History of St. Vincent’s
The Rebirth of a Timeless Vision: January 5, 1858 – Today
St. Vincent’s has a long and rich tradition in Santa Barbara dating back to the pioneer days of the 1850s. Soon after California became a state, Santa Barbara had need of an English-speaking school and orphanage. Bishop Amat of Monterey (Santa Barbara) wrote to the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland requesting Sisters to come to Santa Barbara for this purpose. The leadership of the Daughters of Charity responded to this need and made the commitment to send Sisters from Emmitsburg to Santa Barbara. The Sisters arrived by steamer on January 5, 1858, stepping on the beach near where Stearns Wharf is today. Within the week, they had established the first English-speaking school and orphanage in the region.
Since there was no hospital in Santa Barbara, St. Vincent’s opened the first infirmary in 1873. The downtown orphanage building was destroyed in 1874 by fire leading to the idea of the formation of Santa Barbara’s first volunteer fire department.
By the early 1900s, the school was discontinued as other educators were meeting this need, but the orphanage continued until 1936. In 1917, the Sisters responded to the needs of working parents during WWI and began one of the first childcare programs in California, St. Vincent’s Day Nursery. Operation of the Nursery continued until the 1970s.
These first works were located in downtown Santa Barbara between Carrillo and Canon Perdido Streets and between De La Vina Street and St. Vincent’s Avenue. Two of those buildings remain today: the buildings that housed the orphanage at 925 De La Vina and St. Vincent’s Day Nursery.
In 1924, the orphanage moved to our present location on Calle Real. Eventually, the orphanage gave way to residential and educational services for developmentally disabled children, the first such program in the western United States. This program remained the primary service through most of this century until the 1990s when the children were mainstreamed into the California Public School System.
From 1994 to 2001, St. Vincent’s responded to a Santa Barbara County need by opening a residential treatment program for adolescent girls placed on probation. In 1996, a transitional housing program, PATHS, for single mothers with children was established. This Program of Affordable Transitional Housing and Services matured into St. Vincent's Family Strengthening Program in 2010. It helps single mothers move to work opportunities and careers. A high priority is placed on education and family.
In 1999, St. Vincent’s responded to yet another area need and opened a children’s center called Casa Alegria. In 2011, this program evolved into a quality, age-appropriate childcare and affordable education program for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers called St. Vincent's Early Childhood Education Center.
To supplement the growing needs of families served on St. Vincent’s campus, Vincent’s Heart opened its doors in 2001 providing food, clothing, and other necessities. Community volunteers led by the Ladies of Charity and the St. Vincent de Paul Society collect, organize, sort, and distribute food, clothing, and personal items. Donations are gathered throughout the Santa Barbara community to aid this effort.
In the fall of 2004, responding to yet another pressing need, St. Vincent’s broke ground for the largest affordable housing development in the history of Santa Barbara County. Opened in late 2007, St. Vincent’s Gardens provides 75 units of 2, 3, and 4 bedroom apartments for families, and Villa Caridad provides 95 units for seniors 62 and older.
On January 5, 2012, St. Vincent’s, after making several additions to its campus programs, all in the continued Tradition of Caring which began in 1858, launched a new logo encompassing all of its ministries.
St. Vincent said back in 1656: “We are not now what we were then nor what we will be in the future." Among all of the uncertainties of these economic times, one thing is certain, St. Vincent's Rebirth of A Timeless Vision assures all residents of Santa Barbara that St. Vincent's, the longest operating human service nonprofit in Santa Barbara County, has both vision and strategy for the next 154 years of dedicated compassionate service.