The Society of St. Vincent de Paul started in 1833, when a 19 year-old college student and his friends began serving the poor in Paris, France. Frederic Ozanam, a Sorbonne student met regularly with his fellow Catholic students to discuss issues of the day. At one of their public meetings, a challenger admitted that the Catholic Church, at one time, had been a great source of good, but asked, "What is your Church doing now? Show us your works and we will believe you." Unable to respond, Frederic and his friends conceded.
Shortly afterward, Frederic gathered six friends together and inspired them to create the Conference of Charity to serve the poor of the area. One resolution was that no act of charity would be foreign to their organization. They took food and clothing to the homes of the poor. Additionally, they provided shelter, financial and spiritual assistance and began libraries of tutoring programs.
Sr. Rosalie Rendu, a member of the Daughers of Charity, was a mentor to the young group and led them to the homes of the poor in the Mouffetard District of Paris. Frederic and Rosalie impressed upon the Conference members the importance of offering kindness, respect and the compassion of God to those they visited. In Frederic's view, this was as important as the food or clothing they brought. Frederic chose the 17th century priest, St. Vincent de Paul, known as the Apostle of Charity, as the patron of the Conference. Subsequently, the Conference of Charity was renamed the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
The founding members of the Society were: Emmanuel Bailly (older mentor), Auguste LeTallandier, Francois Lallier, Paul Lamache, Felix Clave, Jules Devaux, and Frederic Ozanam. As the society grew, its members formed volunteer groups based in parishes. These groups became known as Conferences.
Formed in 1833, the Society grew rapidly. It spread to Italy in 1842, England in 1844, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland and the United States in 1845. It was established in 18 countries before Frederic's death in 1853 at the age of 40.
The first Conference meeting in the United States was held on Nov. 20, 1845 at "The Old Cathedral"- Church of St Louis of France in St. Louis, Missouri. The presence of the Society began in Wisconsin in 1849.
In Rice Lake/Barron County there has been a thrift store and special works since 1990, but no Conference until 2007. Our St. Joseph Conference of the Society of St. Vicent de Paul governs all that we do. Currently, our special works includes our Thrift Store and Donation Center, a Kitchen, Food Pantry, Home Visits, and micro loans. The Conference also hosts other speical events throughout the year.
Here in Rice Lake we are taking a lead in collaborating with other organizations to truly walk with people out of poverty.