The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is an international Catholic Organization of lay persons who have a commitment to compassion.  They seek, in a spirit of justice and charity, to help those who are suffering.  The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul offers tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis.  It is this personalized involvement that makes the work of the Society unique.  This aid may take the form of intervention, consultation or through direct dollar or in-kind service.

The work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is the Gospel message in action:  I was hungry, I was thirsty, I was a stranger, I was naked, I was sick, I was in prison…and you cared.  In an effort to provide personal and neighborly help, this group of parishioners meets at 7 PM on the second and fourth Monday of each month.  Volunteer hours are flexible and varied according to one’s schedule.

What is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is an international lay organization, Catholic in character, where all are welcomed, who through personal contact seek to relieve those in need without regard to wealth, position, social status or ethnic origin.  In promoting human dignity and integrity, the Society works to redress situations which adversely affect peoples' lives and their basic rights.
It consists of almost 900,000 Catholic lay persons, and is currently established in 131 countries and on all 5 continents.

How old is the Society of St Vincent de Paul?

What is it like to be a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?

The Society was founded in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam while he was a student at the Sorbonne in Paris. 

Challenged to put their Christian beliefs into action, Frederic and some of his close friends joined with their mentor, Monsieur Bailly, and set about helping the poor and oppressed of Paris.  Their objective was to undertake practical work among the poor, and Monsieur Bailly was elected the first President of their "Conference of Charity".   They firmly believed that in order to address the needs of the less fortunate, one must be prepared to visit them in their homes, see for oneself the conditions of their lives, and then go about helping them. 

The organization grew rapidly, and its members chose St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660), the patron saint for Christian charities who devoted his life to helping the poor, the downtrodden and the underprivileged, as their patron and renamed it the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1835.

When someone becomes a member of the Society, they don't just “join” an organization and attend a few meetings.  They embark upon a new way of life.  The character of true Vincentians is reflected in their mildness of manner and the temperate tone of their actions.  Visiting many families and seeing their difficulties throughout the year teaches people to face their own problems more readily. 

When was the Society introduced to Jamaica?

The first Jamaican conference was formed at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kingston in 1904, through the instrumentality of Fr. John Harpes, S.J., who organized a group of laymen to begin this work in Jamaica.  Bishop Charles Gordon, the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Jamaica, generously started the funding of the conference with a contribution of fifty pounds sterling.

Does the Society have a Constitution?

How is the Society structured in Jamaica?

The constitution of the Society is embodied in its Rule, which guides the Presidents and members of the Conferences and Councils in their activities as they seek to reach out to the poor and the needy of Jamaica. The Society has a National Council which oversees 5 Particular Councils designated as Kingston, St Andrew, Northern, Southern and Western, under which are grouped some 50 Conferences.

The Conferences are the backbone of the Society, and are to be found in nearly all Catholic church parishes in the island.

When was the National Council of Jamaica formed?

In 1945, a Central Council was instituted as the governing body of the society in Jamaica, and Mr. Joseph Issa was elected its first President.  In recent years, this Council has been renamed the National Council to conform to current international standards.

What is a Conference and what does it do?

A Conference is the basic organizational unit of the Society, and is typically associated with a church parish or student group.  Meetings are held weekly and members are assigned in pairs to visit the poor in their homes or at institutions in their vicinity.

How do these visiting teams assist the poor?

Among the activities engaged in by Conference members, they are expected to:

Know and assist the spiritually poor of the parish.

Give material assistance to the poor of the parish.

Visit the poor in their homes or institutions.

Visit the sick in hospitals and nursing homes.

Arrange for baptisms, marriages and funerals.

Collect and distribute religious literature.

Obtain employment.

Assist children with books, tuition, lunch money, etc.

Assist the aged, blind, deaf and physically handicapped.

Arrange for medical and dental services.

Collect and distribute furniture and clothing to the poor.

Secure admission for persons in hospitals, charitable homes and institutions.

Study the Catholic faith.

Study public welfare programs.

Secure free legal services for the poor.

Provide services to alcoholics.

Arrange for proper housing.

Provide glasses and medication.

Provide orthopedic appliances, artificial limbs, hearing aids, wheel chairs etc

How does the Society reach out to the poor and the needy? 

We reach out to the poor through the home visits made by conference members to assess their needs and offer spiritual guidance and material help.  Help is also provided to the aged poor through our affiliation with Help Age International, and the Society provides residential care for the aged and homeless poor through its Ozanam & St. Clair Homes, in furtherance of the intent of its Rule, “No good work is foreign to the Society”.

How is this work financed?

The work of the Society is funded through donations, bequests and pledges from benefactors, periodic fundraising activities such as Fish Fries, etc., and the sale of items as detailed on this website under Ways you can Help.

Catholic church communities also support the Society through a special collection which is taken up in all churches in the island on 5th Sundays.

What are the Ozanam and St. Clair homes which are operated by the Society?

These homes for the aged poor are the responsibility of the National Council of Jamaica, and are administered by the Franciscan Missionary Sisters, affectionately called the Blue Sisters.  At present they care for up to 60 residents - 45 women and 15 men.  These homes are not Nursing Homes, so incoming residents must be ambulatory and in fairly good health.  Once admitted to the home however, all their needs are met, both in life and in death.

How long have the Ozanam and St. Clair homes been in operation? 

The Ozanam Home was established on Half-Way-Tree Road in 1953, with seven ladies under the supervision of Sister Teresita. In 1961 it was moved to 38 Mannings Hill Road.  In 1971 The St. Clair Home for aged men was established at premises on Elizabeth Avenue donated by Mrs. Clara Johnson.  In 1972 the Kiwanis Club of North St. Andrew donated an additional wing to the building at Mannings Hill Road and both homes were merged.

How does someone become a member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul?

Anyone interested in becoming a member of the Society may contact the Conference President in their parish or their parish priest for more information.

Daily Meditation by(c) 2013 Don Schwager
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