he history of St. Vincent de Paul is a rich tapestry, woven over the past 177 years by a spiritual bond of its 880,000 members with the Society’s founder, Frederic Ozanam, and its patron saint, and their mutual love for, and commitment to, the poor and needy.
Born in Milan, Italy in 1813, Ozanam entered the University of Paris---the Sorbonne---in 1831 where he soon became a Catholic “voice” who, as a participant in a student group, debated the historical role of the Church in society.
At that time Paris was far from the City of Light it would one day become. Many lived in poverty in deplorable conditions. It was a time of revolution that would later be so vividly described by Victor Hugo in his classic “Les Miserables”.
In 1833, challenged by anti-Catholic students to “show us your works”, Ozanam and five friends, did just that, seeking out and visiting the poor in their homes, taking them food and clothes, their concern and friendship. They formed the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of France's great “Apostle of Charity”.
A scholar with two doctorates, one in Law, the other in the Arts, Ozanam would later become a professor at the Sorbonne, marry and have one daughter.
Meanwhile his Society was fast becoming an international network of charity as Conferences sprang up throughout France, the rest of Europe and by 1845 it had arrived in the United States. Today the Society flourishes in 132 countries on five continents where members put their faith into practical action every day in myriad ways, guided by The Rule, a series of articles relative to the Society's basic principals, structure and operation.
Ozanam died in 1853 at the age of 40. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997, a significant step towards sainthood.