St. Vicent de Paul
Vincent de Paul was born on April 25, 1581 in Pouy, a place in the country near Dax in southeast of France. His parents, Jean de Paul and Bertrand de Moras were peasants. The boy Vincent spent the first years of his life in the countryside; he worked, went to the local school and lived in a rural atmosphere where the values of honesty, justice, fidelity to family and faith are important.
His parents observed that Vincent had an inclination for studying so they sent him to the school of the Franciscan Fathers in Dax in 1596. To help defray his expenses, Vincent worked as private professor to the children of Monsieur de Comet, judge of Pouy and lawyer of the presiding Bar of Dax. .
He took up courses at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Toulouse in 1597. This entailed a great sacrifice on the part of his father: he had to sell a pair of oxen to finance his studies. His father died the following year and Vincent made a resolution; he could no longer continue studying at the cost of his family. So, he started a small boarding house for young students and children of gentlemen and meanwhile continues with his seven years of theological studies. He became a sub-deacon on September 19, 1598 and a deacon on December 19 of the same year. He was ordained to the priesthood on September 23, 1600 by the old bishop of Perigueux, Monsignor Francis de Bourdeilles.
From that moment on he starts his travels and the geographical map drawn by the young Vincent de Paul looks quite scattered: Dax, Bidache, Tarbes, Toulouse, Perigueux, Marseilles, Rome at least twice, Avignon… There are events and dates in his life that are not very clear, such as the story that he was captured by a pirate ship and was a prisoner in Tunis. This appears to be a period of learning, of searching, of being informed. At this time, the desire to use the priesthood as a means for him and his family to live well still dominated him.
In 1608, at the age of 27, he goes up to Paris and in Faubourg Saint Germain, a judge of Sore, a little town in Landes, agrees to share his residence with him. A sad incident soon ends this happy situation. One morning, the judge goes to the courthouse, leaving Vincent sick in bed. The boy from the pharmacy brings him the required medication but before administering it, takes the glass and pouch from the open closet. Upon noticing the theft, the judge accuses Vincent immediately and throws him out of the house. The moral prejudice suffered by Vincent is great because the parish priest of Saint Germain accuses him in public for two successive Sundays. He experiences the harsh reality of injustice. This is his first experience in the world of poverty. A change occurs in his life and he begins to be more concerned with his sanctity; through a process of conversion he rediscovers his vocation. Fr. Pierre de Bérulle helps him find new values: he begins to give importance to the Incarnation, to the priesthood as a fountain of holiness, to the greatness of God and littleness of man.
In the years 1612-1613, Vincent meets a priest whose counsels he will follow scrupulously, Fr. André Duval, doctor of Theology in Sorbonne. He still maintains contact with Bérulle who has instituted the Oratory in Paris. Vincent finds himself drawn momentarily to this emerging community but discovers that his vocation does not lie there so he continues his search and accepts a proposal from the founder: take the place of Fr. Bourgoing, parish priest of Clichy. A year later, at the advice of Bérulle, Vincent assumes the function of chaplain to the family of Philippe Emmanuel de Gondi, captain of the Galleys.
It is on January 24, 1617 when Vincent discovers the poor, the man in need of different kinds of assistance. A dying man in Gannes tells him he would have been condemned had he not made a good general confession before his death of the mortal sins he had ashamedly kept silent of. At this, Vincent delivers at the Church of Folleville on January 25, 1617, feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, his first missionary homily about general confession. The work has now begun: from one town to another, Vincent preaches, listens, absolves. He starts a missionary work.
Not wishing to remain anymore at the de Gondi castle, his spiritual director, Cardinal de Bérulle, assigns him to the parish of Chatillón-les Dombes. In this parish, on Sunday, August 20, 1617, he is told of a family that died of starvation; he preaches about this incident during the Mass and the people respond positively with a spontaneous charity. But Vincent believes that charity should be organized so he founds the lay institution that in the beginning was called “Confraternity of Charity”. They were also called “Ladies of Charity” in the sense that the members were mainly married women who belonged to high society. These groups are now known internationally as AIC (International Association of Charity).
For the purpose of establishing a more solid and stabe institution and after receiving a donation of 45,000 liras from the de Gondis for the missions, Vincent founds on April 17, 1625 the “Congregation of the Mission”. The Founder does not want a religious institution, but rather a secular one; he wants his missionaries to be ready and available to work with the poor. Vincent and his missionaries go to all the plains and valleys as well as the Isle of France. From now on, he knows what he has to do: fill the spiritual hunger of the peasants of France and feed the poor, bandage the wounds of the sick, visit hospitals, organize soup kitchens with the help of the women, preach, hear confessions, reconcile men among themselves.
At the same time that the Confraternities of Charity multiply and grow in scope, these give rise to problems regarding lack of control and manpower. Many of the ladies did not or would not give direct service to the poor. At this comes a decisive encounter with a noble lady: Louise de Marillac. Vincent succeeds in convincing Louise to visit the groups, follow-up on the ones in-charge, encourage the teams, strengthen the relations with the parish priests. But the needy demanded a full-time dedication and continuous presence of committed persons. For this purpose, the “Company of the Daughters of Charity” is born on November 29, 1633. They are not religious; they are servants of the poor.
From 1633 onwards, Vincent has reached full maturity and continues to animate his works, living in a charitable spirit and practicing charity with others. At his request, the Ladies and Daughters of Charity have assumed the task of taking care of abandoned children. Never had these been given so much tenderness, self-giving and true love. Popular piety has preserved this powerful symbol to immortalize St. Vincent: he always had children in his arms or by his side.
We also see Vincent confronting the serious issues of wars and famine that break out in his country. He puts into motion assistance in Lorraine, Isle of France, Picardy, Champagne. He unfurls works of ingenuity and organization; he makes out pamphlets that list down different needs such as provisions, clothes, seedlings, and even relgious objects.
Vincent de Paul, priest and evangelizer of the poor, reformer of the clergy and man of charity died peacefully on September 27, 1660 after saying the prayer “Oh God, come to my assistance”.