What does the Society of St. Vincent de Paul do?
Most people readily identify the the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as a Catholic Charity working with the Poor and Needy. While it is every bit of that, it is also much more.
Inspired by Gospel values, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic lay organization, leads women and men to join together to grow spiritually by offering person-to-person service to those who are needy and suffering in the tradition of its founder, Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, and patron, St. Vincent de Paul.
As a reflection of the whole family of God, members, who are known as Vincentians, are drawn from every ethnic and cultural background, age group, and economic level. Vincentians are united in an international society of charity by their spirit of poverty, humility and sharing, which is nourished by prayer and reflection, mutually supportive gatherings and adherence to a basic Rule.
Organized locally, Vincentians witness God's love by embracing all works of charity and justice. The Society collaborates with other people of good will in relieving need and addressing its causes, making no distinction in those served because, in them, Vincentians see the face of Christ.
How does the Society differ from other charities?
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is composed of women and men who seek their personal holiness through works of charity. In this essential way, the Society differs from charitable associations or agencies whose principal objective is not the spiritual advancement of their members but the doing of good for someone else.
President-General Adolpe Baudon, in his Circular Letter of January 1, 1877, writes:
"It is laid down in our Rule, and it has been always understood among us, that in uniting to serve our masters the poor, as St. Vincent de Paul expresses it, our object is not only to relieve material misery, a very laudable purpose in itself, but to aspire, especially, through the practice of that most sublime of virtues "charity" to render ourselves better and more fervent Christians, and to make our poor enter on the same path, if we have the happiness of succeeding."
In his Circular Letter of December 12, 1915, Vicomte Hendecourt, President-General writes:
"The Society has two aims: to do a great deal of spiritual good to its members through the exercise of charity, and to do a little spiritual and temporal good to a few poor families in the name of Jesus Christ. If it did not continually seek to combine these two aims, it would lose its raison d'etre. If it were to seek only the holiness of its members through pious exercises, there is no lack of Confraternities and Third Orders to meet that need. If on the other hand, it were to seek only the relief of the temporal miseries of the poor, it would only add one more to the list of public and private institutions founded for that purpose."
The Mission Statement is clear: Vincentian ministry is a means for acquiring holiness. The ministry of a Vincentian to those and with those who stand in need is the powerful means that affects holiness of life for the individual Vincentian. Vatican II states that the principal means of holiness for bishops and priests is their ministry. This applies to the laity also, because, in attending to the needy and suffering, a Vincentian is ministering to Jesus Christ himself.