Part II – Growth
November is the month when we remember the Holy Souls. Let us pray for the eternal rest of the deceased members of our society.
Frederick Ozanam was born in Italy in 1813; John Farrell (photo on the left) was born in Ireland in 1820. Both men have had an enormous impact on Hamilton. John Farrell became the first Bishop of Hamilton and Ozanam founded the SSVP. St. Mary’s parish links the two men.
In 1856, John Farrell was installed as Bishop of Hamilton in the only church in the city at that time, Saint Mary’s. Our first Bishop then designated St. Mary’s as his cathedral church. In 1865, no doubt because of the Bishop’s interest, St. Mary’s Conference, the first conference of the SSVP in the Diocese, was aggregated. Our society has been busy in the Diocese for 156 years, just nine years less than the Diocese and two years before the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867. We have a very long history of service to the poor.
That first St. Mary’s conference with Father Gordon as chaplain had 22 members and formed the solid foundation upon which our society has grown. By 1896, three more parishes had been established, each with an SSVP conference; St. Patrick’s, St. Lawrence and St. Joseph’s.
By 1911, seven conferences were recorded as being active; St. Mary’s, St. Patrick’s, St. Lawrence, St. Joseph’s, St. Ann’s, Our Lady Immaculate in Guelph and St. Basil’s in Brantford. Our Society grew and continues to grow.
In 1988, at the Annual Meeting of the National Council of Canada held here in Hamilton, it was reported that there were 26 conferences in the Hamilton Particular Council. The Hamilton Particular Council was aggregated in 1880, 133 years ago; it was the only Particular Council serving the Diocese until 1983 when a second Particular Council was formed in Kitchener.
Since then, councils have been aggregated in Guelph (1988), Brant (1989), Cambridge (1991), Hamilton West (1997) and Halton (2007). The aggregation of each Particular Council resulted in a much smaller Hamilton Council which now serves the parishes to the east of James Street in Hamilton and out to county line and those on the mountain and south to the county line.
Social Justice issues have always been a concern of the Hamilton Particular Council. As the social crises of the last 156 years impacted our communities and our families, the Hamilton Council was there to help. That help was expressed in the activities which engaged the Council.
In addition to supporting the parish conferences, members involved themselves in community organizations in large or small ways. For example:
the Big Brother Association;
the Meals on Wheels program;
the Christmas Exchange food hamper distribution;
the operation of stores to provide low cost access to all household needs of poor families;
support of the Separate School Board officer who dealt with children guilty of breaking the law;
the Conference formed in the Guelph prison;
the Social Services Organization.
It is clear that society members throughout our history have alway attempted to deal with social justice issues facing the community at the time as well as assisting needy individuals and families.
Charitable organizations have neither the power nor resources to deal with the major social issues of life today – poverty, climate changes, natural resources, housing, homelessness, clean water and the like. These and other matters have an impact on the poor; such issues must be dealt with by governments at every level, national, provincial and municipal.
Governments do have the responsibility, the power and resources to deal with widespread social injustice. Governments have used those resources in the past to approve social justice legislation related to major issues such as basic wage and medical care.
Charitable organizations such as ours do not have such resources. We do have a respected and trusted voice. The voice has been earned over the years through service to and direct contact with the poor and the needy.
Ozanam, our founder, used his voice to advocate for the poor in his teachings, writings and speeches. His works continue to guide the work of the SSVP to this day. We must find ways to use our voice as Ozanam did; find ways to advocate for the poor and the needy in our community.