September 26, 2016

Saint Vincent de Paul, Founder, Apostle of Charity

St. Vincent de Paul
September 27th, is the memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul (1576 -1660). He was born in Gascony, France, a poor farming community, the third of six children to Jean and Bertrande de Paul. Although he exhibited an early predilection for reading and writing, his formal education began at 15, when he was sent to a Franciscan seminary to study theology. Vincent's interest in the priesthood was largely to establish a successful ministry and obtain a benefice, with which he could retire and support his family. Providential experiences would move the future saint’s heart to help the impoverished, the sick, the enslaved, the abandoned and the marginalized. Far from living a comfortable life, St. Vincent undertook the apostolic work of charity instead.

Accepted into the local Franciscan seminary, he excelled immensely. Eventually, 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. In 1605, he was captured by Moorish pirates on a ship traveling from Marseilles to Narbone and sold as a slave in Tunis [Africa]. After two years in captivity he and his master [whom Vincent converted] escaped and returned to France.

At Avignon, Vincent continued his studies. While there he became a chaplain to the Count of Goigny and was placed in charge of charitable efforts for the poor. It was the Countess de Gondi (whose servant he had helped) who persuaded her husband to endow and support a group of able and zealous missionaries who would work among the poor, the vassals and tenants and the country people in general. Vincent was too humble to accept leadership at first, but after working for some time in Paris among imprisoned galley-slaves, he returned to be the leader of what is now known as the Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentians. These priests, with vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability, were to devote themselves entirely to the people in smaller towns and villages.

Later, Vincent established confraternities of charity for the spiritual and physical 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, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1200 galley slaves from North Africa. He was 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 instrumental in establishing seminaries.

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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