Celebrating the essential contribution of women to the St Vincent de Paul Society

Dear Vincentians, 

As we recently celebrated International Women’s Day, it’s crucial to recognise and express our deepest gratitude to the remarkable women of the St Vincent de Paul Society. Throughout the Society’s history, women have played a critical role and made invaluable contributions to the Vincentian mission. 

Without the compassion, empathy, and hard work of women members, the Society would be unrecognisable. In essence, the incredible women of the St Vincent de Paul Society are the backbone of our organisation. Such diligent commitment equates to a membership equivalent in NSW of over 65%, not to mention volunteers and employees. 

I’m delighted to recognise Yolanda Saiz, our first female CEO in NSW, as she approaches her first anniversary in this pivotal role later this month. Yolanda’s versatile and compassionate leadership embodies the strength and capability of women within our organisation, inspiring us all to strive for excellence and impact. 

Reflecting on our Society’s journey, I’d like to take International Women’s Day as an opportunity to highlight the outstanding contributions of key female figures in the history of the Society who deeply inspire me and have shaped the Vincentian journey for centuries. I’m convinced that the profile of the Society of St Vincent de Paul would have developed far differently, and its focus less comprehensive, if it were not for the influence and commitment of women. The above inspiration is also so much inclusive of the Society’s current membership, volunteers and employees. 

I wish to mention four examples of the source of such inspiration. 

Margeurite de Gondi: Her compassionate efforts were instrumental in supporting St Vincent de Paul to personally serve the poor in 1600s France, laying the foundation for our organisation’s ethos of service and compassion. Following Vincent’s appointment as chaplain and spiritual confidant to the de Gondi house, Margeurite was to encourage Vincent to accompany her in her charitable visits to the poor who served on the “de Gondi estates” thus igniting his passion for the underprivileged. Margeurite went on to substantially fund Vincent’s foundational initiatives. 

Louise de Marillac: Co-founder of the Daughters of Charity with St Vincent de Paul, Louise’s tireless dedication to helping others achieved incredible transformation in 17th century France, serving as a guiding light for the Society. Louise worked closely with Vincent, eventually forming the Daughters of Charity in 1642. Her vision saw houses of charity, hospitals and refuges and schools established. She served as Vincent’s “right hand person”. At the time of her death in 1660, at 68 years, Louise had established over forty houses in France. 

Rosalie Rendu: Born 1786 Rosalie became a member of the Daughters of Charity. Rosalie’s pioneering work in serving the marginalised laid the groundwork for our Society’s outreach programs. At seventeen years, Rosalie took her vows to dedicate her life to God and the poor. She spent the following fifty years living out those vows. Sister Rosalie quickly established herself as a woman of charity but also of influence and held frequent audiences with the most distinguished people of state and culture, however, among those who sought advice and counsel at the end of the road to her office was Frederic Ozanam. As she was the centre of a charitable movement that characterised Paris and France in the first half of the nineteenth century. Sister Rosalie’s experience was priceless to young Frederic and his companions. Sister Rosalie’s influence on the establishment of the early Conferences is impossible to overstate. 

Amelie Soulacroix: Marriage to Amelie Soulacroix in 1841 transformed Frederic Ozanam’s sense of obligation to the society in which he lived. The marital relationship they enjoyed became central to his understanding of his Christian vocation. Through Amelie, Frederic came to see society as analogous to the family and he perceived his obligations to society as parallel to those required by his family. Amelie had a great influence on Frederic’s way of thinking. In a time when women were undervalued, their equal relationship showed the urgent need for women to occupy equal positions in solidarity with men. Amelie’s unwavering support to Frederic and dedication to our mission played a pivotal role in our early success, embodying the spirit of compassion and solidarity. 

On this International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate the invaluable contributions of women past and present who have shaped the St Vincent de Paul Society into the compassionate and impactful organisation it is today. This legacy inspires us to continue our mission with renewed vigour and dedication. 

Thank you to all the incredible women within our organisation for your tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to the mission of the organisation. 

God bless, 

Paul Burton
NSW State Council President

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