“For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His mercy from us?” St. Vincent de Paul
The Society of St Vincent de Paul, or SSVP, is a worldwide confederation of national charities with about 750,000 members. Membership is open to men and women, young and old.
The Society was started by a young student in 1833 in post-revolutionary Paris, during a time of great poverty and social upheaval. A group of Catholic students at the Sorbonne University were challenged to show their Christian faith in action. Led by 20-year old Frederic Ozanam, they formed a small group, called the “Conference of Charity” and began to offer their time and resources to address the suffering of the poor around them. These first members were mostly in their early 20’s, except for one, a 40-year old journalist, who offered them a place to meet at his office.
In the early days they were greatly helped by Sister Rosalie Rendu, a Daughter of Charity, from the congregation of Sisters founded by St Vincent de Paul in the 17th century. With her local knowledge she brought the members of the new group into contact with the poor of Paris. Frederic and his friend chose St Vincent, well-known for his work with the poor, as the patron of their Society.
The SSVP reached Scotland in 1845 and has spread all over the world. Groups today are still known as “Conferences.” Now, there are around 300 ‘conferences’ across Scotland, with approximately 2100 members.
The SSVP asks that members accept fully the Christian ethos of the SSVP, and are committed to express their love of God through personal service to their neighbour. They respect religious liberty and values of all people and offer help to anyone in need.
The SSVP operates in branches, called Conferences, based on local parishes, schools and universities. They meet regularly to review their work as well as allocating future work in a spirit of prayer and mutual support. The work of a Conference is usually concentrated on local visiting, however other activities may include “special works”, which serve people in a wider area, or give more specialised help in a certain aspect of the work.
In Scotland their 2100 voluntary members make about 140,000 visits each year. The distinctive feature of the SSVP is person to person contact. This is a fundamental part of the SSVP ethos, and so they do not make donations to any work in which members are not personally involved. Where appropriate they offer material or financial assistance to help those in need to overcome crises and develop longer-term solutions to their problems.
The first Ozanam Club was started in May 1989 by James Lynch, a member of the Society of St. Vincent De Paul who himself had two children with learning difficulties and who was concerned at the general lack of leisure provision for them. Each Ozanam Club (named after Blessed Frederick Ozanam who was the founder of the S.S.V.P.) is a Special Works Conference of the SSVP. At this present time the SSVP has two clubs in Viewpark, an adults club and a seperate club for younger members, an adults club in Hamilton and Paisley, and also a club in Carfin for younger members.
The Ozanam Clubs are a social evening for adults and children with learning difficulties, providing a fun night out where people can socialise and participate in activities which include a weekly disco, bingo, football, computer games, and arts and crafts. The clubs also have party nights throughout the year, and also go on summer outings to the sea-side and fun parks. Membership is open to anyone who has disabilities, regardless of their race or religious belief. Run solely by volunteers, the aim of the clubs is a fun night out for members, and some temporary respite for parents.
In the last fifty years SSVP have set up special projects to tackle problems which persist despite the Welfare State. For almost thirty years, thanks to the joint efforts of members throughout Scotland, they have offered families Caravan holidays in East Lothian, Fife, Ayrshire coast, Arbroath and Nairn. A week away from day to day problems gives both parents and children a chance to relax and enjoy the company of other families.
Reproduced by kind permission of SSVP Scotland
For further information please visit their Website http://www.ssvpscotland.com/