Society of St. Vincent De Paul
St Lawrence Conference
"Turning Concern into Action"


History - Canadian founder Dr. Joseph Painchaud

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Dr. Joseph Painchaud, the founder of the Society in Canada , became a member of the Society while he was studying medicine in the university in Paris . It is likely that, during his student days in Paris , he would have known, not only Frederic Ozanam, but also the other founders of our Society. 

In early 1846, the General Council, seeing the remarkable blessing God had given the Society to spread beyond the boundaries of France , wrote to the Bishops of the world to acquaint them with the existence of our Society and its aims and objectives. Such a letter was received at the Cathedral in Quebec . 

So, when young Dr. Painchaud got back home after completing his medical studies, and went to discuss the founding of a Conference in his parish, the groundwork had already been laid and it was on November 11, 1846 that the first Conference met in the St. Louis Chapel of the Cathedral, where a memorial plaque still exists as a reminder of our beginning in this country. 

Less than a year after the founding of the first Conference, nine other Conferences had been founded in Quebec City alone, five of them in the Irish parish. It is noted that the Potato Famine Immigrants had already begun to arrive and that there was a very large population in Quebec , with only one non-territorial parish. Thus the boundaries of the five English-speaking Conferences were those of the five city wards. 

From what I have said so far, you might think that all of the early members of the Society were either professors or doctors, but this was not the case. The first Conference which Dr. Painchaud founded in Quebec , numbered among its members, in addition to Dr. Painchaud himself, a judge, a tinsmith, a merchant grocer, and a roofmender. 

Dr. Painchaud had been so fired with enthusiasm by his fellow Vincentians in Paris, that he threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of developing the Society, to such a point that he was simultaneously secretary of one Conference, the president of another, and that, in three years, he had not only founded twelve Conferences, but also our first Particular Council. 

Like most modern Vincentian, Joseph was an active lay member of the church. He had a desire to work as a missionary and offered his service as a doctor to the recently appointed Bishop of Vancouver Island, Bishop Demers. 

Joseph was accepted for work in the West Coast Missions. On Bishop Demers instructions he left for Paris , France and there boarded a sailing ship en route to Vancouver Island . His companion was a young priest Fr. Laroche. Also a volunteer missionary. 

A mutiny on board ship forced them to land at Rio De Janero. From there they took another ship to New Orleans . From there they decided to go overland across the Istmos of Panama. From there they hoped to proceed by boat to Vancouver . 

The long journey proved too much for young Fr. Laroche. He took sick and died and was buried by Dr. Joseph. 

Finally, Joseph did manage to get on Board a boat bound for San Francisco and on to Vancouver . However, disaster struck again, the ship hit a bad storm and was wrecked. Joseph was cast ashore at Manzanillo Mexico . 

He probably decided then that these obstacles were a sign from Devine Providence that he was not destined to reach Vancouver . He settled in a town called Colino, where he practiced medicine and opened a small hospital to care for plague victims. 

We do not know much more about him. He did make one more attempt to reach Vancouver . The hard life proved too much for him and he fell sick and died near Colino 

A tremendous journey in faith by a Vincentian of over 150 years ago. 

In all, twelve Canadian Conferences can claim Dr. Painchaud as their founder. From these would grow a large section of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Canada . 

In one of his last letters to his mother, he tells her how contradictions and trials of all kinds seem to have been his lot since he decided to become a missionary when still a student at school. He considers this a sign of Godís blessing, to prepare him for all that lies ahead. Perhaps this optimism of Dr. Painchaudís is the lesson we should derive from his life and lonely death. 

If you want to begin to understand what the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is all 

his life as a struggle against indifference to the fate of the poor, in a country that was Catholic, at least in name; where love of country replaced love of God. 

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