The first of 15 past National Council Presidents of the St Vincent de Paul Society of Australia was Louis Heydon, who was elected to the role in 1895. The Society’s National Council Presidents are elected by the Society members, who are all represented on the Council by their State or Territory President.
Since 2006 the National Council meets three time a year in person and three times, or more frequently if required, via video conference. Prior to this the National Council offices were located in the Society’s office in Lewisham, Sydney.
Up until 1994 all past National Council Presidents of Australia hailed from New South Wales. The Society has since had National Presidents from Queensland, Western Australia and Victoria.
Each National President has enacted their vision for the Society, which at times has included a focus on expansion of the Society, spirituality and important social justice matters of the day.
National President 2011-2015
Tony Thornton came to Australia as a child refugee during the second Sino-Japanese War, an experience which gave him a deep empathy with refugees seeking shelter in Australia in later years. After service in the RAAF, he worked at the Tidbinbilla and Honeysuckle Creek space tracking stations and in other public service roles in Canberra. He volunteered in many Society activities, from storework at Vinnies Centres to Council Presidencies, always maintaining his regular Conference visits to those in need. Like his predecessor Ted Bacon, he was distinguished by his kindness and gentleness.
National President 2008-2010
Syd Tutton (1937-2010) grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond and, after Navy service, worked for over fifty years in the electricity supply industry. He was enthusiastically interested in ideas, politics and music. Like his predecessor Ted Bacon, he was also a cricket lover. He served as Victorian State President and was a keen supporter of the Society's Compeer community mental health program. As National President he continued the Society's public advocacy for those in need and for social justice.
National President 2003-2008
John Meahan migrated to Western Australia from Scotland in 1957 and joined the Society in 1962. A mechanical engineer, he had a wide involvement with Society activities, especially accommodation for the homeless and those with a psychiatric disability. A former Western Australian State President, he had a particular interest in the Society's work in Africa and led the international Society's African project. He represented the Society at the Senate Inquiry into Poverty (2003) and led the move of the National Council's office from Sydney to Canberra (2006).
National President 1998 -2003
John Moore joined the Society at the age of 11 while attending a Marist school in inner Sydney. Thus, like his predecessor Mick Smith, he had been a member of the Society for over 50 years when he became National President. A businessman who worked in the motor industry and real estate, John Moore had a wide involvement with Society activities, notably with aged care and care for people with a disability. As National President he tackled the daunting task of dealing with the introduction of the GST and its effects on the Society and the people we serve.
National President 1995-1998
Mick Smith, a Queenslander who grew up on a farm outside Toowoomba, was the first National President in a hundred years to come from outside NSW. A former public servant, he had been a member of the Society for 50 years when elected as National President. He tackled difficult issues of accountability associated with the Society's overseas aid and was President when the Society produced its notable rural social justice statement 'In defence of the bush" (1998).
National President 1992-1994
After national service during the Vietnam War years, Brian Murnane became a community housing officer in Campbelltown, NSW and remains deeply involved in securing housing for those in need. As National President he continued Rupe Hudson's reforming agenda, supporting the social advocacy role of the Society, emphasising the importance of accountability and encouraging decentralisation of our structure. He led the Society's representations to the Industry Commission Inquiry into Charitable Organisations (1994).
National President 1987-1991
A long-time resident of Sydney's northern beaches, Rupe Hudson had notable careers as a chemical engineer in private industry and as a rugby league player, coach and club official. As National President he was a reformer, emphasising the importance of spirituality, youth recruitment and social justice. He was a supporter of non-Catholic membership of the Society and was responsible for producing a revised Manual (1991).
National President 1982-1986
Eric Ellem held many offices in the Society and the Church, both before and after his term as National President. A superannuation fund manager from south-western Sydney, he was particularly involved in the Society's overseas aid work, and was at one time manager of the Matthew Talbot Hostel. As National President he initiated the establishment of a national office with permanent staff to serve the National Council.
National President 1977-1981
A champion footballer and athlete in his youth, John Morahan (1925-2015) settled in 'the Shire' after being educated by the Christian Brothers in inner Sydney. Like his immediate predecessor, Ted Bacon, he worked as an accountant in the Tax Office. His Presidency saw the Society become more open to a broader membership. He led the Society's efforts in sending aid to Darwin after Cyclone Tracy (1974) and in later years had a particular interest in preserving the history of the Society.
National President 1972-1976
Ted Bacon (1915-1998) joined the Society in inner Sydney at the age of 16 and later lived most of his life in the Sutherland Shire. He served with distinction in the Army during the Second World War and later became an accountant in the Tax Office. A humble and gentle man, he edited the Society's national journal, The Record, for many years but was most renowned for his service to migrants and refugees, especially refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. He was much-loved by hundreds of their families.
National President 1967-1971
Like his predecessor Henry Morrissey, John Trew (1911-1997) came from Grafton in northern NSW, and like his predecessor Heber Boland, he joined the Society at Lindfield NSW in the late 1930s. He belonged at various times to Conferences on the north shore of Sydney but also volunteered at the Maternal Heart of Mary Conference which helped travellers and other needy people in the Sydney CBD. He was a senior fund manager in the superannuation industry. During his term as National President the men's and women's Societies amalgamated (1968) and the Superior Council was re-named the National Council (1972).
National President 1959-1966
Heber Boland (1906-1990), who joined the Society at Lindfield NSW in 1938, was a businessman and managing director of a national manufacturing company. His business experience was of great benefit to the Society, especially through his involvement with our stores. On business trips overseas he often made sure to look up the local Society and the information he brought back was of benefit to our progress here. Heber Boland wrote several booklets about Frederic Ozanam and, unusually, he became a State President (Victoria) after serving as National President.
National President 1948-1959
Henry Morrissey (1894 -1974) was born in Grafton NSW and became a prominent solicitor and company director in Sydney. Like his predecessor, John Mullen, he was a member of the Waverley parish. He introduced limitations on duration of office in the Society and was responsible for the Society's first incorporation (1949). He was renowned as an outstanding chairman of meetings.
National President 1918-1948
John Mullen (1876-1955) was our second National President and by far the longest-serving, holding office for 30 years. He was born at White Cliffs in far western NSW and came to Sydney in 1900 where he made his career in the Postmaster-General's Department. Mullen travelled a great deal for the Society at his own expense, often spending all weekend on trains to and from meetings in the country and giving up his annual holidays to visit and support the Society in the States. He presided over a period of consolidation and expansion. When he became National President there were some 2600 members of the Society throughout Australia. When he retired they numbered nearly 7000.
National President 1895-1918
Louis Heydon (1848-1918) became our first National President with the formation of the Superior Council in 1895. He was a prominent Sydney lawyer and politician, serving briefly as a Minister in the NSW Government before Federation. As National President he oversaw the expansion of the Society from NSW and Victoria to Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia. A patrician conservative, Heydon thought that the Society should concentrate on 'spiritual almsgiving' or spiritual poverty.