September 26, 2017

St. Vincent de Paul, Priest, "the Conscience of France"

Saint Vincent de Paul

Memorial - September 27th

St. Vincent de Paul is a saint whose name is familiar even to those who do not profess the Catholic faith. This is due in large part to the organization that was begun in his name 173 years after his death. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, founded by Blessed Frederic Ozanam in 1833, took its inspiration from the life of the man whom Pope Leo XIII named patron of all charitable organizations. Many parishes continue to carry out charitable works under his spiritual patronage.

Vincent was the third child born to a poor family in Gascony, France, in 1580. At the time of his birth, the Church was in the midst of the Counter-Reformation, the period of intense internal reform following the upheaval of the Protestant Reformation. Although he would later be regarded as "the conscience of France," the young Vincent, who was ordained in 1600, was more concerned at first with living a comfortable life than doing the work that God had intended for him.

Accepted into the local Franciscan seminary, he excelled immensely. Vincent tutored the children of local nobles, and used the proceeds to continue his theological studies at the University of Toulose. He was ordained in 1600. His change of heart began in 1605, when he was captured by Moorish pirates traveling from Marseilles to Narbone and sold as a slave in Tunis. He escaped, after two years, and returned with his (newly converted) master to France.

At the urging of Cardinal Pierre de Berulle, who was a reformer in the Church in France, Vincent began to devote his priesthood to charitable works. It was at this time that he also became the spiritual director of Emmanuel’s wife, Countess de Gondi, and it was she who persuaded her husband to financially support Vincent’s work with the poor. The first to benefit were the galley slaves of Paris. Vincent solicited money from wealthy patrons to create homes for Paris’ orphans. Many were deliberately exploited by those who wished to make money from public pity. Others were shunted into public asylums, where they were often mistreated.

In 1625, he founded the Congregation of the Missions, commonly known as the "Vincentians" or the "Lazarists." The vocation of these priests, who took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability, was to the indigent population of the smaller towns and villages in France, many of whom would otherwise have no access to Catholic priests, Mass, or the sacraments. Vincent was also zealous in conducting retreats for clergy at a time when there was great laxity, abuse, and ignorance among them. He was a pioneer in clerical training and instruction.

Later, Vincent established confraternities of charity for the relief of the poor and sick of each parish. From these, with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, came the Sisters of Charity, "Whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city." He organized the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, aided the victims of war and would ransom over 1200 galley slaves from North Africa.

St. Vincent worked tirelessly to help those in need. He died at Saint Lazarus's house, Paris on September 27, 1660. Pope Benedict XIII beatified him in 1729. On June 16, 1737 he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII who declared St. Vincent the patron saint of charitable societies. His motto was: "God sees you." O God, who for the relief of the poor and the formation of the clergy endowed the Priest St. Vincent de Paul with apostolic virtues, grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit, we may love what he loved and put into practice what he taught.

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