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‘Loneliness – the worst thing in the world’

Belvedere College S.J.,  situated in Dublin’s inner-city, marked the Centenary of its Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVP) on 9 March. A number of students and staff gathered at the school for the event, including Padraig Swan, Director of Faith and Service Programmes.

According to Padraig, “It’s remarkable that the amazing work of the SVP has such a long legacy. The hundreds of students and staff that are, and have been, involved in sustaining this legacy can be really proud of their service to so many families and communities in the inner city”.

The foundation of the school’s Society was laid out in their 1917 yearbook, which noted: “Nothing could be better calculated to foster the spirit of manliness and the sense of responsibility amongst the elder boys than this work amongst the poor of our city.” Fr Quinlan SJ, the Society’s first Spiritual Director, was given credit for its conception. Another reference in the yearbook notes, “The work of the Conference is not easy; but we think it safe to say that all its members feel that the self-sacrifice involved is amply rewarded by the sense that they have done something to brighten the lives of those who otherwise would hardly know what happiness means.”

This self-sacrifice was certainly embodied by Blessed Frederic Ozanam, who began the Society of St. Vincent de Paul with a number of friends in Paris on April 23, 1833. A French lawyer, author, and professor in the Sorbonne, Frederic became acutely aware of the huge disparity between rich and poor. He and his friends responded by giving their time, talents and resources to help impoverished people living in the slums of Paris. The Irish branch was established in 1844, and it is now the largest voluntary charitable organisation in Ireland.

It is easy to draw a comparison between the work of Blessed Ozanam and what Belvedere’s SVP students do today. Stephen Quinn, a SVP member, says, “The society is open to students from every year, first through sixth, and runs many social justice activities, such as the soup run for the homeless, social visitations, Christmas children’s parties, old folk’s parties, and hampers.” The social visitations are particularly important to the Society, where two or three students are assigned to meet with one of the elderly people around the area.

Brother Eamonn Davis SJ, who has overseen the school’s SVP for countless years, says “Loneliness is the worst thing in the world. But you can beat anything as long as you have somebody.” Stephen reflects, “That is what the Society does for those who have nobody; give them somebody.” The member believes that the SVP is making a real difference, “It teaches us, by going out and working with these people with understanding and compassion, that these hardships can be eased.”

The work of the SVP in the college is most definitely collaborative, according to Padraig Swan. “The current team of people who make the work of the SVP happen includes teachers Emma Brennan and Sinead McGouran; the current officers and members; and especially Brother Eamonn and we’re grateful to them all”.

There will also be a bigger SVP celebration in the autumn involving many of the guests the Society engages with.