September 27th - Saint Vincent De Paul, Confessor,
SAINT, social worker, reformer, he was a man who changed the face of
in a large measure, the thinking of the world. This is the picture the world
paints of Monsieur Vincent. If anything, this picture is an
is incredible that one man's life should have had such scope.
This is not to say that all legends concerning him are true. It is true that
he established a home for orphans, for example, but this happened late in his
life, and it is only one of the many results of his virtue and generosity.
Monsieur Vincent was a man who spread his nobility of character in several
Vincent was born at Pouy in France, in 1581 , of a peasant family, and through
the sacrifices of his father, jean de Paul, he was educated at the
Toulouse. He was not without ambition and, after his ordination in 1600, he
obtained a patron, tried for a good ecclesiastical benefice, and went as far as
Marseilles to prosecute a debtor. They were perfectly legal acts, but nothing
about them indicated his future sancity.
The only interruption to his climb to power was his capture-on returning from
his trip to Marseilles-by Barbary pirates who sold him as a slave in Tunis.
After his escape, he continued to use his extraordinary charm and appeal to
further his career. In 1610 Vincent was in Paris, almoner to Queen Marguerite,
first wife of Henry IV. He was made pastor of Clichy in 1611, and became tutor
to the children of Philippe de Gondi, count of Joigny, in 1613.
It was while working among the serfs of the Gondi estate that the ambitious
young priest turned toward sanctity. He had, perhaps for the first
aware of the true state of the common people of war-torn France, their
and economic destitution. His personal solution to the problem was the gift of
himself. From that time forward, Vincent belonged entirely to the poor.
The ignorance of the people stemmed from the ignorance of the clergy. It was
required of a village priest only that he know enough Latin to say Mass. The
knowledge of doctrine was almost nonexistent and the administration of the
sacraments was, to say the least, eccentric. The Council of Trent had ordered
the establishment of seminaries, but the country was torn by war. Of
that had been founded, ten had not even survived until 1625.
With the help of Madame de Gondi and other influential friends,
a congregation of secular priests who devoted themselves to the conversion of
sinners and the training of the clergy. The rules of the Congregation of the
Mission were approved by Pope Urban VIII in 1632, and its members were
priory of Saint Lazarus, thus gaining their popular name "Lazarists." They were
employed in missions, teaching catechism, preaching, hearing confessions, and
performing all other works of charity. They undertook the direction of
seminaries, gave retreats and courses to the seminarians. Saint Vincent lived
to see twenty-five houses of the order founded, and today his order has spread
throughout the world.
The influence he had previously gained among the wealthy he now put to good
use. He asked for and received incredible sums of money for his poor, and when
that was gone, he asked for more. He procured and directed the foundation of
several hospitals for the sick, for foundlings, and for the aged. He cared for
more than four thousand children a year, and as many old people. At Marseilles
he established a hospital for galley-slaves.
During the wars in Lorraine he collected alms among the pious persons
to be sent to the aid of the suffering. He founded societies to bury the dead
and distributed seed among the farmers. At the same time, in order to remove
them from the brutality of the soldiers, he brought to Paris two hundred young
women for whom he found shelter.
Vincent never forgot that he had been a slave; during his lifetime he was able
to raise the money to ransom twelve hundred Christian slaves in North Africa.
He created an asylum where forty thousand poor were given useful work.
Not only did Vincent expect large sums of money from his friends, but
time and effort. His influence among the ladies of society led to the
organization of the Ladies of Charity to help in the distribution of alms. But
these women had never in their lives soiled their fingers with real work.
Monsieur Vincent was a realist; he knew that he could not make draft horses out
of butterflies. If they were suddenly asked to scrub floors, he would soon be
left with no ladies at all.
The difficulty was solved when he met Louise de Marillac, now canonized
herself. Louise organized an auxiliary force of another type, one used to any
amount of hard work, and with no social position to lose. From these
rose the order of the Daughters of Charity, which is now spread throughout the
This humble peasant, concerned only with the poor, made his influence felt in
the highest circles. Vincent had some influence with Cardinal Richelieu and
Cardinal de Retz, and was sent for by King Louis XIII as he lay dying. He was
in high favor with the queen regent, Anne of Austria, who nominated him to the
young king's Council of Conscience. Anne consulted Vincent in ecclesiastical
Vincent was so indifferent about personal appearance that he usually appeared
at court dressed in old clothes. This was not eccentricity, nor even
absentmindedness: Saint Vincent could not see why he should be extravagantly
dressed to enter the royal presence when millions were hungry and in rags.
Vincent was able to be many things to many men because, first of all, he was a
man of prayer. In the midst of so much activity, the awareness of God was
always present, and this was the secret of his power.
On September 27, 1660, having received the last sacraments and having
last advice, Vincent died quietly in his chair. Because of him, it is
so easy for a man to pass as a Christian without extending his charity, his
love, and his help to the unfortunate. Never had a man more deserved to hear
the words: "Come, blessed of my Father ... for I was hungry and you gave me to
eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me
in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you
came to me" (Matt. 25:34-37).