St. Augustine of Canterbury Church, Leeds Centenary Book.1905-2005

St Vincent de Paul Society
An ‘independent’ Conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society (SVP) was established at St Augustine’s in 1915. Evidence suggests that prior to that date St Augustine’s was part of a joint conference with St Patrick’s. The Vice Chairman of a Sectional meeting that was to be held on 30th July and 1st August 1910 was Brother R. Valentine the President of St Patrick’s and St Augustine’s Conference, Leeds. (Meetings of Catholic Societies 1910).

There doesn’t appear to be any information about the activities of the conference at that time or how long it lasted until it went into abeyance. However it was restored in the parish in 1937. The Conference numbers dropped during the war years as some members were called up for active service, but it has been a thriving group in the parish ever since. Besides visiting the elderly, the needy and the sick in hospital they give out food parcels at Christmas and provide aid throughout the year to families and individuals in need, regardless of their religious beliefs or ethnicity. Since 1987 they have annually provided for the elderly and housebound, a New Year Dinner with entertainment in St Aidan’s Hall, and a summer outing to the Dales or North Yorkshire, returning to St Augustine’s Hall for a strawberry tea.

From its inception in Paris in 1833 the SVP has been mainly a male Society. Women were encouraged to set up separate women’s Conferences and it was not until 1967 that mixed Conferences of men and women were allowed. Most Conferences today are mixed and the female members bring a female perspective and an ability to deal with sensitive issues far more effectively than many of their male counterparts.

In 1986 St Augustine’s became the first Conference in Leeds to become Ecumenical when parishioners and the curate from St Aidan’s Anglican Church were invited to join. The members from St Aidan’s took a giant leap in Faith in joining a Roman Catholic organisation, where they did not know anyone. They brought fresh vitality to the Conference and enabled the members to gain a greater understanding of each other’s Christian beliefs. As it was SVP policy for members to visit in pairs, it became the norm in the ‘St Augustine’s with St Aidan’s Conference’, for a Catholic to team up with an Anglican. This working together in the spirit of Ecumenism has facilitated in bringing the Churches together as a witness to Christianity in the area.

Subsequently in the 1990s as a further witness to the Ecumenical work being done, the then Minister of the Trinity United Church on Roundhay Road, the Rev Murray Hesler, asked the SVP if they could take over a project which members of his church had been organising for many years. This was the provision of a Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day for individuals living in the area without family, who would otherwise spend the whole day alone. The SVP readily accepted and added some of the people they visited to the numbers attending. The Minister at Trinity Church has continued to organise transport for the diners, recruiting volunteer drivers from the three churches, St Augustine’s, St Aidan’s and Trinity United under whose banner the project is now run. Over the past few years between ninety and a hundred people have been catered for in St Aidan’s Hall on Christmas Day.

Left: SVP elderly people’s New Year dinner 2005 at St Aidan’s church hall.

Right: (circa 1997) Enjoying a ‘strawberry tea’ in St Augustine’s hall after returning from a coach tour through the countryside to Threshfield in the Yorkshire Dales.

Hilda Weare a parishioner of St Aidan’s Anglican Church writes, “I was invited to join the SVP at St Augustine’s some years ago and found it very interesting and uplifting. I enjoy the weekly meetings and visits to the housebound where I always receive a warm welcome each time I visit. They appreciate us just being there and able to give the time to listen. They have much to teach us with their courage and cheerfulness and some of their stories are very interesting.”

The Current Conference president Michael Hardhill who has been a member for 15 years recalls, “When we do our parish visiting we meet some very interesting people. One elderly lady we used to visit had the second best talking budgerigar for Radio Leeds and she had a tape about it and a trophy she had won. Another elderly lady could remember St James’s Hospital when it was a workhouse and would reminisce about how the men used to sit around on the wall smoking clay pipes and the women used to wear some kind of white bonnets.”

In recent years the Conference at St Augustine’s has provided two Presidents of District Council and one President of Central Council (the Diocesan body of the Society). One of the Conference members, Jim McDaid, was elected National President of the Society in England & Wales in July 2002 for a five year term of Office.