Our Vincentian Heritage

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow


The History of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul embraces 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 was started in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam. A student at the School of Law in Sorbonne, France, Frédéric collaborated with Mr. Emmanuel Bailly, editor of the Tribune Catholique, in reviving a student organization which had been suspended during the revolutionary activity of July 1830. They called their new association "The Conference of History." And they met on Saturdays to discuss various topics, everything but polititcs. At one of their meetings, a student challenged Frédéric and the practicing Catholics. He admitted that the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, but "what do you do now?"

On April 23, 1833, Frederic's 20th birthday, he called for a meeting of five of his friends. Inspired by their words, Frédéric decided to found the "Conference of Charity" to assist the poor. Emmanuel Bailly, the married layman, was chosen by the six students as their first President. In a short time, they changed their name to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of their patron. Today, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has more than 750,000 active members in 142 countries.

St. Louis, Missouri

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established in St. Louis, Missouri at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, popularly called "The Old Cathedral," in 1845. Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick, successor of the first Bishop of St. Louis, Joseph Rosati, CM, asked Father Ambrose Heim to establish the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and be its Spiritual Advisor.

The first meeting was held on November 20, 1845, only twelve years after its foundation in Paris. Nineteen of the most prominent Catholic laymen of St. Louis attended. Dr. Moses Linton was elected President; Bryan Mullanphy, Vice President; Dennis Galvin, Second Vice President; James Maguire Jr., Secretary; Patrick Ryder, Treasurer; and Fr. Ambrose Heim, Spiritual Advisor. The Conference was aggregated (formally recognized) by the Society's International Council in Paris on February 2, 1846.

Belleville Council, Illinois

The Belleville Council of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established in 1917 and serves the people of Southern Illinois in the Diocese of Belleville. It covers an area of 11,678 miles in the 28 southernmost counties in Illinois. According to the U.S. Census bureau, the 18 counties ranked highest in poverty in the State of Illinois are all located within our diocese. Our Council is composed of 19 parish based "Conferences" throughout the diocese that reach out to serve the poor. Last year, our active membership of 223 volunteers helped more than 32,000 individuals and donated more than 26,000 hours of service to the poor throughout Southern Illinois. In addition, our special works in East St. Louis reached out to the poorest of the poor 6 days a week to help more than 300 people a day with food, clothing, and other basic necessities essential to survival.

Our Future

Our Vincentian Heritage seeks to identify us to Jesus Christ as "evangelizer of the poor" and challenges all members to work within the world of the poor to confront injustice and bring social and economic change and solutions.