June Rebellion, Paris, 1832. Vincentians ministered to the wounded on both sides.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul Story:
If you have read Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Miserables” or seen the play or movie, you may understand the world into which the St. Vincent de Paul Society was born. Paris, the world’s most populous city in 1832, was reeling from the inevitable social chaos arising from oppression of the poor. Hunger and disease ravaged the city, particularly in the slums of the destitute and working classes.
In Hugo’s novel, the June Rebellion of 1832 features prominently. While many students were prepared to die and to kill if necessary to uphold the ideals of democracy and human rights, a group of young Catholic students at the Sorbonne University saw a different path to social justice.
They could not turn away from the Gospel, as had the ruling aristocracy and the institution of the Church. They could not condone violence and killing even in defense of the Revolution. The founders of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul took their inspiration from Matthew 25:40, “Whatsoever you do for these, the least of my brethren, you do for me.” They followed examples set by the Sisters of Charity and the wisdom of 17th Century French Saint, Vincent de Paul.
The Society’s young members, led by Blessed Frederick Ozanam, ministered to the poor by personal visitation– bringing food, firewood, clothing and medicine to the desperate. One of their first acts was to rescue a victim of domestic violence and re-locate her and her children to safety away from the city and her abuser. When violence erupted between the people and the King’s army, early members of the Society, including its founder, tended the wounded on the barricades. 183 years later, the Society is an international organization in more than 70 countries with hundreds of thousands of volunteers committed to exactly those same acts of charity and more.