St. Vincent de Paul’s Life & Missions

St. Vincent’s Birth to Age 20
EVEN in the most degenerate ages, when the truths of the Gospel seem almost obliterated among the generality of those who profess it, God fails not to raise to himself faithful ministers to revive charity in the hearts of many. One of these instruments of the divine mercy was St Vincent de Paul. He was a native of Pouy, a village near Dax, in Gascony. His parents occupied a very small farm, upon the produce of which they brought up a family of four sons and two daughters, Vincent being their third child. His father was determined by the strong inclinations of the boy and the quickness of his intelligence to give him a school education. He therefore placed him under the care of the Cordeliers (Franciscan Recollects) at Dax. Vincent finished his studies at the university of Toulouse, and in 1600 was ordained priest at the extraordinary age of twenty.
1600 – 1617
In the little we know of Vincent at this time there is nothing to suggest his future fame and sanctity. Indeed, the outstanding event, his trip to Marseilles and the captivity in and romantic escape from Tunisia that is said to have followed it, raises such delicate questions and has been so controverted that without wishing to indulge any improper suppressions it seems better to ignore it and to get on more solid ground.
On his own showing, Vincent’s ambition at that time was to be comfortably off. He was already one of the chaplains of Queen Margaret of Valois and, according to the bad custom of the age, he was receiving the income of a small abbey. He went to lodge with a friend in Paris. And there it was that we first hear of a change in him. His friend was robbed of four hundred crowns. He charged Vincent with the theft, thinking it could be nobody else; and in this persuasion he spoke against him with the greatest virulence among all his friends, and wherever he went. Vincent calmly denied the fact, saying, ” God knows the truth “. He bore this slander for six months, when the true thief confessed. St Vincent related this in a spiritual conference with his priests, but as of a third person; to show that patience, humble silence, and resignation are generally the best defence of our innocence, and always the happiest means of sanctifying our souls under slanders and persecution.
At Paris Vincent became acquainted with the holy priest Peter de Berulle, afterwards cardinal. Berulle conceived a great esteem for Vincent, and prevailed with him to become tutor to the children of Philip de Gondi, Count of Joigny. Mme de Gondi was attracted by Vincent, and chose him for her spiritual director and confessor.
Next Section
In the year I617, whilst they were at a country seat at Folleville, Monsieur Vincent was sent for to hear the confession of a peasant who lay dangerously ill. He discovered that all the former confessions of the penitent had been sacrilegious, and the man declared before many persons and the Countess of Joigny herself, that he would have been eternally lost if he had not spoken to Monsieur Vincent. The good lady was struck with horror to hear of such past sacrileges. Far from the criminal illusion of pride by which some masters and mistresses seem persuaded that they owe no care, attention or provision for their dependents, she realized that masters lie under strict ties of justice and charity towards all committed to their care; and that they are bound to see them provided with the necessary spiritual helps for their salvation. To Vincent himself also appears to have come at that moment an enlightening as to the terrible spiritual state of the peasantry of France, and Mme de Gondi had no difficulty in persuading him to preach in the church of Folleville, and fully to instruct the people in the duty of repentance and confession of sins. He did so; and such crowds flocked to him to make general confessions that he was obliged to call the Jesuits of Amiens to his assistance.
With the help of Father de Berulle, St Vincent left the house of the countess in I617 to become pastor of Chatillon-les-Dombes. He there converted the notorious Count de Rougemont and many others from their scandalous lives. But he soon returned to Paris, and began work among the galley-slaves who were confined in the Conciergerie. He was officially appointed chaplain to the galleys (of which Philip de Gondi was general), and in I622 gave a mission for the convicts in them at Bordeaux; but the story that Monsieur Vincent once took the place of one of them at the oar has no evidence to support it.
Mme de Gondi now offered him an endowment to found a perpetual mission among the common people in the place and manner he should think fit, but nothing at first came of it, for Vincent was too humble to regard himself as fit to undertake the work. The countess could not be easy herself whilst she was deprived of his direction and advice; she therefore obtained from him a promise that he would never abandon the direction of her conscience so long as she lived, and that he would assist her at her death. But being extremely desirous that others, especially those who were particularly entitled to her care and attention, should want nothing that could contribute to their sanctification and salvation, she induced her husband to concur with her in establishing a company of able and zealous missionaries who should be employed in assisting their vassals and tenants, and the people of the countryside in general. This project they proposed to their brother, who was archbishop of Paris, and he gave the College des Bons Enfants for the reception of the new community. Its members were to renounce ecclesiastical preferment, to devote themselves to the smaller towns and villages, and to live from a common fund. St Vincent took possession of this house in April I625.
Vincent attended the countess until her death, which happened only two months later; he then joined his new congregation. In 1633 the prior of the canon regular of St Victor gave to this institute the priory of Saint-Lazare, which was made the chief house of the congregation, and from it the Fathers of the Missior are often called Lazarists, but sometimes Vincentians, after their founder. They are a congregation of secular priests, who make four simple vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. They are employed in missions, especially among country people, and undertake the direction of diocesan and other seminaries; they now have colleges and missions in all parts of the world. St Vincent lived to see twenty-five houses founded in France, Piedmont, Poland and other places, including Madagascar.
This foundation, though so extensive and beneficial, could not satisfy the zeal of this apostolic man. He by every other means studied to procure the relief of others under all necessities, whether spiritual or corporal. For this purpose he established confraternities of charity (the first had been at Chatillon) to attend poor sick persons in each parish, and from them, with the help of St Louise de Marillac, sprang the institute of Sisters of Charity, whose ” convent is the sickroom, their chapel the parish church, their cloister the streets of the city “. He invoked the assistance of the wealthy women of Paris and banded them together as the Ladies of Charity to collect funds for and assist in his good works. He procured and directed the foundation of several hospitals for the sick, foundlings, and the aged, and at Marseilles the hospital for the galley-slaves, which, however, was never finished. All these establishments he settled under excellent regulations, and found for them large sums of money. He instituted a particular plan of spiritual exercises for those about to receive holy orders; and others for those who desire to make general confessions, or to deliberate upon the choice of a state of life; and also appointed regular ecclesiastical conferences on the duties of the clerical state, to remedy somewhat the terrible slackness, abuses and ignorance that he saw about him. It appears almost incredible that so many and so great things could have been effected by one man, and a man who had no advantages from birth, fortune, or any of those more obvious qualities which the world admires and esteems.
During the wars in Lorraine, being informed of the miseries to which those provinces were reduced, St Vincent collected alms in Paris, which were sent thither to the amount of thousands of pounds. He sent his missionaries to the poor and suffering in Poland, Ireland, Scotland, the very Hebrides, and during his own life over 1200 Christian slaves were ransomed in North Africa, and many others succoured. He was sent for by King Louis XIII as he lay dying, and was in high favour with the queen regent, Anne of Austria, who consulted him in ecclesiastical affairs and in the collation of benefices; during the affair of the Fronde he in vain tried to persuade her to give up her minister Mazarin in the interests of her people. It was largely due to Monsieur Vincent that English Benedictine nuns from Ghent were allowed to open a house at Boulogne in 1652.
Amidst so many and so great matters his soul seemed always united to God. Under set-backs, disappointments and slanders he preserved serenity and evenness of mind, having no other desire but that God should be glorified in all things. Astonishing as it may seem, Monsieur Vincent was ” by nature of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger “. This would seem humble exaggeration but that others besides himself bear witness to it. But for divine grace, he tells us, he would have been ” in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed “; instead, his will cooperated with grace and he was tender, affectionate, acutely sensible to the calls of charity and religion. Humility he would have then to be the basis of his congregation, and it was the lesson which he never ceased to repeat. When two persons of unusual learning and abilities once presented themselves, desiring to be admitted into his congregation, he refused them both, saying, ” Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. 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 laid it down that, if possible, a man ought never to speak of himself or his own concerns, such discourse usually proceeding from, and nourishing in the heart, pride and self-love.
St Vincent was greatly concerned at the rise and spread of the Jansenist heresy. ” I have made the doctrine of grace the subject of my prayer for three months “, he said, ” and every day God has confirmed my faith that our Lord died for us all and that He desires to save the whole world.” He actively opposed himself to the false teachers and no priest professing their errors could remain in his congregation.
Towards the end of his life he suffered much from serious ill-health. In the autumn of 1660 he died calmly in his chair, on September 27, being fourscore years old. Monsieur Vincent, the peasant priest, was canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737, and by Pope Leo XIII he was proclaimed patron of all charitable societies, outstanding among which is the society that bears his name and is infused by his spirit, founded by Frederic Ozanam in Paris in 1833.

St. Vincent’s Birth to Age 20EVEN in the most degenerate ages, when the truths of the Gospel seem almost obliterated among the generality of those who profess it, God fails not to raise to himself faithful ministers to revive charity in the hearts of many. One of these instruments of the divine mercy was St Vincent de Paul. He was a native of Pouy, a village near Dax, in Gascony. His parents occupied a very small farm, upon the produce of which they brought up a family of four sons and two daughters, Vincent being their third child. His father was determined by the strong inclinations of the boy and the quickness of his intelligence to give him a school education. He therefore placed him under the care of the Cordeliers (Franciscan Recollects) at Dax. Vincent finished his studies at the university of Toulouse, and in 1600 was ordained priest at the extraordinary age of twenty.1600 – 1617In the little we know of Vincent at this time there is nothing to suggest his future fame and sanctity. Indeed, the outstanding event, his trip to Marseilles and the captivity in and romantic escape from Tunisia that is said to have followed it, raises such delicate questions and has been so controverted that without wishing to indulge any improper suppressions it seems better to ignore it and to get on more solid ground.On his own showing, Vincent’s ambition at that time was to be comfortably off. He was already one of the chaplains of Queen Margaret of Valois and, according to the bad custom of the age, he was receiving the income of a small abbey. He went to lodge with a friend in Paris. And there it was that we first hear of a change in him. His friend was robbed of four hundred crowns. He charged Vincent with the theft, thinking it could be nobody else; and in this persuasion he spoke against him with the greatest virulence among all his friends, and wherever he went. Vincent calmly denied the fact, saying, ” God knows the truth “. He bore this slander for six months, when the true thief confessed. St Vincent related this in a spiritual conference with his priests, but as of a third person; to show that patience, humble silence, and resignation are generally the best defence of our innocence, and always the happiest means of sanctifying our souls under slanders and persecution.At Paris Vincent became acquainted with the holy priest Peter de Berulle, afterwards cardinal. Berulle conceived a great esteem for Vincent, and prevailed with him to become tutor to the children of Philip de Gondi, Count of Joigny. Mme de Gondi was attracted by Vincent, and chose him for her spiritual director and confessor.Next SectionIn the year I617, whilst they were at a country seat at Folleville, Monsieur Vincent was sent for to hear the confession of a peasant who lay dangerously ill. He discovered that all the former confessions of the penitent had been sacrilegious, and the man declared before many persons and the Countess of Joigny herself, that he would have been eternally lost if he had not spoken to Monsieur Vincent. The good lady was struck with horror to hear of such past sacrileges. Far from the criminal illusion of pride by which some masters and mistresses seem persuaded that they owe no care, attention or provision for their dependents, she realized that masters lie under strict ties of justice and charity towards all committed to their care; and that they are bound to see them provided with the necessary spiritual helps for their salvation. To Vincent himself also appears to have come at that moment an enlightening as to the terrible spiritual state of the peasantry of France, and Mme de Gondi had no difficulty in persuading him to preach in the church of Folleville, and fully to instruct the people in the duty of repentance and confession of sins. He did so; and such crowds flocked to him to make general confessions that he was obliged to call the Jesuits of Amiens to his assistance.With the help of Father de Berulle, St Vincent left the house of the countess in I617 to become pastor of Chatillon-les-Dombes. He there converted the notorious Count de Rougemont and many others from their scandalous lives. But he soon returned to Paris, and began work among the galley-slaves who were confined in the Conciergerie. He was officially appointed chaplain to the galleys (of which Philip de Gondi was general), and in I622 gave a mission for the convicts in them at Bordeaux; but the story that Monsieur Vincent once took the place of one of them at the oar has no evidence to support it.Mme de Gondi now offered him an endowment to found a perpetual mission among the common people in the place and manner he should think fit, but nothing at first came of it, for Vincent was too humble to regard himself as fit to undertake the work. The countess could not be easy herself whilst she was deprived of his direction and advice; she therefore obtained from him a promise that he would never abandon the direction of her conscience so long as she lived, and that he would assist her at her death. But being extremely desirous that others, especially those who were particularly entitled to her care and attention, should want nothing that could contribute to their sanctification and salvation, she induced her husband to concur with her in establishing a company of able and zealous missionaries who should be employed in assisting their vassals and tenants, and the people of the countryside in general. This project they proposed to their brother, who was archbishop of Paris, and he gave the College des Bons Enfants for the reception of the new community. Its members were to renounce ecclesiastical preferment, to devote themselves to the smaller towns and villages, and to live from a common fund. St Vincent took possession of this house in April I625.Vincent attended the countess until her death, which happened only two months later; he then joined his new congregation. In 1633 the prior of the canon regular of St Victor gave to this institute the priory of Saint-Lazare, which was made the chief house of the congregation, and from it the Fathers of the Missior are often called Lazarists, but sometimes Vincentians, after their founder. They are a congregation of secular priests, who make four simple vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. They are employed in missions, especially among country people, and undertake the direction of diocesan and other seminaries; they now have colleges and missions in all parts of the world. St Vincent lived to see twenty-five houses founded in France, Piedmont, Poland and other places, including Madagascar.This foundation, though so extensive and beneficial, could not satisfy the zeal of this apostolic man. He by every other means studied to procure the relief of others under all necessities, whether spiritual or corporal. For this purpose he established confraternities of charity (the first had been at Chatillon) to attend poor sick persons in each parish, and from them, with the help of St Louise de Marillac, sprang the institute of Sisters of Charity, whose ” convent is the sickroom, their chapel the parish church, their cloister the streets of the city “. He invoked the assistance of the wealthy women of Paris and banded them together as the Ladies of Charity to collect funds for and assist in his good works. He procured and directed the foundation of several hospitals for the sick, foundlings, and the aged, and at Marseilles the hospital for the galley-slaves, which, however, was never finished. All these establishments he settled under excellent regulations, and found for them large sums of money. He instituted a particular plan of spiritual exercises for those about to receive holy orders; and others for those who desire to make general confessions, or to deliberate upon the choice of a state of life; and also appointed regular ecclesiastical conferences on the duties of the clerical state, to remedy somewhat the terrible slackness, abuses and ignorance that he saw about him. It appears almost incredible that so many and so great things could have been effected by one man, and a man who had no advantages from birth, fortune, or any of those more obvious qualities which the world admires and esteems.During the wars in Lorraine, being informed of the miseries to which those provinces were reduced, St Vincent collected alms in Paris, which were sent thither to the amount of thousands of pounds. He sent his missionaries to the poor and suffering in Poland, Ireland, Scotland, the very Hebrides, and during his own life over 1200 Christian slaves were ransomed in North Africa, and many others succoured. He was sent for by King Louis XIII as he lay dying, and was in high favour with the queen regent, Anne of Austria, who consulted him in ecclesiastical affairs and in the collation of benefices; during the affair of the Fronde he in vain tried to persuade her to give up her minister Mazarin in the interests of her people. It was largely due to Monsieur Vincent that English Benedictine nuns from Ghent were allowed to open a house at Boulogne in 1652.Amidst so many and so great matters his soul seemed always united to God. Under set-backs, disappointments and slanders he preserved serenity and evenness of mind, having no other desire but that God should be glorified in all things. Astonishing as it may seem, Monsieur Vincent was ” by nature of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger “. This would seem humble exaggeration but that others besides himself bear witness to it. But for divine grace, he tells us, he would have been ” in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed “; instead, his will cooperated with grace and he was tender, affectionate, acutely sensible to the calls of charity and religion. Humility he would have then to be the basis of his congregation, and it was the lesson which he never ceased to repeat. When two persons of unusual learning and abilities once presented themselves, desiring to be admitted into his congregation, he refused them both, saying, ” Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. 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 laid it down that, if possible, a man ought never to speak of himself or his own concerns, such discourse usually proceeding from, and nourishing in the heart, pride and self-love.St Vincent was greatly concerned at the rise and spread of the Jansenist heresy. ” I have made the doctrine of grace the subject of my prayer for three months “, he said, ” and every day God has confirmed my faith that our Lord died for us all and that He desires to save the whole world.” He actively opposed himself to the false teachers and no priest professing their errors could remain in his congregation.Towards the end of his life he suffered much from serious ill-health. In the autumn of 1660 he died calmly in his chair, on September 27, being fourscore years old. Monsieur Vincent, the peasant priest, was canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737, and by Pope Leo XIII he was proclaimed patron of all charitable societies, outstanding among which is the society that bears his name and is infused by his spirit, founded by Frederic Ozanam in Paris in 1833.