St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was founder of the Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, Confraternities of Charity, and Ladies of Charity. A man of deep faith, keen intellect, and enormous creativity, he has become known as the “The Apostle of Charity” and “Father of the Poor.” His contributions to the training of priests and organizing parish missions and other services for the poor shaped our Church’s role in the modern world.
More details — St. Vincent de Paul was born in Gascony, France, and died in Paris. He studied theology at Toulouse and was ordained a priest in 1600. As a young priest he fell into the hands of Mohammedan pirates who carried him off to Africa. After his return to France he became successively parish priest, grand almoner of the galley slaves, and spiritual director of the Visitation nuns. He founded the Congregation of the Priests of the Mission or Lazarists to preach especially to country people. With the help of Louise de Marillac he established the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity to care for young girls, for the needy, sick, and foundlings. He died at St. Lazarus’s which was the center of his Congregation. Leo XIII proclaimed him special patron of charitable institutions.
St. Vincent worked tirelessly to help those in need: the impoverished, the sick, the enslaved, the abandoned, the ignored.
His Motto: “
God sees you.”
“Let us love God; but at the price of our hands and sweat of our face.”
God our Father, you gave Vincent de Paul the courage and holiness of an apostle for the well-being of the poor and the formation of the clergy. Help us to be zealous in continuing his work. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
More detailed history:
Born in France in 1580, was ordained in 1600 and died 1660. He was captured by pirates while traveling in 1605. He was sold as a slave, but escaped in 1607 with his master, a renegade whom he converted. After some time studying in Rome he was sent back to France in 1609 and took charge of a parish near Paris. In 1612 he went to work as the family educator for the children of a wealthy French family (Gondi). After some time with the family he founded the first conference of charity for the assistance of the poor. He was recalled by the Gondi family and returned to them in 1617 resuming the peasant missions on estates throughout the countryside. Following his lead, several Paris priests joined him. Nearly everywhere after each of these missions, a conference of charity was founded for the relief of the poor.
Vincent’s energy was then directed towards the convicts in the galleys. Before being convoyed aboard the galleys or when illness compelled them to disembark, the condemned convicts were crowded with chains on their legs onto damp dungeons, their only food being black bread and water, while they were covered with vermin and ulcers. Their moral state was still more frightful than their physical misery. Vincent wished to ameliorate both. Assisted by a priest, he began visiting the galley convicts of Paris, speaking kind words to them, doing them every manner of service however repulsive. He thus won their hearts, converted many of them. A house was purchased where Vincent established a hospital. Soon appointed by Louis XIII royal almoner of the galleys, Vincent profited by this title to visit the galleys of Marseilles where the convicts were as unfortunate as at Paris; he lavished his care on them and also planned to build them a hospital; but this he could only do ten years later. Meanwhile, he gave on the galley of Bordeaux, as on those of Marseilles, a mission which was crowned with success.
Congregation of the Mission
The good wrought everywhere by these missions together with the urging of Madame Gondi, Vincent founded his religious institute of priests that vowed to the evangelization of country people–the Congregation of Priests of the Mission.
Experience had quickly revealed to St. Vincent that the good done by the missions in country places could not last unless there were priests to maintain it and these were lacking at that time in France. Since the Council of Trent the bishops had been endeavoring to found seminaries to form them, but these seminaries encountered many obstacles, the chief of which were the wars of religion. The general assembly of the French clergy expressed the wish that candidates for Holy Orders should only be admitted after some days of recollection and retreat. At the request of the Bishop of Beauvais, Vincent oversaw the first of these retreats in 1628. According to his plan they comprised ascetic conferences and instructions on the knowledge of things most indispensable to priests. Their chief service was that they gave rise to the seminaries. At first they lasted only ten days, but in extending them by degrees to fifteen or twenty days, then to one, two, or three months before each order, the bishops eventually prolonged the stay of their clerics to two or three years between philosophy and the priesthood. In 1635 he had established a seminary at the Collége des Bons-Enfants. In 1642 he founded the St Charles seminary for young clerics studying the humanities. At his death he had eventually accepted the leadership of 11 seminaries and prior to the Revolution his congregation was leading a total of 62 seminaries, a third of all in France.
Work for the Poor
Vincent de Paul had established the Daughters of Charity. At first they were intended to assist the conferences of charity. When these conferences were established, the ladies who joined them readily brought their alms and were willing to visit the poor, but it often happened that they did not know how to give them care which their conditions demanded and they sent their servants to do what was needful in their stead. Vincent conceived the idea of enlisting good young women for this service of the poor. They were first distributed singly in the various parishes where the conferences were established and they visited the poor with these ladies of the conferences or when necessary cared for them during their absence. In recruiting, forming, and directing these servants of the poor, Vincent found assistance from Ms. Legras. When their number increased in size, he grouped then into a community under her direction and he came every week to hold a conference.
Besides the Daughters of Charity, at the request of the Archbishop of Paris, Vincent de Paul secured the services of the Ladies of Charity. In 1634 his groups helped 20,000-25,000 poor families annually, while also visiting the prisons. Among them were as many as 200 ladies of the highest rank. After having drawn up their rule, St. Vincent upheld and stimulated their charitable zeal. Because of them, he was able to collect enormous sums of money which he distributed in aid of all the unfortunates. The Ladies of Charity also adopted children and they were raised in a special house confided to the Daughters of Charity and four nurses. Years later, the number of children reached 4000
With the assistance of a generous unknown donor, Vincent founded the Hospice of the Name of Jesus, where forty old people of both sexes found a shelter and work suited to their condition. This is the present hospital of the incurables. The same treatment was soon extended to all the poor of Paris and the creation of the general hospital which was first thought of by several Ladies of Charity, became a reality. Vincent adopted the idea and did more than anyone for the realization of what has been called one of the greatest works of charity of the 17th century, the sheltering of 40,000 poor in an asylum where they would be given useful work. In response to requests, gifts poured in from donors.
St. Vincent’s charity was not restricted to Paris, but reached to all the provinces desolated by misery. At times, when the money ran low and contributions began to fall, Vincent decided to print and sell the success stories of those that have been helped. The periodical newspaper was called “Le magasin charitable”.
All these benefits had rendered the name of Vincent de Paul popular in Paris. On his deathbed Louis XIII desired to be assisted by Vincent de Paul: “Oh, Monsieur Vincent”, said he, “if I am restored to health I shall appoint no bishops unless they have spent three years with you.” His widow, Ann of Austria, made Vincent a member of the council of conscience charged with nominations to benefices. These honors did not alter Vincent’s modesty and simplicity. He went to the Court only through necessity, in fitting but simple garb. He made no use of his influence except to help the poor and in the interest of the Church.
Vincent’s zeal and charity went beyond the boundaries of France. As early as 1638 he commissioned his priests to preach to the shepherds in Rome. He sent others to Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides, Poland, and Madagascar (1648-60). Of all the works carried on abroad none perhaps interested him so much as the poor slaves of Barbary, whose lot he had once shared. These were from 25,000 to 30,000 of these unfortunates divided chiefly between Tunis, Algiers, and Bizaerta. Christians for the most part, they had been carried off from their families by the Turkish corsairs. They were treated as veritable beasts of burden, condemned to frightful labor, without any corporal or spiritual care. Vincent left nothing undone to send them aid as early as 1645. He sent them a priest and a brother, who were followed by others.
In 1729, Vincent was declared Blessed by Benedict XIII, and canonized by Clement XII in 1737. In 1885 Leo XIII gave him as patron to the sisters of Charity. In the course of his long and busy life Vincent de Paul wrote a large number of letters, estimated at not less than 30,000. After his death the task of collecting them began and in the 18th century nearly 7000 had been gathered, but many had been lost.
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