History of the Los Angeles Society

society of st vincent de paulBishop Thomas Conaty was appointed Bishop of Los Angeles in 1903 and quickly saw that the Society of St. Vincent de Paul should have a local presence. The first Conferences of Charity, volunteer groups to serve the poor, were established in 1904. By 1908, when the Council of Los Angeles was incorporated, there were 15 Conferences and 236 “Vincentian” volunteer members in the present L.A. Archdiocese – counties of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara – plus the counties of Orange and San Diego, and the Inland Empire. Subsequently, the later three became separate Dioceses with their own Councils.

In 1911, 400 families (1,200 children, women and men) were helped with an outlay of $4,000. During the 1920s, a Doctor’s Guild was formed to provide free medical care for the poor and a Lawyer’s Guild was established to provide free legal services. These services were provided to those who had nowhere else to turn.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was a difficult period for the LA. Council, as there were countless needy, unemployed and homeless families and individuals. However, it also was a time to further reach out. Several programs begun by the Society later became part of Catholic Charities. These included a home for orphans, detention ministry and the Seamen’s Center in San Pedro. In addition, the Council lent support to the Archdiocese’s scouting program, the Catholic Youth Organization and Catholic Big Brothers.

During the 1930s, the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena became known as ‘Suicide Bridge.’ After more than 75 persons had jumped to their deaths, the Society, working with other agencies, helped persuade the city to erect a barrier that stopped the suicides.

Initially, the Society’s membership was restricted to men. However, in 1968, a change to the “Rule” of the Society granted full membership to women, which began a new era. Dorothy Llamas was named L.A. Council’s first female president in 1988, while another woman, Coyne Quinn, followed her. After a slow beginning, the number of female members increased rapidly during the 1990s. Now, over 50% of its members are women!

For the Council of L.A., the past 20 years has been a period of growth in both the number of Conferences of Charity and total membership. In 1990, the Society had less than 50 Conferences, all of which consisted of adults. Today, it has more than 100 Conferences including Youth and Young Adult Conferences, consisting of 2,500 year-round members. Consider joining us to serve the poor and homeless in your area!