The history of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul begins in 1833 with the story of a young Catholic university student, Frédéric Ozanam, who gathered a small group of friends and took the risk of responding to the glaring inequality and injustice emerging in Paris, France. The group financed their works of charity for the poor out of their own pockets and from contributions of friends. We who have come after them are guided by the same desire to do God's will though faithful service to those who are pushed to the margins of society.
Frédéric Ozanam knew that to preserve the basic spirit of the Society - witness to Christ, fraternal union, and direct person-to-person assistance to the suffering - a simple rule was needed for the membership to follow. The rule and structure of the Society are the enduring legacy of this great man who noted, "The poor have called me out of myself. No wonder I love them so." Under the guidance of Sister Rosalie Rendu, he stressed the importance of offering kindness, respect and compassion to the poor. In his view, this was as essential to their service as the food, clothing, shelter, and financial assistance they provided. He chose the 17th century priest, St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Apostle of Charity, as patron of the organization.
A few years later, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul spread worldwide and reached the United States in 1845 when a conference group was formed in St. Louis, Missouri. San Antonio was among one of the early foundations, with the first presence beginning at St. Mary's Catholic Church in 1871.
Today, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of the Archdiocese of San Antonio involves over 2,000 dedicated Vincentian members and other committed SVDP volunteers who serve children, families and individuals in need. Through our 68 conferences that are located in or near Catholic parishes throughout the community, Vincentians identify need and provide a wide variety of services for basic needs such as food, clothing, rent, furniture, prescription medicine and utility assistance. Person-to person assistance is at the core of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Vincentians also visit the homes of those they assist. Through the home visit, Vincentians determine how to best help the individual or family in crisis. The home visit is a trademark of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
In addition, our San Antonio SVDP Central Office staff provides more than 400,000 meals annually to the homeless and offers food service job training at St Vinnys Bistro® at the Haven for Hope homeless campus. Our small staff is responsible for direct services to those most in need as well as overseeing and supporting the 68 conference sites.