Growth of the Society in England & Wales

“I would like to embrace the whole world in a network of charity”

Blessed Frédéric Ozanam - the Society's Founder


Blessed Frédéric Ozanam was concerned that the industrial revolution would cause workers to revolt and turn their back on religion. He therefore felt that in the industrialized countries, especially Britain and America, the Church needed to show the workers that it cared for their welfare as well as their spiritual life. He was very keen to establish the Society in England.

One of his acquaintances was a student of architecture, George Jonas Wigley, originally from Lancashire, who had been educated at Stonyhurst College. His mother and father had died while he was still a child, so he was brought up by his Aunt in Boulogne.


Fr George (Ignatius) SpencerAlong with Fr George (Ignatius) Spencer, the youngest son of the second Earl Spencer and great-great-great uncle of Lady Diana (and great uncle of Winston Churchill), Wigley had contributed a number of articles to the Tablet, whose editor was his friend Frederick Lucas. Blessed Frédéric Ozanam encouraged Wigley to write about the Society and persuade Lucas to advocate the foundation of the Society in London. Lucas enthusiastically took up the cause, bringing together a number of prominent Catholics, among whom was Charles Joseph Pagliano, the proprietor of the Sablonière Hotel in Leicester Square. Here the first meeting was held on January 29th, 1844 and on February 12th a Conference established under the temporary presidency of Mr Pagliano.

This was only 15 years after the Catholic Emancipation Act (1829) and still 6 years before the restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850.

Wigley translated the rules and other documents into English, returning to France in 1848.


Society initiatives

Early initiatives included the formation of the Catholic Shoe Black Brigade, providing boys with gainful employment and the home that was the start of “the Rescue Society” which under various names is still responsible for children in care in many dioceses. In response to a request from Cardinal Wiseman, the Society helped to establish an affordable newspaper (1 penny) under the title Universe. Archibald Dunn was the first editor and George Wigley was its foreign correspondent.


Early Presidents

Brother Pagliano remained “temporary” president until 1852, when 33 year old George Blount was elected and continued in office until his death on January 18th 1898! During this time the Society had grown to 170 Conferences with 3,057 members. He is still remembered through a fund to provide young people with educational opportunities.

The third president was the Marquis of Ripon, who served until his death on 9 July 1909. He was succeeded by Sir John Knill Bart.


There were 2,098 members in 174 conferences in England and Wales


The centenary of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam’s birth was celebrated in Manchester on May 30th 1913. Mass was celebrated at St John’s Cathedral, Salford and a meeting followed at the Hall of St Patrick’s church, Collyhurst. It was reported that membership had grown to 5,818 in 308 Conferences. There were six Central Councils (Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Manchester and Tyne). There were 17 Particular Councils (now District Councils), almost half in Lancashire. Net receipts from the Conferences were £13,575 3s 9d whereas expenditure was £12,461 7s 2d.


In 1962 women were admitted for the first time, although initially in separate Conferences. The first mixed Conferences were initially allowed in Universities and the first aggregated mixed Conference in England & Wales was in 1967. Women now account for over half the membership of the Society.


Today there are more than 10,000 members in more than 1,000 Conferences in England and Wales, making more than 500,000 recorded visits to more than 100,000 people. It is estimated that this amounts to well over one million hours of voluntary service. The current year 2013 is the Bicentenary Year of the birth of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.

To know more about the life of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam and to find out about the Bicentenary Celebrations in your local area, please contact the National Office on 020 7703 3030 or email us at:

For more information, visit the latest SVP Annual Report and Accounts.