Society of St. Vincent de Paul First Written Report

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Society of St. Vincent de Paul First Written Report Presented at the Friday, June 27, 1834 Meeting


This report is the first one to be recorded within our Society. It was presented to Saint-Etienne-du-Mont parish's new pastor, Father Faudet, one year only after the Charity Conference was founded, and was therefore instrumental in dating the foundation of the Conference in Paris, on April 23, 1833. It was written by Gustave Colas de la Noue (1818-1838), then a law student, who joined the Conference immediately after the seven “founders”, thus becoming the eighth member. He was introduced by his friend Francois Lallier, a colleague from the Stanislas College (Paris) and the Faculty of Law. In 1832, Gustave Colas de la Noue, was already part of the History Conference along with Frederic Ozanam and several students who met in Emmanuel Bailly’s pension, place de l”Estrepade.

The report, once lost, was found again in 1956. Fr. Etienne Diebold, CM used it during the historical inquest for the beatification of Ozanam, and a photocopy is now kept in his archives at the Lazarists, in Paris. The original again remains unlocatable.

Emmanuel Bailly lost this document the first time. The story is well documented in a letter dated February 23, 1835 from Frederic Ozanam to Leonce Curnier, who was starting a conference in Nimes patterned after the new Society of St. Vincent de Paul which had recently been organized in Paris. Frederic apologizes for delaying to forward the report as promised and concludes with one of his most frequently quoted lines. He writes, "I thought of the report you had asked me for. But I never thought of it at a proper time. I forgot several times to speak about it to de la Noue; the M. de la Noue referred me to M. Bailly, our president. M. Bailly searched for the report among his papers, and after a time told me that the search was fruitless. So the document is lost. It is not a great misfortune for us: there was in this abridged history of our work perhaps proud thought. God, who wishes that the left hand not know what the right has given, permitted us to lose title to what might serve only to bestow on us ridiculous vanity. Charity must never look behind it, but always before, because the number of its past benefits is always very small, and the present and future misery it solaces is infinite."

Fortunately the report has been preserved and we can look back and be inspired by the zeal and piety of the founders. In November 2009 this document was translated by Sister Mildred Cheramie, DC. at the request of Sr. Kieran Kneaves, DC.

--Ralph Middlecamp 02:31, 27 July 2010 (UTC)

REPORT ON CHARITY WORK Read at the meeting of Friday, June 27, 1834


Around the year 1630, a priest with no other resources but his charity, seeing the innumerable misfortunes afflicting the poorest and most numerous members of society, growing and extending as a scourge throughout Paris, conceived a project to lessen the number of those dying, and God gave him the grace. This priest was Vincent and now you know the whole story, Gentlemen, we who have taken him as our teacher and model, how can we continue to execute this magnificent project? See how the streets of Paris have so many monuments which give evidence of his inexhaustible charity. Remarkable works, which often are imperceptible in their beginnings, attain endings that are sublime. It is like a stone which has its foundation in St. Peter’s in Rome.

If we are allowed, gentlemen, to compare small things to great things, the work of the disciple to a master, we would cast a loving look and a look of hope on the first footsteps we have taken together on the road of charity, and would not fear to envision a beautiful future that springs from our past. Gentlemen, Jesus Christ, who called us, has called us for a purpose, and every purpose for which God calls us is beautiful and great. Such should be the faith we should have in our work. Such should be the trust we put in the grace of Jesus Christ, our Master.

On Tuesday, April 23, 1833, that is to say, 200 years after the work I have just described for the edification of your souls, I take the responsibility, here as a man, to invite some young men, scattered throughout the Capitol, to be in contact with one another, to be united through bonds of charity, that is, ties which are tightened forever. Teaching them would occur more by example, then by advice: Teaching them that the life of a man, at all times and in all places should be sacrificed for the love of mankind. Such was the beginning of this Society to which you belong, gentlemen, and which is always growing like the “Charite”, of which it is one of the world’s organizations.

To be useful to our brothers and to ourselves was the double goal proposed by the man who assembles us. Has this goal been attained? Let us examine ourselves.

First, gentlemen, let us confess with loud voices that without this Society, which binds us to our post through love, without you, who together form a marvelous chain which binds us to one another, we could hardly have responded to the invitation to board this boat on this sea where we voyage full of presumption and inexperience. And now we thank heaven, Jesus is in the boat with his disciples. We are thrust into this Capitol at a time when all is illusion and delight. At a time when everything seen for the first time appears dazzling, where all of us have more than one wrong step to make on our paths. Moreover, there is danger of rushing to the aid of persons and situations when we ought and must because of inexperience have a guide. You are aware of the guide who presents himself when our feet are tired, and we need a place to rest. You know whose door will be open to welcome you. See then how the man who unites us understood our particular interests and those of the poor. As a Christian he knew that all men are brothers and that it is necessary to be charitable to all. We must give nourishment for the body, the Word is nourishment for the soul. At certain intervals He removes us from the world of which we are sons in order to bring to us that which the world conceals, preparing us in this way by faith, a holy tabernacle in our souls where love can dwell. The primary end of this Society proposed has been attained. He maintains, Christians, it is the primary act of true charity.

The second end of our Society is to help our brothers and sisters who have difficulty in staying alive because of lack of food. We say an act of faith and then an act of charity and after reading the Word we do the work which is the body (substance) of the Word. This is how our association grew: first the Society gave simple talks to the state through familiar and intimate conversation. This was the period of infancy, the infant began to develop; it wanted to walk; it wanted to be active. This marks our progress to the present, the period of activity, the period of life.

Gentlemen, let us mention here each step we have taken together, and pausing obligingly, I invite you to observe two aspects of our works. It is through what we accomplished that we are able to understand all that we can do. Our entire future was contained in our past. We understand very well that charity must be done in secret, that the work must be unobtrusive. Here we are not strangers to one another; what we have done has been accomplished with the cooperation of one another. The principal end of our association is to do everything with one heart and one soul, of a sort that we recount to one another the different services we have delivered not to be adulated but to give advice and mutual encouragement, to give better service.

When we start we are often very weak; the means, the resources which we have to distribute are often very mediocre. Thus we should not contact the poor who have only us as consolers. We must associate our work with a much larger word and more general. We must, in order to continue, lean on an arm that is already strong and mature. We have made ourselves auxiliaries of the Daughters of Charity. It is from them that we have asked assistance. It is from them that we have learned to recognize the misery of the poor. Later we will be able to contact those unfortunates specially chosen by us among all those who are unfortunate. Already we have dreamed that one day in the future we will report that we have done this.

Well then, it is the poor already registered in the files of the “Charite” that we must seek to help. It is not only with material aid that we knock at the doors of the poor. Those aids are needed when making home visits. You should not ignore them, gentlemen. At present you have all acquired the experience of one of the best rendered Charities and one that produces the best results, above all, in these times when help is generally dispensed with such culpable indifference. Here, gentlemen, we Christians visit the homes of the poor at the same time that non-Christians are doing visits also. It is a rivalry established between the “Charite” and those whom we honor with the name of philanthropy. The Catholic is in competition with the man of the world. Which of the two will carry on this work? It is by our taking care of their body that the poor will permit us one day to read into their soul. Without doubt, a donation of bread and money is very meager compared to those duties which our religion requires that we bring for the comfort of sick-souls. However, as Vincent taught us, the poor are hungry, so we must first give them bread in order to dispose them to receive the Gospel. By observing the preceding maxim, we have experienced consolation more than once. It is in distributing bread to the poor that many of you have succeeded in having those who until then remained deaf to the Word, listen to the Christian message. By giving clothes, others of you have given children moral instruction, the clothing of the heart. It is thus that others among you were able to approach the beds of the dying in order to speak to them about another life, must happier than the one on earth. More than once we have had the sweet satisfaction of rescuing, in favor of religion, hearts whose union had until then been divided between state and church.

Therefore it is in entering the homes of the poor that we were first permitted to soothe the wounds of their bodies and then those of their souls, that we delivered bread and clothing before books which are the bread and clothing of knowledge. Even if the distribution of books was less than that of bread and clothing, it was much more salutary. At that epoch, when immorality was rampant, we were able and we must congratulate ourselves, to bring once again more than twelve dozen of pious books to the hearths of our poor families. Children who could hardly read, received moral instruction, not only through our voices, but through holy pictures and books which reached the soul through their eyes. Men, forgetting their dignity, were shamefully living with women who also were negligent of their duties, we brought them together at the foot of the altar. Entire families found themselves constrained to beg shelter while begging for bread, we were hiding the avarice of their masters.

Such is our history, no doubt to brief, of our Society. Such is the bit of good we have accomplished together. Even if it is one soul among the many that we have received for heaven, we have been well recompensed for our care and our poor charities.

As for the question: What was the good done by us? We have the right, gentlemen, to add another. How was this good accomplished? We say to you, gentlemen, you will see, from my report, the use we have made of the funds received by this Society. Perhaps we can in the future, with similar resources continue our work on a larger and more charitable scale.

And so it is at the beginning of this university year, the start of our period of activity which we will never abandon any more with the grace and help of God. Up to this time, this period of activity of seven months of existence we have collected approximately 1400 Francs of our treasury. Let us note now the immense progress of charity among us in so short a time, 1400 Francs. (In the margins is written: • January 176-70 • February 185-45 • March 254-95 • April 244 • May 199-80) It is the same amount of revenue which sufficed for St. Vincent to support the foundling home at its beginning. This was the most beautiful work ever to come from the hands of men. This is the time and place to remind you, gentlemen, that we have chosen this great saint as our Patron and it is not solely his virtues which we ought to model, but his works as well and the manner in which he understood his works. Charity does not consist so much in the distributing of bread as in the manner it is distributed. With 1400 Francs, St. Vincent undertook the foundation for the foundlings. We should with double that amount do other things than just the giving of bread and meat. We should give our poor brothers something more than meager alms. Take account of our membership, gentlemen, it suffices that we give 1000 ecus yearly to our treasury, double the 1000 ecus and we will have a sum of 6000 francs with which you can begin a veritable work of charity.

The date of our first meeting was April 23, 1833. There were 8 members at the origin of this Society, which today comprises more than 70 members. The number of members did not rise about 15 until vacation time, a time when the Society was constrained to sustain itself by the zeal of 3 of its members. Money with which we could not alleviate the hunger of the poor was scarce. Only the edition of a Christian bulletin came to the rescue of our still very modest works. However, at the beginning of our university year we regained our courage; some affluent members in our midst assisted us; at the same time some diverse collections came to us from persons to whom we had revealed the secret of our charity. Again, gentlemen, let us thank heaven that once again art and science have reached out to come to the aid of the “Charite”.

It is vital to continue, gentlemen, so that next year we will go one step farter than the year just ended. Already at mid-year many of us were able to join in activities within this work, activities as meritorious as our own. Many of you were received as auxiliaries of the Charite. Once more let us augment the membership; we can and we must. It is necessary that we make known to men of the world the extent of the Charite, which is available to us. This opportunity is ours, but it has gone over to the camp of the enemy. Next year will be better, we hope. Already we have seen a much greater poverty and yet not well recognized. Children with a bad education have succumbed to vice occurring in some corners of this Capitol. They are under arrest and are sentenced by penal law. These poor and pitiable children are paying the state for their crimes and are totally ignorant of God and themselves. When we go to give bread to their fathers, we will bring the Word to their sons. See now, what we hope to do, gentlemen, with your zeal and the grace of God.

Charity, gentlemen, see here the word which must rally all men, the enigmatic word that the Sphinx of paganism did not understand. However, Christ came to earth to give us a living explanation. This word which men of the world do not hear, Christians are able to read as an anagram of the future. Charity, gentlemen, it is with charity that we will rally together men and situations; it is through charity that humanity one day will be as precious as one’s own brother. It is charity which in the future will arise above the debris of human law and be the sole and unique law of the world. So let us continue to do charity if we want to fulfill our mission. God has placed each person in his post here on earth and has given us a sacred word to safe guard. Misfortune will come to whomever forgets or betrays the sacred word.

Gentlemen, humanity is divided into large classes: the class of the rich and the class of the poor. This unfortunate situation seems to have come from war, which divided these two portions of the human race. The day when the rich and the poor help each other will be the day of general peace: a day of rest for all mankind. We who are rich, gentlemen, let us hasten with all our power this great epoch. When the poor want to shake our hand, do not refuse to respond by extending our own. Approach him so that he will feel welcome. In this way let us divert the numerous anathemas which God has cast on the powerful and strong from time immemorial. Let us recall that the angel of God struck the powerful of Egypt and saved the poor and afflicted Israelites. See now, gentlemen, the disposition we should acquire in order to continue our work to the end which God permit us to attain.

As for you among us, my friend, who we called today to assist in our intimate and familiar confidence, you our father and pastor, wee what your sons want to do, see how they want to give life to the word charity they often receive from your lips. See and bless them, because in order to succeed, it is necessary that the work be placed under the protection of God and his priests.

In ending this short report of our works, let us together have the firm determination, never to quit the post where God has visited us. Let us continue without fanfare the work of charity, because charity is as beautiful as it is salutary. It is a flower which fills the desert with perfume and which fades and dries up at midday. Charity is a fresh and limpid stream which runs through mud and slime as it crosses the city. Charity, gentlemen, is mother and virgin together. Let us continue to be charitable among ourselves and continue to love our brothers and sisters who are poor, because as all of you know, gentlemen, in exchange for our love they will give us their prayers and the blessing from the poor is a blessing from God.