St. Vincent de Paul was the inspiration if not the founder of the society that bears his name. He was born in the late 16th century in France, became a priest for perhaps the wrong reasons, but then allowed God to transform him into a champion for the poor and oppressed.
The society bearing Vincent's name was founded in Paris by Frederic Ozanam in 1833. Frederic was a 20 year old university student troubled by attitudes prevalent in post-revolution France. He believed that the idealistic vision popular among his fellow students of utopian secular communities would not be successful because it lacked the Christian principles of love and mercy. Challenged to practice his beliefs, Frederic gathered a few other students with beliefs similar to his and together they pooled their money and began delivering groceries to the shut-ins in the poverty-stricken streets of Paris.
This concept, as simple as it was, proved to be powerful and produced a movement which grew rapidly. Within a year there were more than 100 members. Eleven short years later, the society had spread to the United States and by 1853, the year Frederic died at age 40, the society could boast 2000 conferences, 500 of which were outside of France. On August 22, 1997, Frederic Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II at the cathedral in Paris.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul continues to serve the poor in over 132 countries in all areas of the world.
St. Vincent de Paul operations in Vancouver began in the depression year of 1938 with the aggregation of a conference at the downtown parish of St. James. St. Joseph parish was formed in 1952 followed by Our Lady of Lourdes in 1958; each started and operated separate conferences until the mid-1980's when, first, the St. Joseph Conference and shortly thereafter the Our Lady of Lourdes Conference merged with the St. James Conference. This was an unorthodox arrangement since, typically, separate conferences service the needs of individual parishes. But the leaders were able to attract sufficient volunteers and achieve economies of scale with this arrangement. When the Holy Redeemer parish was formed in 2000, it was immediately incorporated into what became the Vancouver Conference. The conference became affiliated with the Columbia River Council of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in 2002.
The combined conference has received continuous financial as well as in-kind contributions from each of the four parishes and has enjoyed excellent cooperation. We feel blest that the pastors and parishioners have been extremely supportive throughout the years.
In 1986 the combined conference began operating from an unused dental office donated by Kaiser-Permanente. Two years later, operations moved to the gymnasium at St. James parish. The need for greater space for conference requirements and St. James parish activities provided the incentive for finding a large, separate home for St. Vincent de Paul. A significant bequest from the Helen Morgan estate accelerated planning. Hal Westby was hired to conduct the capital campaign and initiate grant writing efforts which resulted in significant gifts including $100,000 each from the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Murdock Charitable Trust. Board members Jim DeLong and Tim Norton were the driving force behind the campaign. Tom Crowley served as Board President at the time and Dick Lauer became Executive Director during the course of the campaign. The large modern facility located on Stapleton Road was dedicated in 1997 and began serving the poor.
The Vancouver Conference has seen constant expansion of its services to friends in need during the past decade in the form of food, clothing, household items, rent and utility assistance and other works of charity. Dozens of volunteers faithfully donate their time and efforts into answering God's call to love their neighbors.