The history of St. Vincent de Paul is a rich tapestry, woven over the past 185 years by a spiritual bond of its 880,000 members with the Society's founder, Frederic Ozanam, its patron saint, and their mutual love and commitment to the poor and needy.
Born in Milan, Italy in 1813, Ozanam entered the University of Paris in 1831, where he soon became a Catholic "voice". As a participant in a student group, he debated the historical role of the Church in society. At that time, Paris was far from the City of Light as it is known today, many lived in poverty, in deplorable conditions. It was a time of revolution.
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 and taking them food, clothing and their support 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 and one in the Arts, Ozanam became a professor, a husband and a father. Meanwhile, his Society was fast becoming an international network of charity as Conferences began to spring up throughout France and the rest of Europe, eventually making their way to the United States in 1845.
Today, the Society flourishes in 132 countries on five continents where members put their faith into practical action every day in myriad ways and guided by The Rule, a series of articles relative to the Society's basic principles, structure and operation.
Frederic Ozanam died in 1853 at the age of 40. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997, a significant step towards sainthood. Ozanam's work continues to live on through the charity of Conferences throughout the world who are dedicated to carrying out his mission.