The Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati District Council

The institution of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Cincinnati dates from March 26, 1869, when six gentlemen met at the Convent of the Sisters of St. Clare on Third Street.  These gentlemen were Richard Thornbury, Joseph Cassidy, John Thornbury, Eugene Sweeney, R.H. Hireman, and John Meaney. The first three were chosen President, Vice President, and Secretary, respectively.  The initial meetings enjoyed the guidance and inspiration of the Rev. Father Lelizvre, the Procurator of the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Soon after its establishment, the Conference came under the spiritual direction of the Jesuit Fathers of St. Francis Xavier’s parish, who served the Convent of St. Clare. Later the Conference transferred its place of meeting to the office of Father G.F. Boex, S.J., of St. Francis Xavier’s Church, who, by that time, had been made Spiritual Director of the Conference. The first general meeting occurred July 19, 1869, and was addressed by the Most Reverend John Baptist Purcell, D.D., Archbishop of Cincinnati.

convent of sisters of st. clare on third st.

In the course of that same year, the Society took root in the Cathedral parish of St. Peter.  Of these two conferences, the Superior Council of New York could report to the Council General in Paris, early in 1870:  “The true Vincentian spirit is there and is growing. The members are good and true men, the meetings are well attended, and the rules are carefully studied by all, with a view of adding constantly to the usefulness of the Conferences for the welfare of the poor. We are able to speak with . . . confidence on the good future prospects in that city.” In 1870, All Saints Parish was added to the list of Cincinnati Conferences.

As illustrative of the type of program adopted by its associated conferences in Ohio, St. Peter’s  Conference in Cincinnati reported in 1871:  “The work of our conference is to relieve the poor in groceries, bread, clothing, and otherwise to help them in every way that may be beneficial to them.  We endeavor to have old and young attend to their religious duty.  Many of the poor children formerly attended the public schools because, by going to them, they received clothing, groceries, and coal from Protestant Relief Societies.  The City also gives coal to the poor, but they have to swear that they are not worth twelve bushels of coal in order to get it.  There are few poor Catholic families who can obtain it, as they do not like to swear for a half load of coal.”

With additional conferences being organized in Cincinnati, the hope was entertained that soon a local Particular Council would be instituted. This prospect, however, did not become a reality for some time because after 1872, for some unexplained reason, Vincentian interest in Cincinnati slackened, without, however, entailing the actual disbanding of the Society.

In November, 1886, thanks to the efforts of Rev. P.J. Ward, S.J., pastor of St. Xavier Church, and Rev. Thomas P. Chambers, S.J., St. Francis Xavier’s Conference was reorganized.  With this active resumption of St. Vincent de Paul work a resurgence of interest and enthusiasm in lay charitable endeavor set in.

In the late 1880s, other Conferences were either reorganized or established for the first time in various parts of downtown Cincinnati.  In April, 1891, the Particular Council was finally organized.  It was officially instituted by the Council General on November 23, 1891, and has functioned continuously ever since.

The decade of the 1890s was a period of renewed Vincentian activity in Cincinnati.  This is suggested by the fact that two previously aggregated Conferences were aggregated anew.  The Conference attached to St. Peter’s Cathedral, first aggregated in 1859, was again aggregated on April 25, 1892, and the Conference in Sacred Heart parish, originally granted aggregation on May 4, 1874, had this favor renewed on May 23, 1898.  At the close of 1900, there were active Conferences in the parishes of St. Francis Seraph, St. Francis Xavier, St. Peter (Cathedral), Holy Cross, St. John, St. George, St. Michael, St. Paul, Sacred Heart, St. Stanislaus, St. Edward, Holy Trinity, and St. Joseph.

By 1910 the Conferences functioning under the Particular Council of Cincinnati numbered over twenty with such parishes as St. Mary, St. Boniface, St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, All Saints, Assumption, St. Henry, and St. Francis de Sales being added to the list. This growth was due in great part to the deep interest and great encouragement manifested by Archbishop Moeller, who by his concern for the welfare of the Society proved himself to be a most ardent friend.  In his Lenten pastoral issued in 1913 Archbishop Moeller recommended that a Conference of the Society be established in every parish of the city. The Particular Council hastened to cooperate with the pastors who desired to form Conferences in compliance with the Archbishop’s urging.

In addition to their diversified family services, many Vincentians in Cincinnati, after the example of other Conferences elsewhere throughout the United States, acted as probation officers of the local juvenile court. In 1913, the Secretary of the Particular Council of Cincinnati was appointed by the judge of the juvenile court as one of the advisory committee of five for the distribution of Widows’ Pensions (Aid to Dependent Children), as provided by a recent enactment of the Ohio Legislature.

In 1913, a disaster known as the Dayton Flood presented a relief problem that Cincinnati met by a temporary working agreement on the part of all the charitable organizations in the city. The Archbishop’s representative utilized the Society as the central Catholic relief agency with such notable success that it was thought desirable to continue the coordination and systematization occasioned by the emergency. Accordingly in 1915 the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was organized by Archbishop Moeller to centralize and coordinate the various Catholic charitable and social service societies and institutions in the diocese. The first task faced by the new agency was the prevention of duplication of work by the Conferences of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Thus the new bureau became at once the central office for the Society. This was the beginning of a close and mutually profitable partnership between the Catholic Charities and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the archdiocese of Cincinnati.

When the Metropolitan Central Council of Cincinnati was organized in 1916 (it was officially instituted on March 19, 1918), its circumscription included the states of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, and lower Michigan, and the dioceses of Cleveland, Columbus, Covington, Detroit, Fort Wayne, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, and Toledo, as well as the archdiocese of Cincinnati. Aided by the counsel and encouragement of the leaders of the Metropolitan Central Council in Cincinnati, over 200 Conferences have developed in these areas and over a dozen Particular Councils have been reared to direct their destinies.

In addition to family visitation and relief work, the Cincinnati Vincentians have developed an extensive program of regular visitation of public and private welfare institutions for the sick, the needy, and delinquent. A Big Brother program, a salvage shop, and an employment bureau are other long-time projects of the Society in Cincinnati.

The origin of the employment bureau was not due to chance. In 1938 a special Vincentian committee on combating Communism, after months of study and discussion, decided that the best antidote to Communism is security, reasoning that if a man is granted the opportunity to work and earn a livelihood for his family, he will not be interested in Communism. The committee therefore recommended to the Particular Council that an employment service be established. Since its beginning this service has secured jobs without cost to either employer or employee. During its first six years of operation, the Cincinnati St. Vincent de Paul Placement Service secured over 5,000 permanent positions. It has gained the recognition and respect of hundreds of employers in greater Cincinnati, not only for its placement of employables but for its rehabilitation and profitable placement of scores of former unemployables.

The Vincentians affiliated with the nearly 40 Conferences actively functioning in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in 1945 have been loyal to the aims of the beloved Frederic Ozanam when he founded the organization in 1833. They have preserved and developed the privilege of ministering to the physical and material wants of the needy — striving through these ministries to bring them closer to God or to bring them back to God.

However, comparatively little progress has been made by the Society in other cities in the archdiocese of Cincinnati. Prior to 1925 single Conferences were to be found only in Norwood, Ohio (St. Elizabeth, founded October 1, 1920; aggregated January 23, 1922) and in St. Bernard, Ohio (St. Clement, founded April 16, 1924; aggregated October 29, 1928).  Since 1925 Conferences have been established in such communities as Dayton (St. Bernard, founded September 16, 1931; aggregated January 9, 1933) and Cheviot (St. Martin, founded March, 1927; aggregated June 12, 1933).

Excerpted from McColgan, Daniel T., A Century of Charity:  The First One Hundred Years of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the United States, 1951.