Saint Vincent de Paul: Founder of Congregation of the Missions

In Photo: A portrait of Saint Vincent de Paul by Simon François de Tours (17th century)

The patron of all charitable work throughout the Catholic world, a title bestowed on him by Pope Leo XIII, died on September 27, 1660. The founder of the Congregation of Priests of the Missions in 1626 and the Daughters of Charity in 1633 with Louise de Marillac loved the poor, forsaken, orphans, mentally deranged, prisoners and the aged unconditionally.

After 357 years, Vincent de Paul’s uncorrupted heart can be viewed in the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in Puoy, France, for the secular world to ponder on.

Life of adventure

Born to a poor family in the village of Puoy, Gascony, France, on April 24, 1581, Vincent’s determination to be a priest is to have a successful career, retire early, obtain a benefice benefits in exchange for spiritual works, support the family and have a good life. The French term benefice means a Church appointment, such as a rector or vicar, for which property and income are provided in respect of pastoral duties

The third of six children, his parents, Jean and Bertrande de Moras de Paul, worked hard on the farm for the family’s subsistence.

After Vincent’s first communion, the priest accompanied him home to motivate his parents to send him to school. As the brightest boy in the Catechism class, a good future surely awaits him.

The idea of his becoming a priest, later on becoming a bishop clothed in satin, blessing people, living in a big house and with plenty of money convinced his father to sell two cows, some sheep and pigs to raise the funds needed for Vincent’s schooling. To augment funds, Vincent tutored the children of a lawyer friend of the priest.

Robert Ellsberg in All Saints narrate that once his father visited Vincent in the seminary, Ashamed to see his old father in a shabby peasant attire, he did not honor his visit.

He was ordained priest on September 23, 1600, and was appointed parish priest of Tilh.  Because the council of Trent decreed that a priest should at least be 20 years old, Vincent had to defend his appointment. Rather than go to Rome to justify his post, he resigned and studied at the University of Toulouse in Paris. On October 12, 1604, he finished his Licentiate in Canon Law.

In 1605 a wealthy patron gave him an inheritance, making him sail to Marseilles to sell the property. He was captured by African pirates and sold as a slave in Algeria thrice.

The third buyer was Guillaume Gaufier, a former Franciscan monk from France who converted to Islam to gain freedom. Of the three wives of Guillaume the second became Vincent’s friend who learned about the Catholic faith, and convinced her husband to return to his faith.

Vincent and Guillaume secretly boarded a boat and landed in Aigues-Mortes, France, on June 28, 1607. From France, Vincent proceeded to Rome to study until 1609 when King Henry IV sent him back to France on a mission.

In Paris he met Pierre de Berulle, who became his spiritual adviser. Too, he got acquainted with Andre Duval of Sorbonne, who introduced to him the “Rule of Perfection” by Benoit of Canfield. It was a treatise on the interior will of God. That the practice of humility, simplicity, meekness, mortification of souls are musts for the soul to perceive what are truly the spiritual will of God.

Spiritual awakening    

On the promptings of de Berulle, he accepted the charge of Saint Menard in Clinchy, a parish in the outskirts of Paris. He won the hearts of the parishioners for his concern for the sick, the poor and long hours in the confessional.

His next assignment was chaplain to Philippe Gondi, marshall of the French fleet and commander in chief of the French Galley. He did not only tutor the Gondi children but preached to tenants and farmers. Likewise, he reformed and transformed the spirituality of the parishioners of the Parish of Chatillon-les-Dombes in Lyons, a secret assignment from de Berulle.

With the support of Madame de Gondi, a general confession in the Chapel of Foleville was organized on January 25, 1617.

After hearing the confession of a dying farmer, he realized the crucial role of a priest when the farmer, in tears of thankfulness, remarked that he could have perished in mortal sin without a priest’s absolution.

The quality of the training of the clergy and their dedication to their vocation also came to mind. In his own words, he became truly a man for others, more so for the poor, that, “Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances…. If you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of God who chose to be poor.”

Henceforth, he would work for the uplift of the poor and exert effort in the training of holy priests.

When King Louis XIII assigned him general almoner or chaplain in 1619 to improve the conditions of prisoners and slaves in royal galleys, he improved not only their physical conditions but their spirituality, as well. He inspired them to conversion, built hospitals and paid for the freedom of 1,200 slaves.

To the 30,000 Christian slaves in Tunisia and Algeria, Vincent sent brothers and priests to care for their needs and act as messengers for their families, too.

Widely known as Monsieur Vincent, the rich and powerful in France supported his projects and the rich loved him. He encouraged their cooperation in works of charity. “Those who love the poor will meet death without fear.”

The priory of an “ageing monastery with sprawling property” owned by the Lazarites became the center of organizing mission and charitable works of Vincent and his companions.

Too, he helped reform the clergy to be more faithful in their vocation. There was a time when he was directing 53 upper-level seminaries at the same time.

‘I will follow’        

Louise de Marillac, a widow, and her friends formed a group of ladies in gray, which became the forerunner of the Daughters of Charity, which took care of the sick, hungry and orphans.

“Their convent is the sickroom, their cloister the streets of the city, their chapel the parishes.”

For 60 years, France benefited from the charitable works of Vincent. It was also during his lifetime that mendicancy was the curse of Paris with more than 40,000 beggars roaming in the city, according to Fr. Anthony Netikat, CM.

When Louise de Marillac was dying on March 15, 1660, he said, “Be the first to go to God, I will follow soon.”

Vincent de Paul died on September 27, 1660, was beatified on August 13, 1729, by Pope Benedict XIII and was canonized by Pope Clement XII on June 16, 1737.

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Santiago is a former regional director of the Department of Education National Capital Region. She is currently a faculty member of Mater Redemptoris Collegium in Calauan, Laguna and Mater Redemptoris College in San Jose City, Nueva Ecija.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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