Our Story

Who we are

In Paris 1833, Frederic Ozanam, a 20-year-old student, was challenged to 'show us your works’ and do something to assist the poor who were struggling to survive day to day.

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

Frederic's vision became a worldwide movement and, 21 years later on 5 March 1854, the St Vincent de Paul Society was established in Melbourne, Australia, by Fr Gerald Ward who, like Frederic, also witnessed a changing community following the discovery of gold in central Victoria.

Today, through a 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.

For more than 169 years, the St Vincent de Paul Society has focused on serving people in need by meeting 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 are extremely grateful to the network of members and volunteers who are the backbone of our organisation.


Blessed Frederic Ozanam

Blessed Frederic Ozanam (1813 - 1853)

The St Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris on 23 April 1833 by a group of young Catholic university students led by the 20-year-old, Frederic Ozanam, who had a passion for social reform.

Ozanam was a dynamic leader, whose strong Catholic faith led him to champion the rights of the poor, the sick, and the ‘wage slave’ workers, with radical and influential ideas such as partnership and profit sharing. 

At a meeting, Ozanam and his fellow students were challenged: “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 and as a result the St Vincent de Paul Society was born.

“Yours must be a work of love, of kindness, you must give your time, your talents, yourselves. The poor person is a unique person of God’s fashioning with an inalienable right to respect. You must not be content with tiding the poor over the poverty crisis: You must study their condition and the injustices which brought about such poverty, with the aim of a long term improvement.”



St Vincent de Paul

St Vincent de Paul (1581 - 1660)

The St Vincent de Paul Society was named in honour of St Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charities.

Born in 1581, Vincent de Paul was a holy and contemplative man who saw that love of God needed a practical demonstration and that the face of God was found in the poor.

As a young man he ministered to and tutored the powerful. However, after being sent to the poor village of Châtillon, he pledged his life to serving the destitute. A determined man who never hurried a decision, he dedicated himself to orphans, the aged, the sick, the starving, prisoners, galley slaves and the mentally unwell.

“If we are really called to carry the love of God far and wide, if we are to inflame the nations with this fire, if we have the vocation of setting the whole world on fire, if it is so, then how much I must myself burn with this fire.”



Fr Gerald Ward

Fr Gerald Ward (1806 - 1858)

The first conference in Australia was established on 5 March 1854 in Melbourne by Fr Gerald Ward at St Francis' Church situated on the corner of Elizabeth and Lonsdale Streets. Fr Ward was the conferences first president.

In its first year the conference assisted 179 cases primarily out of concern and compassion for children and women who had been abandoned due to the 1851 rush to the goldfields.

The St Francis Conference still meets today at St Francis Church in the city.

“The Society’s object is to comprise sundry works of charity, but more especially the relief of the destitute, in a manner as much as possible, permanently beneficial and the visitation of poor families. Every opportunity is seized of bearing consolation and instruction to the sick and prisoners, to children indigent, abandoned or imprisoned.”



Bl Rosalie Rendu

Bl Rosalie Rendu (1786 - 1856)

Sr Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, worked for over 50 years in the slums of Paris, and acted as mentor and guide to the newly formed conference, and to Frederic Ozanam in particular.

She was known as the Mother Teresa of Paris, and started a free clinic, pharmacy, school, orphanage, child care centre and a youth club for young workers. She reluctantly accepted the Cross of the Legion of Honour in 1852.

Not physically robust, her strength came from her prayer life. She prayed in the streets every day, and upon her death her funeral was attended by 50,000 mourners.

“All have the right to lay their burdens on us...Be kind and love, for love is your first gift to the poor. They will appreciate your kindness and your love more than all else you bring them.”



St Louise de Marillac

St Louise de Marillac (1591 - 1660)

St Louise de Marillac came from a noble family, married and had a son, and was widowed after 11 years of marriage. She was well educated and blessed with extraordinary abilities.

A passionate worker for the sick, the elderly and the marginalised, together she and St Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity, who lived and worked amongst the poor and the destitute.

The noble movement of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which has spanned four centuries and five continents owes much to her dedication, commitment, charisma and energy.

“Be diligent in serving the poor. We must love them tenderly and respect them deeply. Love the poor; Honour them, my children, as you would honour Christ himself.”



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