Today is the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States.
While historians are not certain about some details, there is no doubt that the U.S. Society of St. Vincent de Paul was established in St. Louis, Missouri at the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, popularly called “The Old Cathedral,” in 1845.
One version goes like this:
“…Catholic men of St. Louis started the first American unit of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, a new organization begun in France by Blessed Frederick Ozanam. The Vincentian superior, John Timon, an Irishman who had grown up in St. Louis… conferred with the top officials of his congregation in Paris in 1845. While there, he learned of the Society. He saw the vision of Ozanam and the possibilities of the Society in America. Determined to learn more about it, he visited the office of the Society in Dublin and obtained a copy of its bylaws. He returned to America intent on making the Society known. He soon found a splendid opportunity. Bishop Kenrick had agreed to consecrate the new St. Vincent de Paul Church on South Eighth Street in St. Louis on November 16, 1845 and invited Fr. Timon to preach. In his message he discussed at length the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Many in that crowded church answered this challenge by attending an organizational meeting four days later on November 20, 1845.
…The group chose as president Dr. Moses Linton, professor of Medicine at St. Louis University… [and] Bryan Mullanphy as vice president… No one was surprised that Bishop Kenrick named as spiritual director Father Ambrose Heim, assistant at the Cathedral and well known for his concern for those in need.”
– The St. Louis Irish: An Unmatched Celtic Community by William Barnaby Faherty, William S. J. Faherty
Another source puts it this way:
“Bryan Mullanphy discovered Ozanam’s work in Paris and brought it back home to the newly established city of St. Louis just 12 years after the Society’s initial formation. Mullanphy gathered friends from the St. Louis Catholic community, like Dr. Moses Linton and Father Ambrose Heim. Mullanphy asked for official approval from Bishop Kenrick, who said, “yes.”
Mullanphy’s next step was to write a permission request letter to the president of the Society in Paris, M. Jules Gossein. The St. Louis Society waited for a response from the Paris Society for weeks to no avail. Members of the St. Louis chapter asked Father John Timon to write a letter to Paris, wondering why so much time had passed without a response. Just after sending Timon’s letter, the letter from Gossein arrived in the mail. As it turns out, Gossein did not attach the necessary postage, causing the delay in response.”
And, from a third source:
“I am willing to concede Father Timon all the honors that he achieved, but I am convinced that Father Ambrose Heim of St. Louis Cathedral was the Founder of the Society in the United States and to him credit should be given.”
– A Century of Charity: The First One Hundred Years of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States, Volume 1, by Daniel T. McColgan, p. 90
Whatever the case may be, you can learn more about each of these men by clicking on the images below!
*Sketches of Mullanphy, Linton, and Kenrick are from svdpstlouis.org