Our History

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago: 1857 to the present

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul – serving Chicago for more than 150 years.

The Chicago Council has been assisting individuals and families in Cook and Lake counties since 1857.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the oldest charity in the Chicago area.

SVdP Chicago provides a number of greatly needed services to needy families and individuals in our community, including the very basics for human dignity such as food, shelter, and clothing. Additional help with utility bills, rent, transportation, medical expenses, and even emotional and spiritual support transforms lives. More than 800,000 community residents in Cook and Lake counties are served each year; people who wouldn’t have had anywhere else to turn to for help without The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Who would think that the challenge to a 20-year-old college student and his friends would be the spark that ignited the world in service to the poor? Yet God had a plan …

Blessed Frederic Ozanam (1813 – 1853)

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam, a 20 year-old college student at the Sorbonne University in Paris. In an answer to a challenge from a fellow student to Frederic and his fellow Catholics, “What do you do now (to do good works)?”, Ozanam and fellow students set out helping the poor and oppressed in the neighborhoods of Paris, taking them bread and clothing while sharing friendship and concern. The Society is named after St. Vincent de Paul whose life mission was devoted to helping the underprivileged. This patron saint of Christian Charity alerted the world to social problems in the 1600’s.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international non-profit organization dedicated to serving the those in need and providing others with the opportunity to serve.

St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charity.

Frédéric chose the 17th-century priest St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Apostle of Charity, as patron of the Conference. Subsequently, the Conference of Charity was renamed The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Frédéric’s faith was very important to him and it guided him throughout his life. He was known to be a very humble and compassionate man. These traits enabled him to successfully assist many people in need and laid the foundation for the Society to spread throughout the world. As the Society grew, its members established volunteer groups in parishes. These groups became known as conferences. The Society started in the United States in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1857, the first Conference in Chicago began at St. Patrick church.

Blessed Rosalie Rendu, DC (1786 – 1856)

Blessed Rosalie Rendu was a daughter of Charity who served for 54 years in the most impoverished district of Paris. Sister Rosalie guided founders of The Society, sending them on home visits in the spirit of St. Vincent, teaching them how to serve the poor with respect and compassion.

Today we have over 2,000 members serving Cook and Lake counties and The Society is active in more than 150 countries with over 800,000 members around the world. More than 12 million people in the United States are helped annually by The Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

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