1854 and onwards

A rich history spanning Melbourne's infancy in the 1850s to today.

Born out of need from the chaotic gold rush to ensure that women and children were provided for.

This is the timeline of that began the St Vincent de Paul Society movement in Australia.

A history in photos


23 April 1833 | Paris

Frederic Ozanam establishes the St Vincent de Paul Society was born in Paris on 23 April 1833.


St Francis' Church, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

5 March 1854 | Melbourne

Frederic's vision became a worldwide movement and, 21 years later, the St Vincent de Paul Society arrived in Melbourne, Australia, brought here by Fr Gerald Ward who witnessed a changing community following the discovery of gold in central Victoria. The state’s population went from 80,000 to 300,000 and women and children were left behind while their men hoped to strike it rich.

The St Vincent de Paul Society was established at St Francis' Church, Lonsdale Street, Melbourne on 5 March 1854 with Fr Gerald Ward as the Society's first president.

1855St Vincent de Paul Orphanage established in Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) in October - First special work in Australia
1874St Mary’s Conference (Geelong) was the first women’s conference established in Victoria on 18 July 
1885Melbourne Conference reestablished at St Patrick's Cathedral on 18 July
1887Night refuge for men opens in August, initially located in Collingwood, then Fitzroy
1888Melbourne Regional Council established
1889 Visitation to ships in port by members

Red Tuesday Bushfire, 1 February 1898 in Gippsland

1 February 1898 | Gippsland

The Red Tuesday bushfires occurred on 1 February 1898 in South Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. The fires claimed 12 lives, destroyed over 2,000 buildings and affected about 15,000 people, leaving 2,500 homeless. A total of 260,000 hectares of bushland and farmland was destroyed.

This is the first known disaster relief provided with all available clothing sent to people affected by the Gippsland bushfires.

The St Vincent de Paul Society then organised a disaster relief appeal where 32,000 articles of clothing, bedding and furniture was received and forwarded to the burnt-out districts.

1902 St Augustine’s Sailors’ Conference opens to assist sailor
1905Special work of hospital visitation was formalised as Our Lady’s Hospital Mission
1906First regional conference, Ballarat Conference, established on 2 April
1907Catholic Braille Writers Association to assist work with blind people


1909 St Francis Xavier's prefect for the St Vincent de Paul Society school conference

16 August 1908 | St Francis Xavier College, Kew

The first school conference was established on 16 August at St Francis Xavier College, Kew.

Their first activities began on 23 August 1908:

To-day the first St. Vincent de Paul's conference was held in the College. The result of the elections was as follows :- President, Leo Grondona; Vice-President, Henry Caulfield; Secretary, Maurice Cussen.

1915 College Conferences established
1927First Vinnies Shop opened in 214 King Street, Melbourne on 1 October, moves to Ascot Vale
1936Pentridge Prison Visitation began on 31 May
1947Ballarat Prison Visitation begins

1950s Maribyrnong Migrant Centre

1952 | Maribyrnong Migrant Hut

With the influx of migrants following the end of the war, conferences made an effort to ensure they had secure accommodation and advice was given freely. 

The committee of special works was established in 1952 and in the same year, the hostel at Maribyrnong was granted the use of the local hut as a resource centre for various activities.

1955 Ozanam House opens on 4 September
1957Geelong Prison Visitation
1960Twinning program begins with conferences in developing countries
1971Fitzroy Mobile Conference established
1974Warrnambool Holiday Home opens to provide respite to families in need
1974Cortona was established as emergency accommodation for seven women

1975 First soup van established in Fitzroy

26 June 1975 | Matthew Talbot (Fitzroy) Soup Van

Following the closure of the Missionaries of Charity night shelter for homeless men in Gore Street, Fitzroy, the Matthew Talbot Conference was established and the St Vincent de Paul Society Victoria provided funds to enable the purchase of the first soup van.

On 26 June the soup van headed out on its first run providing food and friendship. The van has not missed a night since then. Our soup van services has expanded but its essence continues and our Vannies are greatly loved by all who are assisted.

1975 Ozanam Enterprises opened on 17 September in Mornington
1975Quin House established as a  specialist alcohol and other drug residential facility
1979Independent Living Units (Bendigo) established
1980Marian House (later Marian Community) established

1986 Pope John Paul II visits Ozanam House in North Melbourne

1986 | Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II visited Australia in 1986, only the second Pope to visit Australia after Pope Paul VI's 1970 tour. He visited every state and territory of Australia from 24 November to 1 December. While in Melbourne, Pope John Paul visited Ozanam House on 28 November and met many of the people receiving assistance from the service.

1995* College Conference Day begins
1996Inaugural Thanksgiving Mass for Deceased Members and Volunteers
1997Moe Soup Van established on 27 November

2001 The first ever St Vincent de Paul Society tram was organised in partnership with Yarra Trams

23 August 2001 | St Vincent de Paul Society tram

The St Vincent de Paul Society's International President, Jose Ramon Diaz-Torremocha, visited Melbourne on 23 August 2001 as part of his Australian visit. The day included a vist to some of the Society's works such as Ozanam House, Rosalie House, a ride on the St Vinnies tram (kindly donated by Yarra Trams) and a Mass at St Augustine's Church followed by a social occasion for members and volunteers at Stella Maris.

Pictured left to right: Victorian General Secretary, Brian Dalton, former Victorian President Gerard Dowling, current State President Syd Tutton, International President Jose Ramon Diaz-Torremocha, National President John Moore, International President Michael Thio and National Vice President John Meahan.

2003St Vincent de Paul Aged Care & Community Services (now VincentCare Victoria) was incorporated on 1 August
2003Roadshow went to Sale, Traralgon and Warragul for a week-long program during the July school holidays 
2003Tertiary Education Sponsorship program established in Sale

2004 celebrating 150 years of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia

19-23 May 2004 | 150 years of service

The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia celebrated 150 years of service on 5 March 2004. To commemorate this milestone, a week of celebrations began including:

  • 19 May - gathering at the grave of Fr Gerald Ward at the Melbourne General Cemetery
  • 20 May - Gerald Ward House was officially opened by Archbishop Denis Hart DD and the Honourable Steve Bracks MP, Premier of Victoria and Ozanam Lecture (evening) held at St Francis Church, Melbourne
  • 21 May - College Conference Day at Marian College (Sunshine) and Young Adult Trivia Night held at the Cardinal Knox Centre, East Melbourne
  • 22 May - 150th anniversary Mass at St Francis Church, Melbourne, 150th Parade from St Francis Church to Melbourne Town Hall and The Great 150th Show stage play held at the Melbourne Town Hall
  • 23 May - Future Directions Forum held at the Bayview Centre, Clayton
2005 Mini Vinnies established at Resurrection Primary School, Keysborough  
2005No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) was established in Ballarat
2007Olive’s Place provides support to women and children escaping family violence

2008 World Youth Day in Melbourne included the Ozanam Lecture and Next Gen Youth Concert in Federation Square

10 July 2008 | World Youth Day (Melbourne)

Over 20,000 international pilgrims were expected for World Youth Day in Melbourne.

To celebrate the event, the St Vincent de Paul Society organised a special concert for international pilgrims to join members of Vinnies Youth, the Society and the general public a the free concert at Federation Square.

The Vinnies Next Generation Concert included:

  • Chasing Bailey
  • Troy Cassar-Daley
  • Cam Tapp, lead singer Borne
  • Fr Stan Fortuna
  • Gary Pinto and his band
  • One Fire Dance Troupe
  • The Sudanese Choir
2008Dandenong Tutoring Program opened on 7 April
2008Heidelberg West Reading Club opened on 22 July

2009 Black Saturday bushfires hit Victoria but people across the country band together in support

7 February 2009 | Black Saturday bushfires

The 2009 Black Saturday bushfires changed our lives. The events of Black Saturday (7 February - 14 March) had a profound effect on a great number of people, well beyond the borders of the fire-affected regions. Day after day headlines screamed of the loss of life and devastation of property, towns and communities. Donations for bushfire survivors poured into Victoria from national and international sources. The magnitude of this disaster was evident as we filled a 10,000 square metre warehouse in Rowville with material donations from across Australia and beyond.

Combined with the rising total of financial donations for our appeal and the flood of volunteers wanting to know how they could help, the Society was overwhelmed by just how many felt the need to help the communities devastated by the bushfires. 

For many the scars of Black Saturday are still 'visible' but the overwhelming support received will forever life with us too. When the need arises so too does the community spirit of us all providing care and love.

2009100th Vinnies Shop opened on 31 March in Dandenong
2009Berwick Soup Van was established on 2 September
2010First Vinnies CEO Sleepout held in Melbourne on 17 June at Etihad Stadium


2012 Vinnies Gift Appeal - HMAS Cerberus helps out with delivery to Altona

12 December 2012 | HMAS Cerberus

Members of HMAS Cerberus and the Navy Steam Club delivered more than 600 toys to our Vinnies Christmas gift appeal on Wednesday 12 December.

The gifts were delivered in spectacular fashion on a 1923 Foden Steam Wagon which travelled from the St Kilda Rd barracks, past Flinders Street Station, across the Westgate Bridge to our warehouse in Altona North.

2015Fitzroy Soup Van celebrated its 40th anniversary of operation on 26 June
2017Warrnambool Tutoring Program opens
2018St Kevin’s College (Toorak) Conference established on 1 February 1918, 100th anniversary
2018Vinnies CEO Sleepout expands to two locations Melbourne (21 June) and Geelong (28 June)


2019 Ozanam House reopens after large redevelopment

28 June 2019 | Ozanam House reopens

More than 200 people attended the launch of Ozanam House in North Melbourne, which was officially reopened by Victorian Minister for Housing Richard Wynne. The world-class $47-million centre offers a range of facilities from health services to technology resources that are especially designed to enable a person’s recovery from homelessness. Up to 250 people are expected to walk through the centre’s doors every day.

2020 COVID-19 all services reimagined to contactless
2021Vinnies Shops rollout solar panels, commencing with Vinnies Oakleigh on 25 June
2021Warrnambool East Education Program opened
2022Inner City Soup Van Hub opened on 4 May
2022Turning of the sod for The Big Build project on 10 August

Celebrating 100 years for the Thornbury Conference

19 August 2023 | Thornbury Conference celebrates 100 years

In a remarkable celebration of unwavering commitment and community impact, Thornbury Conference reached a significant milestone this year as it marks a century of dedicated service. The conference, deeply embedded in the local fabric, has played a pivotal role in shaping positive change over the years.


170th celebrations of St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia on 4-5 March.

Share this page