional Conferences were established; there were 131 members with upwards of 6,000 poor people.

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.

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 until its closure in 2009. 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 has been instituted to promote both the life and cause of Blessed Frederic Ozanam and the works of the Society.


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 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.

A Legacy of £97,000 was left to Motherwell SSVP for the Poor of the Diocese.

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.

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.


In October 1948 a Paisley Diocesan Central Council of St Vincent de Paul was established. 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 32 active Conferences.

The latter part of the 1900’s saw massive regeneration with new parishes being set up and new Conferences being formed.

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.

Argyll and the Isles


The first Conference to open in Argyll and the Isles was St Mary’s, Rothesay on 20 November 1864, which is sadly now closed. It wasn’t until 55 years later that St Kieran’s Campbeltown opened on 06 July 1919. Another 66 years later and St John & St Mary’s, Caol began but although closed is awaiting reopening.

The last conference to open was St Columba’s Cathedral, Oban on 1 December 1993.

The first Conference to open in Galloway was St Andrew’s, Dumfries on 02 February 1862. The next Conference to open was St Margaret’s, Ayr on 01 November 1868, closely followed by St Joseph’s, Kilmarnock on 01 April 1869. Between 1872 and 1899 a further four Conferences opened in Girvan, Kilbirnie, Cumnock and Stranraer. During the 20th century a further 28 Conferences opened, with a spate of those opening in the late 50s, early 60s.