St. Vincent De Paul Society – Bluff Conference
Conference: This is the name given to all Parish Groups of the St. Vincent de Paul and is used worldwide. The society, to establish aid for the poor, was started through the compassion of Frederic Ozanam and his companions.
A short History of the St. Vincent de Paul Society
Frederick Ozanam was born in 1813 and grew up in Lyon, France. While still very young he went to study law at the University of Paris. He found that some of his professors were hostile to Catholic teaching and Frederick took them on defending the Church at every opportunity. His faith meant everything to him and it held top priority in his life!
At the age of 20 he longed to affirm his faith in other ways than with the spoken and written word. With a few friends Frederick decided to put his faith into practice and help the poor and underprivileged. These young people made the acquaintance of Sister Rosalie Rendu, D.C., a Daughter of Charity living in Paris, who led them to visit the poor of the neighbourhood. What took precedence for them were personal relationships, the will to break the cycle of solitude and isolation that contributed to the misery of the poor. This project, under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul to whom Frederick had a great devotion, gave rise to the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. (St. Vincent was born in Gascony, France in 1580 and became a priest at the age of 20. He dedicated his life to the service of the poor. In 1625 he founded the Congregation of the Mission, a society of priests for missionary work in country areas and in 1633 he founded the Daughters (Sisters) of Charity. St. Vincent died on the 27th September 1660, some 173 years prior to the foundation of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul by Frederick Ozanam)
The Society grew leaps and bounds. When students graduated and returned home, they started the Society there to help the poor and care for the needy. In his lifetime, Frederick saw the Society spring up throughout Europe, Canada, Mexico and the United States. At one point Frederick thought about becoming a priest but eventually decided against it and married Amelie Soulacroix in Lyon and returned to Paris where he taught at the University of Paris after getting his second doctorate in foreign language literature. The students jammed Fredrick’s classes; he taught with such truth and passion and in turn brought out the best in his students. Besides the poor, Frederick was a champion of justice for the working class. He defended the rights of workers in his college courses as well as in many newspaper articles that he wrote.
In 1845 he became the proud father of his only child, Mary. Eight years later Frederick contracted Blight’s disease and, after a short battle, prematurely died at the early age of 40 years old. He was surrounded by his wife, little girl and members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The radiance of his international influence, characterized by his youth and charity, led to the introduction of the cause for his beatification in 1925. At World Youth Day in Paris, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Frederick Ozanam a Blessed in the Church and held him up as an example for all young men and women committed to their faith.
Today the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is the largest Catholic lay association of charity in the world. Frederick was an outstanding model of putting faith into action, especially in service of the poor. He proved that to be Vincentian is not about the clothes you wear or the title before your name, it is about serving the poor in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
The St. Vincent de Paul in South Africa
In 1853 a young man by the name of Alexander Wilmot moved to South Africa at the age of 17. He was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and at some time between 1836 and 1853 moved to Glasgow. He had left Scotland as a member of St. Johns Conference in the Gorbals of Glasgow, where he to would have lived in the slums of that day.
This young man, within three years of arriving in South Africa was able to persuade the Bishop of Cape Town to permit the first conference in South Africa to be formed at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Cape Town on the 17th November 1856.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society – Bluff Conference
The Bluff conference was started in March 1953 (100 years after the arrival of Alexander Wilmot in South Africa). Fr. Duffy was the parish priest at the time.
At the time food or gift vouchers to the value of R4.00 was given to a family of four on a weekly basis and for a single person R1.50. Each case was investigated and assessed according to their need. The approved cash, food or clothing was given according to the size of the family. Then, as is now, all cases are strictly confidential, and that is how it always will be. Our bank balance during that period was under R100.00. These statistics are taken from the late 1960’s. Thanks to the generosity of our parish our funds have increased as years have passed, and so also the financial assistance given to our cases.
At that time, every Monday night, three or four S.V.P. brothers, (the universal term for individual members) would visit Wentworth Hospital giving out magazines and spending some time with patients who never had visitors. At Christmas time cigarettes and sweets took the place of magazines. Yes, in those days smoking was encouraged everywhere. Every Christmas, our Conference arranged a Children’s party for those who were unable to leave the hospital. A grateful thanks goes to the youth of the parish at the time who provided the music and entertainment for the sick children. A gift of a toy that was provided by the children of the parish was also given out. The hospital was still visited by the brothers until up to two years ago when the hospital was temporarily closed.
From the very beginning the Catholic Women’s League were very supportive of the S.V.D.P. as the new members started on their first works of charity. The C.W.L. established a sewing circle and all clothes donated to our Conference were washed, repaired and ironed by these ladies before distribution to our needy cases. It must be born in mind that this was long before the days of supermarkets and cheap clothes from Eastern countries. Charity was, and still is deeply engrained in the C.W.L., for in those days, although the ladies would assist the S.V.D.P, they were not allowed to become members. Fortunately sanity prevailed, and in the early 1980’s, women were encouraged to join the Society and take their rightful place alongside the men. We all thank the Lord that this Victorian shortsighted ruling, now buried deeply in the archives, will never see the light of day again. The title of Brother or Sister is used normally only on formal occasions, such in reports or meetings with other Conferences.
In 2002 the S.V.D.P. took a big step forward when, with money received from a bequest, purchased a house in Congella. The S.V.D.P. named the house “Ozanam House” after our founder and it has now become the headquarters of the Central Council, Durban (Council is the name given to grouping of Conferences). It is also used as a bulk storage house and an assembly line for the make up of our food parcels. Every Wednesday morning and evening, members from our Conference as well as members of our parish, join other conferences in packing food parcels. Since the establishment of the food line some 25,500 food parcels have been packed. These food parcels are distributed to Conferences all over Durban and surrounding areas, as well as the North and South Coastal Region.
Over the years the S.V.D.P. has changed with the times, according to circumstances in modern society and to rules laid down by our governing body in Paris, France, who are always aware of our needs. Sadly the poverty, unemployment and drug abuse have worsened. The scourge of AIDS and other related illnesses are set to worsen in society, and the load on the S.V.D.P. will undoubtedly increase. Over the past fifty two years the generosity of the Bluff parish has enabled the S.V.D.P. to carry out all works of charity, and on behalf of the poor, we thank you.
At the beginning of this report, other than Fr. Duffy, no other names have been mentioned. So many people have given so much, in so many ways, over such a long period, that the Lord knows who they are, and that is sufficient for them.