The St Vincent de Paul Society here in Lanark was officially recognised as a Conference in 1951 when the Certificate of Aggregation was issued by the SVDP Central Council in Paris.
The President at the time was John Dean with members Tom Scully,Abe Barclay,Harry Milan,Charlie McAlister and Duncan Cameron. A short time later Jerry O'Leary and Vincent Burns became members.
The SVDP is an international organisation of Catholic lay people who practice Christianity by helping those in need. With a world wide membership of over a million members there are few countries remaining where the Society does not have some representation.
The first conference was formed in Paris in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam,a 21 year old student of Law at the Sorbonne. Frederic was appalled at the poverty in the city and along with a few fellow students formed a 'help group' visiting the poor and offering what little help was possible. St. Vincent de Paul had died some 173 years before in 1660 but his dedication in working with the poor made him the perfect patron for the new Society. In a letter at the time Frederic wrote “Religious ideas can have no value whatever if they are not practical and positive. Religion is meant for acting more than thinking”. This radical approach appeared popular with many Christians and soon there were conferences being established all over France. It was in 1845 that the first SVDP conference was formed in Edinburgh. Scotland can now boast over 300 conferences.
The longest serving member in the Lanark Conference is Dan O'Donnell. He recalls amounts of 2/6d to 5/-d being given to each of over 20 needy families in the Lanark area. In the 1950's help was given to Irish families who were here to help with the cutting of peat and the lifting of potatoes. The work of the society included visits to a lodging house in Bernard's Wynd and also to the mentally disabled who were working on farms in Kirkfieldbank.
Visits later were made to the State Hospital in Carstairs. Each church in Lanark was allocated a time for a monthly visit. Apart from spending time with the inmates the Conference supplied gifts of sweets and cigarettes. Many hours were spent by members rolling cigarettes on a rizla machine prior to the visit. Funding for the work was through donations from the parishioners placed in the 'SVDP box' after each Mass plus the yearly 'door to door' collections where the children from Smyllum Orphanage often lent a hand.
How things have changed in our country both economically and socially over the years since those days when the St Mary's Conference was first formed. Financial help in the form of social benefits are now common but sadly the poverty of loneliness, alcoholism, drug addiction, disablement, unemployment, abortion and prostitution are still there. The Society, in one form or another, can be found actively working in all these areas.
The huge growth in worldwide communication has made us more aware of the terrible poverty which exists especially in the developing world. This greater awareness has triggered a huge response from the SVDP Society.
Here in Lanark help is given to the poor in India on a regular basis as well as immediate help to where ever disasters occur. Financial assistance has been given over the past few years to alleviate the suffering in Darfur, Addis Abada, Malawi, Burma and China.
Locally the conference is always there to help those in need .It helps fund the SVDP diocese furniture project, the 4 Ozanam Clubs in Lanarkshire as well as giving help to the homeless in Glasgow.
Here in the Parish it organises several masses for the housebound and sick as well organising
2 visits every year to the Carfin Pilgrimage Centre. Food vouchers are given out over the Christmas period and gifts are taken to patients in the State Hospital in Carstairs.
The St Mary's Society today is grateful to those who many years ago established the conference here in our Parish. Their memory is linked closely to the words of the founder member of the SVDP -Frederic Ozanam-' The blessings of the poor is the Blessing of God - therefore let us go to the Poor'.