Vincent de Paul was installed as parish priest in the poor, rural parish of Chatillon, near Paris in 1617.On hearing of a family, who lived in an isolated house nearby and who were all ill, he was filled with compassion and spoke movingly to his congregation, who went to the assistance of the family. Vincent understood that the love of God compelled him to love the poor deeply and to serve them for the rest of his life. He called a meeting and the group agreed to form 'The Confraternity of Charity'.
Two hundred years later Frederic Ozanam was a young law student in Paris. In 1832 Frederic and his friends started the 'Conference of History'. At one meeting they overheard this remark: 'In former times Christianity worked wonders-but what is it doing for humanity today? And you who pride yourselves on your Catholicity, what are you doing to prove the worth of your faith?' Frederic and his student friends felt compelled to respond. The first meeting of the 'Conference of Charity' was held on 23 April 1833. In 1834 it was agreed to re-name the conference as the Conference of St Vincent de Paul under the patronage of that saint.
Our SVdeP conference is called St John and St Mary Magdalene's Conference (Edinburgh East).Prior to that there had been a conference at St John's Portobello since 1888. Our group consists of people from different backgrounds, who bring many skills to the group. We now meet every fortnight but for many years we met weekly. The format for meetings includes an Opening Prayer and Spiritual Reading with reflection. Correspondence and visits are then planned and discussed. Prior to the pandemic it was usual practice for conference members to make home visits in pairs and we always strive to work in an unobtrusive, non-judgmental and practical way.
We are contacted by those who may be dealing with a crisis in their life, be it bereavement, illness, loss of employment or changes in family circumstances. In the past we have supported others to access entitlements, liaised with utility companies, medical and dental services, council departments and immigration services. Sometimes the support is short term but some of our work is long term, supporting others who may feel socially isolated or marginalised. Prior to Covid we would make home visits and over the years have established very good relationships with service users and their families.
We also have strong relationships with local schools, donating Scotmid vouchers at Christmas time and supporting families to access school residential experiences for their children.
The SVdeP Archdiocesan Council has run a Caravan Project for families at Port Seton, ensuring families can have a summer holiday by the sea. Our conference, and neighbouring conferences, have been heavily involved in this project, setting up and checking caravans during the 20 week summer season. Regrettably a decision has been taken recently to discontinue this project due to several factors, including financial constraints.
Our National Office is in Glasgow with our World Headquarters in Paris. Our Archdiocesan Council runs a 'Furniture Van' project and a new van was leased in 2019. Financial support is given for this project from many conferences. We also support the Daughters of Charity in Govanhill Glasgow, who offer support to the local inhabitants - mainly Roma people who live in that area. During the pandemic we have supported the initiatives of the Bethany Christian Trust in their work with the homeless. During lockdown we gave financial support to the parishes 'Adopt a Friend' scheme, which reached out to those shielding. We also contribute to a special projects fund, which is used after international disasters to provide much needed material help.
For many years we have provided funding for educational support for students in India as well as enjoying a relationship with our 'Twin' conference in India.
None of the above could be carried out without the very generous donations from parishioners and friends. We are extremely grateful for their continued support especially during these difficult times.
We are in desperate need now of new members as several of our group have given many years of excellent service and now, in their later years of life, would welcome input from new members. If you feel that you would like to find out more about our work, with a view to becoming a member of our conference please contact a member of the parishes' team, in the first instance.
Should you feel that we could help you in any way please phone the parishes' house in the first instance 0131 669 5447.
'Christianity is not about ideas but about deeds inspired by love.' Blessed Frederick Ozanam