Our History

Celebrating our good works

The first Australian conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society met in Melbourne at St Francis’ Church on 5 March 1854. Its first president was Fr Gerald Ward.

Today the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria continues to serve people in need and are at the heart of everything we do.

With our 10,000+ members and volunteers we provide help to people whose daily struggles include putting food on the table, paying energy bills and ensuring their children remain at school to obtain an education. Each person is treated with deep compassion and provided with assistance tailored to their situation.

Our beginnings

Frederic Ozanam was a 20-year-old student in 19th century France who, along with his fellow students, met regularly “for large and lively discussions about the social teachings of the Gospel”. One night during one of these meetings, Frederic and his peers were challenged by someone in the crowd. “What is your church doing now? What is it doing for the poor of Paris? Show us your works.” That moment had a profound effect on Frederic.

Frederic and his colleagues took up the challenge and provided practical assistance to people who were struggling and, as a result, the St Vincent de Paul Society was born in Paris on 23 April 1833.

His vision became a worldwide movement and, 21 years later on 5 March 1854, the St Vincent de Paul Society arrived in Melbourne, Australia, brought here by Fr Gerald Ward who, like Frederic, had also witnessed a changing community following the discovery of gold in central Victoria in 1851, resulting in the state’s population doubling. Women and children were often the casualties of the goldfields, as men determined to strike it rich often couldn’t take their families with them and, in some cases, abandoned them altogether.

Today, through its wide network of members and volunteers, the Society’s work continues to provide practical frontline support, advocacy and friendship to the most vulnerable members of our community. This work is provided through our conferences – or local volunteer groups – and our core work is known as Home Visitation, meeting people in their home and providing assistance specific to their needs.

Our other special works include a network of Vinnies Shops, Soup Vans, Education programs, Prison Visitation, No-Interest Loan Schemes and VincentCare Victoria, which provides housing and homelessness programs and services.

For 168 years, the St Vincent de Paul Society has focused on serving people in need by connecting with them and personally working through their issues to provide the best possible assistance.

In Victoria, we have more than 10,000 members and volunteers providing assistance to people whose daily struggles can include putting food on the table, paying essential utilities and ensuring their children remain at school to obtain an education. Each person needing assistance is provided with care and compassion.

We also have a wide network of caring committees, which are volunteer-led and respond to, and advocate for, people in need. Examples include the Overseas Development Committee, which supports people in developing countries; the Social Justice & Advocacy Committee, which facilitates research, advocacy and supports new settlers. The Emergency Response Liaison Committee also coordinates an important, locally led response to natural disasters.

We are extremely grateful to the network of members and volunteers who are the backbone of our organisation.

Call Centres

Our call centre volunteers are an important first point of contact who offer support to people in crisis. They pass requests on to local volunteers who respond as needed.


Across Victoria we have 240+ conferences, local volunteer member groups, who provide personalised support to people in need. Assistance includes paying accommodation and education costs, food and cost of living expenses such as utility and pharmacy bills. They also provide emotional support, budgeting advice and advocacy.


We believe that education equals opportunity. We run after-school programs that promote the social, emotional and academic confidence of the young people who attend. Our programs have helped scores of students unlock their educational potential.

Overseas Development

We provide support to people in developing countries, fostering links and cultural exchange.


We provide a range of services to support asylum seekers and refugees to rebuild their lives and establish a home in their new country.

School Engagement

We have a rich history of engaging with young people to build values-based leadership skills, facilitate fundraising, lead advocacy and run volunteer programs. We support Mini Vinnies programs for primary schools and College Conferences for secondary school students.

Soup Vans

Our soup vans operate at various locations in metropolitan and regional Victoria. The services are run almost exclusively by volunteers, delivering meals, hampers, friendship and support to people experiencing poverty and homelessness.


Established in 2003 by the St Vincent de Paul Society, VincentCare provides support services for people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness and disadvantage throughout metropolitan and regional Victoria.

Vinnies NILS

Vinnies NILS is our no-interest loan scheme providing safe and no-interest credit for people on low incomes to purchase household goods.

Vinnies Shops

Our 110+ shops make up one of the state’s oldest and most respected social enterprises, with the first opening in 1926. They are supported by our dedicated volunteers and material donations from the community. Profits go back into local communities, helping to fund our welfare programs.

Vinnies Youth

Vinnies Youth represents young volunteers aged 17 and over who contribute to the works of the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria, often through Young Adult Conferences and Special Works programs.

Fr Gerald Ward

Founder of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia, establishing the first conference on 5 March 1854 at St Francis' Church, Melbourne.

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