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ST. VINCENT DE PAUL SOCIETY
At one of their meetings, a student challenged Frédéric and the practicing Catholics. He admitted that the Catholic Church had done much good work in the past, but "what do you do now?" Frédéric called for a meeting of five of his friends at Mr. Bailly's office. On April 23, 1833, Frédéric's twentieth birthday, they decided to establish the "Conference of Charity" to assist the poor. In a short time, they changed their name to The Society of St. Vincent de Paul in honor of their patron. (2)
While historians are not certain about some details, there is no doubt that the 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. (3)
Founded locally in 1858, the first meeting of the society occurred at ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL with the officers being Charles Corkery, president; Cornelius Collins, vice-president; John Deery, secretary; and Andrew Cummings, treasurer. The remaining members were John KEENAN, John Mullany, William Murphy and Patrick J. QUIGLEY. The group began its work with the successful solicitation of clothing, food, and money from farmers up to thirty miles away to give to people in need of assistance. (4) Within a year, the city was divided into districts with two or three collectors appointed to each for the collection of funds. (5)
Active members of the society were required to regularly attend weekly meetings; visit the poor, sick, and distressed; and offer aid. Only Catholics could be active members. Subscriber memberships were available to anyone who contributed clothing, food, and money. Honorary members were invited to meetings, but were not required to participate in society activities. These members were expected to contribute a fixed annual financial donation.
Churches in the city each had their own conference. The president and vice-president of each church council participated in an upper council that had its own president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. John Keenan served as president of the society for twenty years.
A description of the work during the first year of the organization's existence mentioned the beginning of a library for the use of members and the poor and an evening school where an average of thirty men were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and grammar. During its first winter, the society provided relief to between 20 and 60 families. (6)
In 2009 members of the organization called themselves the "Silent Society" for its quiet, charitable work that often attracted little attention. In 2008 the Society answered an estimated 3,500 requests reflecting nearly 16,000 need people for help from the twelve Catholic parishes that support the conference. Assistance remained primarily in the form of food, clothing, furniture, or other household items normally using vouchers to the organization's two retail thrift stores. Although operated by Catholic churches, anyone could apply for help by contacting their nearest Catholic church. Society volunteers also worked closely with other social service agencies. (7)
Society operated stores at 1351 Iowa St. and 4990 Radford Road in 2012 offered a special program to provide clothing to people in need. Three items of clothing were provided free to people in need through a voucher system. If the recipient was a child, he or she had to be accompanied to the store by a parent with a Social Security card for each child receiving aid. (8)
Prior to 2018 the Society gave clients a bag of pre-selected canned goods and other non-perishable items. Vouchers were then given for the purchase of perishable goods like milk and eggs as nearby grocery stores. When a review of vouchers was made, however, it was found that purchases were made of less desirable "junk" food. A remedy was made when a large cooler was purchased for the organization's 1351 Iowa St. facility. Once installed, the cooler allowed the purchase of more nutritious foods. (9)
The 1962 and 1968 Dubuque City Directory listed 201 Main.
The 1972 through 1993 Dubuque City Directory listed 1351 Iowa.
In 2018 the Society operated stores at 1351 Iowa St. and 4990 Radford Road.
1. "The Beginnings of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul," National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul," Online: https://www.svdpusa.org/About-Us/History
4. "The Society of St. Vincent of Paul," Express and Herald, May 19, 1859, p. 3
7. Nevans-Pederson, Mary, "'Silent Society' Gives Unconditional Help," Telegraph Herald, August 20, 2009, p. 5
8. "Free Clothing Available at St. Vincent de Paul Stores," Telegraph Herald, December 14, 2012, p. 3
9. Montgomery, Jeff, "Food Pantry Upgrades Selection Process," Telegraph Herald, November 14, 2018, p. 3