St. Vincent de Paul
After seeking a life of luxury and living among the elite of France, St. Vincent de Paul led Europe to attend to the spiritual and physical needs of the poor.
He was born in southwestern France in 1581. His parents had a small farm and Vincent was a middle son of six children. He had a quick intellect, and his parents made sure he received a good education from Franciscans living nearby. He went on to study at university and was ordained a priest in 1600 at the age of 20.
His ambition at the time was to become wealthy and live a comfortable life. He was named chaplain to the queen, and received a generous salary for this position.
One day, his friend was robbed, and he accused Vincent of the theft. Everywhere the friend went, he slandered Vincent, who bore it with patience, simply saying, “God knows the truth.” After six months, the true thief confessed. It solidified the virtues of patience and humility in Vincent, which became the bedrock for his life.
Vincent continued his ministry among the elite and wealthy of France. While spending time with a family in the countryside, he was called upon to hear the confession of a peasant who was dying. This encounter opened Vincent’s eyes to the spiritual needs of the poor of France. He began to preach and hear confessions in villages, and the response was so great that he called upon Jesuits living nearby to help.
He returned to Paris and began working with prisoners of war and convicted criminals who were sentenced to row military ships. These men lived in terrible conditions—if they survived battles and shipwreck, few lived more than a few years under such hard labor. Vincent was named official chaplain of the galley slaves.
Vincent’s patrons wanted to fund more work among the poor through his ministry, and in 1625 they convinced him to establish a new community of priests who would care especially for the poor living in the country. The priests were called Fathers of the Mission (later known as Vincentians, after their founder). Vincent lived to see 25 new communities of these priests emerge throughout Europe—they gave missions and founded seminaries and colleges.
Vincent went on to found other organizations—“confraternities of charity”—that gathered the faithful to help the poor and tend to their spiritual and physical needs. He excelled at securing resources for these endeavors, and gathering people who committed their lives to the mission. With the help of these collaborators, he founded hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly, and other institutions to care for the poor throughout Europe.
He raised large amounts of money to help victims of war and once ransomed 1,200 captives from north Africa. He sent missionaries throughout Europe to care for the sick and poor, and was sought after by kings and queens for his advice.
He remained equally active in the life of the Church—he wrote a spiritual guide for seminarians and initiated reforms to counter the abuses and ignorance he observed in some other priests.
Through all of this activity to build God’s kingdom, Vincent remained patient and humble. His natural disposition, he claimed, was towards anger and a quick temper, but he taught himself to cooperate with God’s grace to become tender and affectionate. He is said to have possessed serenity and an even-mindedness, even in the face of adversity—his only desire was that God be glorified in all things.
“Our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to repentance, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, meekness, and simplicity in the hearts of Christians,” he said.
His later years were marked by much suffering from poor health, and he died on this date in 1660. He is patron of all charitable organizations, especially the society that bears his name, which was founded in Paris nearly 200 years after his death. His relics rest in the reliquary chapel in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus, and he is depicted there in the mural that adorns the ceiling of the Lady Chapel. He is also shown in this stained glass window from the chapel in Geddes Hall, which houses the Center for Social Concerns.
St. Vincent de Paul, you ransomed slaves and served the poor with humility and patience, pray for us!