«Our Vision The St Vincent de Paul Society aspires to be recognised as a caring Catholic charity offering “a hand up” to people in need. We do ...»
When she was nearly 17 years old, Jeanne entered the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity and received the name Rosalie. She took vows to serve God and the poor, and spent over 50 years living out those vows. She opened a free clinic, a pharmacy, a school, an orphanage, a childcare centre, a home for the elderly and a youth club for young workers. She became known as the “good mother of all”, and helped Frederic Ozanam and his friends to do good works, which is how the St Vincent de Paul Society started.
Mini Vinnies As well as assisting the poor in the streets and in their homes, Sister Rosalie showed great courage and leadership during the bloody uprisings that took place in France in 1830 and 1848. During the battles, Sister Rosalie would climb up on the barricades – risking her life – to help wounded soldiers, regardless of which side they were fighting on.
Although her health was always fragile, Sister Rosalie never rested; she preferred to keep serving the poor, and managed to overcome fatigue and illness. Eventually, however, her huge workload – combined with her age and increased frailty – broke her resistance, and she became progressively blind during the last two years of her life. She died on 7th February 1856.
“Never have I prayed so well as in the streets.” 14 VICTORIA The Beginnings of the Society Frederic Ozanam was a devoted Catholic, but he was in the minority at Sorbonne University, where he studied law. Because of the strong anti-Christian sentiment within the University, many Catholic students would not openly admit to their faith. A professor named Jouffrey argued that Christianity was irrational, and that it was the enemy of scientific inquiry and human liberty. Frederic wrote two letters to the professor to disprove the professor’s arguments. He wrote a third letter, which was signed by nine other students. Jouffrey was forced to read the letter in public and promise to never again attack the religious beliefs of students.
Following this incident, Frederic was seen as a natural leader of the Catholic students at the University. He was driven by a deep desire to find a way to help build the faith of his peers. One day, Frederic was challenged by a group of Socialist
students who went by the name of Saint Simonians. The students argued that:
“Christianity is now outworn and defunct. It may have been useful in the past, but what use is it today? Show us your works, and then we might believe!” These claims troubled Frederic greatly, and drove him to start a ‘Conference of Charity’ with a few friends. The group
Frederic Ozanam, aged 19 Joseph Emmanuel Bailly, aged 42 Francoise Lallier, aged 20 Paul Lemanche, aged 23 Felix Clave, aged 22 Auguste Le Tallandier, aged 22 Jules Devaux, aged 22 Mini Vinnies Under the guidance of Bailly, who was the founder of an influential Catholic newspaper, the students met weekly – starting in May 1833 – and committed themselves to helping the poor people of Paris. Inspired and assisted by Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, the students visited poor people in their homes, bringing food and other necessities. Frederic had a strong belief that this method of serving the poor was much better than what he called “ostentatious philanthropy” (the bold, flashy giving of money without paying much attention to the people who were actually in need of the help).
The Conference adopted the name “The Society of St Vincent de Paul” because they were inspired by Saint Vincent, who had devoted himself to helping the poor people of France about 200 years earlier. Sister Rosalie taught Frederic and his friends to see the face of God in the poor people who they visited. In this way, the Conference members recognised the importance of providing company and friendship as well as material assistance to people in need – those they visited were not just physically poor, but emotionally and spiritually poor as well.
Frederic came to realise that, in serving the poor, charity was not enough, and he began calling for social reform and justice for the working classes. The Society of St Vincent de Paul began to focus not just on helping people through their immediate
poverty, but also on the changing laws and structures that continued to create poverty and disadvantage. Frederic said:
“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.” As the student members of the Conference completed their studies, they started up Conferences in other provinces of France. Within two years of the first Conference meeting, there were over 100 members of the Society. Soon, the Society spread beyond the borders of France, and there was a Conference in Rome, Italy, by 1842. The Society was then established
in other countries in the following years:
1843 – Belgium, Scotland, Ireland 1844 – England 1846 – Holland, Germany, Greece, Turkey, the USA and Mexico 1847 – Canada, Switzerland
By the time of Frederic’s death in 1853, the Society was thriving in France and had spread throughout the world, fulfilling Frederic’s desire to “embrace the whole world in a network of charity”. Today, the St Vincent de Paul Society is present in 144 countries, with approximately 49,500 Conferences and over over 1 million members.
The Society in Australia
The Society spread throughout Australia over the following years:
1854 – Victoria 1865 – Western Australia 1881 – New South Wales/ACT 1886 – South Australia 1894 – Queensland 1899 – Tasmania 1949 – Northern Territory Mini Vinnies Mission Statement The St Vincent de Paul Society is a lay Catholic organisation that aspires to live the Gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice and joy, and by working to shape a more just and compassionate society.
Vision Statement The St Vincent de Paul Society aspires to be recognised as a caring Catholic charity offering a “hand up” to people in need.
We do this by respecting their dignity, sharing our hope, and encouraging them to take control of their own destiny.
The Vinnies Logo The logo for Vinnies in Australia was created by a sculpture artist named Tom Bass. It symbolises the presence of Jesus
Christ in the work of the Society:
Home Visitation The first work of the St Vincent de Paul Society in 1833 was that of Home Visitation. This act of visiting people in their homes is still active today and is one of the main works of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia. People call the emergency assistance number at Vinnies seeking help. They give their name and address, and volunteers from the Vinnies Conference in that area then visit the person in their home and talk to them about what they need. The volunteers can then provide material support by giving a voucher for food, clothing or furniture. The volunteers also offer personal and emotional support to those they assist.
Vinnies Centres (Shops) There are many Vinnies Centres across Australia, and they are probably considered one of the most visible and well-known aspects of the Society’s work. Vinnies Centres are retail outlets where clothing and household goods donated to the Society are sold at low prices. Goods are donated by members of the public through donation bins or through school and church collection boxes. Vinnies Centres generate income for the Society – money raised through the sale of goods can be used by Vinnies to help those in need within our community. They are also a first point of contact for many people needing help.
Homeless Refuges and Emergency Accommodation Refuges owned and operated by the Society provide shelter and support to men, women and children who are homeless.
Some refuges might be women and children specific and deal with those made homeless due to domestic violence. Other refuges might be youth specific and provide assistance to young people recovering from alcohol or drug dependencies.
Services are also available for people at risk of homelessness.
Mini Vinnies Soup Vans Soup vans, staffed by volunteers, travel the streets of towns and cities to serve food, hot drinks and offer some friendly conversation to those experiencing homelessness. Many thousands of sandwiches, biscuits, cups of tea and coffee are served by Soup Van volunteers each year.
Migrant and Refugee Services The Migrant and Refugee Committee works specifically with individuals and families who have recently arrived in Australia.
The volunteers in this committee give material support (for example, blankets) but also personal and social support – they help people to find accommodation and access health and education services, and assist in making people feel comfortable and welcome in their new home. Vinnies have also established programs such as homework help classes that assist refugee children in their transition into schooling.
Overseas Partnership and Development The Overseas Partnership and Development coordinates the Society’s efforts to assist disadvantaged people in other countries. One of the ways Vinnies in Australia helps people overseas is by ‘twinning’ with developing countries. For example, a Vinnies Conference in Australia may be twinned with a Vinnies Conference in India. Their ‘twinned’ Australian Conference would support and encourage the Indian Conference by praying for them, writing to them and offering financial support to assist them in their works.
In Victoria the St Vincent de Paul Society is twinned with Bangladesh, Cambodia, Caroline Islands, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand and Myanmar.
Youth Programs Vinnies runs a number of programs including camps, activity days and tutoring for young people who may be marginalised or ‘at risk’. This aims to assist young people who may come from poor, disadvantaged or abusive family situations, by providing fun and friendships as well as promoting life skills such as teamwork, confidence and positive thinking.
Community Services Various community services provide accommodation and support initiatives for those who may be isolated, at risk of homelessness or to people who may be facing barriers to employment. Our Community Service participants are often the most disadvantaged and marginalised citizens in our communities, and present to us with complex issues that often require long-term strategies and involvement.
Aged Care St Vincent de Paul Aged Care & Community provide quality accommodation and care for elderly people by providing services and opportunities that enhance their quality of life.
Compeer The Compeer Program is about making friends and changing lives. Volunteers are trained and supported to provide regular, friendly companionship for people living with mental health issues. Most companions referred to this program have become very isolated and lonely due to the effects of mental illness (which is often called “the loneliest illness”). Can you imagine life without friendship? Mental illnesses attack a person’s sense of ‘self’, making it hard to initiate or maintain friendships. Compeer volunteers can assist their companion to bridge the friendship gap, building social skills and self esteem.
Mini Vinnies ‘SEE’ - AN INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL JUSTICE A Mini Vinnies group may be the first opportunity for children to be exposed in a structured way to issues such as poverty and social justice. It is therefore important that this exposure be provided in a caring and empathic way.
Statistics and definitions often do not assist children in understanding the problems other people face. Mini Vinnies facilitators should consider communicating social ills in ways in which children can easily relate. Images and stories are often a helpful way of communicating a problem.
This may mean explaining that there are children who do not have many of the opportunities that most primary students take for granted.
Children who are less fortunate often:
• Cannot afford to go on a school excursion;
• Are embarrassed about inviting their friends to their houses to play;
• Do not attend school dances because they don’t have the clothes;
• Never go on holiday;
• Do not have birthday cakes;
• Don’t have a computer to do their homework;
• Do not have both parents living with them at home;
• Don’t have enough food to eat;
• Have never been to a dentist;
• Are compelled to look after a younger brother or sister;
• Are compelled to look after their parents;
• Never have enough time to play.
• Social Exclusion
• Indigenous Issues
• Refugee Issues
• Mental Health
• Elderly People What is Poverty and Social Exclusion?
Nelson Mandela once said of poverty:
“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”
Poverty is a basic cause of social disadvantage in Australia.
Poverty is often defined in one of two ways. Poverty is either referred to as ‘Absolute Poverty’ or ‘Relative Poverty’. Absolute poverty occurs when people do not have the basic necessities of life, that is, food, shelter and clothing. Some Indigenous communities in Australia are often described as living in absolute poverty. Relative Poverty, on the other hand, occurs where there is inequality in a community and is often measured using a ‘poverty line’. Relative Poverty is a concept most frequently used in developed countries like Australia to define poverty.