Slovakia and New Zealand both recently celebrated 150th Anniversaries of the presence of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Read about their celebrations below.
Saturday 23rd of September the members of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in Slovakia celebrated the founding of the very first conference in Bratislava 150 years ago. At the same time, the members were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the beatification of Frederic Ozanam.
The celebration took place in the town of Levice where the rebirth of the society in Slovakia took place in 1991. During the times of communism (1946-1990) the society was forbidden.
The day started with a Holy Mass performed by the Archbishop of Trnava, Monseigneur Ján Orosch. Then the members met in a school nearby, where Libusa Miháliková, President of the National Board of the SSVP Slovakia welcomed them. Lectures were given about the history of the society in the country and about the life of Frederic Ozanam (by Magdaléna Boledovicová, former and first president of the national board after the rebirth in 1991). Different conferences presented the work and special projects that are carried out for the poor in Slovakia.
At the meeting, all the conferences in Slovakia were represented, as well as other branches of the Vincentian Family, such as the Daughters of Charity and the Congregation of the Mission who played an important role in the rebirth of the society.
The SSVP in Slovakia is twinned with the society of the Netherlands. Brother Alfons ten Velde represented the SSVP Netherlands at the meeting and also spoke some words to the Vincentian brothers and sisters.
Were also present Dieter Monitzer and his wife from the SSVP in Vienna (Austria). The Vincentians in Vienna support the conferences in Bratislava (which is only 50 km away from Vienna) for the last five years.
As a representative of the International General Council (CGI), the International Vice-President for Europe Group II, Erwin Tigla, attended the meeting. He congratulated the society in Slovakia on behalf of the CGI. He told the members that the society in Slovakia is one of the strongest branches among the Eastern-European countries that used to be under the communistic influence of Russia.
The society in Slovakia exists of 25 conferences throughout the country. Next to the basic Vincentian work, the SSVP runs some special works, like holiday camps for children, day care centers for elderly and housing of homeless people, people with alcoholic problems and former prisoners.
The SSVP in Slovakia is flourishing and has a promising future. The celebration of 150 years of SSVP in Slovakia and the 20th anniversary of the beatification of Frederic Ozanam was a successful meeting which gave the attendants new courage and spirit to continue their work in the footsteps of Frederic Ozanam.
Source: SSVP Global
Sitting in the Indian Ocean, south east of Australia, the New Zealand branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul is perhaps the best witness to the international dimension of the SSVP: 18,000 km separate this Vincentian land from the Society’s birthplace in Paris.
Its story began in 1867, with a French Marist priest: Jean-Baptiste Chataigner. Soaked in the work of Frédéric Ozanam, and inspired by the work of the SSVP in France, he founded the very first Saint Vincent de Paul Conference in Christchurch. 22 members formed the original team, along with 7 women as helpers.
In 1876, Fr Chataigner was joined by Charles O’Neill, a Scottish engineer, and a man of great charity. He had been very active in the SSVP in Scotland, and when he emigrated to New Zealand, he founded the Wellington conference, the first to be officially aggregated by Council General. Acknowledged as one of the founding parents of the Society in New Zealand, he certainly played a very important part in its development throughout the country, and was also a pioneer of the SSVP in Australia, where he settled a few years later.
The New Zealand SSVP today
With 135 Conferences and 6000 members, the Society is found all over the country. It is one of the largest charitable organizations in New Zealand, known particularly for its “community shops”, which offer low-priced, secondhand goods to the general public. The profits from sales go to fund the SSVP’s social works.
The Society also benefits from the support of the clergy, with a strong involvement by bishops, priests and religious who have contributed to its flourishing over the years. Cardinal Thomas William (former archbishop of Wellington) spoke at the celebrations for the 150th anniversary: I am immensely proud of the Society, as is every New Zealand Bishop past and present, over the 150 years-period during which Conferences and Councils were established, diocese by diocese, parish by parish […] A constant concern for every bishop is how to provide opportunities for men, women and youth to commit themselves to serving church and community in response of Christ’s teaching. Their concern has been met in wonderful measure by the Society and its members over the past decades.
The Society in New Zealand can also boast of its dynamic, strong youth membership, known as “Young Vinnies.” The youth conferences formed in schools and universities have helped thousands of young people to explore the spiritual life and work of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Closely involved in their local community, the Young Vinnies put all their energies into organizing collections, running projects to meet local needs in small towns, or to run training sessions and larger projects in bigger towns.
150th anniversary celebrations
The ceremony was held in Christchurch, birthplace of the New Zealand SSVP, in the presence of its leaders, including the National President Terry Comber and many invited guests. The International Council General was represented by Frank Brasil (Territorial Vice-President for Oceania), Thomas Tan (Territorial Vice-President for Asia), Tony Muir (Twinnage Coordinator) and Luke Bower (Youth Coordinator for Oceania). Representatives of twinned countries also attended: Sri Lanka, Samoa and Tonga.
Mass was celebrated by his Excellency Archbishop Martin Krebs. A congratulatory message was displayed on a large screen during the ceremony from the President General Renato Lima de Oliveira, who had visited New Zealand a few months before.
Source: SSVP Global