Special Works

Special Works in History

Toronto Central Council has been providing assistance through its Special Works programs since its inception

The following are some of the Special Works that were run by the members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Burial Committee

Church records showed that the Church covered the cost of pauper burials up to 1850. In 1851 the St. Vincent de Paul Society assumed the cost of coffins and opening and closing the graves of paupers. Concerned about the constant drain on the Society’s funds for that purpose, Father J.M. Bruyere asked the Conferences in 1854 to determine some other method of covering that expense. At the same time, a broadsheet was distributed through the city, accusing the Catholic Church of forcing the Irish poor to bury their dead in their own cabbage gardens . Because of that negative publicity, the Society continued to carry the burden of burial expenses for the poor.Excerpts from a history document
Professor Murray W. Nicolson M.A., Ph.D

Children’s Aid Society

The St. Vincent de Paul Children’s Aid Society was organized in 1894 under Archbishop Walsh’s patronage. Remy Elmsley, a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society and son of John Elmsley , became President. Other members of the St Vincent de Paul Society became directors and Mr. P. Hynes became the working agent. Initially this new Society was run completely by the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society but it became an independent agency known as The Catholic Children’s Aid Society.By the turn of the Century, a span of five years, the association had counselled parents and hundreds of children. They had placed in homes 418 children who were orphaned, abandoned, neglected, or in trouble with the police.

Excerpts from a history document
Professor Murray W. Nicolson M.A., Ph.D.

This work although under separate management and independent of our Society, is very closely allied to it, and may justly be considered one of our Special Works. It has just completed the tenth year of it’s existence and the report of the board of management for the year is most satisfactory.
It states that the work is carried on by the agents of the Society, acting under instructions of the President and advisory board. He attends daily at the children’s court to see to cases brought before the magistrate and inquires into private cases brought to the attention of the Society. During the year 259 cases affecting the interest of 332 children were brought to the notice of the Society.

Through the work of the Society about 130 boys and girls have been committed to the two Industrial Schools with the best results morally and otherwise, under the guidance of the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
Report of the Central Council of Toronto 1904
Key Dates

1893. Archbishop of Toronto, J. Walsh, calls together a group of Catholic laymen to form an organization to address the “growing problem of orphaned and abandoned children.

  • 1894. St. Vincent de Paul Children’s Aid Society of Toronto officially incorporated. One employee hired.
  • 1932. First professional social worker hired.
  • 1946. Name changed to The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
  • 1950. Influx of immigrants from European countries greatly increases Society’s workload. As many as 100 babies a month being place for adoption.
  • 1956. Name changed to The Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto and the Society’s catchment area extended to cover the Metro boundaries.
  • 1960. Orphanages and Children’s Homes closed. Most children placed with foster families. Over 2,000 “unmarried” mothers served by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, most of their children placed for adoption.
  • 1970. Declining birthrate and gradual shift of population to suburbs decreased Society’s caseload.
  • 1980. Tremendous increase in immigration in Toronto area from non-English speaking countries increases Society’s caseload and creates a need for workers to communicate in six different languages – English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Vietnamese.
  • 1987. Society establishes a Foundation as a separate, non-profit corporation to raise funds for preventative programs the government is unwilling to fund.
  • 1994. The Catholic Children’s Aid Society commemorates 100 years of service to families and children in the Catholic community.

Night School for Boys

St. Nicolas Institute was an early example of continuing education promoted by an agency of the church. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul supported the institute’s provision of evening classes in basic skills to youth who were already employed but wanted to improve their position by improving their education. The following report for 1888 was prepared for the Society by one of the teachers of St. Nicholas Institute.

I beg to submit a brief report on the night school carried out at the St. Nicholas Institute during the past winter.
The school opened on December 26th, and continued for the ten ensuing weeks. The hours of teaching were from 7 to 9 each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. The average attendance was about 30 and of this number 20 were in the second class and the remainder in the third. The subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic, spelling, dictation, composition and letter writing, with special attention to drafting of business forms, such as accounts, receipts, etc.

The interest taken in the work by several members of the various Conferences who visited from time to time had a very beneficial effect.

As prizes had been promised in the early part of the term, the sum of five pounds was subscribed for this purpose, and divided among seven of the most deserving pupils. The general interest manifested throughout the term was much more satisfactory than in former years, and the progress much more gratifying.
Oc 12, bulletin 33, 1888, p. 344

Toronto Savings Bank

The Toronto Savings Bank was established in 1854 by Bishop Charbonnel and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul to solve a number of current and future problems. According to the constitution, the goal was to reach the poor of the city “whom we desire to encourage by all means in the ways of industry, temperance and economy thus providing for their future days, and particularly for the education of their children.”
The Toronto Savings Bank was under the patronage of Bishop Charbonnel. The directors were a roll call of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, including J. Elmsley, S.G. Lynn, Chevalier Macdonell, C. Donlevy, the O’Neill brothers and Maurice Scollard of the bank of Upper Canada. Although the Bank was an Irish Catholic institution and served its purpose for a number of decades, it fell into the hands of the Irish politician, Frank Smith. Smith utilized it for the benefit of his friends and eventually had it chartered as The Home Bank which failed. But due to the foresight of Charbonnel, dividends were paid to Irish Catholic charitable institutions through trust funds as late as 1893. It seems that the Irish community lost confidence in that type of bank as a depository for savings. In 1890 penny banks were established at schools and churches in the city, under the auspices of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to encourage thrift habits among Catholic children

Excerpts from a history document
Professor Murray W. Nicolson M.A., Ph.D.