What is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?
Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (or “Vincentians”) are men and women who strive to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to individuals in need. We are young and old. Our members come in every shade of skin color. Some of us are wealthy, some are financially poor, but all of us are possessed with an awareness that our blessings (time, talent or treasure) are to be shared with our brothers and sisters in need.
We know that we are not alone. We are part of an international society of friends united by a spirit of poverty, humility, and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection, mutually supportive gatherings, and adherence to a basic Rule.
Energized by the awareness that service to our brother or sister in need is in fact an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are keenly aware that poverty, suffering and loneliness are present for millions in our communities. For that reason, we collaborate with all who seek to relieve need and address its causes.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis. It is this personalized involvement that makes the work of the Society unique. This aid may take the form of intervention, consultation, or often through direct dollar or in-kind service. An essential precept of the Society’s work is to provide help while conscientiously maintaining the confidentiality and dignity of those who are served. The Society recognizes that it must assume, also, a role of advocacy for those who are defenseless or voiceless. Some 12 million persons are helped annually by Vincentians in the United States.
The list of services of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States is endless. No work of charity is foreign to the Society. To quote our patron, St. Vincent de Paul: “Charity is infinitely inventive.”
What is the vision of the Society?
Like that of its founder, Frederic Ozanam, the vision of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “is to embrace the world in a network of charity.”
How does the Society differ from other charitable organizations?
The Mission Statement of the Society answers the question specifically. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is composed of women and men who seek their personal holiness through works of charity. In this essential way, the Society differs from charitable associations or agencies whose principal objective is not the spiritual advancement of their members but the doing of good for someone else. President-General Adolpe Baudon, in his Circular Letter of January 1, 1877, writes:
“It is laid down in our Rule, and it has been always understood among us, that in uniting to serve our masters the poor, as St. Vincent de Paul expresses it, our object is not only to relieve material misery, a very laudable purpose in itself, but to aspire, especially, through the practice of that most sublime of virtues “charity” to render ourselves better and more fervent Christians, and to make our poor enter on the same path, if we have the happiness of succeeding.”
In his Circular Letter of December 12, 1915, Vicomte Hendecourt, President-General writes:
“The Society has two aims: to do a great deal of spiritual good to its members through the exercise of charity, and to do a little spiritual and temporal good to a few poor families in the name of Jesus Christ. If it did not continually seek to combine these two aims, it would lose its raison d’etre. If it were to seek only the holiness of its members through pious exercises, there is no lack of Confraternities and Third Orders to meet that need. If on the other hand, it were to seek only the relief of the temporal miseries of the poor, it would only add one more to the list of public and private institutions founded for that purpose.
“The Mission Statement is clear: Vincentian ministry is a means for acquiring holiness. The ministry of a Vincentian to those and with those who stand in need is the powerful means that affects holiness of life for the individual Vincentian. Vatican II states that the principal means of holiness for bishops and priests is their ministry. This applies to the laity also, because, in attending to the needy and suffering, a Vincentian is ministering to Jesus Christ himself.
How is the Society organized?
The Council of the United States of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul provides leadership and support for the growth and health of Society Councils, Conferences, and Special Works. The National Council Office, located in St. Louis, enables the Society to better serve their local communities by creating materials for the spiritual formation of the members; networking information on advocacy and justice issues; and facilitating the response to the needs of those who are poor throughout the world by Twinning and giving assistance to victims of disasters.
The Organizational Chart of the Society is as follows:
Council General (Paris)
142 Countries – 5 Continents – Over 51,00 Conferences
Over 700,000 Members
USA National Council (St. Louis)
64,532 Active Members and 26,861 Associate and
54,972 Contributing Members
146,365 Total Members in 8 Regions throughout the U.S.
(Arch) Diocesan Councils
47 (Arch) Diocesan Councils uniting and supporting District Councils
437 District Councils uniting and supporting the Conferences
4,637 Conferences, the basic unit of organization in Catholic Parishes, Universities and Special Works.
What is the “Vincentian Family”?
The Vincentian Family is a worldwide, living reality. Countless men and women live the spirit, tradition, and spirituality of the Apostle of Charity and Father of the Poor: Saint Vincent de Paul. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is one branch of this colossal Vincentian Family Tree. The Vincentian Family encompasses millions of people drawn to the charism of St. Vincent de Paul. His spirit and spirituality appeal to the human heart.
- The Society of St. Vincent de Paul has more than 850,000 active members in 148 countries.
- The International Association of Charities numbers 260,000 members in 49 countries.
- Vincentian Marian Youth groups number 240,000 members in 45 countries.
- The Daughters of Charity have 24,000 members in 87 countries.
- The Congregation of the Mission has 4,000 members in 80 countries.
- The Sisters of Charity Federation numbers approximately 7,000 members.