Vincent was born poor and in the beginning he wanted to be rich. This was why he first became a priest!
Later he changed his mind and decided to spend his life helping the sick and mentally-ill, orphans and old people, beggars and the starving, prisoners and galley slaves.
Vincent’s life is a great reminder for us all to find ways to help those around us.
Frédéric Ozanam (1813 – 1853)
The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded in 1833 by a 19 year old Catholic student called Frédéric Ozanam. In a discussion one day, Frédéric was asked to say what the Catholic Church was doing for the poor in France. Frédéric was embarrassed. He knew in his heart that the Church was doing very little.
So Frédéric and his friends began to meet each week to plan visits and help local people in need. He now realised that Christianity was about actions, not just words. Thus, they formed the world’s first SVP group. In 1997 Frédéric Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II in France.
St Vincent de Paul is recognised, both in France and worldwide as the apostle of charity and of the society. It was decided by the Founders to dedicate the society to St Vincent de Paul.
Louise de Marillac (1591 – 1660)
Louise was a wealthy widow who became a close friend and confidante of Vincent. She founded with him the Daughters of Charity.
During Louise’s marriage, and especially after the death of her husband, Louise found herself with spare time which she dedicated to helping abandoned children on the streets.
She graduated to visiting the sick men of the chain gangs in their prison hospice (a truly horrible place) and started a house nearby where a number of women cooked food for those who visited the prisoners daily to take with them.
Throughout the country, centres staffed by wives of people in the village were set up to serve the poor. Louise pushed for every village to have its own clinic, school, nurse and teacher. The women who came to do these jobs made up the Daughters of Charity.
Sr Rosalie Rendu (1786 – 1856)
As a novice, Sr Rosalie was a sensitive and nervous person. She would have initially seemed an unlikely woman to spend 50 years of her life helping Paris’s most impoverished.
When, in 1803, she arrived in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Paris, she was horrified by the poverty caused as a result of the civil revolution. She and her sisters distributed relief in the form of clothing, food and linen, and ran a school for children. She also used her energy to pressure the authorities and to involve others in her work.
Through Rosalie’s assistance, Frédéric and his companions made their first contact with the poor. Because Rosalie’s good work had made her a recognised household name, the new group gained an instant respect which they would not have had otherwise.
Rosalie was a very important guide for Frédéric and his friends and was a living example of how we should put our faith into action.