What is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?
The St. Vincent de Paul Society originated in Paris, France. In 1833, a 19 year-old Sorbonne student Frederic Ozanam met regularly with fellow Catholic students to discuss and debate the issues of the day with a group they called the “Conference of History.” At one of their public meetings, which attracted large numbers of University of Paris students, Frederic was challenged to give examples of how the Church exhibited compassion to the poor to demonstrate that it was not just a group of privileged clergy who preached kindness to the needy but never displayed it. Unable to respond, Frederic and his friends conceded. Shortly afterwards Frederic drew six friends together and inspired them to come together as the “Conference of Charity” with the purpose of serving the poor of Paris. Frederic impressed upon conference members the need and importance to offer and display kindness, respect and compassion to the people they visited. IN his view this was as important as the food or clothing they brought with them.
Frederic chose as patron of the Conference the 16th century cleric St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Apostle of Charity. Subsequently, the Conference of Charity was transformed into the “St. Vincent de Paul Society.”
As the Society grew and spread, the volunteer member groups formed in parishes became officially known as Society “Conferences.” In March 1962 the first St. Vincent de Paul Society conference in Big Rapids was formed by parishioners from St. Mary Church.
Who was St. Vincent de Paul?
His face is well known to many. You first notice the St Vincent De Pauleyes: kind and loving, a piercing glance, somehow amused and formidable at the same time. A man who has found something. Who is this man? Many years after his death, rioting mobs in Paris smashed all the religious statues they could find, except his. He had done so much good for their ancestors, the poor and unfortunate, that they considered him a national hero. Who is this man? And now, hundreds of years later, more than two million people of every race, and 268 associations and congregations claim him as patron.
Who is this man? This man is Vincent de Paul. He was not born a saint nor did virtue come easily to him. A peasant farmer’s son, Vincent had a practical intelligence, a somewhat gloomy disposition, and he knew himself to be stubborn, irritable and slow moving. He would become, in time a “Father of his Country” and the Patron Saint of Charity. Initially, Vincent sought to escape the poverty he knew so well as a child by becoming a priest and attaching himself to a wealthy family. But upon attaining exactly that, his life was turned upside down by an encounter with a poor penitent. This grace-filled moment was his turning point and for Vincent, as for us, there is no substitute for this direct, hands-on relationship with the poor. Experiences like this eventually gave rise in Vincent to an original vision that would govern his approach to spirituality, which is to say, his prayer, his service, his life itself. Spirituality is the way one is energized and how one directs that energy. Vincent found it in prayer and among the poor, and focused everything on the poor in an incredibly active and productive life poured out in their service. And yet, amazingly, Vincent organized so many services and involved so many people without idealizing the poor or romanticizing work with them. He often spoke of how difficult the poor could be; how demanding, how challenging. “Only for your love will the poor forgive you the bread you give them.”
Although society often condemns the poor, the Father of the Poor urges us to see them as God’s little ones, abandoned and neglected by system and circumstance.
From the Ozanam News
The Role of the Conference and the Council
The basic organizational unit of the Society is the “conference”, and it is usually connected to a Catholic parish or church. Assistance to those in need is essentially local and personal. No work of charity is foreign to the society and assistance is adapted according to the particular needs, places and circumstances. Conferences always welcome new members and financial contributions.
Whatever programs of charitable action is eventually adopted, Vincentian involvement should possess these characteristic: witnessing Christ’s love for man and a personal sharing time and interest on the part of the Vincentian with those in material or moral need.
Vincentian activity consists of any form of person-to-person service that relieves human suffering, furthers individual self-help efforts, and promotes dignity.
What We Do
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is committed to responding to the needs of individuals and families who find themselves in difficult circumstances. Our goal is to offer assistance that recognizes the respect and dignity of those we encounter, addressing short-term needs as well as longer-term issues. To help people meet the variety of challenges facing them, the Society provides basic assistance for financial, food, clothing, transportation, medical or other needs.
St Vincent de Paul Society of Big Rapids networks with all other agencies in the area. If we have a client with a large request 2 or more agencies will help. We check with each other to make sure all needs are met. St. Vincent’s usually pays for all miscellaneous requests that other agencies cannot pay. The client MUST go to DHS first before contacting any agency.
Our St. Vincent de Paul used clothing store is our pride and joy. In September 2001, we added the addition which gave us more room to display our donations. Also we have many more customers. November of 2013 a new adition was added giving us much more room for display.
The Society provided help with electric bills, fuel, gasoline, rent and miscellaneous requests. Income for year end October 2013 through September 2014 was $63398.87, our expenses were $60,556.80, leaving a surplus of $2,842.07. Customers/Sales were 8,893 and we assisted 96 families.
Through Vincentian services those in need can receive assistance with food, furniture, clothing, job counseling, sacraments, or travel aid.
The St. Vincent de Paul Store
The St. Vincent de Paul Store offers assistance to those in need and is an outstanding source for a variety of donated merchandise at very affordable prices. The store has established an excellent reputation for the volume, quality, and affordability of its merchandise; its spacious, modern, bright, and clean building; and its friendly, helpful and professional staff.