The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded on April 23, 1833. It is important to recall our origins, the beautiful organization that Ozanam and his companions established: a lay Catholic non-profit association dedicated exclusively to personal sanctification and the practice of charity. There is no greater miracle than to unite people around the ideal of gathering everyone into a great network of charity.

When a child is born, the genetic characteristics of the father and mother, and, of course, their ancestors and the socio-cultural reality in which they are inserted, are imprinted in their genes. In our case, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has aspects of the culture and way of thinking of our founders, which impregnated the new foundation with the virtues of solidarity and humility. In other words, we can say that these peculiarities make up the “DNA[1] of the Society.”

We, who have received the inheritance of Ozanam, have this DNA in our being and in our actions. We are descendants of the ideals that motivated this small group of French university students to create an organization dedicated exclusively to serving Christ in the poor. The first action, as we know, was to offer relief to a Parisian family in danger of dying of exposure to the cold during that harsh winter of 1833. A bundle of firewood was the simple solution that was offered by our Vincentian predecessors.

We cannot deny it: we are sons and daughters of those visionaries who wanted to build, with simplicity and love, a better and more equitable world. We do today what our ancestors would undoubtedly do if they were physically among us: we denounce injustice, thus. reducing the gap between the rich and those living in misery, and, ultimately, we promote the establishment of a true Christian community of faith.

To have Vincentian DNA means to have the same principles as our founders, to act with the same primitive spirit that inspired Ozanam and his followers, and to propose more affective and effective Catholic action. To be Vincentian is to leave our comfort zone and help those who suffer.

Our DNA does not deceive: charity flows through our veins; the simplicity of our action is the very air that we breathe and that fills our lungs, the combative spirit to promote the poor is part of our very flesh, and unconditional forgiveness is the marrow of our bones. We recognize that we are unworthy instruments of God’s grace, but we also know that our work is not of this world. We are here to build something greater, much bigger and better. We are seeking treasures in heaven, and we know that true prosperity will come only in the after life when we ​​will see God face to face.

May we transmit this Vincentian DNA to our children and grandchildren in the same way that Frederic Ozanam transmitted his DNA to us … in that way Frederic’s legacy will live forever!

[1]     DNA is the acronym for “deoxyribonucleic acid,” a complex protein that is found in the nucleus of cells and is the main constituent of the genetic material of living beings.

Renato Lima de Oliveira
16th General President of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul