The Patron – St. Vincent de Paul
Vincent lived during one of the most spiritually and apostolically fertile periods in European history. A visible part of the Counter-Reformation ferment, Vincent joined with a number of remarkable personalities in France who changed the religious face of the country in the space of one generation.
Vincent was born, one of six children, in 1581 into a farming family Puoy, in the southeastern corner of France. Loved as a child and especially close to his mother, Vincent hoped to rise in the world and come back as the family’s pride and provider. A well-to-do townie spotted Vincent’s talent and sent him on for further studies. Vincent set his sights on the priesthood, devoted, but not extraordinarily so. In sixteenth century France society, priesthood was not necessarily a fast track to fortune, but it was comfortable enough. Vincent studied at Toulouse, and was ordained at the young age of 19.
Vincent had many journeys and travels in his search of fullness of life. Vincent went to work among the convicts, he began to develop another organization that lasts to the present day. While temporarily serving in a parish at Chatillon-les Dombes in the southeast France, he noticed that the parishioners could be momentarily generous to neighbors in crises. Their care tended to wane when a problem continued. So Vincent organized an assistance association, named the Confraternity of Charity that was based in the parish and attended to the long-term needs of the sick and impoverished parishioners. Vincent provided guidelines for this Confraternity, and in a short time similar groups sprang up all over France. These Confraternities live on today in groups like the Ladies of Charity and, through Frederick Ozanam in the nineteenth century, the Vincent de Paul Society.
Vincent’s ministry in Clichy and Chatillon-les-Dombes convinced him that people in rural France had been virtually abandoned by the church. Ambitious priests, like Vincent had been, flocking to the cities for rewards there. Madam de Gondi asked Vincent to organize and direct a community of missionaries to work in rural areas. She set aside a considerable sum of money to begin the community and brought a building in which to house the group. Vincent gathered a little band of missionaries to his side. In 1626, Vincent and three priests pledged “to aggregate and associate ourselves and to the aforesaid work to live together as a Congregation . . . and to devote ourselves to the salvation of the aforesaid poor country folk”. The Congregation of the Mission was born.
The Ladies of Charity, a coalition of noblewomen Vincent had organized to serve poor people, had grown and spread. Confraternities of Charity likewise had sprung up all over France. With all commitments and foundations, Vincent found it impossible to oversee all of these charitable groups. And so he turned to Louise. The decision turned out to be blessed by providence. Despite frail health, Louise de Marillac traveled from town to town, visiting, guiding, and encouraging the fledgling organization. Under Louise’s direction, more young women joined what was becoming a community. In 1633, Louise welcomed several of them into her own home for training. They became the nucleus of the new organization, the Daughters of Charity. The Daughters of Charity were seculars, as Louise declared. They lived in houses, not convents, their cloisters were the city streets; their enclosure was their commitment to God and service.
In March of 1660, Louise de Marillac, his dear friend and generous collaborator, died.
By September of 1660, Vincent de Paul knew that death was near. On September 26, 1660, he attended Mass and received Communion for the last time. Early morning of the next day Vincent passed away. He was eighty years of age. He was canonized in 1737 by Pope Clement XII.
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