A Grass Roots Organization
The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was formed when they took up this challenge and began to work with the desperately poor in Paris.Developing a simple system, they went in teams to help the poor in their homes, in the streets, in the hospitals and the asylums. Adopting as their patron Saint Vincent de Paul, a 16th century cleric renowned for his work with the poor, the Society arose from humble beginnings to become an international organization found in 130 countries with one million members.
Our story in Canada begins with Dr. Joseph Painchaud and the first Canadian Conference in 1846 in Quebec. In 1850, George Manly Muir founded the first Ontario Conference at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto.
Continuing the tradition of visitation of the needy in their homes, Vincentians organize themselves into parish based units called Conferences to serve those in need through person-to-person contact. Emergency assistance is given by way of food, clothing and furniture; giving those in need access to basic necessities. Friendship, guidance and advocacy are also offered to enable individuals and families assistance through community programs and parish involvement. As well, from the beginning the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has operated Special Works which in a spirit of social justice seek to offer a helping hand up to those seeking assistance. These include supportive residential programs, children’s camps, community clothing stores and court services.
Toronto Central Council
- The first Toronto Conference started in 1851 at St. Michael’s Cathedral, under the leadership of George Manly Muir, a circuit court judge.
- There are 110 active Conferences through out Toronto Central Council
- Over 1,200 Vincentians are actively working in these Conferences
- Over 65,000 visits are done to neighbours in need each year by Vincentians
- 250 people have a place to call home in a residential program operated by Toronto Central Council
- Over 1,600 girls and boys attend Marygrove Camp and Camp Ozanam free of charge each year
- 350 inmates are visited each month by Court Services
“Flying squad seminars compiled and adapted by Michael Burns”
If you want to begin to understand what the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is all about, we must, of necessity, return to the origins of the Society and consider, in retrospect, both its philosophical and historical background.
To every one of us God gives special gifts for the renewal and building up of his people. Some of us welcome these gifts and, as our Lord describes it is in the parable, make them multiply a hundred fold. Others do not work as hard at it and fail to take full advantage of their charismatic gifts, and others simply neglect them, or worse still, bury them out of sight, so that they produce nothing.
We can stimulate our desire to have our charisma bear fruit by the study of those who have accepted God’s grace and allowed it to have full rein in the development of their gifts. Since we Vincentians have a special vocation, that of direct, personal service to the poor, it is fitting that we should look back to the sources of our own Society for inspiration and encouragement.
I invite you, then, to view with me some of the pictures in our Vincentian portrait gallery.
Saint Vincent De Paul
The first portrait is that of the man whose name our Society is proud to bear: Saint Vincent de Paul. Founder of the congregation of the mission and of the Daughters of Charity, he was canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737, and was declared patron of all charitable groups by Pope Leo XIII in 1885.
Saint Vincent de Paul was born around 1580, in the Gascony region of France , about sixty miles north-east of Lourdes . He was the third of six children born to a poor French farm family. He was educated at the college at Dax and the University of Toulouse and was ordained in the year 1600. Following his ordination, he continued his studies in Toulouse, also doing some teaching there. However, in 1605, while returning from a trip to Marseilles, the boat on which he was traveling was attacked by pirates and he was taken as a slave to North Africa .
Two years later, in 1607, he managed to escape and return to France , and shortly afterwards went to Rome. In 1609, he was sent on a special Papal Mission to the Court of Henry IV King of France, and he became the Chaplain to the French Queen. This chain of events seems to have been providential because it was in Paris that St. Vincent de Paul first came face-to-face with the poverty that was later to be the focus of so much of his work.
It was while he was pastor of a poor country parish that Saint Vincent de Paul formed the group that later became known as the Ladies of Charity. It consisted primarily of rich women who organized the collection and distribution of supplies to the needy. While these ladies were generous with their time and possessions, they often lacked the practical knowledge required to help the poor. This was especially true of the groups in Paris . As a result of this, St. Vincent recruited country girls to come and help out. These eventually evolved into the order of nuns known as the Daughters of Charity. It would appear that St. Vincent de Paul initially had no intention of founding a religious order. In fact, the Daughters of Charity seem to have acted initially as an auxiliary of the Ladies of Charity. They were unlike the religious orders of women at the time in that they were uncloistered.
As he said in a letter to one of the priests of the mission shortly before he died: “I tell you, Father, that the Daughters of Charity are not religious (in the canonical sense), but women who come and go like lay people. They belong to the parish, and work under the direction of the pastors of these parishes to which they are appointed”.
When Vincent de Paul was on his deathbed, a visitor asked him what he would do if he could start his life all over again. He replied, “I would do even more.”
Although St. Vincent de Paul did not found our Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, we do know that, besides the Ladies of Charity, he did form Confraternities of Charity for men as well as some mixed Confraternities. However, these did not survive, apparently because they did not manage their funds as effectively as the women’s confraternities did.
What we can most learn from Saint Vincent de Paul is his intense love of the poor and his understanding of the dignity of those we help. Shortly before he died, he gave this advice to a young Daughter of Charity, who was preparing to begin her life of service to the poor: “You must love the poor”, he said “and you must try to see that, through their affection for you, they will pardon you the bread you give them.”
This, then, is the first portrait in our family gallery. It shows us a man whose life and spirituality we are called upon to imitate. His calling, like ours, was to a personal service of the poor, whatever their form of poverty. He left the palaces of his rich patrons to become the friend, and indeed the servant, of the poor. We can sum up his life as a struggle against indifference to the fate of the poor, in a country that was Catholic, at least in name; where love of country replaced love of God.
” Flying squad seminars compiled and adapted by Michael Burns
Our Founder: Frederic Ozanam (1813-1853)
The second family portrait is that of a French University Professor, Frederic Ozanam. He was born in Milan in 1813, the son of French parents. His father, a doctor, had been in Italy with the French Army under Napoleon and had returned to Milan to practice, after he qualified as a doctor. Two years after Frederic’s birth, the family returned to the French provincial town of Lyon and it was there that Frederic grew up.
We can get some appreciation of the kind of Christian household that Frederic grew up in, when we look at the example set by his parents. His father a doctor of medicine, in his practice, insisted on visiting the poor and sick in their homes. Often with little or no recompense. His wife would accompany him on these visits a practice that they continued in spite of sickness and old age. Madam Ozanam urged her husband to retire from practice because of his illness and old age. But he replied “there are too many sick poor in the city, to justify such self indulgence.”
Coming from a home filled with such a spirit of Christian charity we can imagine what Frederic’s feelings must have been when he entered the hostile world of Paris, where, even in the university classrooms, it was quite the thing to ridicule Christianity and Catholicism, and preach the new freedom that science had brought to the world. Perhaps in former days, his classmates would say, “the church has done some good, but nowadays, all it is good for is pomp and ceremonies, splendid buildings, and the protection of its royal partners”.
But the young law student, although by nature shy and reserved, was not prepared to quietly accept such attacks against his religion. He, himself, spoke out in the lecture halls defending Catholicism and several times forced the lecturers to retract their anti-clerical remarks. As well, he found a few kindred spirits among his fellow students and they gathered to discuss how they could combat this anti-religious attitude. They decided to form a debating society, known as the Conference of History, at which they and their anti-Catholic fellow students could debate their differences.
At the time, he was living in the home of the scientist Andre Ampere, whose name is now a household word as a unit of electrical current. Ampere was a fervent Catholic, who saw no opposition between science and religion, and he was impressed by young Frederic’s courage and conviction.
Another of those who supported and encouraged Ozanam and his fellow students was a forty year old printer by the name of Bailly, himself a fervent Catholic. He had opened his house as a residence for Catholic university students and he gave them the use of his shop when they met to discuss how to counteract the prevalent Anti-Catholicism. He will always remain, among Vincentians, the model of those who encourage and assist youth in their search for a better way to serve God.
Ozanam and his fellow Catholics met between sessions of the Conference of History, so that they would be better prepared to defend their religion against the attacks of its enemies. Le Taillandier, like Ozanam a Law student, expressed the view, following one of these meetings, that he would prefer another type of meeting which would avoid all contention and simply concentrate on doing good works. Shortly after this, following a particularly acrimonious session of the conference of history, Ozanam himself echoed this idea: “Don’t you think”, he said, “that it is time for us to join actions to our words, and to show by our works the vitality of our faith?”. Both men had seen that the holding of intellectual debates, even if they should score some notable victories, was not fulfilling the primary duty of the Christian to obey Christ’s commandments of charity! The poor were there and it was the duty of Christians to serve them in the name of Christ. The personal service of the poor would be the answer to those who declared that the church did nothing for the poor. And thus the Society we belong to was born.
They decided to call their little charitable group the Conference of Charity. In order to find out about the poor of Paris , and how each might best be helped, they approached Sister Rosalie, a Daughter of Charity, who was working in the Paris slums. As a member of an order founded by St. Vincent de Paul, she must have seen this little Conference of university students as another means of carrying on the Saints great work of charity. It is very appropriate that the group later adopted St. Vincent de Paul as its Patron Saint and expanded its name to the Conference of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.
Ozanam was the guiding spirit of the group, but he was still young and he was still taken up with his studies. In any case, his own shy temperament would not allow him to accept the official leadership and the group elected Bailly as the first president of the new Conference. Bailly would later become the first General President of the Society and our Canadian National office counts as one of its treasures a letter written by him, in 1847, to the Society just recently founded in Quebec .
The young students, coached by Sr. Rosalie, began their service of the poor by visiting them in their slums and hovels carrying firewood and food, helping them solve their problems, and acquiring their affection and their confidence.
In spite of failing health, Frederic continued his writing and university lectures and traveled in order to complete his research. While in Italy , he was felled by the kidney infection which would cause his death. When it became evident that his end was not far off, he left for France , intending to die at home in Paris, but death overtook him in Marseilles, where he died on September 8, 1853 at the age of forty.
One saying of his I would like to recall to you all. He used it frequently throughout his life it is this: “we are here on earth to accomplish the will of providence”. It was his guiding principle, and one we should retain as his heritage to us.
” Flying squad seminars compiled and adapted by Michael Burns”
Our Canadian Founder: Joseph Painchaud
Dr. Joseph Painchaud, the founder of the Society in Canada, became a member of the Society while he was studying medicine in the university in Paris. It is likely that, during his student days in Paris, he would have known, not only Frederic Ozanam, but also the other founders of our Society.
In early 1846, the General Council, seeing the remarkable blessing God had given the Society to spread beyond the boundaries of France, wrote to the Bishops of the world to acquaint them with the existence of our Society and its aims and objectives. Such a letter was received at the Cathedral in Quebec.
So, when young Dr. Painchaud got back home after completing his medical studies, and went to discuss the founding of a Conference in his parish, the groundwork had already been laid and it was on November 11, 1846 that the first Conference met in the St. Louis Chapel of the Cathedral, where a memorial plaque still exists as a reminder of our beginning in this country.
Less than a year after the founding of the first Conference, nine other Conferences had been founded in Quebec City alone, five of them in the Irish parish. It is noted that the Potato Famine Immigrants had already begun to arrive and that there was a very large population in Quebec, with only one non-territorial parish. Thus the boundaries of the five English-speaking Conferences were those of the five city wards.
You might begin to think that all of the early members of the Society were either professors or doctors, but this was not the case. The first Conference which Dr. Painchaud founded in Quebec, numbered among its members, in addition to Dr. Painchaud himself, a judge, a tinsmith, a merchant grocer, and a roofmender.
Dr. Painchaud had been so fired with enthusiasm by his fellow Vincentians in Paris, that he threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of developing the Society, to such a point that he was simultaneously secretary of one Conference, the president of another, and that, in three years, he had not only founded twelve Conferences, but also our first Particular Council.
Like most modern Vincentian, Painchaud was an active lay member of the church. He had a desire to work as a missionary and offered his service as a doctor to the recently appointed Bishop of Vancouver Island, Bishop Demers.
Painchaud was accepted for work in the West Coast Missions. On Bishop Demer’s instructions, he left for Paris, France and there boarded a sailing ship en route to Vancouver Island. His companion was a young priest Fr. Laroche, also a volunteer missionary.
A mutiny on board ship forced them to land at Rio de Janero. From there they took another ship to New Orleans. From there they decided to go overland across the Isthmus of Panama. From there they hoped to proceed by boat to Vancouver. The long journey proved too much for young Fr. Laroche. He took sick and died and was buried by Painchaud.
Finally, Painchaud did manage to get on board a boat bound for San Francisco and on to Vancouver. However, disaster struck again; the ship hit a bad storm and was wrecked. Painchaud was cast ashore at Manzanillo, Mexico.
He probably decided then that these obstacles were a sign from Divine Providence that he was not destined to reach Vancouver. He settled in a town called Colino, where he practiced medicine and opened a small hospital to care for plague victims.
We do not know much more about him. He did make one more attempt to reach Vancouver. Eventually, the hard life proved too much for him and he fell sick and died near Colino.
A tremendous journey in faith by a Vincentian over 150 years ago.
In all, twelve Canadian Conferences can claim Dr. Painchaud as their founder. From these would grow the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Canada.
In one of his last letters to his mother, he tells her how contradictions and trials of all kinds seem to have been his lot since he decided to become a missionary while still a student at school. He considered this a sign of God’s blessing, to prepare him for all that lay ahead. Perhaps this optimism of Dr. Painchaud’s is one of the lessons we should derive from his life and lonely death.
” Flying squad seminars compiled and adapted by Michael Burns”
Founder in Ontario: George Manly Muir (1807-1882)
The year that Dr. Painchaud left Canada for France and his destiny in Mexico, a young lawyer, named George Manly Muir, joined the newly-founded Conference of Notre Dame in Montreal. He was a native of Ontario, having been born in Amherstburg in 1807.
His father was a Scottish soldier, Colonel of an Infantry Regiment stationed in Ontario . His mother was a Catholic who was both pious and tenacious. In spite of the father’s strong Presbyterian faith, George was brought up a Catholic. An early infirmity, as in the case of Dr. Painchaud, left him with a limp for the rest of his life. His father, seeing he could not hope to make a soldier of him, left his education to the mother, who sent him to the Sulpician College, in Montreal.
After completion of his classical studies with the Sulpcians, he began the study of law and, in 1831, became a civil servant, finally becoming registrar or clerk of the legislative assembly of Canada, which, at that time, sat in turn in Quebec, Montreal, Kingston and Toronto.
In 1833, he married Sophie Place, who belonged to an English family of Quebec City. Like Mr. Muir, she also had a Protestant father and a Catholic mother and, like him, she had been brought up as a Catholic by a devout mother. They had one daughter who died in infancy. They had no other children and they interpreted this as a sign that God was calling them to other forms of service in the Church.
He became a member of the Society in 1848 in Montreal, the year the first Conference was founded there, through the inspiration of Bishop Bourget. The Bishop had heard about the Society on a visit to Paris and brought back with him a copy of the Rule and Manual of the Society. In 1849, when Mr. Muir’s work brought him to Quebec, he requested admittance to the Quebec Conference and was unanimously admitted.
A year later, his employment took him to Toronto, and he was asked by the Quebec Council to try and found a Conference in Toronto . Having arrived in Toronto, Mr. Muir attended daily Mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral and noticed several other men who also attended Mass and received holy communion daily. One by one, he approached them and they agreed to meet to discuss the founding of a Conference. As a result, the first Ontario Conference (the Conference of Charity of Our Lady of Toronto), was founded at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, on November 11, 1850 . Mr. Muir was soon transferred back to Quebec, where he remained until his death, eventually becoming President of the National Council.
” Flying squad seminars compiled and adapted by Michael Burns”
History of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul: Toronto
The group of men established the Conference of Our Lady of Toronto at St. Michael’s Cathedral, under the patronage of Bishop Charbonel. The men present under Muir’s direction elected themselves executives of the Society and adopted the rules and regulations of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.To be effective the Society had to expand with the church, utilizing the parish network that indicated urban growth patterns. Therefore, as the church in Toronto grew so also did the Society. This step strengthened the Society for it then required a Particular Council to unify action, govern the conferences, and plan for expansion. The Particular Council of Toronto was established on February 26th 1853. From that period the Society created conferences in every newly constituted parish and spread its network of charity.The work of the conferences in Toronto inspired the creation of isolated conferences over most of Ontario. With the approval of all the Bishops in the Province, the Central Council of Toronto was formed in 1897; it held jurisdiction over the greater part of Ontario but was subject to the Superior Council of Quebec. With that enactment the metropolitan structure of the Society was reinforced and extended. Toronto became the centre responsible for all works of the Society in Ontario.For reasons that are unrecorded, the Central Council of Toronto, instituted for the purpose of overseeing and reporting to the Superior Council on behalf of the Society in Ontario, ceased to function at some point.The Particular Council of Toronto, instituted in 1854, continued to oversee the work of the conferences in the Archdiocese of Toronto. As the church in Toronto grew and expanded, so also did the Society. In 1963 there were conferences operating in 48 parishes. At that time a decision was made to form a new Central Council, with 4 Particular Councils under its jurisdiction: Toronto East Particular Council, Toronto West Particular Council, Humber Valley Particular Council, Scarborough Particular CouncilA year later, in 1964, two more Particular Councils were added: Toronto North Particular Council and Oshawa Particular Council.Acknowledgements Compiled from the history document by Prof. Murray W. Nicholson M.A. PhD and Particular Council Minute Book
Special Works in History
- Burial Committee established in 1851. For information click
Night School for Boys established in December 26, 1887. A report was prepared for the Society by one of the teachers of St. Nicholas Institute. For more information click here
Toronto Savings Bank established in 1854 by Bishop Charbonnel. For more information click here
Annual Meeting 1879 (Report on first Conference in Toronto)
ADDRESS:”Gather the fragments that remain, lest they be lost.” St. John, 6 – 12
Gentlemen and Dear Confreres,
Although I have taken a text, I do not intend to preach a sermon. You have often been told that the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was commenced in Paris in the year 1833 – you are more or less familiar with the causes to which it owes its origin, but you may not have heard when it was first brought to Canada, and under what circumstances it was introduced into this city. As the Society is likely to become a permanent institution in Toronto, a few recollections, chiefly personal, tending to illustrate its early local history, may not be uninteresting. A young physician, who had made his studies in Paris and while there had become a member of the Society, was the first to establish a Conference in the city of Quebec. July 19th, (Feast of St. Vincent de Paul)*o was in the year 1846, a gala day in that city. An elaborate programme informs us that a Grand Mass was chanted at eight o’clock, in the Cathedral, that the music was both vocal and instrumental, that blessed bread was distributed, and that a collection for the poor was taken up by six of the principal citizens of Quebec. In the evening, at seven o’clock, a general meeting of the members was held in the chapel of the Congreganistes. Eight other Conferences were founded immediately afterward in the same city, and five in the city of Montreal. During the sojourn here of the General Government, in the year 1850, I was accosted one day by a gentleman of benevolent aspect, who asked me to call at his lodgings upon particular business. Anticipating nothing of importance, and not knowing that my friendly interlocutor had been commissioned by his Confreres of Quebec to establish in Toronto a branch of the Society of which, up to that time, I had never heard, I attended. I listened to his persuasive arguments, unlike Caesar, I went, I heard, and I was conquered. Here is the final result of our interview, as recorded in the Minute Book: ”At the meeting, held in the sacristy of St. Joseph’s Chapel, in the Cathedral of St. Michael, at 7 o’clock p.m., the 25th Sunday after Pentecost, being the 10th day of November, 1850, for the purpose of forming a Conference of Charity, to be united to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, were present –
George Manly Muir Thomas Hayes Charles Robertson Denis Kelly Feehan Samuel Goodenough Lynn William John Macdonell Mr. Muir read the opening prayers of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The following motions were then made and carried.
1st. Mr. Muir moved, seconded by Mr. Macdonell
That a Conference of Charity be formed in this city under the protection of the Blessed Virgin and of Saint Vincent de Paul, and that it be called: “The Conference of Charity of Our Lady of Toronto”.
2nd. Mr. Muir moved, seconded by Mr. Robertson
That the following persons do unite themselves into and form the said Conference, namely: Mr. Thomas Hayes, Mr. Charles Robertson, Mr. Samuel Goodenough Lynn, Mr. John Elmsley, Mr. Wm. John Macdonell, Mr. Denis Kelly Feehan and Mr. George Manly Muir.
3rd Mr. Feehan moved, seconded by Mr. Lynn
That Mr. G. M. Muir, who is a member of the Council of Canada of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul be the President of this Conference.
4th The following persons, being nominated by the President, signified their acceptance of the under mentioned offices:
Vice President – Thomas Hayes Secretary – William John Macdonell Treasurer – Charles Robertson Assistant Secretary – Denis Kelly Feehan Assistant Treasurer – Samuel Goodenough Lynn Mr. President, in the absence of Mr. John Elmsley, notified the latter’s acceptance of the office of Keeper of the Vestiary.
5th Mr. Hayes moved, seconded by Mr. Feehan
that this Conference adopt for its guidance the rules and regulations of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Quebec.
6th Mr. Hayes moved, seconded by Mr. Feehan
That the Conference is desirous of participating in the indulgences and other spiritual blessings granted by the Church to the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
7th Mr. Hayes moved, seconded by Mr. Feehan
That Mr. President be authorized to communicate the foregoing Resolutions to the Council of Canada of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and to solicit our admission into its ranks under the denomination of “The Conference of Charity of Our Lady of Toronto”.
Thus was founded the Conferences of “Our Lady of Toronto”, and it was aggregated to the Society on January 6, 1851. The resolutions just read, though moved by various persons, were drawn by Mr. Muir. They are models of their kind, and as such, deserve to be copied by any Conference seeking connection with the Society. The original members were, it will be seen, seven in number. This gave occasion to the Rev. Mr. Tellier, a Jesuit Father then residing here, jokingly to liken them to the seven deadly sins. Of these pioneers, two still remain in Toronto. Mr. Muir is President of the Superior Council of Canada, at Quebec. The others have long crossed “the bourne whence no traveller returns”. The removal of the Government of Quebec, in 1851, led to the resignation of the Presidency by Mr. Muir, on the 31st of August. On the 14th of September, in the sacristy attached to the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Cathedral, Mr. Macdonell was elected his successor by 11 votes out of 16. The retirement of Mr. Muir was by no means acceptable to the new President, who apprehended, as its consequence, the utter collapse of the Society. From causes easily understood at the time, but now difficult to explain, the Conference was obliged to lead a wandering life: the meetings were held sometimes in what was then known as Stanley Street Schoolhouse (now the St. Nicholas Home), sometimes in one sacristy, sometimes in the other, sometimes in the gallery of the Cathedral, sometimes in its crypt, but most generally in its north-western porch, at the issue of High Mass. Perseverance, blessed by Divine Providence, gradually overcame this and other drawbacks, and on the 23rd of January, 1853, it became necessary to found a church of St. Paul; on the same day, Mr. Feehan was elected President of the new Conference, which was aggregated on the following 19th of December. Mr. Feehan did not long retain the Presidency and he was succeeded in June, 1854, by the late Mr. Wm Paterson, who retired in January, 1860, in favour of Mr. J. G. Moylan. On the resignation of the latter, Mr. Peterson was re-appointed and retained office till the nomination in September, 1868, of Mr. J. J. Mallon, the present incumbent.
In accordance with the usual practice of the Society, the formation of a second Conference gave occasion to the organization of a Particular Council, to unite the existing Conferences and to provide for further extension. The election of a President for the Council was conducted in strict conformity with the rule prescribed for such a proceeding. It was held in the private chapel of St. Michael’s Palace, on the 26th of February, 1854, on which day Mr. Macdonell was chosen by the united Conferences by a vote of 13 out of 24. Mr. Macdonell retained the Presidency of the Conference of Our Lady until the following 13th of June following, when the position was taken by the late Mr. John Wallis, who held it until his death in 1859, when he was succeeded by Mr. Robertson. On Mr. Robertson’s resignation in 1863, Mr. Macdonell resumed the office, but was soon afterward relieved by Mr. Patrick Hughes, who is still in charge. The erection of St. Mary’s Church, on Bathurst Street, gave rise to a Conference in the western part of the city. It was organized on October 28th, 1854, and aggregated under the title of St. Patrick, on 13th of June, 1859. There being already one Conference in the City, under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin, it was thought that a second under a similar title might cause confusion, but when St. Patrick’s Church, Dummer Street, was built, everybody admitted to the propriety of designating the Conference of the new parish by the name of its patron. The authorities at Paris were consulted, and with their consent, the old Conference of St. Patrick was from February 1864, and is still, known as the Conference of St. Mary. Its first President was Mr. James McMahon, who retained the office for several years. He was succeeded by the late Mr. James Nolan, on whose death, Mr. Thomas Barry was appointed. Mr. Barry resigned last spring and was succeeded by Mr. Patrick Cosgrove. This Conference, like that of Our Lady, has been subjected to strange vicissitudes. Its meetings have been held in the church porch and in the church itself, in the schoolhouse and in that schoolhouse upstairs and downstairs. Nevertheless, it has survived all difficulties and has done a fair share of good work. The next Conference in order is an offshoot of the zeal of the late Capt. Elmsley, who was one of the seven original members. The Conference of St. Basil in the northern section of the city was organized on the 7th of January, 1857, and aggregated on the 31st of October, 1859. Capt. Elmsley presided until failing health forced him to relinquish the charge. He was succeeded in April, 1863, by Mr. Robertson, who resigned in 1875 in favour of Mr. Richard Baigent. A peculiarity of this Conference is its annual suspension of meetings during the college vacation. A collection is, however, made every Sunday by members at the church door. Those of you who were present at the General Meeting, held in St. Basil’s, in April 1865, must retain a lively remembrance of the very impressive address then made to the Society by the Rev. Mr. Soulerin, Superior of the Basilians, on the eve of his departure for France, where he died in October last. The Conference attached to the church of St. Patrick and now know by that title, was organized on the 20th of April, 1862. The late Mr. James Nolan was its first President. It was aggregated on the 29th of February, 1864. The church was burned in 1865, and the Conference suspended in consequence. It was revived in 1867, under the Presidency of Mr. Martin Murphy, and continues in the charge of that gentleman. In October last, measures were taken for the formation of a Conference near Seaton Village, Bloor Street.*5 On the 26th of that month a Conference was organized there under the title of St. Peter with Mr. Michael Ryan as its President. It is not yet aggregated, but application for admission will be made after the usual probation. Having given this brief notice of the several Conferences of this circumscription, I may be permitted to state what experience demonstrates. That is, that the Society flourishes best where the clergy take an active interest in its welfare. They are not expected to be present at all our meetings and perhaps it is not advisable that they should be, but their occasional visits to the Conferences stimulates the members and are always productive of good effect. In 1875, the Society had, it was thought, attained sufficient importance to warrant its incorporation under the “Act respecting Benevolent, Provident and other Societies”, (Ont. Stat., 37 Vic., ch. 34). The project was opposed by the Superior Council of Quebec, as an innovation, but the President-General at Paris, to whom the question was referred, decided that, under the circumstances, our Society would be justified in availing itself of any privileges to be obtained by compliance with the requirements of that Act. The necessary steps were accordingly taken and the incorporation effected. Being a matter of some moment, all the papers concerning it are carefully preserved among the records of the Society. In our early days, when the Society was limited to one Conference, its General Meetings were held in the Cathedral, or in some building adjacent thereto. In the course of time, as Conferences multiplied, it was deemed advisable to hold those meetings in each church alternately, following a certain order. This system was continued for many years. It had its advantages, but the growth of the city and the inconvenience of assembling the members at distant points, contributed to is abandonment. It is now thought that the objects contemplated can be secured equally well by holding the General Meeting at a fixed central point. For this reason the meetings have latterly been held in this building. The want of a suitable house on the Society’s property, Queen Street, where its meetings could be held and the records properly cared for, has long been sensibly felt. Initiatory steps have been taken, and it is hoped that, as times improve and money becomes more abundant, this great necessity will ultimately, and at no distant period, be fully supplied. In conclusion, Gentlemen and Dear Confreres, allow me to crave your indulgences for such frequent mention of myself. Considering the part I have borne in the past history of Toronto Conferences, those references were not altogether avoidable. The time is approaching when you will be called upon to elect a new President and you will have no difficulty in finding an abler man. As regards to the past, better perhaps that the work should have been badly done, than not done at all. This is my apology. The Vice-President of the Council spoke as follows: The brief but comprehensive history of the institution and progress of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as presented to us this day by the President of the Council, must be highly gratifying to the members, inasmuch as it shows how much has been accomplished under adverse circumstances by a body of men devoted to charity and the interests of the poor. It also clearly demonstrates the guiding hand of Divine Providence in the success of their efforts to relieve the wants of their less fortunate fellow creatures. Considering the trials of the past, we have good reason to be thankful for the present position of the Society, and I wish on this occasion to call to mind the self-denial and other virtues practiced by those early pioneers who have preceded us in the journey to eternity. I allude more particularly to the Presidents of four different Conferences who passed away while yet in the active performance of their duties as leaders and chief officers of the Society. Whilst drawing attention to the memory of these good men who being dead may now be safely spoken of, there is reason to hope that their works have followed them and that they now rest from their labours secure in the happiness promised by the Master to his faithful servants. In connection with this subject allow me to remind the members of the Society of a peculiar and significant circumstance worthy of the consideration, but which may have escaped their notice. It clearly proves the cosmopolitan nature and homogeneousness of the brotherhood and it is this: although the great body of the members are either natives of Ireland or of Irish ancestry, the four deceased Presidents represented as many different nationalities, namely Mr. John Wallis, the first who died, was an Englishman; Hon. Mr. Elmsley, a Canadian; Mr. James Nolan an Irishman; and Mr. William Paterson, a Scotsman. Notwithstanding this diversity of country, no murmurs were ever heard from the majority in opposition to those of other nationalities as holding high office in the Conference, a fact sufficient in itself to prove the Catholicity of the Society and the good feeling which animates the members. Let us then, strive to follow the noble example of those good men who have gone before us, so that we, too, in due season may reap the reward promised to all those who on earth do the will of their father in Heaven. The President of the Conference of Our Lady also addressed the meeting to the same effect. He urged, moreover, the propriety of constructing the proposed Hall at the earliest possible moment, and impressed on the members the propriety of receiving Holy Communion on the stated Festivals of the Society. After some remarks from other members, the Reverend Chairman, in a few words, expressed the pleasure which he felt in attending the meeting and learning the position of the Society. He exhorted the members to perseverance in the hope of ultimate success. On a motion, it was resolved that the proceedings of the meeting be printed for the use of members. The meeting then adjourned after the usual prayers.
Footnote: *o The feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul is now celebrated on September 27th *5 Known as the Annex (Bloor and Bathurst)
Additional Key Figures
Emmanuel Bailly (1794-1861)
Bailly was a journalist, editor and publisher. As publisher of the Tribune Catholique, he was involved with the Société des bonnes études and established a family boarding house where Ozanam stayed for a period. He was very close to young people and helped them combine their studies with their religious formation. Ozanam and his friends came naturally to him for advice regarding their plan to serve the poor. He provided a meeting place for the new Conference and generally guided their action. Having a great devotion to Saint Vincent de Paul, he linked the new Charity Conference to the great Vincentian spiritual family. He agreed to become the first President of the nascent Society, a position he occupied until he had to step down in 1844 due to illness. He remained a member of the Council almost until the end of his life.
Jules Devaux (1811-1880)
Devaux was born in the Normandy region of France and moved to Paris in 1830 to complete his medical studies. He met Ozanam and his friends when he took part in the Conférences d’histoire. He was present at the early meetings of the Society’s foundation and one of those in the group who approached Bailly for advice. He was the first Conference treasurer. He settled in Normandy after completing his medical studies in 1839. Later in life, he abandoned the medical practice and travelled to Germany where he attempted to establish the first Conference but this attempt had to be postponed. Devaux, a discreet and self-effacing member of the Society, passed away in Paris in 1880.
Paul Lamarche (1810-1892)
Lamarche was born in the Normandy region of France. He settled in Paris to study law where he met Ozanam in 1832 and joined him in the Conférences d’histoire. He wrote many articles for different publications, participated in the great debates of his time and became involved in the beginnings of the Society. He was the first Catholic writer to declare himself against slavery. He was an eminent law professor at several universities in France and was a passionate defender of justice.
Auguste Le Taillandier (1811-1886)
Le Taillandier was born in Rouen, France in a family of tradespersons. His family moved to Paris where he pursued legal studies. He joined Ozanam in the Conférences d’histoire as a virtual silent witness because he did not participate in the discussions. In 1833 he told Ozanam that it would be better for them to join some charitable work rather than to involve themselves in futile debates. He was active in the founding of the Society, in addition to other charitable work such as giving religious instruction to apprentices and visiting inmates. He returned to Rouen, married, and founded a Conference there. He was honoured with several honorary titles and awards for his contribution to his community.
François Lallier (1814-1886)
Lallier made Ozanam’s acquaintance at the Law Faculty of the Sorbonne and became one of his closest friends for the rest of his life. He was the godfather to Ozanam’s daughter Marie. He participated in the debates of the Conférences d’histoire and was actively involved in all the steps leading to the founding of the Society. In 1835, he was entrusted by Bailly to write the first Rule of the Society. In 1837 he was appointed Secretary General of the Society and signed circulars, which form an important part of the Vincentian tradition. In 1879, the then President General commissioned him to write an account of the Society’s origins and he produced a brochure in 1882. In his professional life, he was first a lawyer, then later was named a magistrate in Burgundy where he was born.
Félix Clavé (1811-1853)
Clavé is the least known of the Society’s founders. A native of Toulouse, France, he moved to Paris in 1831 where he pursued his studies and associated with Ozanam and friends. He participated actively in the founding of the Society. He founded a Conference in the district of Paris where he lived. He then moved to Algeria where he attempted to establish a Conference but without success. In 1839, he went to Mexico to live with relatives. During his absence, his name was linked to a sensational criminal case, the Lafarge affair. The criminal trial reached no conclusion; however, it deeply affected him. For a long time, the Society refused to speak of him and his role as a founder. Eventually, Clavé married. In his professional life he published several works, including some books of poetry. He died tragically two months after Ozanam’s death.
Blessed Rosalie Rendu (1786-1856)
Jeanne-Marie Rendu was born in Grex, France of devout Catholic parents. During her childhood, she experienced the upheavals of the Revolution and wars which left many impoverished and others fighting against the Church.
On May 25, 1802, she began her life as a Daughter of Charity in Paris and was given the name of “Rosalie”. Several months later, she was transferred to the Mouffetard District of Paris where she would work for more than fifty years amongst her beloved poor. At the age of twenty-eight, Sister Rosalie was appointed the Superior of the House.
Emmanuel Bailly, who eventually became the first President of the Society, sent Frédéric Ozanam and Auguste Le Taillandier to Sister Rosalie for guidance and direction in their work of charity before the Society was formed. For two years, Sister Rosalie directed the young Vincentians to the homes of the needy and abandoned, showering them all the time with advice and wise suggestions.
When it came to forming a second Conference, it was very difficult for the Vincentians to think about breaking the bonds that their friendship had created among them. The unassuming Daughter of Charity convinced them that a second Conference was needed and this became the starting point for the expansion of the Society.
In 1852, the Government of France presented her with the Cross of the Legion of Honour as the Mère des pauvres. She passed away on February 7, 1856 and was buried in Montparnasse Cemetery in Paris, at the request of the poor. On November 9, 2003, in recognition of a life devoted to the poor, Sister Rosalie was beatified.
Origins of the Society in Canada
The first Feminine Conference was founded in Italy in 1856. However, it was only in 1933, in Quebec City, that the first Feminine Conference was established and aggregated in this country. Three more such Conferences were reported to exist in 1936. In 1915, there were ten Aggregated Conferences out of the 228 in existence, composed almost exclusively of young adults mostly located in the Quebec City region, active in a seminary, a university and within Catholic groups.
The establishment of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in different parts of the country was facilitated through the good offices of the local Bishops. For a long time, it was customary for a Bishop to preside over the General Assemblies of the Society and address the participants.
The unity of the Society was cemented and strengthened in 1969, under the presidency of Gérard Le May who reformed the National Council of Canada.
Feast Days and Ceremonies
Vincentians are called to journey together towards holiness. They are aware of their own failings and the need for God’s grace. They seek His glory, not their own. They draw nearer to Christ, serving Him in those in need and in one another, and by praying together.
Conference and council members should celebrate liturgical ceremonies together throughout the year, particularly Vincentian ceremonies such as the Annual Commissioning Ceremonies which help to maintain a spirit of profound moral and material friendship among members. Feast Days are important dates for the Society and Vincentians should make a special effort to meet and demonstrate the spiritual nature of the Society by attending Mass together. The Feast Days are:
- April 23: Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s birthday;
September 9: Feast Day of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam;
September 27: Feast Day of Saint Vincent de Paul;
December 8: Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Virgin Mother, patroness of the Society.
Certain other dates on which liturgical ceremonies are regarded as particularly meaningful to Vincentians are:
- November 9, Feast Day of Blessed Rosalie Rendu;
First Sunday of Lent, because during Lent, the need to undertake more charitable works is emphasized along with the need for more prayer and penance.
Updated Dec 5, 2013