Putting Faith Into Action
A 20-year-old student in 1830s France spurred the formation of what is now an international charitable organization. Challenged with how to live his Catholic faith, Frederic Ozanam gathered with other young men in Paris to develop a system of service.
Formation of the Society
The group's founders took as their mentor Sister Rosalie Rendu, who worked with the poor in the slums of Paris. Under her influence, they named themselves for the order to which she belonged: The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Her order was named for its founder, Vincent de Paul, a French priest known for ministry and service to prisoners, slaves and the poor during the 1600s.
The Society spread to England, Ireland and America in the mid-1840s, and by the time of Ozanam's death in 1853, it had more than 2,000 members. Today, the Society has nearly 800,000 members spread across 140 countries. In America alone, local "conferences" of St. Vincent de Paul cover 4,400 communities encompassing all 50 states. Together, they provide nearly half a billion dollars in aid each year.
The Society's council in Portland opened in 1869. By 1871, St. Vincent de Paul of Portland had donated money and land to the Sisters of Providence to build the first hospital in Oregon: St. Vincent Hospital. The Portland Council grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, eventually encompassing five counties and nearly 2,000 members.
Today, we span Oregon's most populous region, serving tens of thousands of people in need each year. See notable moments in our history below.