The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Paris, France, in April 1833 by a young student Frederic Ozanam and a group of religious young men in an age when materialism was the watchword and atheism the fashion. The members placed themselves under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul, the great 16th century divine whose life and tradition so closely resembled the programme they had planned for themselves - an association serving the poor and the sick. They set themselves the task of rendering social service, while keeping the administration in the hands of laymen, who worked through local "Conferences". And it was as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul that it came to be known.


The Society is not a relieving agency but members deal with the doing out of alms or food to the poor and they likewise assist by giving advice, each member rendering help according to his own special qualification. As doctors, lawyers, businessmen and others, each has it within himself the privilege to do what he can to relieve the distress of less fortunate people. The Society is never to be used as a stepping-stone to advancement and politics, and personal interests are to be rightly banned from the meetings. It will be seen that the students of 1833 thought neither of founding a big organization nor of participating in a widespread campaign against misery. They wish to help one another to remain faithful to their baptismal promises and to carry out, supported by their mutual friendship, one of the essential duties of the Christian life.


In 1835, a decision was made to divide up the founding conference into separate sections. With this decision the members showed that they wanted their movement to spread beyond the borders of their parish, their city, their country, even their continent, in order to take roots in all regions. So the Conference developed very rapidly. After some years, the Society had reached Rome (1842), England (1844), Belgium, Scotland and Ireland (1847), Germany, Holland, Greece, Turkey (1846), Switzerland (1847), Austria and Spain {1850). The United States of America and Mexico saw their first Conference come in being in 1846, Canada in 184 7, Hong Kong in 1863.


The period from 1860 to 1870 was a critical one for the Society, especially in France. On one hand, the parallel progress of luxury and materialism caused men minds to grow colder. On the other hand, the public authorities, in particular the French Empire, and later the Spanish Republic, took measures against the Society which they wrongly regarded as a possible centre of opposition. With the dissolution by force of law, many French Conferences disappeared. Nevertheless, a certain amount of progress was shown elsewhere, mainly in North and South America.


After 1870 the Council-General, having fully resumed its activity, devoted to repairing the losses in France and to renewing the links with other countries. The fiftieth anniversary (1883) was solemnly celebrated. On the eve of the World War, in 1913, the results achieved were manifested in the course of the jubilee celebrations which marked the centenary of the birth of Ozanam. The statistics of the year, 1913, showed 8,000 Conferences and 133,000 members. 


In 2012, the Society was admitted as a Non Governmental Organization to Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). This gives the Society the possibility of attending international conferences on topics such as economic and social development, gender issues, and sustainable development, organized by the United Nations.


In 2013, the Society celebrates the bicentennial of its founder and its 180 years of existence. In almost two centuries, the Society has spread throughout the world. Today the Society is worldwide with close international affiliations. There are over 750,000 members spread among some 50,000 conferences in 149 countries. 30 million people served each day in the world.


The Society in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong the Society was founded on 12 July 1863. Its main work is to visit the poor, irrespective of race and creed, in their homes to endeavour to help their social and religious lives, the education of poor children and medical treatment for the sick, and to encourage them to exert themselves to be again on their own feet. By tender interest and manner, the visiting members may give them the new hope and comfort which are so badly needed by many in times of adversity.


At the end of the Second World War, Hong Kong was ruled under the Japanese Military Government for three years and eight months. During this period, residents of Hong Kong made their escape to other countries, some even headed back to the Mainland. Those who could not make the escape have suffered tremendous torture and hardship. Despite the dreadful situation, a small group of members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, bearing the spirit of the Christ and His Church continued to devote their service to the poor, to tender them with food, medical care and even to take care of funeral service. 


In 1945, when the war was over, Hong Kong saw an influx of refugees returning to rebuild their family and their livelihood. However, the economy of Hong Kong has suffered during the "captivation" period. With the large number of refugees, the Government of Hong Kong has introduced various social welfare schemes. Refugees' camps were set up at Rosary Hill, North Point and Argyle Street areas. Many international charitable organizations also extended their arms to help those in need. Similarly, the Society also came forth to endeavour to help the less fortunate. Two temporarily residents for the elderly were set up in Kowloon, one at Kiu Kiang Street named as the Precious Blood Resident, and the other at Nam Kok Road named as the St. Teresa's Resident.


Four years later, with the political changes in the Mainland, Hong Kong witnessed another flood of refugees. These refugees were mostly poor and helpless, and they looked upon the Government and charitable organizations for assistance. By 1951, the number of members of the Society has also increased and hence they were also to cope with the demand for service. In addition to carrying out home visits and providing financial assistance, the Society was able to provide assistance in the education for the poor children and medical treatment for the sick. In urgent situations, clothing and blankets were given out to those in need. In 1962, a revolution broke out in the Mainland, upheaval and instability had created another influx of refugees to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong's manufacturing and the trading industries were beginning to take shape. Unlike the first two influxes, the large number of new immigrants was accompanied with school age children, and this had called for different types of assistance. In respond to the new demand, the Society opened a Play Centre for young children on the roof top of a block in Lo Fu Ngam (now Lok Fu Estate). Several years later, following the guidelines of the Social Welfare Department, two child care centres were opened in the name of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Day Nursery I and II in the Sau Mau Ping Estate. These centres filled the need of those parents who were out to work in the day time. Because of the good work done by the workers, they received high praise from the community. In recent years, the population of the Estate has aged and the Nursery Centres were no longer needed. Subsequently, the Society has established a similar nursery care centre at Ngau Tau Kok twenty years ago.


In keeping pace with the growth in Hong Kong, the Church has established the Caritas in the mid 50s. The scopes of services embraced by the Caritas were of a wide range. Hence, the Society has redefined its role in the community in the early 60s. In order to support the vast scale of activities undertaken by the Caritas, the annual fund raising campaign - The Bazaar and lucky draw, would now be organized by the Caritas. Furthermore, as the economy of Hong Kong improved and with the availability of various social welfare schemes, cash assistance was no longer as urgent as it used to be. The elderly, homeless, unemployed, disabled were all given appropriate :financial assistance and school age children were all given nine years of free education, thus, the importance of the charitable work performed by the Society seemed to be less prominent. Nevertheless, as a Christian in following the Christ's footstep, members of the Society still carry out regular home visits to give care and support to the elderly and young children, with occasionally :financial support given to those in need. The spread of Christ's love and His salvation will always be the mission of the Christian.


At present, the Society has 34 Parish conferences and 1 youth conference in Hong Kong under the umbrella of the central council, with more than 500 members. They are all devoted Christians, with the mission to bear, to fulfill and to carry out the objective and aims of the Society.