History & Purpose
It was a Tuesday night in Paris, France, the 23 of April 1833 when Frederic Ozanam and his friends gathered at the offices of the newspaper that employed them. They had come together to celebrate Frederic Ozanam’s 20th birthday. The intended excitement of the event was overshadowed by the weight of their minds that were burdened by taunts they had been receiving from fellow students, “The Church is but a hypocrisy. What are you doing for the poor?”
Direct, cutting and offensive, these words challenged Ozanam and his Catholic friends to make a difference. They responded to the disenchantment of their fellow students by forming an organization that would stretch them, not only as Catholics but as persons, to explore the dynamic of what it meant to love -- to reach out and meet those in need, where they are, in their homes, bringing bread, clothing, friendship and care. They went to give a hand up and a presence of love, kindness and friendship.
They were assisted initially by Sister Rosalie who worked with the poor and had told them: “...Be kind and love, for love is your first gift to the poor. They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than anything else you can bring them.” They chose St. Vincent de Paul, a patron of charity and poverty, as the model of their desire to serve the poor. Frederic Ozanam had a great love of Mary and carried a Rosary with him, so that he could take time to pray. His Rosary is on display in Paris. Our Lady plays a very important role in the work of the Society and in our love for the poor.
The group enthusiastically recognized and met those in need as persons of individual dignity, ministering to them in a personal way in their homes. Their efforts ignited the hearts and imaginations of others. One-by-one, each of those who were caught by the spirit of the group was personally invited to experience the “Vincentian” way of life, and so they grew.