Charles Royer poses with a worker outside the building that would house De Paul Treatment Center in 1974. The project would become one of the nation’s most respected centers for treating addiction. (St. Vincent de Paul Archives)
Charles Royer poses with a worker outside the building that would house De Paul Treatment Center in 1974. The project would become one of the nation’s most respected centers for treating addiction. (St. Vincent de Paul Archives)
It’s easy to think of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul as the food box people. But since a council of the worldwide charitable organization was formed in Portland in 1869, it also has worked outside the box.

That first group donated land and a stipend for Portland’s first hospital. When the Great Depression hit, a salvage bureau began to provide free or low cost clothing and home furnishings.

Two more innovative projects of St. Vincent de Paul endure in western Oregon.

In a natural progression of Gospel principles, the value of people with disabilities came to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971, the St. Vincent de Paul Portland Council led the way with the founding of St. Vincent de Paul Rehabilitation in Northeast Portland.

By 1975, program administrator Barney Comerford described a threefold ministry. “First is a program for the less severely handicapped where trainees learn a vocational skill and eventually work in a business or industry,” the Sentinel reported. “A second program is for trainees with handicaps that do not permit regular employment. Trainees in this program learn a skill and remain in a special structured work setting. The third program is for individuals too critically handicapped for any kind of job training. They receive social and educational help and extended care.”

Training sections included a commercial-size kitchen, a television-radio repair shop and shops for carpentry, metalworking and painting. Also on site on Union Boulevard (later Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) were a sewing station and several assembling and packaging units.

Portland’s mayor and other officials began paying visits to the innovative ministry, in which students repaired donated goods and took on other contracts. By 1977, it was training about 150 people at any given time. The rehabilitation center was one of the largest ventures of its kind in Oregon. About two-thirds of the students moved on to jobs in the private sphere.

Though no longer operated by St. Vincent de Paul, the organization remains to this day, called DePaul Industries for a time and now the DPI Group.

Leaders of the St. Vincent de Paul Council paid heed to the blight of addiction and opened DePaul Treatment Center in 1974, hoping to get at one of the root causes of poverty. By the early 1980s, DePaul was seen as a model program for treating late-stage alcoholics. The residential program located downtown put those in recovery through group meetings, individual counseling and spiritual aid.

“You can white-knuckle it for a while, but in the end the body will win,” center director Steve Newton told the Sentinel in 1981. “There’s no cure for anyone. All there is is a daily reprieve that depends on maintaining a spiritual condition — or, if you prefer, on the help of God.”

His own alcoholism had foiled Newton’s plans to become a priest. But after years of recovery, he achieved his dream and now is Father Newton of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

De Paul Treatment Center was one of the first organizations in Oregon to use evidence-based practices to treat substance abuse and address co-occurring mental health disorders.

De Paul Treatment Centers have expanded to serve young people and those with all kinds of substance addictions. Adults can get outpatient and inpatient care.