St Vincent De Paul Confessor (c. 1581-1660) Saint of the day
The third of six children in a Gascony (French) peasant family, St Vincent de Paul was educated by the Franciscans at Dax and ordained to the priesthood at 19. Five years later he was captured and enslaved by Turkish pirates but made good his escape after two years, together with his renegade Christian master whom he had converted. In 1619 King Louis XIII made him General Almoner, whereby he was able to improve the pitiful lot of the prisoners in the jails and the slaves in the royal galleys; he established hospitals, and by way of bodily and spiritual ministrations won their hearts and converted many.
In 1626, he founded the Cpngregation of Priests of the Missions, whereby Vincent and a number of zealous secular priests bound themselves “to live in community and devote themselves to the salvation of poor country people.” The direction of seminaries which they undertook at the request of certain bishops proved so successful that at the outbreak of the French Revolution they were in charge of one third of all such institutions in France. At Sainte Lazare in Paris, the motherhouse of the young Congregation, Vincent held regular retreats for both Priests and lay people, thereby developing further the spirituality of the masses.
Simultaneously, moved by the spirit of practical charity, he helped stimulate the social consciousness of many women of the nobility and organized them into the “Ladies of Charity”. Using their enormous contributions to operate the great general hospital of Paris, where thousands of destitute were sheltered and given useful work to do, he started a foundling home, an old people’s home, an asylum for the insane, and an institution for the care of lepers. The actual nursing of all these unfortunates was entrusted to the Daughters of Charity which he co-founded with St Louise de Mariliac in 1633. Several hundred young women were sheltered from roving soldiery by this new congregation “whose convent is the sick room, whose chapel is the parish church, and where cloister is the streets of the city”. Breadlines and soup kitchens were established, with personal instructions from Vincent himself as to the nourishing ingredients to be used; needy peasants received seeds and money. “Those who have loved the poor will meet death without fear,” he maintained.
To the 30,000 Christian slaves held in Tunis, Algiers and Bizerta, Vincent sent Priests and Brothers, who not only saw to their spiritual needs and gave missions, but acted as agents and messengers for their families. During his lifetime they ransomed 1,200 slaves by paying the equivalent of over six million dollars which Vincent had collected. Under the influence of Cardinal Pierre de Béruile, St Francis de Sales and St Jeanne Frances de Chantai, prayer, meditation and ascetical exercises continually nourished Vincent’s ardour and boundless charity. Humble to the core, he shunned all publicity, his eminently practical mind placing unlimited trust in Divine Providence, and complete distrust in himself. Indeed, the piety he practised was simple, non-mystical, Christo-centric and action oriented.
The body of Vincent de Paul, who died on 27 September 1660 in Paris, are enshrined in the Mother house of his congregation. He was beatified in 1729, canonized in 1737 by Pope Clement II and declared patron of all societies devoted to works of charity by Pope Leo XIII.