Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. A holy man of the seventeenth century whose love for the poor still inspires us today.
Born to a peasant family in 1581 in southwest France in a town which now bears his name, Vincent was a smart boy who desired an education. He spent four years with the Franciscan friars in Acq, France, which enabled him to go on to tutor children in the area. He later entered the seminary and was ordained in 1600 at the age of 20.
While returning from a voyage to Marseilles, Vincent was captured by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery. In 1607, he escaped from his captors along with his master whom he converted. A circuitous route led him to be a teacher to the children of a wealthy family and spiritual director to their mom, who encouraged him to hold missions at her estate. Vincent preached powerful retreats and greatly influenced the people of the area. Not liking the notoriety, he asked to be appointed as the curé of Chatillon-les-Dombes where he founded the first conference of charity for the assistance of the poor. This became a common pattern. Whenever he preached a mission, a conference of charity would be founded to serve the poor and needy of the area.
He turned his attention to prisoners in the galleys of Paris, those condemned to death. They were held in the most inhumane of circumstances and St. Vincent cared for their physical and spiritual needs, converting many. He even started a hospital to care for them. His success in Paris motivated him to do the same in other parts of France.
Seeing his success in evangelization, St. Vincent decided to start the Congregation of Priests of the Mission, a congregation dedicated to evangelizing people living in the countryside. In order to do so, though, he needed priests. From the time of the Reformation and through to St. Vincent’s time, the early 1600s, the Church found it extremely difficult to build seminaries and thus to train priests mainly due to the ongoing religious wars. St. Vincent made priestly formation one of his top aims, working to develop their spiritual life with his preaching and retreats, and sending well formed men to bishops for seminary training. Ultimately, he founded many seminaries and provided priests to direct them. By the time of the French Revolution, St. Vincent’s congregation was responsible for one-third of all the seminaries in France.
Around the same time he started preaching missions in Paris, he founded the Daughters of Charity. He inspired these women to work with and serve the poor. They were originally sent out individually to parishes and, over time, grew into communities. It was mainly due to their efforts that St. Vincent was able to distribute alms to the needy. Additionally, the daughters served in hospitals created for the poor and for those in prison.
Caring for the aged and the dying, St. Vincent founded the Hospice of the Name of Jesus. Caring for the needs of the young and orphaned, he established a home for the poor, which provided them with both shelter and work. During the Thirty Years War, he worked in the war torn regions of France providing to assistance and relief to the people of the area. Through all this he also fought against Jansenist heresy.
Saint Vincent de Paul died on September 27, 1660 in Paris, leaving a lasting mark on the world.
His legacy lives on to this day in the quiet way that simple parishioners like you and me serve the poor in our parish communities. What a truly remarkable man!
Saint Vincent de Paul, pray for us! Anne
Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires. – Saint Vincent de Paul