Saint Vincent de Paul
Fondateur de la congrégation de la Mission et des Filles de la Charité (+ 1660)
Monsieur Vincent n'oubliera jamais que, quand il était petit, il gardait les porcs dans la campagne landaise. Il en rougissait à l'époque et s'il voulut devenir prêtre, ce fut surtout pour échapper à sa condition paysanne. Plus tard, non seulement il l'assumera, mais il en fera l'un des éléments de sa convivialité avec les pauvres et les humiliés. A 19 ans, c'est chose faite, il monte à Paris parce qu'il ne trouve pas d'établissement qui lui convienne. Le petit pâtre devient curé de Clichy un village des environs de Paris, aumônier de la reine Margot, précepteur dans la grande famille des Gondi. Entre temps, il rencontre Bérulle qui lui fait découvrir ce qu'est la grâce sacerdotale et les devoirs qui s'y rattachent. Il appellera cette rencontre "ma conversion". Il renonce à ses bénéfices, couche sur la paille et ne pense plus qu'à Dieu. Dès lors son poste de précepteur des Gondi lui pèse. Il postule pour une paroisse rurale à Châtillon-les-Dombes et c'est là qu'il retrouve la grande misère spirituelle et physique des campagnes françaises. Sa vocation de champion de la charité s'affermit. Rappelé auprès des Gondi, il accepte et enrichit son expérience comme aumônier des galères dont Monsieur de Gondi est le général. Ami et confident de saint François de Sales, il trouve en lui l'homme de douceur dont Monsieur Vincent a besoin, car son tempérament est celui d'un homme de feu. Pour les oubliés de la société (malades, galériens, réfugiés, illettrés, enfants trouvés) il fonde successivement les Confréries de Charité, la Congrégation de la Mission (Lazaristes) et avec sainte Louise de Marillac, la Compagnie des Filles de la Charité. Plus que l'importance de ses fondations, c'est son humilité, sa douceur qui frappe désormais ses contemporains. Auprès de lui chacun se sent des envies de devenir saint. Il meurt, assis près du feu, en murmurant le secret de sa vie: "Confiance! Jésus!".
- Le Pape François rend hommage à saint Vincent de Paul dans un message adressé aux membres de l'Association internationale des Charités, à l'occasion des 400 ans des premières Confréries de Charité, le 15 mars 2017. (Le Pape encourage une 'culture de la miséricorde' à la suite de saint Vincent de Paul)
- Saint Vincent de Paul (1581 - 1660) est un géant de la charité. Sa vie est une synthèse de la prière et de l'action. Elle se résume en un triptyque:
+ Une riche spiritualité propre à approfondir notre foi.
+ Une vie toute donnée à Dieu et aux pauvres.
+ Un amour profond pour le sacerdoce et la mission. Car "l'Amour est
inventif jusqu'à l'infini!"
(Diocèse d'Aire et Dax - saints et martyrs landais - l'Église dans les Landes)
- Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) Monsieur Vincent, géant de la charité, nous échappera toujours et ne se laissera pas appréhender facilement. Mais il nous dit avec son air malicieux de gascon: «le temps change tout». Alors, que nous dit-il, 350 ans après et toujours vivant? Figures de sainteté - site de l'Eglise catholique en France
- "A Saintes précisément, il établit aussi la Congrégation de la Mission.
De nombreuses lettres qu'il adressa au supérieur de la maison sont conservées :
à Louis Thibault, Claude Dufour, Pierre Watebled et surtout Louis Rivet. Elles
témoignent du soin extrême que Monsieur Vincent apporte au déroulement des
missions dans nos régions charentaises." (diocèse de La Rochelle Saintes -
Saint Vincent de Paul)
- En 1885, le pape Léon XIII le déclare «patron de toutes les œuvres charitables»... Saint Vincent de Paul (1581-1660)... (diocèse de Paris)
- ...saint Vincent de Paul devient pour quelques mois curé de Châtillon sur Chalaronne. C'est là qu'il fonde les dames de la Charité, dont le règlement a été conservé dans la chambre qu'il occupait... (Diocèse de Belley-Ars - 2000 ans de vie chrétienne)
- Vidéo: le berceau de Saint Vincent de Paul, reportage réalisé par Le Jour du Seigneur dans un village qui porte son nom près de Dax.
- A lire: Monsieur Vincent «La vie à sauver», prix 2011 de la Bande
Dessinée Chrétienne d'Angoulême.
Un internaute brésilien nous suggère de rendre Saint Vincent de Paul patron du football, ce sport étant un maillon important de la socialisation, de la paix et de l'inclusion.
Mémoire de saint Vincent de Paul, prêtre. Rempli d'esprit sacerdotal et entièrement donné aux pauvres à Paris, il reconnaissait sur le visage de n'importe quel malheureux la face de son Seigneur ; pour retrouver la forme de l'Église primitive, éduquer le clergé à la sainteté et soulager les pauvres, il fonda la Congrégation de la Mission et, avec l'aide de sainte Louise de Marillac, la Congrégation des Filles de la Charité. Il mourut, épuisé, à Paris en 1660.
S'il s'en trouve parmi vous qui pensent qu'ils sont envoyés pour "évangéliser" les prisonniers et non pour les soulager, pour remédier à leurs besoins spirituels et non aux temporels, je réponds que nous devons les assister en toutes manières par nous et par autrui: faire cela, c'est évangéliser par paroles et par œuvres, et c'est cela le plus juste...
 Is. 40, 3.
 Ps 67, 5.
 La passion du Christ peut être comparée au couchant parce que la gloire de cet astre divin y a comme disparu et la mort du Sauveur également puisqu’elle l’a couché inanimé dans le tombeau.
 Luc. IV, 18.
 Johan. X, 14.
 Psalm. XXX, 2 1.
 Prov. XI, 3.
 Psalm. CXXV, 6.
 Prov. XXII, 9 ; Eccli. XXXI, 28.
 Apoc. X, 6.
 Ibid. XXI, 4.
 Jud. 4.
 Psalm. CXLIX, 6-9.
 Jud. 23.
 Cant. VIII, 6-7.
 Luc. XII, 40.
 Matth. VI, 33.
SOURCE : http://www.introibo.fr/19-07-St-Vincent-de-Paul
Antoine Hérisset. Prédication de saint Vincent de Paul
Saint Vincent de Paul
Lettre à Louise de
(entre 1626 et 1629)
Tâchez à vivre contente parmi vos sujets de mécontentement et honorez toujours le non-faire et l'état inconnu du Fils de Dieu. C'est là votre centre et ce qu'il demande de vous pour le présent et pour l'avenir, pour toujours. Si sa divine Majesté ne vous fait connaître, de la manière qui ne peut tromper, qu'il veut quelque autre chose de vous, ne pensez point et n'occupez point votre esprit en cette chose-là.
Saint Vincent de Paul
Lettre à Bernard
(16 mars 1644)
Au nom de Dieu, Monsieur, retranchez de vos sollicitudes les choses absentes éloignées et qui ne vous regardent pas, et appliquez tous vos soins à la discipline domestique. Le reste viendra en son temps. La grâce a ses moments. Abandonnons-nous à la providence de Dieu et gardons-nous bien de la devancer. S'il plaît à Notre-Seigneur me donner quelque consolation en notre vocation, c'est ceci : que je pense qu'il me semble que nous avons tâché de suivre en toutes choses la grande providence et que nous avons tâché de ne mettre le pied que là où elle nous a marqué.
Saint Vincent de Paul
Lettre à Claude
(18 septembre 1649)
Voilà donc un peu de patience à prendre en cette attente et de mieux mériter le bonheur d'un si saint emploi par le bon usage des moindres où vous vous êtes appliqué, qui sont néanmoins très grands, puisqu'en la maison de Dieu tout y est suprême et royal.
Saint Vincent de Paul
Détail de l'autel dédié à Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, église Saint Julien, Château-l'Évêque, Dordogne, France
Lettre à un prêtre
de la Mission
qui veut quitter la congrégation sous la pression
affective de son père (probablement de 1649)
Je connais l'état d'anxiété dans lequel vous a mis la lettre que votre père vous a écrite pour vous presser de venir l'assister. En conséquence, je suis obligé de vous dire ce que je pense :
1° Qu'il y a grand mal à briser le lien par lequel vous vous êtes attaché à Dieu dans la Compagnie ;
2° Que, en perdant votre vocation, vous priverez Dieu des services appréciables qu'Il attend de vous ;
3° Que vous serez responsable devant le trône de Sa justice pour le bien que vous ne ferez pas et que, neanmoins vous auriez pu faire en restant dans l'état où vous êtes maintenant ;
4° Que vous risquerez votre salut dans la société de vos parents et ne leur apporterez sans doute pas le réconfort qu'ils désirent, pas plus que d'autres qui nous ont quittés sous ce prétexte ne l'ont fait, car Dieu ne l'a pas permis ;
5° Que Notre-Seigneur, connaissant le mal qui résulte de la fréquentation de la société des parents pour ceux qui les ont quittés pour Le suivre, ne désire pas, comme nous le dit l'Evangile, qu'un de ses disciples l'abandonne pour ensevelir son père, ou vende ses biens afin de les donner aux pauvres.
6° Que vous donneriez le mauvais exemple à vos confrères, et seriez une source de chagrin pour la Compagnie, du fait de la perte d'un de ses enfants qu'elle aime et qu'elle a éduqué avec le plus grand soin.
Tel est, Monsieur, ce à quoi je désire que vous réfléchissiez devant Dieu. Vous invoquez, comme motif, pour vous retirer, le besoin qu'a votre père de vos soins. Mais il est essentiel de connaître les circonstances qui, selon les casuistes, obligent les enfants à quitter leur communauté. Quant à moi, je pense que c'est seulement valable quand les pères ou les mères subissent des afflictions naturelles et non les fluctuations de leur condition sociale, comme, par exemple, lorsqu'ils sont très vieux ou lorsque, par suite de quelque infirmité, ils ne peuvent plus gagner leur pain. Or ce n'est pas le cas de votre père qui n'a que quarante ou quarante-cinq ans, qui se porte parfaitement bien, qui est capable de travailler et qui, en fait, travaille. Autrement, il ne se serait pas remarié, comme il l'a fait tout récemment avec une jeune femme de dix-huit ans, une des plus belles personnes de la ville. Il me l'a dit lui-même afin que je puisse donner à cette dernière une introduction auprès de la Princesse de Longueville pour s'occuper de son fils. Je crois qu'il n'est pas très à l’aise, mais qui ne souffre, de nos jours, de la misère des temps ? En outre, ce n'est pas la détresse qui l'oblige à vous rappeler, car elle n'est pas, en fait, très grande, c'est seulement l'appréhension qu'il en a par manque de confiance en Dieu, quoique jusqu'à présent il n'ait manqué de rien et qu'il aurait toute raison d'espérer en la bonté de Dieu qui ne l'abandonnera jamais.
Vous pensez sans doute que c'est par votre entremise que Dieu désire en réalité l'aider et que pour cette raison Sa Providence vous offre une cure valant six cents livres par l'entremise de cet excellent homme. Mais vous verrez qu'il n'en est pas ainsi si vous considérez seulement deux choses : d'abord que Dieu vous ayant appelé à un état de vie qui honore celui de Son Fils sur terre et qui est si utile à votre prochain, ne peut désirer vous en retirer au moment présent afin d'aller prendre soin d'une famille qui vit dans le monde, qui ne cherche que son propre confort, qui vous importunera continuellement, qui vous accablera de difficultés et de désagréments, si vous ne pouvez la satisfaire. D'autre part, il est incroyable que votre père ait reçu pour vous la promesse d'une cure valant 600 livres l'an, étant donné que celles du diocèse de Bruges sont les plus pauvres du royaume. Mais, même si cela était vrai, combien resterait-il après en avoir déduit votre entretien ?
Je ne vous dis pas cela par crainte que la tentation puisse avoir raison de vous ; non, je connais votre fidélité envers Dieu ; mais afin que vous puissiez écrire une fois pour toutes à votre père et lui dire vos motifs de suivre la volonté de Dieu plutôt que la sienne. Croyez-moi, Monsieur, sa disposition naturelle est de telle sorte qu'elle vous donnera très peu de repos lorsque vous serez auprès de lui, pas plus qu'elle ne vous en donne maintenant alors que vous en êtes éloigné. Les tourments qu'il a causés à votre pauvre sœur qui est auprès de Mademoiselle Le Gras, sont inimaginables. Il veut qu'elle abandonne le service de Dieu et de Ses pauvres, comme s'il devait recevoir d'elle une aide considérable. Vous savez qu'il est d'un tempérament naturellement inquiet et cela à un point tel que tout ce qu'il a lui déplaît, et tout ce qu'il n'a pas excite en lui de violentes convoitises. Finalement, le plus grand bien que vous puissiez lui faire est de prier Dieu pour lui, gardant pour vous cette seule chose nécessaire qui sera un jour votre récompense et fera descendre sur vos parents les bénédictions divines. Je prie de tout mon cœur pour que la grâce de Notre-Seigneur soit avec vous.
Saint Vincent de Paul
 Anne Geneviève de Bourbon, dite Mademoiselle de Bourbon, fille de Henri II de Bourbon, prince de Condé, et sœur du grand Condé (Louis II) et du prince de Conti (Armand). Née au château de Vincennes le 27 août 1619, elle épousa (2 juin 1646) Henri II d’Orléans, duc de Longueville, d’Estouville et de Coulommiers, prince souverain de Neufchâtel et de Valengin, comte de Dunois, Tancarville et Saint-Paul, pair et prince du sang de France (1595-1663). Elle mourut le 15 avril 1679 à Paris, au couvent des Carmélites du faubourg Saint-Jacques où elle fut inhumée. Après s’être beaucoup agitée pendant la Fronde et avoir fait scandale pour ses liaisons avec La Rochefoucauld et Turenne, elle fit pénitence aux Carmélites du faubourg Saint-Jacques.
 Sainte Louise de Marillac, née le 12 août 1591, à Ferrières-en-Brie, est la fille naturelle de Louis de Marillac, enseigne d’une compagnie de gendarmes aux ordonnances du Roi (nièce du chancelier Michel de Marillac et du maréchal Louis de Marillac). Elle épouse Antoine Le Gras, secrétaire des commandements de Marie de Médicis, écuyer, homme de bonne vie, fort craignant Dieu et exact à se rendre irréprochable (6 février 1613). Antoine Le Gras n’étant pas noble, on ne lui dira pas Madame, mais, comme à une bourgeoise de ces temps-là, Mademoiselle. Après la mort de son mari (21 décembre 1625), elle fait vœu de viduité et mène dans le monde une vie toute religieuse où elle conjugue à un règlement très strict, la prière et le secours des pauvres, sans cesser d'être attentive à l'éducation de son fils. Elle s’installe rue Saint-Victor, près du collège des Bons-Enfants que Mme. de Gondi vient de donner à Vincent de Paul qui l’emploie dans les Charités, ces groupements de dames et de filles pour l’assistance des malades dans les paroisses et les visites à domicile. En 1628, lorsque son fils est entré au séminaire Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, elle dispose de davantage de temps pour se consacrer aux œuvres et Vincent de Paul la charge de surveiller les Charités, de modifier leur règlement et de visiter celles des provinces. Elle persuade Vincent de Paul que les Dames associées ne peuvent rendre aux malades les services pénibles qu’exige leur état, et qu’il faut songer à réunir des personnes zélées pour se dévouer entièrement à l’œuvre sans autres devoirs et préoccupations au dehors. C’est ainsi que naissent les Filles de la Charité.
La grâce de Notre-Seigneur soit toujours avec vous ! Je n’ai jamais vu une femme comme vous pour prendre certains événements au tragique. Vous dites que le choix de votre fils est une manifestation de la justice de Dieu à votre égard. Vous avez certainement tort d’entretenir de pareilles idées et plus encore de les exprimer. Je vous ai souvent prié de ne point parler de la sorte.
Au nom de Dieu, Mademoiselle, corrigez cette faute et apprenez une fois pour toutes que les pensées amères procèdent du démon, les douces et aimables de Notre-Seigneur. Souvenez-vous aussi que les fautes des enfants ne sont pas toujours imputables à leurs parents, spécialement lorsqu’ils les ont fait bien instruire et qu’ils leur ont donné le bon exemple, comme, grâce à Dieu, vous l’avez fait. En outre, Notre-Seigneur, dans sa merveilleuse Providence, permet aux enfants de briser le cœur de leurs pieux parents. Celui d’Ahraham le fut par Ismaël et celui d’Isaac par Esaü, celui de Jacob par la plupart de ses enfants, celui de David par Absalon, celui de Salomon par Roboam et celui du Fils de Dieu par Judas.
Je puis vous dire que votre fils a dit à Fr. de la Salle qu’il n’embrassait cette carrière que parce que c’était votre désir, qu’il aurait préféré mourir que de le faire et qu’il ne prendrait les ordres mineurs que pour vous plaire. Eh bien ! Est-ce là vraiment une vocation ? Je suis certain qu’il aimerait mieux mourir lui-même que vous faire mourir de déplaisir. Quoiqu’il en soit, sa volonté n’est pas libre dans le choix d’une carrière si importante et vous ne devriez pas le désirer envers et contre tout. Il y a quelque temps de cela, un excellent jeune homme de cette ville entra comme sous-diacre dans des conditions à peu près similaires, il n’a pas été capable de poursuivre jusqu’aux ordres superieurs ; désirez-vous exposer votre fils aux mêmes dangers ? Laissez-le suivre la voie que Dieu lui suggérera ; Il est son père plus que vous n’êtes sa mère, et Il l’aime plus que vous ne l’aimez. Laissez-Le en décider. Il pourra l’appeler une autre fois si telle est Sa volonté, ou lui donner quelque autre emploi qui le mènera à son salut. Je me souviens d’un prêtre qui se trouvait ici et qui avait été ordonné tout en ayant l’esprit très anxieux ; Dieu seul sait ce qu’il est devenu !
Je vous prie de faire votre prière en pensant à la femme de Zébédée à qui Notre-Seigneur répondit, lorsqu’elle voulait établir ses fils : « Vous ne savez Pas ce que vous demandez ».
Saint Vincent de Paul
A Metz, ce 12 janvier 1658
J'ai appris de M. de Champin la charité que vous aviez pour ce pays, qui vous obligeait à y envoyer une mission considérable ; que vous l'aviez proposé à la Compagnie , et que vous et tous ces Messieurs aviez eu assez bonne opinion de moi pour croire que je m'emploierais volontiers à une œuvre si salutaire. Sur l'avis qu'il m'en a donné, je le supliais de vous assurer que je n'omettrais rien de ma part, pour y coopérer dans toutes les choses dont on me jugerait capable. Et comme Monseigneur l'évêque d'Auguste et moi devions faire un petit voyage à Paris, je le priais aussi de savoir le temps de l'arrivée de ces Messieurs, afin que nous pussions prendre nos mesures sur cela ; jugeant bien l'un et l'autre que nous serions fort coupables devant Dieu, si nous abandonnions la moisson dans le temps où sa bonté souveraine nous envoie des ouvriers si fidèles et si charitables. Je ne sais, Monsieur, par quel accident je n'ai reçu aucune réponse à cette lettre : mais je ne suis pas fâché que cette occasion se présente de vous renouveler mes respects, en vous assurant avant toutes choses de l'excellente disposition en laquelle est Monseigneur l'évêque d'Auguste pour coopérer à cette œuvre.
Pour ce qui me regarde, Monsieur, je me reconnais fort incapable d'y rendre le service que je voudrais bien : mais j'espère de la bonté de Dieu que l'exemple de tant de saints ecclésiastiques, et les leçons que j'ai autrefois apprises en la Compagnie , me donneront de la force pour agir avec de si bons ouvriers, si je ne puis rien de moi-même. Je vous demande la grâce d'en assurer la Compagnie, que je salue de tout mon cœur en Notre-Seigneur, et la prie de me faire part de ses oraisons et saints sacrifices.
S'il y a quelque chose que vous jugiez ici nécessaire pour la préparation des esprits, je recevrai de bon cœur et exécuterai fidèlement, avec la grâce de Dieu, les ordres que vous me donnerez. Je suis, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur,
Bossuet, prêtre, grand-archidiacre de Metz
 La Reine mère ayant fait en 1657 un voyage à Metz, fut sensiblement touchée du triste état de cette ville. De retour à Paris, elle témoigna à saint Vincent de Paul, qu'elle honorait de sa confiance, le désir qu'elle aurait de faire instruire son peuple de Metz ; et pour cet effet, il fut conclu que saint Vincent y enverrait une mission. Il en choisit les ouvriers, principalement parmi les ecclésiastiques qu'on appelait Messieurs de la Conférence des Mardis, parce qu'ils s'assemblaient ce jour-là pour conférer entre eux sur les matières ecclésiastiques. Saint Vincent avait formé cette espèce d'association, dans laquelle l'abbé Sossuet était entré. La mission fut ainsi composée de vingt prêtres d'un mérite distingé, qui avaient à leur tête M. l'abbé de Chandenier, neveu de M. le cardinal de La Rochefoucauld.
 C'était un docteur de la Conférence des Mardis.
 A Messieurs de la Conférence des Mardis.
 Il parle de la Compagnie de Messieurs de la Conférence des Mardis, dont il était membre.
RESTOUT (d'après), HERISSET (graveur), JEAURAT Edme (graveur), BONNART (dessinateur). Rencontre de Saint Vincent de Paul et de Louis XIII sur un trirème, illustraion de la nomination de saint Vincent de Paul comme aumonier royal des galères, vers 1740, Musées départementaux de la Haute-Saône
A Metz, ce 1er février 1658.
J'ai été extrêmement consolé que celui de vos prêtres qui est venu ici ait été M. de Monchy : mais j'ai beaucoup de déplaisir qu'il y ait fait si peu de séjour. Il pourra, Monsieur, vous avoir appris que les lettres de la Reine ont été reçues avec le respect dû à Sa Majesté, et que M. l'évêque d'Auguste et M. de la Contour ont fait leur devoir en cette rencontre.
Je rends compte à M. de Monchy de l'état des choses depuis son départ ; et je me remets à lui à vous en instruire, pour ne pas vous importuner par des redites : mais je me sens obligé, Monsieur, à vous informer d'une chose qui s'est passée ici depuis quelque temps, et qui sera bientôt portée à la Cour.
Une servante catholique, qui est décédée chez un huguenot, marchand considérable et accommodé, a été étrangement violentée dans sa conscience. Il est contant par la propre déposition de son maître, qu'elle avait fait toute sa vie profession de la religion catholique : il paraît même certain qu'elle avait communié peu de temps avant que de tomber malade. Elle n'a jamais été aux prêches, ni n'a fait aucun exercice de la religion prétendue réformée. Son maître préten que cinq jours avant sa mort elle a changé de religion : Il lui a fait, dit-il, venir de sministres pour recevoir sa déclaration, sans avoir appelé à cette action ni le curé, ni li magistrat, ni aucun catholique qui pût rendre témoignage du fait. Le jour que cette pauvre fille mourut, un jésuite averti par un des voisins de la violence qu'on lui faisait, se présente pour la consoler. On lui refuse l'entrée ; et il est certain qu'elle était vivante. Il retourne quelque temps après avec l'ordre d magistrat, et il la trouve décédée dan cet intervalle. Tous ces faits sont constants et avérés : il y a même des indices si forts qu'elle a demandé un prêtre, et les parties ont si fort varié dans leur réponses sur ce sujet-mà, que cela peut passer pour certain.
Je ne vous exagère pas, Monsieur, ni les circonstances de cette affaire, ni de quelle conséquence elle est ; vous le voyez assez de vous-m^me, et quelle est l'imprudence de ceux qui, ayant reçu par grâce du Roi la liberté de conscience dans son Etat, la ravissent dans leurs maisons à ses sujets leurs serviteurs. Certainement cela crie vengeance : cependant les ministres et le consistoire soutiennent cette entreprise ; et M. de la Contour m'a dit aujourd'hui qu'un député de ces Messieurs avait bien eu le front de lui dire que cet homme n'avait rien fait sans ordre. Bien plus, ils ont ajouté qu'ils allaient se plaindre à la Cour, de la procédure qui a été faite par le lieutenant-général : le tout sans doute à dessein, Monsieur, d'évoquer l'affaire au conseil, afin de la tirer du lieu où l'on en a plus connaissance, et de l'asoupir par la longueur du temps. Dieu ne permettra pas que leur mauvais dessein réussisse ; et je vous supplie, Monsieur, d'employer en cette rencontre tous les moyens que vous avez, pour empêcher qu'on n'écoute pas ces députations séditieuses, et faire que les choses demeurent dans le cours ordinaire de la justice, selon lequel ils ne peuvent pas éviter d'être châtiés de cet attentat contre les édits et la liberté des consciences. La Reine étant en cette ville, a témoigné tant de piété et tant de zèle pour la religion, que je ne doute pas qu'étant avertie de cette entreprise, elle ne veuille que la justice en soit faite.
Outre cela, Monsieur, le roi leur ayant accordé, de grâce, deux pédagogues pour leurs enfants, à condition que ces maîtres seraient catholiques, ils vont demander des gages pour eux. Cela n'a ni justice ni apparence, et ils veulent en charger cette pauvre ville. Mais comme il savent qu'apparemment on ne leur accordera pas leur demande, je me trompe bien fort si leur dessein n'est d'obtenir, que si on ne veut pas les gager, on leur donne la liberté de les mettre tels qu'il leur plaira, et par conséquent de leur religion. La riene seule empêcha ici qu'on ne leur donnât bon dessein. Je ne vous dis pas, Monsieur, maintenant ce que vous avez à faire sur ce sujet : c'est assez que vous soyez averti ; Dieu vous inspirera le reste. J'attends avec impatience les excellents ouvriers qu'il nous envoie par votre moyen ; et suis, avec un respect très profond, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur,
Bossuet, prêtre ind.
Nous savons par expérience que les fruits des missions sont très grands, parce que les besoins des pauvres gens des champs sont extrêmes, constatait par expérience saint Vincent de Paul. Ces fruits si abondants sont-ils durables ? Or les missions ne sont souvent que des feux de paille qui s'éteignent dès que les missionnaires ont disparu : Les évangélisés, dit encore M. Vincent, oublient facilement les connaissances qu'on leur a données et les bonnes résolutions qu'ils ont prises, s'ils n'ont de bons pasteurs qui les entretiennent dans le bon état où on les a mis ; les missions seront toujours fragiles et passagères, si l'action des missionnaires n'est pas soutenue par l'action du Clergé, parce que, souligne-t-il, la déprévation ecclésiastique est la cause principale de la ruine de l'Eglise. .. Si un bon prêtre peut faire beaucoup de grands biens, oh ! qu'un mauvais prêtre apporte de mal. Le succès même des missions qu’il engagea posait le problème de la réforme du Clergé, et c'est de l'expérience des missions que sont nés les exercices d'ordinands pour préparer les futurs prêtres aux saints ordres.
Bossuet suivit ces exercices et fut un si bon élève que, dans les quatre dernières années de la vie de saint Vincent de Paul, il les prêcha. Quand il rencontra saint Vincent de Paul, Bossuet qui avait vingt-cinq ans, regarda cette rencontre comme l'élément capital de sa jeunesse, tant il y gagna spirituellement ; son art oratoire bénéficia des conseils d'un homme qui n'avait certes pas son talent, mais qui, d'instinct ennemi de la rhétorique sacrée, lui apprit à éviter ce que M. Vincent appelait les périodes carrées, l'éloquence cathédrante, le ton déclamatoire et chantant . Dans une lettre adressée au pape Clément XI, Bossuet écrira : Quand attentifs, nous l'écoutions parler dans quelque conférence, nous sentions s'accomplir en lui ce mot de l'apôtre : Si quelqu'un parle, que ses paroles soient comme des paroles de Dieu.
Convaincu que huit jours à dix jours de retraite, sont bien peu de chose pour se préparer au sacerdoce, saint Vincent de Paul partageait cette conviction avec le cardinal de Richelieu, et grâce à leur collaboration, on obéit enfin au décret Cum adolescentium aetas publié en 1563 par le Concile de Trente qui n'avait reçu en France qu’un commencement d'exécution. En accord avec saint Vincent de Paul qu’il estimait au plus haut point, le cardinal de Richelieu pratiquait avec obstination la politique de l'unité française si compromise par les guerres de religion, et s’il voulait la conversion des protestants, il n’entendait pas les convertir par la force : les voies les plus douces, disait-il, sont celles qu'il estime les plus convenables pour tirer les âmes de l'erreur, l'expérience nous faisant connaître que souvent aux maladies de l'esprit les remèdes ne servent qu'à les aigrir davantage.
Saint Vincent de Paul représentant au Cardinal que, dans le diocèse de Luçon, il y a quantité d'hérétiques faute d'avoir jamais ouÏ parler de Dieu dans l'Eglise catholique, lui montra la nécessité d'établir des séminaires ; Richelieu l'exhorta à ouvrir un établissement et, pour l'y encourager, lui envoya mille écus, avec quoi M. Vincent ouvrit le collège des Bons-Enfants (février 1642), en même temps qu'il créait pour les jeunes clercs le Petit Saint-Lazare. En 1647, saint Vincent de Paul proposa à l'évêque de Dax, Jacques Desclaux, la fondation d'une maison pour la formation des clercs : Si vous, Monseigneur, ordonnez que nul ne sera reçu aux saints ordres, qui n'ait passé six mois pour le moins dans votre séminaire, dans quinze ans vous aurez la consolation de voir que votre clergé aura changé de face.
Toute la vie religieuse en dépend et, dans son Encyclique sur le sacerdoce, le Pape Pie XI cite saint Vincent de Paul : Nous avons beau penser, affirmait l'aimable saint de la charité, saint Vincent de Paul, nous trouverons toujours que nous n'aurons jamais pu contribuer à quelque chose de plus grand qu'à faire un bon prêtre.
A la misère du peuple il a fait don de la Fille de charité.
A la misère du clergé il a fait don des Prêtres de la Mission et des Séminaires.
Quel est le don le plus merveilleux ? C'est aux yeux de la foi, le don d'un prêtre selon le coeur du Christ.
Ecoutons saint Vincent : Le caractère des prêtres est une participation du sacerdoce du Fils de Dieu... C'est un caractère tout divin et incomparable, une puissance sur le corps de Jésus-Christ que les Anges adorent et un pouvoir de remettre les péchés des hommes.
Contribuer à former de bons ecclésiastiques, c'est l'ouvrage le plus difficile, le plus relevé, le plus important. Et ici nous retrouvons la spiritualité de saint Vincent : Former des prêtres c'est imiter le Christ qui pendant sa vie mortelle semble avoir pris à tâche de faire douze bons prêtres qui sont ses apôtres, ayant voulu pour cet effet demeurer plusieurs années avec eux pour les instruire et pour les former à ce divin ministère.
Si, au quinzième siècle, un Vincent de Paul avait paru et réalisé cette réforme capitale du Clergé par les Séminaires, l'Eglise eût fait l'économie d'un schisme dont la Semaine d'Unité, nous rappelle chaque année le souvenir douloureux.
Extraits de la
lettre que S.S. Paul VI
adressa au Révérend Père Richard McCullen,
supérieur général de la Congrégation de la Mission,
pour le quatre centième anniversaire
de la naissance de saint Vincent de Paul
(datée du 12 mai 1981)
Voici quatre cents ans, c'était le 24 avril 1581 au village de Pouy dans les Landes, que naissait saint Vincent de Paul (…)
L'itinéraire spirituel de Vincent de Paul est fascinant. Après son ordination sacerdotale et une étrange aventure d'esclavage à Tunis, il semble tourner le dos au monde des pauvres en montant à Paris dans l'espoir d'acquérir un bénéfice ecclésiastique. Il réussit à obtenir une place de répartiteur des aumônes de la reine Marguerite. Cette charge lui fait côtoyer la misère humaine, spécialement dans le nouvel Hôpital de la Charité. C'est alors que le Père de Bérulle, fondateur de l'Oratoire en France et choisi comme guide spirituel par le jeune prêtre landais va lui donner (par une série d'initiatives apparemment peu cohérentes) l'occasion des découvertes qui seront à l'origine des grandes réalisations de sa vie. Bérulle envoie d'abord Vincent exercer les fonctions de curé dans la banlieue parisienne, à Clichy-la-Garenne. Quatre mois plus tard, il le fait venir dans la famille de Gondi comme précepteur des enfants du Général des galères. La Providence avait ses desseins. Accompagnant toujours les Gondi dans leurs châteaux et domaines de province, Vincent de Paul y fait la découverte bouleversante de la misère matérielle et spirituelle du « pauvre peuple des champs ». Dès lors, il se demande s'il a encore le droit de réserver son ministère sacerdotal à l'éducation d'enfants de bonne famille tandis que les paysans vivent et meurent dans un tel abandon religieux. Confident des inquiétudes de Vincent, Bérulle le dirige vers la cure de Châtillon-des-Dombes. Dans cette paroisse fort négligée, le nouveau pasteur fait une expérience déterminante. Appelé un dimanche d'août 1617 auprès d'une famille dont tous les membres sont malades, il entreprend d'organiser le dévouement des voisins et des gens de bonne volonté : la première « Charité », qui servira de modèle à tant d'autres, était née. Et la conviction que le service des pauvres devait être sa vie l'habitera desormais jusqu'à son dernier souffle. Ce bref rappel du « cheminement intérieur » de Vincent de Paul durant les vingt premières années de son sacerdoce nous montre un prêtre extrêmement attentif à la vie de son temps, un prêtre qui se laisse conduire par les événements ou plutôt par la Providence divine, sans « enjamber sur elle », comme il aime à le dire. Une telle disponibilité n'est-elle pas, aujourd'hui comme hier, le secret de la paix et de la joie évangéliques, la voie privilégiée de la sainteté ?
Afin de mieux servir les pauvres, Vincent voulut « s’adjoindre des ecclésiastiques libres de tous bénéfices pour pouvoir s'appliquer entièrement, sous le bon plaisir des évêques, au salut du pauvre peuple des champs, par la prédication, les catéchismes et les confessions générales, sans en prendre aucune rétribution en quelque sorte ou manière que ce soit ». Ce groupe de prêtres, rapidement appelés « lazaristes » du nom du célèbre prieuré Saint-Lazare acquis vers 1632, se développa rapidement et s'implanta dans une quinzaine de diocèses pour donner des missions paroissiales et y fonder des « Charités ». La Congrégation de la Mission s'étendit même à l'Italie, à l'Irlande, à la Pologne, à l'Algérie, à Madagascar. Vincent ne cesse d'inculquer à ses compagnons « l'esprit de Notre Seigneur », qu'il condense en cinq vertus fondamentales, la simplicité, la douceur à l'égard du prochain, l'humilité à l'égard de soi, et puis, comme conditionnement de ces trois vertus, la mortification et le zèle qui en sont en quelque sorte les aspects dynamiques. Ses exhortations à ceux qu'il envoie prêcher l'Evangile sont pleines de sagesse spirituelle et de réalisme pastoral : il ne s'agit pas d'être aimé pour soi-même, mais de faire aimer Jésus-Christ. Et en un temps où trop de prêtres mêlaient grec et latin à des sermons compliqués, il exige la simplicité, le langage imagé et convaincant, au nom de l'Evangile (…)
Vincent de Paul acquit également l'évidence que cette méthode d'évangélisation ne porterait ses fruits que s'il y avait sur place un clergé instruit et zélé. C'est ainsi que les lazaristes se consacrèrent très tôt à la formation des prêtres comme aux missions populaires et fondèrent des séminaires conformément aux appels pressants du Concile de Trente. La première retraite d'ordinands, donnée par saint Vincent lui-même en 1623 à la demande de l'évêque de Beauvais, fut le point de départ d'exercices préparatoires aux ordinations et aussi d'une certaine formation permanente du clergé grâce aux conférence ecclésiastiques du mardi à Saint-Lazare. Ces initiatives, qui enthousiasmaient M. Olier, donnèrent à l'Eglise des prêtres exemplaires, parmi lesquels plusieurs, dont le célèbre Bossuet, furent appelés à l'épiscopat. A ce clergé de Paris et de la province, Vincent de Paul communiqua son esprit évangélique et son souffle missionnaire, et il l'orienta vers la hantise de la fraternité sacerdotale et de l'entraide au service des plus pauvres, dans la dépendance filiale des évêques. Comment révéler l'amour de Dieu au monde, aimait-il répéter, si les messagers de cet amour ne sont pas très unis entre eux ? (…)
Un autre aspect du dynamisme et du réalisme de Vincent de Paul fut de donner aux « Charités », qui s'étaient multipliées, une structure d'unité et d'efficacité. Louise de Marillac, veuve d'Antoine Le Gras, d'abord initiée à la vie spirituelle par M. de Sales, guidée ensuite par M. Vincent lui-même, fut engagée par celui-ci dans l'inspection et le soutien des « Charités ». Elle y fit merveille et son rayonnement contribua beaucoup à décider plusieurs « braves filles de la campagne » qui aidaient aux « Charités » à suivre son exemple d'oblation totale à Dieu et aux pauvres. Le 29 novembre 1633, la Compagnie des Filles de la Charité voyait le jour. Et Vincent de Paul lui donnait un règlement original et fort exigeant : « Vous aurez pour monastère, la chambre des malades ; pour cellule, une chambre de louage ; pour chapelle, l'église paroissiale ; pour cloître, les rues de la ville ; pour clôture, l'obéissance ; pour grille, la crainte de Dieu ; pour voile, la sainte modestie ». L'esprit de la Compagnie est ainsi résumé : « Vous devez faire ce que le Fils de Dieu a fait sur la terre. Vous devez donner la vie à ces pauvres malades, la vie du corps et la vie de l'âme » (...)
Born to a peasant family. A highly intelligent youth, Vincent spent four years with the Franciscan friars at Acq, France getting an education. Tutor to children of a gentlemen in Acq. He began divinity studies in 1596 at the University of Toulouse. Ordained at age 20.
Returning to France, he served as parish priest near Paris where he started organizations to help the poor, nursed the sick, found jobs for the unemployed, etc. Chaplain at the court of Henry IV of France. With Louise de Marillac, founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. Instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists). Worked always for the poor, the enslaved, the abandoned, the ignored, the pariahs.
- 24 April 1581 near Ranquine, Gascony near Dax, southwest France
- the town is now known as Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, Landes, France
- 27 September 1660 at Paris, France of natural causes
- body found incorrupt when exhumed in 1712
- body defleshed by a flood; skeleton encased in a wax effigy in the house of the Vincentian fathers in Paris
- heart incorrupt; displayed in a reliquary in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity in Paris
- against leprosy
- charitable societies (given on 12 May 1885 by Pope Leo XIII)
- charitable workers
- hospital workers
- lost articles
- spiritual help
- Brothers of Charity
- Saint Vincent de Paul Societies
- Sisters of Charity
- Vincentian Service Corps
- Richmond, Virginia, diocese of
- San Vincente, Misiones, Argentina
However great the work that God may achieve by an individual, he must not indulge in self-satisfaction. He ought rather to be all the more humbled, seeing himself merely as a tool which God has made use of. – Saint Vincent de Paul
We must love our neighbor as being made in the image of God and as an object of His love. – Saint Vincent de Paul
God, to procure His glory, sometimes permits that we should be dishonored and persecuted without reason. He wishes thereby to render us conformable to His Son, who was calumniated and treated as a seducer, as an ambitious man, and as one possessed. – Saint Vincent de Paul
The Church teaches us that mercy belongs to God. Let us implore Him to bestow on us the spirit of mercy and compassion, so that we are filled with it and may never lose it. Only consider how much we ourselves are in need of mercy. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Extend your mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His Mercy from us? – Saint Vincent de Paul
The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires. – Saint Vincent de Paul
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer…. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Human nature grows tired of always doing the same thing, and it is God’s will that this because of the opportunity of practicing two great virtues. The first is perseverance, which will bring us to our goal. The other is steadfastness, which overcomes the difficulties on the way. – Saint Vincent de Paul
We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Humility and charity are the two master-chords: one, the lowest; the other, the highest; all the others are dependent on them. Therefore it is necessary, above all, to maintain ourselves in these two virtues; for observe well that the preservation of the whole edifice depends on the foundation and the roof. – Saint Vincent de Paul
As it is most certain that the teaching of Christ cannot deceive, if we would walk securely, we ought to attach ourselves to it with greatest confidence and to profess openly that we live according to it, and not to the maxims of the world, which are all deceitful. This is the fundamental maxim of all Christian perfection. – Saint Vincent de Paul
We have never so much cause for consolation, as when we find ourselves oppressed by sufferings and trials; for these make us like Christ our Lord, and this resemblance is the true mark of our predestination. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Perfection consists in one thing alone, which is doing the will of God. For, according to Our Lord’s words, it suffices for perfection to deny self, to take up the cross and to follow Him. Now who denies himself and takes up his cross and follows Christ better than he who seeks not to do his own will, but always that of God? Behold, now, how little is needed to become as Saint? Nothing more than to acquire the habit of willing, on every occasion, what God wills. – Saint Vincent de Paul
He who allows himself to be ruled or guided by the lower and animal part of his nature, deserves to be called a beast rather than a man. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Whoever wishes to make progress in perfection should use particular diligence in not allowing himself to be led away by his passions, which destroy with one hand the spiritual edifice which is rising by the labors of the other. But to succeed well in this, resistance should be begun while the passions are yet weak; for after they are thoroughly rooted and grown up, there is scarcely any remedy. – Saint Vincent de Paul
The first step to be taken by one who wishes to follow Christ is, according to Our Lord’s own words, that of renouncing himself – that is, his own senses, his own passions, his own will, his own judgement, and all the movements of nature, making to God a sacrifice of all these things, and of all their acts, which are surely sacrifices very acceptable to the Lord. And we must never grow weary of this; for if anyone having, so to speak, one foot already in Heaven, should abandon this exercise, when the time should come for him to put the other there, he would run much risk of being lost. – Saint Vincent de Paul
We ought to deal kindly with all, and to manifest those qualities which spring naturally from a heart tender and full of Christian charity; such as affability, love and humility. These virtues serve wonderfully to gain the hearts of men, and to encourage them to embrace things that are more repugnant to nature. – Saint Vincent de Paul
It ought to be considered a great misfortune, not only for individuals, but also for Houses and Congregations, to have everything in conformity with their wishes; to go on quietly, and to suffer nothing for the love of God. Yes, consider it certain that a person or a Congregation that does not suffer and is applauded by all the world is near a fall. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: “He sent me to preach the good news to the poor.” We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause. Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also love whose who love the poor. For when on person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to be understanding where they are concerned. We sympathize with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: “I have become all things to all men.” Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbors’ worries and distress. It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Among those who make profession of following the maxims of Christ, simplicity ought to be held in great esteem; for, among the wise of this world there is nothing more contemptible or despicable than this. Yet it is a virtue most worthy of love, because it leads us straight to the Kingdom of God, and, at the same time, wins for us the affection of men; since one who is regarded as upright, sincere, and an enemy to tricks and fraud is loved by all, even by those who only seek from morning till night to cheat and deceive others. – Saint Vincent de Paul
- “Saint Vincent de Paul“. CatholicSaints.Info. 21 April 2020. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/saint-vincent-de-paul/>
Kath. Pfarrkirche hl. Vinzenz mit Kapelle der Barmherzigkeit
Conformity to the Divine Will is a most powerful means to overcome every temptation, to eradicate every imperfection, and to preserve peace of heart. It is a most efficacious remedy for all ills, and the treasure of the Christian. It includes in itself in an eminent degree mortification, abnegation, indifference, imitation of Christ, union with God and in general all the virtues, which are not Virtues at all, except as they are in conformity with the will of God, the origin and rule of all perfection. – Saint Vincent de Paul
Saint Vincent de Paul was himself so much attached to this virtue that it might be called his characteristic and principal one, or a kind of general virtue which spreads its influence over all the rest, which aroused all his feelings and all his powers of mind and body and was the mainspring of all his actions. If he placed himself in the presence of God in his prayers or other exercises, his first impulse was to say with Saint Paul, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” If he was very attentive in consulting and hearkening to God, and showed great circumspection in distinguishing between true inspirations proceeding from the Holy Spirit and false ones which come from the devil or from nature, this was in order to recognize the will of God with greater certainty and be in a better position to execute it. And, finally, if he rejected so resolutely the maxims of the world and attached himself solely to those of the Gospel, if he renounced himself so perfectly; if he embraced crosses with so much affection, and gave himself up to do and suffer all for God – this, too, was to conform himself more perfectly to the whole will of his Divine Lord.
The blessed Jacopone being astonished that he no longer felt any disturbances and evil impulses, as he did at first, heard an interior voice saying: “This comes from your having wholly abandoned yourself to the Divine Will, and being content with all it does.”
- An Unknown Italian. “4 December“. , 1891. CatholicSaints.Info. 10 November 2019. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/a-year-with-the-saints-4-december/>
Congregation of the Mission
Work for the poor
Dégert, Antoine. "St. Vincent de Paul." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 Sept. 2015 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15434c.htm>.
Is there any saint more popular than Saint Vincent of Paul! By popular I mean loved by the people. His name stands for Christian kindness, for active charity. You see the picture of a benevolent old priest with a baby waif in his arms and you say at once: “Ah, Saint Vincent of Paul.” Of course, every one knows him, and if they did not they would at least be acquainted with his spiritual daughters, a Congregation which has spread all over the world, Sisters with large flapping bonnets, looking like white birds of passage. They are found in the battlefield, in the hospitals, in the hovels, in the poor schools, in the workroom, in the reformatory, and they have made the name of their Founder a word of exchange for charity.
Vincent of Paul was a peasant of Gascony; his father cultivated a little farm, and Vincent and his brothers tended the sheep and drove the plough. But as the boy showed unmistakable signs of a vocation to the priesthood, he was sent to school, from thence to the University, and then was ordained priest in 1600.
From this point Vincent’s life reads like a romance, and brings forcibly to our minds the perilous times in which he lived. Travelling from Marseilles to Narbonne, he was seized by Mahometan pirates, carried a captive to Barbary, and exposed for sale in the slave market at Tunis. There this priest of God was examined, overhauled, handled like an animal, and sold for the worth of his muscles. A fisherman bought him, but sold him again, as the Gascon peasant could not bear the sea. His next master was a doctor who had spent fifty years in search of the philosopher’s stone. He was a kind man, and soon learned to love his gentle slave. He gave him lectures in alchemy, made him tempting offers of riches, friendship, and domestic happiness if he would renounce Christ and swear to the Koran. At the end of a year the old doctor died, and Vincent was again in the market. This time he was bought by a renegade Christian, who sent him to labor in the fields. With the spade in his hand and the hot African sun overhead Vincent sang Gascon canticles and the Salve Regina. His audience were the dumb beasts, the birds of the air – and none other. The renegade’s wife used to come to listen to his singing, and in her talks with the saint was fascinated with his doctrine. She upbraided her husband for his infidelity to his God, and so wrought upon the poor sinner, that, with Vincent’s help, she persuaded him to fly from temptation, leave Africa, and begin a new life. In Vincent’s company he embarked in a frail vessel and landed safely at Aigues-Mortes. Thence, the penitent went to Rome, and lived and died a fervent Brother of Saint John of God.
Vincent journeyed alone to Paris, and lived as chaplain with a gentleman. But his trials were not yet ended. A theft was committed in the house and Vincent was accused. For six years he bore the slander with sweet patience. Then the thief confessed and Vincent was acquitted. From that time forth the saint’s wonderful virtue seems to have been recognized by those amongst whom he lived. He entered the household of the Count de Joigny, and left it only to devote himself more exclusively to the poor, whom he passionately loved. He founded a Congregation of secular priests, who take simple vows and dedicate themselves and all their powers to their own sanctification and that of their neighhors. They give themselves up to the training of priests in seminaries, to the giving of missions, and to parish work of all kinds. During the Founder’s life twenty-five Houses of the Congregation were founded. Besides this great work,Vincent set on foot in- numerable charities of the most extensive kind; foundling hospitals were built, the sick and the fallen were helped with untiring charity, funds for the terrible war waging in the south were collected. Thousands and thousands of pounds passed through Vincent’s hands. He, the poor farmer’s son, dispensed princely sums to needy soldiers, orphaned children, and widowed mothers. We, who need money so much for our good works, what can we make of this prodigy? We sigh as we look at our empty hands, and say: “If only we had money!” Ah! I think if we have the right heart, the prayerful mind, the trust in God, and a good cause, our Lord will not hold us back for a paltry sum. What is gold to Him? He will give it if we will prove ourselves worthy stewards. No; it is not money we want so much as the burning zeal for souls, the mortification of self, the heart united to God, Dear great-hearted saint! teach us thy secrets – the confidence that asks aright, the patience that waits, the courage that dares.
At eighty years of age, when his back was bent and his pace was slow and his eye dim, Vincent rose at four every morning and spent the first three hours of the morning in prayer. Is not this a voucher for his early years and his later prime? We do not acquire such habits in old age; they are got in the vigor of youth. Vincent knew the necessity of prayer, and could find no time in the day, so he stole the hours of the night and drew strength as well as refreshment from Our Lord Himself.
One day when the saint was eighty-five he was found dead in his chair – gone home noiselessly, sweetly; home, to be met by thousands whom he had helped and comforted in this life; to be met by Him Who said: “What you do for the least of these. My brethren, you do unto Me.” Saint Vincent of Paul, pray for us!
- Father James J McGovern. “Saint Vincent of Paul, 19 July”. , 1906. CatholicSaints.Info. 31 October 2019. Web. 27 September 2020. <http://catholicsaints.info/book-of-saints-/>
Died A.D. 1660.
What land has not been blessed by the labors, what person has not heard of the Sister of Charity? –
“Who once was a lady of
honor and wealth;
Bright glowed on her features the roses of health;
Her vesture was blended of silk and of gold.
And her motion shook perfume from every fold;
Joy revelled around her, love shone at her side,
And gay was her smile as the glance of a bride,
And light was her step in the mirth-sounding hall,
When she heard of the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul.”
But now –
pestilence scatters his breath,
Like an angel she moves ‘mid the vapor of death;
Where rings the loud musket and flashes the sword,
Unfearing she walks for she follows the Lord.
How sweetly she bends o’er each plague-tainted face
With looks that are lighted with holiest grace!
How kindly she dresses each suffering limb,
For she sees in the wounded the image of Him!”
The noble woman, the Daughter of Charity whose heroism is thus pictured by the poet’s pen, honors Vincent de Paul as the father and founder of her society. Let us glance at the career of that immortal benefactor of humanity.
He was born at a little village in the south of France, not far from the shadow of the famous Pyrenees Mountains, in the year of 1576. His parents were good, simple, country people, who owned a small farm. Vincent was the third of a family of four sons and two daughters, who were brought up in innocence and inured to hard labor. He was a bright, thoughtful boy, and gave such early promise of greatness that his father, at much sacrifice, determined to give him a superior education.
But after some time he resolved to be no longer a burden to his poor parents, and, with that manly energy which usually accompanies true genius, he took the matter into his own hands. At twenty years of age we find Vincent entering the University of Toulouse, where, after a long course of study, he graduated Bachelor of Theology. He was raised to the dignity of priesthood in 1600.
The young priest was already a man of virtue and learning; but he had not yet finished his studies. He was shortly to become well versed in a new science. By a very rugged road he was soon to reach the mountain-heights of virtue. As gold through a furnace, so Vincent was to pass through the fire of affliction.
In 1605 the Saint was called to Marseilles on business, and while crossing the Gulf of Lyons on his way back the boat was captured by African pirates. A few of the prisoners were killed; the others were put in chains. Vincent and some companions were carried to Tunis, and placed for sale in the slave market.
Mahometan merchants came to look at the unfortunate captives as they would at oxen or horses. They examined who could eat well, looked at their teeth, felt their sides, probed their wounds, forced them to lift burdens and wrestle, and made them run up and down a given space – all to judge of their strength.
Vincent was bought by a fisherman, who soon sold him to an old physician, at whose death he again changed masters. The poor priest finally fell into the hands of a renegade Christian, whom he converted after a time. They made their escape together, crossed the Mediterranean Sea in a little boat, and, after many adventures, landed near Marseilles in the Summer of 1607. The converted apostate became a true penitent, and passed the remainder of his days in a severe monastery at Rome.
Paris was now to be the chief field of our Saint’s labors – a field where his zeal was to be blessed with the glory of marvellous success. The slave was to become the counsellor of bishops and princes. But the holy toiler began to labor in an obscure corner. Near the gay capital of France there was a parish so miserably poor that for years no pastor could be found to take charge of it. It was Clichy. At his own request Vincent was placed over this forsaken district. Soon there was a great change. We are told that under his rule the people of Clichy “lived like angels.” He built a new church, and left everything in a flourishing condition when, at the advice of Cardinal De Berulle, he became preceptor to the noble family of De Gondi.
It was while in this position that an incident is related of the Saint’s firmness and Christian charity. A quarrel had arisen between Count De Gondi and a nobleman of the court. It could only be settled by blood. The morning came. After De Gondi had finished a prayer in the family chapel, Vincent approached and said:
“I know on good authority that you are going to fight a duel. I declare to you in the name of my Saviour, whom you have just adored, that if you do not relinquish this wicked design He will exercise His justice upon you and all your posterity.” These words were uttered with such force and kindly earnestness that they had the desired effect. No duel was fought.
The Saint now began to devote his services to the instruction of the people in various country villages. And greatly they stood in need of it. It was chiefly to carry on this sublime work that he founded the Priests of the Congregation of the Mission. The new congregation was approved by Pope Urban VIII. in 1632. Saint Vincent lived to see twenty-five houses established.
Boundless was the zeal of this apostolic man. His kind heart went out to suffering humanity in every form He was one day returning from a mission, as he noticed in a retired spot near the walls of Paris one of those fiendish vagrants who have recourse to the most wicked schemes in order to excite compassion. The wretch was in the act of mutilating the tender limbs of an unfortunate foundling. Filled with horror and indignation, the great priest rushed towards the heartless vagabond and tore the child from his grasp. “Barbarian!” he exclaimed, “at a distance I took you for a man, but I was grievously mistaken.” He then bore away the little creature in his arms to one of those asylums which he had established for the reception of abandoned and helpless infancy.
He founded the Sisters of Charity, established hospitals for little orphans, poor old men, and galley-slaves; and he settled all these homes of mercy under such excellent regulations that they had abundant means of support.
At one time, however, the foundling asylum at Paris was about to be discontinued through want of funds. The Saint called together the charitable ladies who had hitherto kept it alive by their liberal contributions. Standing near were five hundred little orphans, born in the arms of the Sisters of Charity. It was a sight truly touching.
“Remember, ladies,” said Vincent, “that compassion and charity have caused you to adopt these little creatures as your children. You have been their mothers according to grace, since they were abandoned by their natural mothers. Now, decide whether you also will abandon them Cease to be their mothers, that you may be their judges; in your hands are their life and death. I am going to take the votes. The time has come to pronounce their sentence and to know whether you will no longer have pity on them If you continue your charitable care of them, they will live; if, on the contrary, you abandon them, they will surely die. Experience does not allow you to doubt it.”
This beautiful appeal – one of the most eloquent in the annals of oratory – was answered by tears and sobs. It gained a great victory. The good work was not abandoned.
Our Saint assisted Louis XIII at his death, which was marked by piety and resignation. The queen regent nominated him a member of the young king’s council, and consulted him on all ecclesiastical affairs. The history of the Church in France bears witness to his great and holy influence.
He made some enemies, however, in the discharge of his duties, and they basely undertook to injure him by calumny. It was maliciously whispered around that he had, in exchange for a library and a sum of money, procured a benefice for an ambitious man. The story finally came to Vincent’s ears. He was deeply affected on hearing the atrocious falsehood. His first impulse was to seize a pen in order to repel the base attack. But he threw it down, exclaiming:
“Ah! unhappy man that I am What was I about to do? What! I desire to justify myself, and I have only now heard that a Christian – falsely accused at Tunis – passed three days in torments, and at last died without a word of complaint! And I would excuse myself! No, no; it shall not be.”
He allowed the calumny to take its course, and soon it spent itself and went the way of all iniquity. Public opinion was in his favor. And, last of all, the untimely death of the slanderer was a solemn hint that God punishes the calumniator and vindicates the character of His servants sooner or later.
Under the Saint’s fatherly guidance the Priests of the Congregation of the Mission grew in number and usefulness. He was especially careful to insist on a deep, sincere humility. When two persons, famous for gifts and learning, presented themselves to be admitted into his Congregation, he gave a refusal, saying:
“Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penance, and to plant the Gospel-spirit of charity, humility, meekness, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.”
He laid it down as a rule of humility that, if possible, a man should never speak of himself – as all such references usually proceed from vanity and self-love.
The hardy frame and intrepid energy of Saint Vincent carried him to a ripe old age. In his eightieth year, however, he was seized by a violent intermittent fever. But he still bore up for a time, and to the end he was active. His last thoughts turned to his dear spiritual children, and his last words referred to them – “He who hath begun will complete the good work.” And when he gently passed away on the 27th of September, 1660, at the age of eighty-five years, the world and religion felt that a truly great man was gone – that the apostle of charity, the friend of the orphan, the cripple, the foundling, the helpless, and galley-slave was no more on this earth.
- John O’Kane Murray, M.A., M.D. “Saint Vincent de Paul, The Apostle of Charity”. , 1879. CatholicSaints.Info. 25 September 2018. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/little-lives-of-the-great-saints-saint-vincent-de-paul-the-apostle-of-charity/>
[Founder of the Lazarites, or Fathers of the Mission] Even in the most degenerate ages, when the true maxims of the gospel seem almost obliterated among the generality of those who profess it, God fails not, for the glory of his holy name, to raise to himself faithful ministers to revive the same in the hearts of many. Having, by the perfect crucifixion of the old man in their hearts, and the gift of prayer, prepared them to become vessels of his grace, he replenishes them with the spirit of his apostles that they may be qualified to conduct others in the paths of heroic virtue, in which the Holy Ghost was himself their interior Master. One of these instruments of the divine mercy was Saint Vincent of Paul. He was a native of Pouï, a village near Acqs in Gascony, not far from the Pyrenæan mountains. His parents, William of Paul and Bertranda of Morass, occupied a very small farm of which they were the proprietors, and upon the produce of which they brought up a family of four sons and two daughters. The children were brought up in innocence, and inured from their infancy to the most laborious part of country labour. But Vincent, the third son, gave extraordinary proofs of his wit and capacity, and from his infancy showed a seriousness, and an affection for holy prayer far beyond his age. He spent great part of his time in that exercise when he was employed in the fields to keep the cattle. That he might give to Christ in the persons of the poor all that was in his power, he deprived himself of his own little conveniences and necessaries for that purpose in whatever it was possible for him to retrench from his own use. This early fervent consecration of himself to God, and these little sacrifices which may be compared to the widow’s two mites in the gospel, were indications of the sincere ardour with which he began to seek God from the first opening of his reason to know and love him; and were doubtless a means to draw down upon him from the author of these graces other greater blessings. His father was determined by the strong inclinations of the child to learning and piety, and the quickness of his parts, to procure him a school education. He placed him first under the care of the Cordeliers or Franciscan friars at Acqs, paying for his board and lodging the small pension of sixty French livres, that is, not six pounds English, a year.
Vincent had been four years at the schools when Mr. Commet, a gentleman of that town, being much taken with his virtue and prudence, chose him sub-preceptor to his children, and enabled him to continue his studies without being any longer a burden to his parents. At twenty years of age, in 1596, he was qualified to go to the university of Toulouse, where he spent seven years in the study of divinity, and commenced bachelor in that faculty. In that city he was promoted to the holy orders of sub-deacon and deacon in 1598, and of priesthood in 1600, having received the tonsure and minor orders a few days before he left Acqs. He seemed already endowed with all those virtues which make up the character of a worthy and zealous minister of the altar; yet he knew not the full extent of heroic entire self-denial, by which a man becomes dead and crucified to all inordinate self-will; upon which perfect self-denial are engrafted the total sacrifice of the heart to God, perfect humility, and that purity and ardour of divine charity which constitute the saint. Vincent was a good proficient in theology and other sciences of the schools, and had diligently applied himself to the study of the maxims of Christian virtue in the gospel, in the lives of the saints, and in the doctrine of the greatest masters of a spiritual life. But there remained a new science for him to learn, which was to cost him much more than bare study and labour. This consists in perfect experimental and feeling sentiments of humility, patience, meekness, and charity; which science is only to be learned by the good use of severe interior and exterior trials. This is the mystery of the cross, unknown to those whom the Holy Ghost has not led into this important secret of his conduct in preparing souls for the great works of his grace. The prosperity of the wicked will appear at the last day to have often been the most dreadful judgment, and a state in which they were goaded on in the pursuit of their evil courses; whilst, on the contrary, it will then be manifested to all men, that the afflictions of the saints have been the greatest effects of divine mercy. Thus, by a chain of temporal disasters, did God lay in the soul of Vincent the solid foundation of that high virtue to which by his grace he afterwards raised him.
The saint went to Marseilles in 1605, to receive a legacy of five hundred crowns which had been left him by a friend who died in that city. Intending to return to Toulouse, he set out in a feluca or large boat from Marseilles to Narbonne, but was met on the way by three brigantines of African pirates. The infidels seeing the Christians refuse to strike their flag, charged them with great fury, and on the first onset killed three of their men, and wounded every one of the rest; Vincent received a shot of an arrow. The Christians were soon obliged to surrender. The first thing the Mahometans did was to cut the captain in pieces because he had not struck at the first summons, and in the combat had killed one of their men and four or five slaves. The rest they put in chains; and continued seven or eight days longer on that coast, committing several other piracies, but sparing the lives of those who made no resistance. When they had got a sufficient booty they sailed for Barbary. Upon landing they drew up an act of their seizure, in which they falsely declared that Vincent and his companions had been taken on board of a Spanish vessel, that the French consul might not challenge them. Then they gave to every slave a pair of loose breeches, a linen jerkin, and a bonnet. In this garb they were led five or six times through the city of Tunis to be shown; after which they were brought back to their vessel, where the merchants came to see them, as men do at the sale of a horse or an ox. They examined who could eat well, felt their sides, looked at their teeth to see who were of scorbutic habits of body, consequently unlikely for very long life; they probed their wounds, and made them walk and run in all paces, lift up burdens, and wrestle, to judge of their strength. Vincent was bought by a fisherman, who, finding that he could not bear the sea, soon sold him again to an old physician, a great chemist and extractor of essences, who had spent fifty years in search of the pretended philosopher’s stone. He was humane, and loved Vincent exceedingly; but gave him long lectures on his alchemy, and on the Mahometan law, to which he used his utmost efforts to bring him over; promising on that condition to leave him all his riches, and to communicate to him, what he valued much more than his estate, all the secrets of his pretended science. Vincent feared the danger of his soul much more than all the hardships of his slavery, and most earnestly implored the divine assistance against it, recommending himself particularly to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to which he ever after attributed his victory over this temptation. He lived with this old man from September 1605 to August 1606, when, by this physician’s death, he fell to the share of a nephew of his master, a true man-hater. By resignation to the divine will, and confidence in providence, he enjoyed a sweet repose in his own heart under all accidents, hardships and dangers; and by assiduous devout meditation on the sufferings of Christ, learned to bear all his afflictions with comfort and joy, uniting himself in spirit with his Divine Redeemer, and studying to copy in himself his lessons of perfect meekness, patience, silence and charity. This new master sold him in a short time to a renegado Christian who came from Nice in Savoy. This man sent him to his temat or farm situate in a hot desert mountain. This apostate had three wives, of which one, who was a Turkish woman, went often to the field where Vincent was digging, and out of curiosity would ask him to sing the praises of God. He used to sing to her with tears in his eyes, the psalm, Upon the rivers of Babylon, etc., the Salve Regina, and such like prayers. She was so much taken with our holy faith, and doubtless with the saintly deportment of the holy slave, that she never ceased repeating to her husband, that he had basely abandoned the only true religion, till, like another Caiphas, or ass of Balaam, without opening her own eyes to the faith, she made him enter into himself. Sincerely repenting of his apostacy, he agreed with Vincent to make their escape together. They crossed the Mediterranean sea in a small light boat which the least squall of wind would overset; and they landed safe at Aigues-Mortes, near Marseilles, on the 28th of June, 1607, and thence proceeded to Avignon. The apostate made his abjuration in the hands of the vice-legate, and the year following went with Vincent to Rome, and there entered himself a penitent in the austere convent of the Fate-Ben-Fratelli, who served the hospitals according to the rule of Saint John of God.
Vincent received great comfort at the sight of a place most venerable for its pre-eminence in the church, which has been watered with the blood of so many martyrs, and is honoured with the tombs of the two great apostles SS. Peter and Paul and many other saints. He was moved to tears at the remembrance of their zeal, fortitude, humility, and charity, and often devoutly visited their monuments, praying earnestly that he might be so happy as to walk in their steps, and imitate their virtues. After a short stay at Rome, to satisfy his devotion, he returned to Paris, and took up his quarters in the suburb of Saint Germain’s. There lodged in the same house a gentleman, the judge of a village near Bourdeaux, who happened to be 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 the slander six years, without making any other defence, or using harsh words or complaints, till the true thief being taken up at Bourdeaux on another account, to appease his own conscience and clear the innocent he sent for this judge, and confessed to him the crime. Saint 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; and we may be assured that providence will in its proper time justify us, if expedient.
At Paris Vincent became acquainted with the holy priest Monsieur de Berulle, who was afterwards cardinal, and at that time was taken up in founding the congregation of the French oratory. A saint readily discovers a soul in which the spirit of God reigns. Berulle conceived a great esteem for Saint Vincent from his first conversation with him; and to engage him in the service of his neighbour, he prevailed with him first to serve as curate of the parish of Clichi, a small village near Paris; and soon after to quit that employ, to take upon him the charge of preceptor to the children of Emmanuel de Gondy, count of Joigny, general of the galleys of France. His lady, Frances of Silly, a person of singular piety, was so taken with the sanctity of Vincent, that she chose him for her spiritual director and confessor. In the year 1616, whilst the Countess of Joigny was at a country seat at Folleville, in the diocess of Amiens, Vincent was sent for to the village of Gannes, two leagues from Folleville, to hear the confession of a countryman who lay dangerously ill. The zealous priest, by carefully examining his penitent, found it necessary to advise him to make a general confession, with which the other joyfully complied. The penitent by this means discovered that all his former confessions had been sacrilegious for want of a due examination of his conscience; and afterwards, bathed in tears, he declared aloud, in transports of joy before many persons, and the Countess of Joigny herself, that he should have been eternally lost if he had not spoken to Vincent. The pious lady was struck with dread and horror to hear of such past sacrileges, and to consider the imminent danger of being damned in which that poor soul had been; and she trembled lest some others among her vassals might have the misfortune to be in the like case. Far from the criminal illusion of pride by which some masters and mistresses seem persuaded that they owe no care, attention, or provision to those whose whole life is employed only to give them the fruit of their sweat and labours; she was sensible from the principles both of nature and religion, that masters or lords lie under strict ties of justice and charity towards all committed to their care; and that they are bound, in the first place, as far as it lies in their power, to see them provided with the necessary spiritual helps for their salvation. But to wave the obligation, what Christian heart can pretend to the bowels of charity, and be insensible at the dangers of such persons? The virtuous countess felt in her own breast the strongest alarms for so many poor souls, which she called her own by many titles. She therefore entreated Vincent to preach in the church of Folleville, on the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, in 1617, and fully to instruct the people in the great 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 in the Jesuits of Amiens to his assistance. The congregation of the mission dates its first institution from this time, and in thanksgiving for it, keeps the 25th of January with great solemnity.
By the advice of Monsieur de Berulle, Saint Vincent left the house of the countess in 1617, to employ his talents among the common people in the villages of Bresse, where he heard they stood in great need of instruction. He prevailed upon five other zealous priests to bear him company, and with them formed a little community in the parish of Chatillon in that province. He there converted by his sermons the Count of Rougemont and many others from their scandalous unchristian lives to a state of eminent penance and fervour, and in a short time changed the whole face of the country. The good countess, his patroness, was infinitely pleased with his success, and gave him sixteen thousand livres to found a perpetual mission among the common people in the place and manner he should think fit. But she could not be easy herself whilst she was deprived of his direction and advice; she therefore employed Monsieur de Berulle, and her brother-in-law, Cardinal de Retz, to prevail with him to come to her, and extorted 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 farmers. This project they proposed to their brother, John Francis of Gondi, the first archbishop of Paris, and he gave the college of Bons Enfans for the reception of the new community. All things being agreed on, Saint Vincent took possession of this house in April, 1625. The count and countess gave forty thousand French livres to begin the foundation.
Saint Vincent attended the countess till her pious death, which happened on the 23d of June the same year; after which he joined his Congregation. He drew up for it certain rules or constitutions, which were approved by Pope Urban VIII in 1632. King Lewis XIII. confirmed the establishment by letters patent, which he granted in May the same year; and, in 1633, the regular canons of Saint Victor gave to this new institute the priory of Saint Lazarus, which being a spacious building was made the chief house of the Congregation, and from it the Fathers of the Mission were often called Lazarites or Lazarians. They are not religious men, but a Congregation of secular priests, who after two years’ probation make four simple vows, of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. They devote themselves to labour, in the first place, in sanctifying their own souls by the particular holy exercises prescribed in their institute; secondly, in the conversion of sinners to God; and thirdly, in training up clergymen for the ministry of the altar and the care of souls. To attain the first end, their rule prescribes them an hour’s meditation every morning, self-examination thrice every day, spiritual conferences every week, a yearly retreat of eight days, and silence except in the hours allowed for conversation. To comply with the second obligation, they are employed eight months every year in missions among the country people, staying three or four weeks in each place which they visit, every day giving catechism, making familiar sermons, hearing confessions, reconciling differences, and performing all other works of charity. To correspond with the third end which Saint Vincent proposed to himself, some of this Congregation undertake the direction of seminaries, and admit ecclesiastics or others to make retreats of eight or ten days with them, to whom they prescribe suitable exercises; and for these purposes excellent rules are laid down by the founder. Pope Alexander VII, in 1662, enjoined by a brief, that all persons who receive holy orders in Rome, or in the six suffragan bishoprics, shall first make a retreat of ten days under the direction of the fathers of this Congregation, under pain of suspension. Saint Vincent settled his institute also in the seminary of Saint Charles in Paris, and lived to see twenty-five houses of it founded in France, Piedmont, Poland, and other places.
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 many other confraternities, as that called Of Charity, to attend all poor sick persons in each parish; which institute he began in Bresse, and propagated in other places where he made any missions; one called Of the Dames of the Cross, for the education of young girls; another of Dames to serve the sick in great hospitals, as in that of Hotel Dieu in Paris. He procured and directed the foundation of several great hospitals, as in Paris that of foundlings, or those children who, for want of such a provision, are exposed to the utmost distress, or to the barbarity of unnatural parents; also that of poor old men; at Marseilles the stately hospital for the galley-slaves, who, when sick, are there abundantly furnished with every help both corporal and spiritual. All these establishments he settled under excellent regulations, and supplied with large sums of money to defray all necessary expenses. He instituted a particular plan of spiritual exercises for those who are 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. He also appointed regular ecclesiastical conferences, on the duties of the clerical state, etc. It must appear 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 shining qualities which the world admires and esteems. But our surprise would be much greater if we could enter into a detail of his wonderful actions, and the infinite advantages which he procured others. During the wars in Lorrain, being informed of the miseries to which these provinces were reduced, he collected charities among pious persons at Paris, which were sent thither, to the amount of fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand livres, says Abelly; nay, as Collet proves from authentic vouchers, of two millions, that is, according to the value of money at that time, considerably above one hundred thousand pounds sterling; and he did the like on other occasions. He assisted King Lewis XIII. at his death, and by his holy advice and exhortations that monarch expired in perfect sentiments of piety and resignation. Our saint was in the highest favour with the queen regent, Anne of Austria, who nominated him a member of the young king’s Council of Conscience, and consulted him in all ecclesiastical affairs, and in the collation of benefices; which office he discharged ten years.
Amidst so many and so great employs his soul seemed always united to God; in the most distracting affairs it kept, as it were, an eye always open to him, in order to converse continually with him. This constant attention to him he often renewed, and always when the clock struck, by making the sign of the cross (at least secretly with his thumb upon his breast) with an act of divine love. Under all crosses, disappointments, and slanders, he always preserved a perfect serenity and evenness of mind, which it did not seem in the power of the whole world to disturb; for he considered all events only with a view to the divine will, and with an entire resignation to it, having no other desire but that God should be glorified in all things. Whether this was to be done by his own disgrace and sufferings, or by whatever other means it pleased the divine majesty, he equally rejoiced. Not that he fell into the pretended apathy or insensibility of the proud Stoics, or into the impious indifference of the false Mystics, afterwards called Quietists, than which nothing is more contrary to true piety, which is always tender, affectionate, and most sensible to all the interests of charity and religion. This was the character of our saint, who regarded the afflictions of all others as his own, sighed continually with Saint Paul after that state of glory in which he should be united inseparably to his God, and poured forth his soul before him with tears over his own and others’ spiritual miseries. Having his hope fixed as a firm anchor in God, by an humble reliance on the divine mercy and goodness, he seemed raised above the reach of the malice of creatures, or the frowns of the world; and he enjoyed a tranquillity within his breast which no storms were able to ruffle or disturb. So perfect was the mastery which he had gained over his passions, that his meekness and patience seemed unalterable, whatever provocations he met with. He was never moved by affronts, unless to rejoice secretly under them, because he was sure to find in them a hidden treasure of grace, and an opportunity of vanquishing himself. This is the fruit of the victory which perfect virtue gains over self-love; and it is a more perfect sacrifice to God, a surer test of sincere virtue, a more heroic victory, and a more glorious triumph of the soul to bear a slander, an injurious suspicion, or an unjust insult, in silence and patience, than the most shining exterior act of virtue; a language often repeated, but little understood or practised among Christians. Perfect self-denial, the most profound humility, and an eminent spirit of prayer were the means by which Saint Vincent attained to this degree of perfection: and he most earnestly recommended the same to his disciples. Humility he would have them to make the basis of his Congregation, and it was the lesson which he never ceased to repeat to them, that they ought to study sincerely to conceal even their natural talents. When two persons of extraordinary learning and abilities once presented themselves, desiring to be admitted into his Congregation, he gave them both a repulse, telling them, “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penance, and to plant the gospel-spirit of charity, humility, meekness, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” He laid it down also as a rule of humility, 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. This indeed is a rule prescribed by Confucius, Aristotle, Cato, Pliny, and other philosophers; because, say they, for any one to boast of himself is always the most intolerable and barefaced pride, and modesty in such discourse will be suspected of secret vanity. Egotism, or the itch of speaking always of a man’s self, shows he is intoxicated with the poison of self-love, refers every thing to him self, and is his own centre, than which scarce anything can be more odious and offensive to others. But Christian humility carries this maxim higher, teaching us to love a hidden life, and to lie concealed and buried, as being in ourselves nothingness and sin.
Saint Vincent exerted his zeal against the novelties concerning the article of divine grace which sprang up in his time. Michael Baius, doctor and professor of divinity at Louvain, advanced a new doctrine concerning the grace conferred on man in the two states before and after Adam’s fall, and some other speculative points; and Pope Pius V, in 1567, condemned seventy-six propositions under his name. Some of these, Baius confessed he had taught, and these he solemnly revoked and sincerely condemned with all the rest in 1580, in presence of F. Francis Toletus, afterwards cardinal, whom Gregory XIII had sent for that very purpose to Louvain. Cornelius Jansenius and John Verger, commonly called Abbé de Saint Cyran, contracted a close friendship together during their studies, first at Louvain, afterwards at Paris, and concerted a plan of a new system of doctrine concerning divine grace, founded, in part, upon some of the condemned errors of Baius. This system Jansenius, by his friend’s advice, endeavoured to establish in a book, which from Saint Austin, the great doctor of grace, he entitled, Augustinus. After having been bishop of Ipres from 1635 to 1638, he died of the pestilence, having never published his book, in the close of which he inserted a declaration that he submitted his work to the judgment of the Church. Fromond, another Louvain divine, an abler scholar, and a more polite writer, polished the style of this book, and put it in the press. Verger became director of the nuns of Port-Royal, had read some ancient writers on the books of devotion, and wrote with ease. But his very works on subjects of piety, however neatly written, betray the author’s excessive presumption and forbidding self-sufficiency. He became the most strenuous advocate of Jansenism, and was detained ten years prisoner in the castle of Vincennes. He died soon after he had recovered his liberty, in 1643. This man had by his reputation gained the esteem of Saint Vincent; but the saint hearing him one day advance his errors, and add that the Church had failed for five or six hundred years past, he was struck with horror, and from that moment renounced the friendship of so dangerous a person. When these errors were afterwards more publicly spread abroad, he strenuously exerted himself against them; on which account Gerberon, the Jansenistical historian, makes him the butt of his rancour and spleen; but general and vague invectives of the enemies to truth are the commendation of his piety and zeal. Our saint’s efforts to destroy that heresy, says Abelly, never made him approve a loose morality, which on all occasions he no less avoided and abhorred than the errors of the Jansenists. He was particularly careful in insisting on all the conditions of true repentance to render it sincere and perfect; for want of which he used to say with Saint Ambrose, that some pretended penitents are rendered more criminal by their sacrilegious hypocrisy in the abuse of so great a sacrament, than they were by all their former sins.
In the year 1658 Saint Vincent assembled the members of his Congregation at Saint Lazarus, and gave to every one a small book of rules which he had compiled. At the same time he made a pathetic exhortation, to enforce the most exact and religious observance of them. This Congregation was again approved and confirmed by Alexander VII and Clement X. Saint Vincent was chosen by Saint Francis of Sales director of his nuns of the Visitation that were established at Paris. The robust constitution of the zealous servant of God was impaired by his uninterrupted fatigues and austerities. In the eightieth year of his age he was seized with a periodical fever, and with violent, night sweats. After passing the night almost without sleep, and in an agony of pain, he never failed to rise at four in the morning, to spend three hours in prayer, to say mass every day (except on the three first days of his annual retreat, according to the custom he had established), and to exert, as usual, his indefatigable zeal in the exercises of charity and religion. He even redoubled his diligence in giving his last instructions to his spiritual children; and recited every day after mass the prayers of the Church for persons in their agony, with the recommendation of the soul, and other preparatory acts for his last hour. Alexander VII, in consideration of the extreme weakness to which his health was reduced, sent him a brief to dispense him from reciting his breviary; but before it arrived the servant of God had finished the course of his labours. Having received the last sacraments and given his last advice, he calmly expired in his chair, on the 27th of September, 1660, being fourscore and five years old. He was buried in the church of Saint Lazarus in Paris, with an extraordinary concourse and pomp. An account of several predictions of this servant of God, and some miraculous cures performed by him whilst alive, may be read in his life written by Collet, with a great number of miracles wrought through his intercession after his death at Paris, Angiers, Sens, in Italy, etc. Mr. Bonnet, superior of the seminary at Chartres, afterwards general of the Congregation, by imploring this saint’s intercession, was healed instantaneously of an inveterate entire rupture, called by the physicians enteroepiplo-celle, which had been declared by the ablest surgeons absolutely incurable; this miracle was approved by Cardinal Noailles. Several like cures of fevers, hemorrhages, palsies, dysenteries, and other distempers were juridically proved. A girl eight years old, both dumb and lame, was cured by a second Novena or nine days’ devotion performed for her by her mother in honour of Saint Vincent. His body was visited by Cardinal Noailles in presence of many witnesses, in 1712, and found entire and fresh, and the linen cloths in the same condition as if they were new. The tomb was then shut up again. This ceremony is usually performed before the beatification of a servant of God, though the incorruption of the body by itself is not regarded as a miraculous proof at Rome or elsewhere, as Collet remarks. 8 After the ordinary rigorous examinations of the conduct, heroic virtues, and miracles of this saint at Rome, Pope Benedict XIII. performed with great solemnity the ceremony of his beatification in 1729. Upon the publication of the brief thereof, the archbishop of Paris caused the grave to be again opened. The lady marechale of Noailles, the marshal her son, and many other persons were present; but the flesh on the legs and head appeared corrupted, which alteration from the state in which it was found twenty-seven years before, was attributed to a flood of water which twelve years before this had overflowed that vault. Miracles continued frequently to be wrought by the relics and invocation of Saint Vincent. A Benedictin nun at Montmirel, afflicted with a violent fever, retention of urine, ulcers, and other disorders, her body being swelled to an enormous size, and having been a long time paralytic, was perfectly cured all at once by a relic of Saint Vincent applied to her by Monseigneur Joseph Languet, then bishop of Soissons. Francis Richer, in Paris, was healed in a no less miraculous manner. Miss Louisa Elizabeth Sackville, an English young lady at Paris, was cured of a palsy by performing a novena at the tomb of Saint Vincent; which miracle was attested in the strongest manner, among others, by Mrs. Hayes, a Protestant gentlewoman, with whom she lodged. Miss Sackville became afterwards a nun in the French abbey called of the Holy Sacrament, in Paris, lived ten years without any return of her former disorder, and died in 1742. Saint Vincent was canonized in 1737 by Pope Clement XII.
This saint could not display his zeal more to the advantage of his neighbour than by awaking Christians from the spiritual lethargy in which so many live. He set before their eyes the grievous disorder of lukewarmness in the divine service, and explained to them, like another Baptist, the necessity and obligations of sincere repentance; for those certainly can never be entitled to the divine favour who live in an ambiguous, divided, and distracted state of sinning and repenting; of being heathens and Christians by turns. Still more dreadful is the state of those who live in habitual sin, yet are insensible of their danger, and frightful miseries! Into what extravagance, folly, spiritual blindness, and sometimes incredulity, do men’s passions often plunge them! To what a degree of madness and stupidity do men of the finest natural parts sink, when abandoned by God! or rather when they themselves abandon God, and that light which he has set up in the world! Let us by tears and prayers implore the divine mercy in favour of all blind sinners.
- Father Alban Butler. “Saint Vincent of Paul, Confessor”. , 1866. CatholicSaints.Info. 14 July 2013. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/butlers-lives-of-the-saints-saint-vincent-of-paul-confessor/>
In the year of Our Lord, 1660, Saint Vincent of Paul ended his laborious and virtuous life at Paris, in the house of Saint Lazarus. He was born in a small village of Gascony, in France, and was the son of poor but God-fearing parents. After having for some time kept the herds of his father, he devoted himself to study, and became so proficient, that he was soon raised to the dignity of a teacher of Theology. During several years he instructed the young in order to gain the means of subsistence. One day, when, on account of some business, he had to go to Marseilles, he fell, wounded by an arrow, into the hands of the Turks, who robbed him of his clothes, put him in chains, and took him to Africa, where he endured great suffering on account of his faithfulness to the Christian Faith. He was the slave of three different masters, of whom the last was a Mameluke, a renegade Christian. The Saint succeeded in convincing him of his error, and escaping with him, happily reached France, where Vincent became pastor of two Churches, which he administered with truly holy zeal. Saint Francis of Sales having heard of the virtues and holiness of Vincent, requested him to become the spiritual director of the Convent which he had founded at Paris, a function which the Saint faithfully discharged during forty years. Saint Francis of Sales gave a short but most honorable testimony to his sanctity, by saying that he had never known a priest more worthy of esteem than Vincent.
In the year 1625, the Saint founded a congregation of secular priests, who, living like those of a religious order, were bound by a vow to do missionary work, especially in villages and other country places. He himself was a model to all, for he was occupied the greater part of his life of 85 years in instructing the country people and the lower classes. He formed the priests in his charge in every thing needful to apostolic missionaries, that their sermons and teachings might have the desired result. Besides this there scarcely existed a class of distressed men for whose temporal and spiritual welfare he was not solicitous. To this end he erected several houses of charity, and also founded large hospitals, that the poor, the sick, the orphans, the old, and those disabled and in misery, might have a home as well as the necessaries of life. He also founded several societies or congregations, whose members had the care of these charitable institutions. All his thoughts, all the faculties of his mind seemed constantly employed in finding ways and means to help the distressed, and he feared no pains, no toil, no danger. It once happened that he saw several soldiers pursuing a laborer, sword in hand. Without a moment’s hesitation he was in the midst of them, conjuring them to let him suffer the punishment they intended to inflict upon the poor man. Awed and surprised by his appearance, the soldiers sheathed their swords and allowed the man to escape.
The Saint’s life, as far as he himself was concerned, was passed in great poverty and extreme austerity. He kept a rigorous fast, and employed as much time in prayer as it was possible to give. If any one requested his advice, before answering he would raise his eyes to heaven and in a short prayer beg the Almighty to enlighten him. He never left the house before he had, on bended knees, asked, in a short prayer, that God might be with him; and on his return, he would examine his conscience very minutely, to see if he had done anything amiss, or had neglected anything which pertained to the welfare of others. The least fault, even inadvertently committed, he punished most severely on his body. A mortal sin never burdened his soul, and he kept his innocence and purity undefiled, although surrounded by many dangers. When yet very young, he was an enemy to all frivolous speeches, and of such acts as he considered wrong in the sight of God. He endeavored constantly to prevent others from offending the Most High, and it grieved him exceedingly when he heard that one had tempted another to sin, or otherwise assisted him to do evil. Against such he spoke most severely from the pulpit, as he was convinced that the most horrible sin of which men can become guilty, is to lead each other to vice and crime, and by it to eternal perdition. He exhorted all not only to promote their own, but also their neighbors’ spiritual welfare, as nothing is more pleasing to God than when we lead others to the path of virtue, and by it to everlasting joy.
For this reason, he sent the priests who were under him, whom he had instructed, not only into the neighboring villages, but also into Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and even into the far-off Indies, with orders to use all their efforts to convert the infidels, and to admonish the faithful to keep the Commandments of the Most High. He himself did the same wherever he was. There were many during his time, who endeavored to scatter secretly the seeds of the Jansenist error among the Catholics, pretending that it contained high spiritual perfection. Many Catholics began to listen to the false doctrines, and thus imperceptibly imbibed the heretical poison. But it was then that Saint Vincent displayed his holy zeal for the purity of the true faith and the salvation of souls. He laid bare, in their whole deformity, the errors of the Jansenists, admonished all priests and spiritual directors to guard their flocks against these heretical wolves, and persuaded the .bishops to assemble and denounce the pernicious heresy to the Apostolic See, and endeavor to obtain its condemnation. To the Catholics in general he represented the danger in which they stood of losing eternal happiness, if they approved only one single point of the new heresy, and thereby renounced the old, true, Catholic Faith. The great moral benefit he thus conferred on mankind will become known to the world cn the great day of Judgment when the Lord will reward every one according to his deserts.
To this short sketch of his life, we will add a few words concerning his happy death. At length, weakened by his incessant labors and great austerity to himself, he was seized by his last sickness. Having requested and received with great devotion the holy sacraments, he admonished those under him for the last time, to continue in their pious zeal, and occupied the remaining moments of his life in devout meditations. When those around him, in their prayers for him, came to the words: “Oh, God, come to my assistance!” he answered distinctly: “Oh, Lord, make haste to help me!” after which, full of days and merits, he tranquilly expired. At the hour of his death, his countenance showed the comfort and happiness that filled his heart. The many and great miracles which were wrought after his death by his intercession, confirmed the general opinion of him during his life; namely, that he was a truly holy man, gifted with an apostolic heart Hence he was highly esteemed and honored as a great servant of God, both by ecclesiastics and laymen, high and low. Louis XIII, King of France, desired, when he was lying on his death-bed, to have the Saint near him. His consort, the Queen, chose him for her spiritual director, which duty the holy man accepted only under the condition that he should continue his works of love and charity, as well as his other ecclesiastical labors. This being granted, he continued to labor unweariedly, without allowing himself the slightest repose, until God called him to rest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
1. The continual labors and cares of Saint Vincent had only one aim: the spiritual welfare of others and the prevention ot all offences to God. He declaimed against those who incited others to sin and vice, and thus led them to eternal destruction. He fully comprehended the truth of the words of Saint Dionysius the Areopagite: “Among all divine works none is more divine than laboring with God for the salvation of souls. Have you no opportunity to perform a work which is so agreeable in the sight of the Lord? Think well, and do not neglect it. Saint Vincent was also convinced that among all evil works, there is none more evil and displeasing to God than when we incite others to sin and thus assist the devil in gaining souls. Those who do this are called by the Holy Fathers of the Church messengers, representatives, vicars of the devil, because they are sent and incited by him to execute his plans for the destruction of men. They are his vicars, because they do that which is really the devil’s work. Still more severely speaks Saint James of Nisibis: “All those,” says he, a deserve the name of devils, who prevent others from keeping those commandments, which appear hard to keep, and who advise them to follow the devices of the flesh.” He means to say that such people may be regarded as real devils; but I add that they are worse, more hurtful and more to be feared than the devils themselves, as many a person whom Satan cannot tempt, is incited to sin by their flatteries, promises, and still more by their bad example, and, hence is led to destruction. If you, therefore, desire to be a representative of the devil, or his vicar, you ought to be informed that his abiding place belongs also to you. According to the words of Christ, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25). Angel means a messenger, a representative. For you and your equals, as angels and messengers of the devil; for you, deceiver, as a representative of the devil, for you is hell, and in hell the eternal fire, if you do not leave your wicked ways. Endeavor to repair the evil you have occasioned, and do penance. What will you do?
2. The countenance of the dying Saint Vincent expressed the comfort and happiness that filled his soul. This was probably because he thought of his innocent life, his zeal in the service of God, his constant endeavor to do good. You may well believe me when I say that you will not be thus consoled in your last hour, when you remember your sinful, unchaste life, your negligence in the service of the Almighty, your idleness in performing good works. The recollection of them will cause you inexpressible fear and horror. Before all, will the thought of those sins torment you which you committed so wantonly, and which you have not even confessed rightly, much less expiated. “They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins,” says the Holy Ghost, “and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them.” (Wisdom 4). The wicked Antiochus did not heed his sins during the time that his health was unimpaired; he gave them not even a thought: but when his last hour approached, he said: “But now I remember the evils that I did in Jerusalem.” (1st Maccabees 6) Now, not before: now that I am called into eternity, to appear before the judgment-seat of the Most High, now I remember them against my will. But what resulted from this remembrance? “Into what tribulation am I come, and into what floods of sorrow.” (1st Maccabees 6) If you would not experience equal woes, but die comforted and happy, lead a Christian life after the example of Saint Vincent. Avoid evil, and practice good works. Should your conscience be stained with sin, expiate it by sincere penance, without losing another day.
- Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Vincent of Paul, Confessor”. , 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 March 2018. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/weningers-lives-of-the-saints-saint-vincent-of-paul-confessor/>
Saint Vincent was born A.D. 1576. In after years, when adviser of the Queen and oracle of the Church in France, he loved to recount how, in his youth, he had guarded his father’s pigs. Soon after his ordination, he was captured by corsairs, and carried into Barbary. He converted his renegade master, and escaped with him to France. Appointed chaplain-general of the galleys of France, his tender charity brought hope into those prisons where hitherto despair had reigned. A mother mourned her imprisoned son. Vincent put on his chains and took his place at the oar, and gave him to his mother. His charity embraced the poor, young and old, provinces desolated by civil war, Christians enslaved by the Infidel. The poor man ignorant and degraded was to him the image of Him who became as ‘a leper and no man.’ “Turn the medal,” he said, “and you then will see Jesus Christ.” He went through the streets of Paris at night, seeking the children who were left there to die. Once robbers rushed upon him, thinking he carried a treasure, but when he opened his cloak, they recognised him and his burden, and fell at his feet. The Society of Saint Vincent, the Priests of the Mission, and 25,000 Sisters of Charity still comfort the afflicted with the charity of Saint Vincent of Paul He died a.d. 1660.
Most people who profess piety ask advice of directors about their prayers and spiritual exercises. Few inquire whether they are not in danger of damnation from neglect of works of charity.
Those who love the poor in life shall have no fear of death. – Saint Vincent of Paul
Not only was Saint Vincent the saviour of the poor, but also of the rich, for he taught them to do works of mercy. Like Saint Philip, he knew the power ofassociation. He made them do good in the sight of others to spread the sacred contagion of charity. When the work for the foundlings was in danger of failing from want of funds, he assembled the ladies ofthe Association of Charity. He bade his most fervent daughters be present to give the spur to the others. Then he said: “Compassion and charity have made you adopt these little creatures as your children. You have been their mothers according to grace, when their own mothers abandoned them. Cease to be their mothers, that you may become their judges; their life and death is in your hands. I shall now take your votes: it is time to pronounce sentence.” The tears of the assembly was his only answer, and the work was continued.
Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these My least brethren, you did it to Me. – Matthew 25:40
- Henry Sebastian Bowden. “Saint Vincent of Paul”. , 1877. CatholicSaints.Info. 27 February 2015. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/miniature-lives-of-the-saints-saint-vincent-of-paul/>
Roma, san Vincenzo de Paoli a Ripa
Saint Vincent was born A.D. 1576. In after-years, when adviser of the Queen and oracle of the Church in France, he loved to recount how, in his youth, he had guarded his father’s pigs. Soon after his ordination, he was captured by Corsairs, and carried into Barbary. He converted his renegade master, and escaped with him to France. Appointed chaplain-general of the galleys of France, his tender charity brought hope into those prisons where hitherto despair had reigned. A mother mourned her imprisoned son. Vincent put on his chains and took his place at the oar, and gave him to his mother. His charity embraced the poor, young and old, provinces desolated by civil war, Christians enslaved by the infidel. The poor man, ignorant and degraded, was to him the image of Him who became as “a leper and no man.” “Turn the medal,” he said, “and you then will see Jesus Christ.” He went through the streets of Paris at night, seeking the children who were left there to die. Once robbers rushed upon him, thinking he carried a treasure, but when he opened his cloak, they recognized him and his burden, and fell at his feet. Not only was Saint Vincent the saviour of the poor, but also of the rich, for he taught them to do works of mercy. When the work for the foundlings was in danger of failing from want of funds, he assembled the ladies of the Association of Charity. He bade his most fervent daughters be present to give the spur to the others. Then he said, “Compassion and charity have made you adopt these little creatures as your children. You have been their mothers according to grace, when their own mothers abandoned them. Cease to be their mothers, that you may become their judges; their life and death are in your hands. I shall now take your votes: it is time to pronounce sentence.” The tears of the assembly were his only answer, and the work was continued. The Society of Saint Vincent, the Priests of the Mission, and 25,000 Sisters of Charity still comfort the afflicted with the charity of Saint Vincent of Paul. He died A.D. 1660.
Reflection – Most people who profess piety ask advice of directors about their prayers and spiritual exercises. Few inquire whether they are not in danger of damnation from neglect of works of charity.
- John Dawson Gilmary Shea. “Saint Vincent of Paul”. , 1922. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 December 2018. Web. 27 September 2020. <https://catholicsaints.info/pictorial-lives-of-the-saints-saint-vincent-of-paul/>
St Vincent de Paul rooms at en:Wangaratta, Victoria
Picture, then, the quayside; the blue waters of the Mediterranean lapping at the steps and rocking gently the boats. There is bustle at the quay, for a ship is about to sail. A little ship, it is true, for it goes but a day’s journey; but still, it is a ship, and it goes a-sailing, so there is bustle. A young Gascon steps down the cobbles, talking volubly with a chance friend, whom he has persuaded to accompany him to Narbonne, across the water.
The friend, it happens, is a priest. We see that from his black cassock. Rather worn it is, and, as the young Gascon thinks, in places a trifle shabby. Timid, too, of the sea he is, but so fair it is this day that he makes the journey.
Vincent, for that is the young priest’s name, would soon have done with reverie as the shore receded into the haze. He would say his prayers and talk to the sailors and listen to the prattle of his Gascon companion. A calm crossing, and Narbonne should be made in good time.
But now a new interest arises. A ship coming up a-port. Too far distant at first to distinguish, but gradually to the eyes of the watchers it breaks into a trio of brigantines. Interest changes to anxiety, for they are of a foreign figure. And then, a sudden chill. Turkish pirates, and three to one. There are sharp orders, a running to and fro, feverish preparation for battle. The few weapons are handed out; there is hurried confession in the face of death. The ship is boarded. “Ruffians, worse than tigers,” as Vincent tells us, swarm the deck. The crew put up a gallant fight. The captain kills one of the pirate chiefs, and is himself cut into “a hundred pieces.” Others are killed, all the rest wounded, Vincent included. For them the slave market, and so, with wounds roughly bandaged, they are carried off to Barbary on the Tunisian coast.
There they are sold. They are led through the streets of Tunis to the market-place. Merchants open the mouths and look at the teeth, prod the ribs, and make the captives walk, trot and run, carry loads and wrestle.
Vincent de Paul is sold. A succession of masters, one an old alchemist, for whom Vincent stokes furnaces; another is a renegade from the Faith.
Finally, Vincent escapes in a skiff, carrying with him a memory of irons that not only cut into the flesh, but which leave a festering mark upon a man’s soul.
Vincent finds himself again in France, in a poor lodging under the shadow of a Hospital. He visits the sick, ministering to their spiritual and bodily needs, and holding the dying in his arms. Obscurely he lives, yet his virtue cannot remain hidden. Hard by the hospital are the terraced gardens round the palace of the former Queen Margot, who strives to live down the scandals of her past. But she maintains a court, and into its brilliance Vincent is introduced as chaplain by her secretary. Here is all the fastidious splendour of costume. Vincent must have thought of the rags upon his poor. Here, too, the glitter of jewels — not a fair contrast to the ulcers of the leg iron. Luxury for lap-dogs, perfume in plenty for poodles, and blue-birds in gilt cages! Could Vincent forget the lashing of backs and the stench of prisons? Strange company for Saint Vincent de Paul, you might say. But it has its lessons. He makes a vow to devote his life to the poor, and we find him shortly with a few villagers for a flock.
But he is recalled. Again that contrast which marks his life. Not to the court once more, but to the mansion of Philip de Gondi, General of the Galleys. Vincent’s work is to care, mainly, for the education of the young de Gondis. Madame de Gondi herself, renowned for her beauty, her elegance and her wit, who shines among the stars of the fashionable firmament, seeks for the spiritual direction of the saintly tutor.
But Vincent flees. He steals quietly to the town of Chatillon. A dreadful spot! No priest worthy of the name to minister to its people; filthy, unhealthy, its houses fallen into ruin, an asylum and lurking place for the robber and the footpad. Passion and outrage stalk the streets. To it, Vincent and a companion give example of a regular life, according to the laws of God. The Sacraments are administered, the village church restored, the gospel preached, and in less than a year chaos gives way to order.
In his pastoral work at Chatillon, Vincent reflects upon what might be done further afield. We find him again with the de Gondis, but with a purpose. To Madame de Gondi he tells his ambition. She agrees to assist him. Confraternities, associations, must be established, that assistance be given to the needy. Bodies and souls must be fed.
The confraternities are established, of women at first. Madame de Gondi and other women of wealth, wives of merchants and of soldiers, ladies of court and servant girls walk the sewers of Paris, kneel by the pallets of the sick poor, feed the hungry, scrub the floors. Silver plate is sold that the hungry might eat, and that running sores be stemmed. Carriages are abandoned that rough straw give way to a decent sick-bed. Confraternities of men are set up also; homes for the aged, where they may rest, and workshops for the young, where they may learn a trade. In underground cellars, in leaking attics, in dark alleys moves Vincent de Paul, and where he is not, there are his confraternities ‘himself again’. He finds his way into the hospitals. Disease rages; filthy, obstructed sewers propagate infection. No wonder men sicken. But where are they taken? We have a description.
“Tumbled-down, tottering beds, dirty bed clothes riddled with holes, sticky with spittle and slobber, harder than sailcloth from dirt and dust; broken pots that were never scoured; the timber infested with bugs; foul, cast-off dressings strewn in all directions, oozing out on the floor. The wounded, pregnant women, and those who had just been delivered, small-pox cases, and those afflicted with scurvy were all heaped together, close to the Mortuary chamber and dissecting-room. Beds intended to hold two contained six, piled together, attacked by fearful and various diseases, which they communicated to each other.”
In these ghastly scenes is Vincent, planning for his poor.
He thought much about the hospitals, but he had still another thought, a memory. He remembered that de Gondi was General of the Galleys, and so, in the deep, underground cellars, green-coated with slime, he visits his fellow-beings, chained in their living tombs. He washes their sores and brushes off the vermin. He sees the scars upon the heads of those who have tried to end their earthly misery by dashing out their poor brains against the stones. He sees the rats and the spiders running and crawling over these ghosts of human beings.
Vincent goes to de Gondi. Vincent is authorised to take what means he thinks fit to improve the lot of the unhappy convicts. He acquires a special home for them wherein he can not only look after them, but raise, educate and transform them. “No more lost souls in the next world,” he says, “or miserable ones in this.” At last, by Royal assent, he is given jurisdiction over the convicts not only of Paris, but of the whole kingdom. His convicts! He goes to the galleys.
No space here to tell of the horrors of the galley-slaves, or of Vincent’s care for them. You must read it for yourself. The number of priests who wish to help Vincent in his work leads to the realisation of another of his dreams, the foundation of a community. A few at first, then numbers, until their small house is inadequate. The old leper hospital of Saint Lazarus, which shelters lepers no longer, is offered them. In 1632, Vincent takes possession. Hence, his missionaries are known as Lazarists. Saint Lazare Hospital becomes famous overnight. Crowds flock to it. The centre of Vincent’s work, it hums with activity. It holds assistance to the poor, counsel for the troubled, retreat for the weary, conferences for the clergy, and Christianity for the world. Twenty five houses of the new institute are founded in Vincent’s lifetime. Additions are made to Saint Lazare, which, though plundered by the Revolution, remain, though turned by the whirligig of irony into convict cells.
His congregation of men set up, Vincent founds a congregation of women, the famous Daughters of Charity, they of the quaint cornette. The sick are soothed by kindly hands; into orphanages and schools, the Daughters of Charity gather the little children. Much work done, but for Vincent not enough. What of children stifled at birth, thrown from the window, flung to the rats, or deformed into monstrosities, that they might earn a horrible livelihood for their torturers!
A foundling hospital then! It is established. But, how to get the children! If they are called foundlings, it is Vincent who does the finding. Slipping out by night from Saint Lazare into the dark streets of Paris, that figure, familiar to the lurking cut-throat and garrotter by the unusual, large cloak which it wears, makes its way along the narrow pavements and crooked alleys. Quarter after quarter he searches, picking up from the rubbish heap and the dunghill, from the gutter and the sewer the newborn, gasping its small breath in the fetid air. Back to Saint Lazare he goes, the folds of his great cloak wrapped warmly about him, back to the watchers who wait to take from his arms the struggling wisps of humanity and fan into life the faint flicker that remains.
Back to a few hours of sleep for the weary body of Saint Vincent de Paul. Sleep he has need of, but it is little rest. He suffers torture in his limbs, racked by continuous activity. Age creeps on, hand in hand with suffering, but he works to the last. At his poor desk, on his knees in prayer, thumbing his worn breviary, this is his respite. And so, on the 27th of September 1660, sitting in his chair, a crucifix at his lips, quietly he dies.
Saint Lazare is his tomb. About it Paris, grief-stricken, mourns the loss of the Father of the Poor. It becomes a place of pilgrimage, where strong men come to pray. Yet by that odd irony, which we see again today, the resting place of him who has earned his rest by a life for the people, is shaken by the Revolution. Twice is Saint Lazare plundered by the mob; the blood of its priests spilt upon its stones. History repeats itself. They shout, “Liberty!” and rage against the Truth, which alone can make men free, they yell, “Equality!” and fetter those who have lived in the conviction that men are equal. They cry, “Fraternity!” and trample the confraternities of Saint Vincent de Paul.
But their cries are but cries, and cries are lost in the wind.
A saint-endures, for sanctity is of God. Nothing else stands!
– from the booklet , by Frank Murphy; published by the Australian Catholic Truth Society in 1937
In the humble little farm-house of a village in the south of France, Vincent de Paul was born, in the year 1576. They were six children in all, and, like the rest, Vincent had to look after the sheep, carry grain to the mill, and help his parents in many ways. But as he grew older, he showed such signs of talent that his father, with some difficulty, placed him at school in Acqs, where he made such progress that he was afterwards engaged as tutor to the little sons of a gentleman there, whilst he still continued many of his own studies.
Vincent went next to Toulouse, where he remain seven years, and was then ordained a priest, but where he said his first Mass is not known; all that he tells is, that he was obliged to do so in a private chapel, because the sense of his own unworthiness overwhelmed him with timidity. After this he was appointed to a parish, but as another claimed the place Vincent gave it up, and went to live near Toulouse, where he received several pupils, who grew very warmly attached to him. Business took him from here to Bordeaux, and on his return by sea he was captured by some African pirates, and taken as a prisoner to Tunis, where he was exposed for sale. A fisherman bought Vincent, and sold him again, to a chemist, who treated him very kindly, and. tried to persuade him to turn to the same occupation, promising to bequeath him his money. But the Saint only desired to regain his liberty, and every day implored the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, in whom he placed his trust, that he should be delivered.
However, at the death of his owner, Vincent was again sold to a man who had three wives, and one of these would go and watch him digging in the fields, and ask him questions about the Christian’s God. At last she wanted him to sing, and when he began the Salve Regina, she listened with great delight. It came out that the husband had been a Christian, but turned from his faith, and, impressed by what she heard from Vincent, this Turkish wife reproached him for giving up such a beautiful religion, and her words took such an effect upon him that he escaped with his slave to France, where he was reconciled to the Church, while Vincent made his way to Rome. From Rome he travelled to Paris; where he was received at the royal palace for a time, and then sought lodgings in another quarter of the city.
Whilst staying there, a magistrate accused Vincent of robbing him of a large sum of money, and drove him from the room which they shared, declaring him publicly to be a rogue and thief; he even carried his complaint to the superior of the Oratorians, whom Vincent was visiting, and there accused him of this robbery. In spite of all this, the Saint was calm and quiet, never seeking to excuse himself, but simply replying, “God knows the truth.”
He teaches us in this a beautiful lesson of patience under false accusations, and though he was content to be suspected of this wrong, God brought his innocence to light some years later, and then the magistrate begged most humbly to receive his pardon.
About this time Vipcent, by the advice of his director, gave up the many high offices which were open to him, to be a priest in the parish of Clichy. Here he laboured unwearyingly amongst his people – never in a hurry, never too busy to have a kind word for those who needed it, and yet his duties were constant. God gave him a wonderful power of understanding the different characters of those with whom he had to deal, so that he could win the timid by his gentleness, as well as repress the bold by his severe words.
For three years Saint Vincent pursued this way of life, and then, by the advice of his director, gave up his much-beloved work amongst the poor of Christ to be chaplain and tutor to a family of high position. But, staying there, lie lived as much as possible in retirement, and under his beautiful influence the whole family became pious and devoted to good works.
But the heart of this holy man was drawn to labour amongst the poor, and whenever the family went to their country residence, he set about instructing and catechizing the ignorant, and hearing confessions, in which he had very great success. For a few months Vincent left his position of chaplain, and during that absence the first thought of founding the Order of Charity occurred to him.
A pious lady, named Louisa de Marillac, asked the Saint to direct her in charitable employments, and he found others who willingly joined her in the duties of visiting the sick and relieving the poor. This was the first beginning of the congregation of the Sisters of Charity, which has now spread to every part of the Christian world, for the assistance of all who suffer, and the instruction of the ignorant.
The next work of kindness which Saint Vincent attempted was amongst the galley slaves, having obtained the office of their chaplain from the king, Louis XIII. When he paid his first visit, he was shocked by the suffering in which he found them; and, what was still more terrible to him was the foul language which was heard amongst the prisoners. But he did not shrink from these wretched creatures. To him they were souls for whom Jesus had shed His precious Blood, souls whom He loved so dearly that it was worth the work of a lifetime to reclaim even one from sin. So, by sweet persuasive words he won hearts which had been hardened by punishment, and those who had cursed and blasphemed, learned to kneel humbly as earnest prayers came from the lips ‘they reverenced. For some time Vincent visited these prisoners daily, instructing and preparing them for the Sacraments, and when he was obliged to be absent he placed some of his friends in charge of them.
During this period the Saint once met with a man who was in a state of despair at the thought of the misery of his family during his separation from them, upon which Vincent went to the chief authority, offering to take this prisoner’s place if he could be released. The offer was accepted, and for several weeks the good man wore the chains of the galley slave, until the affair was discovered by his absence.
Another of Saint Vincent’s great works was the foundation of a hospital for poor deserted infants, which he thought of through finding a little child left in the cold, snowy streets one night without a home, whom he picked up and carried to some charitable ladies, who assisted him in forming a place for such cases to be received.
The principal undertaking of the holy Vincent’s life was not begun until he was forty years of age – this was the congregation of the Mission. It began with himself and two others, who went from village to village catechizing, preaching, and hearing confessions; and God blessed their work, so that other priests came to join them, and the prior of a house in Paris, called “Saint Lazarus,” resigned his possessions to the use of these humble missioners. At first Vincent was frightened at the thought of being established at the priory. In his humility he deemed it far above hira and his brethren, and it was more than a year before the offer was accepted and the congregation removed there. Immediately some disputes and opposition were aroused, but they soon came to an end, and Vincent remained in possession of the priory of Saint Lazarus.
Meanwhile Louisa de Marillac, or “Madame Le Gras,” was toiling on in works of mercy amongst the poor surrounding her, clothing the destitute, nursing the sick, gathering little ignorant children around her, assisted by a company of devout women, who busied themselves thus in different towns and villages. Then Saint Vincent formed a little community under her control, which became dear to all hearts from their self-denying love and untiring zeal. As time went on, they began to receive orphans under their charge, and attend hospitals and sick convicts. Twenty-eight of these houses were founded in Paris alone during the Saints life, and the good work spread throughout France and even to Poland.
It would not be possible to describe all the wise and holy works of Vincent’s commencement. His was a long life, all given to God and his fellow-creatures, and during its close he preached more powerfully by his patient sufferings than even by his fervent words. For some years he was not able to walk, but he afterwards lost the use of his limbs, so that he could no longer stand at the altar. What a sacrifice this was could be known only to God, but his consolation was to hear Mass and communicate daily. Those who went to see him found him always cheerful and uncomplaining, directing those works of charity which he could no longer actively perform. Every morning after Mass, he would repeat the prayers of the Church for the dying, and thus he awaited the call of his Lord. On the 26th of September, 1660, he was able to hear Mass and receive Communion, but he had scarcely been carried back before he fell into a heavy sleep, from which he was roused by the visit of the doctor, who pronounced him dying.
Then the priests of the Mission gathered round and besought his blessing, and Vincent raised his hand, beginning the words of benediction, but his voice failed, and he sank back exhausted. That night he received Extreme Unction, and early in the morning of the 27th September he died in the chair from which he had not been removed for twenty-four hours, so peacefully that he only seemed asleep. For nearly eighty-five years he had lived in the world, bearing its trials, fulfilling its duties – now the time for rest and reward had come.
Many hearts grieved when they heard that the grave had closed over Vincent de Paul. But his work did not die with him; it lives still in his sons, who preach the faith of Christ amongst the heathen in far-off regions; in his daughters, who serve Jesus in the persons of His poor; and every Catholic heart blesses the honoured name of the simple, humble Saint who worked wonders through the love of souls which he had learned at the foot of the crucifix, and sinking deeply within his heart, kindled there the holy fire which made him the great apostle of charity to the world.
– from , by Mary F Seymour
The man whose name has for three hundred years been bound up with the hospitals and nursing orders of France was born, in 1576, in the little village of Poy, not far from the Pyrenees. He had three brothers and two sisters, and when they were big enough they all went to work on their father’s small farm. Vincent, who was the third son, was sent to keep the sheep. This was considered the easiest task to which a child could be put, and Vincent liked wandering after his flock through the green meadows or sitting under a tree while they were feeding, watching the shadows of the clouds on the distant mountains. When he grew older a younger brother took his place, and Vincent helped to sow the corn, to toss the hay, and to chop the wood for the winter. His father, Guillaume de Paul, was a good man and saw that his children went regularly to church, and were not behindhand in doing anything they could for a poor or sick neighbour; but of the whole six, none was so often found on his knees or so ready to carry some of his own food to his suffering friends as Vincent.
You ought to send that boy to school, said the cure of the parish one day to the farmer. Perhaps who knows? he may by and by become a priest.
Yes, father, I have been thinking of that, answered Guillaume; and before many weeks had passed, Vincent’s life in the fields was a thing of the past, and he was being taught to read and write, to study Latin, and all that had to do with religion, at the monastery of the Cordeliers in the town of Acqs. He loved his lessons and worked harder than any boy hi the school, but, happy though he was, he must sometimes have longed for his old home and a ramble with his brothers and sisters in the meadows of Poy.
In four years his masters declared that he now knew enough to be able to earn his own living, and obtained for him a place as tutor to the children of Monsieur de Commet, a lawyer in Acqs. His pupils were very young, and he had a good deal of time to himself, and this he spent in the study of religious books, for by this time he had resolved to be a priest. At twenty he bade farewell to Monsieur de Commet, and set out for Toulouse, where after two years he was ordained deacon, and later entered the priesthood. But he did not give up his whole life to praying either in church or in his cell. As of old he went about among the sick, hearing their troubles both of mind and body, and easing both when he was able. Thus he grew to know their needs in a way he could never have done had he always remained within the walls of a monastery.
The young priest’s life flowed on peacefully for the next five years, and then a startling adventure befell him. An old friend of his died at Marseilles, and Vincent received news that he had been left in the will a sum of fifteen hundred livres, which in those days was a considerable deal of money. Vincent’s heart was full of gratitude. What could he not do now to help his poor people. And he began to plan all the things the legacy would buy till it struck him with a laugh that ten times the amount could hardly get him all he wanted. Besides, it was not yet in his possession, and with that reflection he set about his preparations for his journey to Marseilles.
He probably went the greater part of the way on foot, and it must have taken him about as long as it would take us to go to India. But he was a man who had his eyes about him, and the country which he passed through was alive with the history he had read. Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and the scandal, now two hundred years old, of the two popes, would be brought to his mind by the very names of the towns where he rested and the rivers which he crossed, but at length they were all left behind, and Marseilles was reached.
His business was soon done, and with the money in his pocket he was ready to begin his long walk back to Toulouse, when he received an invitation from a friend of the lawyer’s to go in his vessel by sea to Narbonne, which would cut off a large corner. He gladly accepted and went on board at once; but the ship was hardly out of sight of Marseilles when three African vessels, such as then haunted the Mediterranean, bore down upon them and opened fire. The French were powerless to resist, and one and all refused to surrender, which so increased the fury of the Mohammedans that they killed three of the crew and wounded the rest. Vincent himself had an arm pierced by an arrow, and though it was not poisoned, it was many years before the pain it caused ceased to trouble him. The Infidels boarded the ship, and, chaining their prisoners together, coasted about for another week, attacking wherever they thought they had a chance of success, and it was not until they had collected as much booty as the vessel could carry that they returned to Africa.
Vincent and his fellow-captors had all this while been cherishing the hope that, once landed on the coast of Tunis, the French authorities would hear of their misfortunes and come to their aid. But the Mohammedan captain had foreseen the possibility of this and took measures to prevent it by declaring that the prisoners had been taken on a Spanish ship. Heavy were their hearts when they learned what had befallen them, and Vincent needed all his faith and patience to keep the rest from despair. The following day they were dressed as slaves and marched through the principal streets of Tunis five or six times hi case anyone should wish to purchase them. Suffering from wounds though they were, they all felt that it was worth any pain to get out of the hold of the ship and to see life moving around them once more. But after awhile it became clear that the strength of many was failing, and the captain not wishing to damage his goods, ordered them back to the ship where they were given food and wine, so that any possible buyers who might appear next day should not expect them to die on their hands.
Early next morning several small boats could be seen putting out from the shore, and one by one the intending purchasers scrambled up the side of the vessel. They passed down the row of captives drawn up to receive them; pinched their sides to find if they had any flesh on their bones, felt their muscles, looked at their teeth, and finally made them run up and down to see if they were strong enough to work. If the blood of the poor wretches stirred under this treatment they dared not show it, and Vincent had so trained his thoughts that he hardly knew the humiliation to which he was subjected. A master was soon found for him in a fisherman, who wanted a man to help him with his boat. The fisherman, as far as we know, treated his slave quite kindly; but when he discovered that directly the wind rose the young man became hope lessly ill, he repented of his bargain, and sold him as soon as he could to an old chemist, one of the many who had wasted his life in seeking the Philosopher’s Stone. The chemist took a great fancy to the French priest and offered to leave him all his money and teach him the secrets of his science if he would abandon Christianity and become a follower of Mohammed, terms which, needless to say, Vincent refused with horror. Most people would speedily have seen the hopelessness of this undertaking, but the old chemist was very obstinate, and died at the end of a year without being able to natter himself that he had made a convert of his Christian slave.
The chemist’s possessions passed to his nephew, and with them, of course, Father Vincent. The priest bore his captivity cheerfully, and did not vex his soul as to his future lot. The life of a slave had been sent him to bear, and he must bear it contentedly whatever happened; and so he did, and his patience and ready obedience gained him the favour of his masters.
Very soon he had a new one to serve, for not long after the chemist’s death he was sold to a man who had been born a Christian and a native of Savoy, but had adopted the religion of Mohammed for worldly advantages. There were many of these renegades in the Turkish service during the sixteenth and seven teenth centuries, and nearly all of them were men of talent and rose high. Vincent de Paul’s master had, after the Turkish manner, married three wives, and one of them, a Turk by birth and religion, hated the life of the town where she was shut up most of the day in the women’s apartments, and went, whenever she could, to her husband’s farm in the country, where Vincent was working. It was a barren place on a mountain side, where the sun beat even more fiercely than in Tunis; but at least she was able to wander in the early mornings and cool evenings about the garden, which had been made with much care and toil. Here she met the slave, always busy watering plants, trimming shrubs, sowing seeds, and generally singing to himself in an unknown tongue. He looked so different from the sad or sullen men she was used to see that she began to wonder who he was and where he came from, and one day she stopped to ask him how he happened to be there. By this time Vincent had learned enough Arabic to be able to talk, and in answer to her questions, told her of his boyhood in Gascony, and how he had come to be a priest.
A priest! What is that? she said.
And he explained, and little by little he taught her the doctrines and the customs of the Christian faith.
Is that what you sing about? she asked again. I should like to hear some of your songs, and Vincent chanted to her By the waters of Babylon, feeling, indeed, that he was singing the Lord’s songs in a strange land. And day by day the Turkish woman went away, and thought over all she had heard, till one evening her husband rode over to see her, and she made up her mind to speak to him about something that puzzled her greatly.
I have been talking to your white slave that works in the garden about his religion the religion which was once yours. It seems full of good things and so is he. You need never watch him as you do the other men, and the overseer has not had to beat him once. Why, then, did you give up that religion for another? In that, my lord, you did not well.
The renegade was silent, but in his heart he wondered if, indeed, he had done well to sell his soul for that which had given him no peace. He, too, would talk to that Christian slave, and hear if he still might retrace his steps, though he knew that if he was discovered death awaited the Mohammedan who changed his faith. But his eyes having been opened he could rest no more, and arranged that he and Vincent should disguise them selves and make for the coast, and sail in a small boat to France. As the boat was so tiny that the slightest gale of wind would capsize it, it seems strange that they did not steer to Sicily, and thence journey to Rome; but instead they directed their course towards France, and on June 28, 1607, they stepped on shore on one of those long, narrow spits of land which run out into the sea from the little walled town of Aigues-Mortes. Vincent drew a long breath as after two years captivity he trod on French soil again. But he knew how eager his companion was to feel himself once more a Christian, so they only waited one day to rest, and started early the next morning through the flowery fields to the old city of Avignon. Here he made confession of his faults to the Pope’s legate himself, and was admitted back into the Christian religion. The following year he went with Father Vincent to Rome, and entered a monastery of nursing brothers, who went about to the different hospitals attending the sick and poor.
It is very likely that it was Father Vincent’s influence that led him to take up this special work, to which we must now leave him, for on the priest’s return to Paris, he found a lodging in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, close to the Hopital de la Charité the constant object of his care for some months.
From Paris he turned south again towards his own country, but when near Bordeaux he was accused by a judge, who was living in the same house, of a theft of four hundred crowns. The robbery was due to the judge’s own carelessness in going out with so large a sum upon him, but this did not strike him; and though, of course, he could prove nothing, he lost no opportunity of repeating the falsehood to everyone he met. After denying the story Vincent let the matter drop, and went quietly about his own work, and, at the end of six years, his innocence was established. A man of the town was arrested on some charge and thrown into prison. Here, filled with remorse, the thief sent for this very judge, and confessed that it was he who had robbed him as he was passing along the street. Bitterly ashamed of his conduct, the judge, on his part, proclaimed the facts, and thus Vincent was justified in the belief that, as he had said from the beginning, God would proclaim the truth when He thought good.
Humble and unobtrusive as he was, the priest’s fame had reached far, and he was pressed by one of the most powerful of French churchmen to accept the care of a village on the outskirts of Paris. While there he worked hard for the bodies and souls of his people, till the parish which seems to have been some what neglected was completely changed. Then a post of another kind was offered him, and though he would much rather have remained where he was, he would not disobey his superiors.
Sadly he bade his people farewell and went to educate the children of the Comte de Joigny, General of the French galleys. But he was only there a few months, during which his time was as much occupied in preaching to the peasants, by the desire of Madame de Joigny, as in teaching her children. Great was the good lady’s sorrow when Vincent was snatched away on a mission to the inhabitants of a wild and ignorant part of France, though she gave him a considerable amount of money for their benefit. Later she made him head of a mission-house, founded and endowed by herself and her husband for the benefit of their own people, so that their poor tenants and peasants might never be in the state in which they had been discovered by the priest when he first visited and came to Joigny.
After awhile Vincent returned to the house of the Joignys, where he chiefly lived when he was not absent on special missions.
The earliest of all the miserable and helpless classes of beings to attract the attention of Father Vincent were the galley-slaves, heretics sometimes, and generally the lowest sort of criminals, whose lives were spent in every kind of iniquity. However wicked they might have been before they were chained together in the darkness of the galleys, or thrown together in the horrible prisons (which must have killed many of the weaker ones), they were for the most part far worse when they came out, from what they had learned from each other.
Once criminals, they must always be criminals, said the world, and turned its back on them, but Vincent de Paul thought otherwise. The first thing he did on returning to the house of their General, the Comte de Joigny, was to visit these rough men scattered about in the prisons of Paris. They were riot easy to make friends with, these galley-slaves, and were suspicious of kind words and deeds, because they had never known them; and the priest soon understood that if he wished to make an impression on them, he must collect them all under one roof where he could see them daily, and begin by caring for their bodily comforts. So, after obtaining leave from Monsieur de Gondi the Archbishop of Paris, and brother of the Comte de “Joigny, he collected subscriptions, found a house, and soon, for the first time in their lives, the galley-slaves knew what it was to feel clean and to have real beds to sleep in, instead of damp and dirty straw, if not stone floors. Little by little they were won over; the few rules made by the priest were broken more and more seldom, and when he felt he had gained their confidence he told them a few simple things about their souls.
The archbishop looked on with amazement. Obedience from the worst and most lawless of men, he would never have believed it! But there it was, an undoubted fact, and the archbishop craved an audience of the king, Louis XIII, in order to tell him the marvellous tale, and to ask his permission to establish similar houses all over the country. The king, who was not easy to interest, listened eagerly to Gondi’s words, and in February 1619 he issued an edict, nominating Father Vincent de Paul royal almoner of the galleys of France.
His new post compelled Vincent to travel constantly, and in 1622 he set out for Marseilles to examine into the condition of the large number of convicts of all sorts in the city. The better to learn the truth he avoided giving his real name, but he went into all the prisons, and even, it is said, took the place of one of the most wretched among the criminals and was loaded with chains in his stead. That may not be true, but at any rate the story shows what was felt about him, and he did everything possible to inspire their gaolers with pity and to ensure the prisoners being kindly treated. When they were ill besides, their state was more dreadful still, and it was then that he formed the plan of having a hospital for the galley-slaves, though he was not able to carry it out for many years.
The Comtesse de Joigny died in June 1625, two months after her mission-house was opened. Father Vincent then went to live with his priests, the Lazarists, as they came to be called, where, besides teaching and preaching both in the country and at home, they formed a society for looking after the sick and poor in every parish. Girls were educated by the Association of the Dames de la Croix the Ladies of the Cross and the older women served in the hospitals in Paris, notably in the largest of all, the Hotel Dieu. In addition to those already in existence, through Vincent’s influence and under his direction, were founded the hospitals of Pity, of Bicetre, of the Salpetriere, and the world-famous Foundling Hospital or Enfants-Trouves. These deserted babies, usually put hastily down at the door of a church or of some public place, died by hundreds. Some charitable ladies did what they could by adopting a few, but this only caused them to feel still more terribly the dreadful fate of the rest. Vincent appealed for help to the queen, Anne of Austria, and she persuaded the king to add 12,000 livres to the amount privately subscribed by the friends of the priest, and in the end he made over to them some buildings near the forest of Bicetre. But the air was too keen for the poor little creatures, or at any rate it was thought so for in those days fresh air was considered deadly poison and they were brought to the Faubourg, Saint Lazare in Paris, and entrusted to the care of twelve ladies till two houses could be got ready for them.
Once set on foot the hospital of the Enfants-Trouves was never allowed to drop, and always reckoned the Kings of France among its supporters.
It was enough for a man to be poor and needy for him to excite the sympathy of Vincent de Paul, and when he happened to be old also the priest felt that he had a double claim. Almshouses, as we should call them, soon followed the hospitals; while the women were placed under the protection of Mademoiselle le Gras, foundress of the Order of Les Filles de la Charite the Daughters of Charity a society which also under took the education of the foundlings.
When one reads of all the work done by Father Vincent one feels as if each of his days had a hundred hours instead of twenty-four. The various institutions he established, many of which flourished vigorously till a few years ago, when they were put down by the State, were always under his eye and in his thoughts. Nothing was beyond his help in any direction. While, on the one hand, he was collecting immense sums of money in Paris it is said to amount to 80,000 for the people of Lorraine who had been ruined by the wars, and were in the most miserable state, on the other he was trying to revive in the clergy the love of their religion. This was perhaps the harder task of the two, for ambition and desire for wealth filled the hearts of many of the greater ecclesiastics and shut out everything else. But the king and the queen stood by him, and after Louis XIII’s death, in 1642, when Anne of Austria became regent, she made him a member of the Council of Conscience, and never gave away a bishopric or an important benefice without first consulting him.
But strong though he was by nature, the life of constant activity of mind and body, which Vincent de Paul had led for sixty years, wore him out at last. At the age of eighty-four a sort of low fever seized him, and he had no longer power to fight against it, though he still rose at four every morning to say mass, and spent the rest of the day in prayer and hi teaching those who gathered round him. He knew he was dying fast, perhaps he was glad to know it, and in September 1660 the end came. His work was done. The fire of time has tried it, of what sort it is, and we may feel sure that it abides, as Saint Paul says, on its foundation, and that when the day comes he shall receive a reward.
– text and illustrations from , by Leonora Blanche Lang, 1912
Il come vivere la carità dipende dai preti e san Vincenzo de’ Paoli è stato un sacerdote di piena carità perché pienamente santo. Lo storico e critico letterario francese Henri Brémond scrisse di lui: «Non è la sua carità che ha fatto di lui un santo, ma la sua santità che l’ha reso veramente caritatevole».
Vincent de Paul nacque il 24 aprile del 1581 a Pouy in Guascogna (oggi Saint-Vincent-de-Paul) e morì a Parigi il 27 settembre 1660. Benché dotato di acuto intelletto, fino a 15 anni lavorò nei campi per la sua povera famiglia. Nel 1595 venne iscritto al collegio francescano di Dax, sostenuto finanziariamente da un avvocato e giudice che venne colpito dalla sua intelligenza. Vincenzo ricevette la tonsura e gli Ordini minori il 20 dicembre 1596, poi si iscrisse all’Università di Tolosa per gli studi di teologia.
Fu ordinato sacerdote a 19 anni, il 23 settembre 1600, e si laureò nell’ottobre 1604. Venduto come schiavo, dopo un rapimento, avvenuto alla fine di luglio del 1605, per mano di pirati turchi su una nave (tratta Marsiglia-Narbona), riacquistò la libertà fuggendo due anni dopo con il suo terzo padrone, un frate rinnegato che si fece musulmano per denaro e che lui convertì.
Nel 1612 fu nominato parroco di Clichy, alla periferia di Parigi. È di questo periodo l’incontro con il teologo e Cardinale Pierre de Bérulle, uno dei protagonisti della Contro-Riforma francese che, ispirandosi a san Filippo Neri, fondò a Parigi l’Oratorio di Gesù e di Maria Immacolata. Grazie a questa eccezionale guida spirituale, Padre Vincenzo iniziò a non badare più ai suoi problemi economici, dedicandosi alla vita apostolica fatta prevalentemente di catechismo e di carità.
Tuttavia accettò l’incarico di precettore del primogenito di Filippo, Emanuele Gondi, governatore generale delle galere, un incontro che si rivelerà provvidenziale per l’innesto delle sue molteplici attività. Lasciato momentaneamente il castello della famiglia Gondi, Vincenzo fu invitato dagli oratoriani di de Bérulle, ad esercitare il suo ministero nella parrocchia di campagna di Chatillon-le-Dombez.
Il contatto con la povertà rurale e gli ammalati mossero il santo alla costituzione di una confraternita di pie persone, impegnate a turno ad assistere gli ammalati della parrocchia. Il 20 agosto 1617 nasceva così la prima Carità, le cui associate presero il nome di Serve dei poveri e in tre mesi l’Istituzione ebbe un suo regolamento, approvato dal Vescovo di Lione. La signora Gondi riuscì a convincerlo a tornare nelle sue terre, in tal modo, dopo la parentesi di sei mesi come parroco, Padre Vincenzo divenne cappellano di ottomila contadini. Prese così a predicare le Missioni nelle zone rurali, fondando le Carità in numerosi villaggi, intanto, nel 1623, si laureò in diritto canonico a Parigi e anche qui fondò le Carità; sei anni dopo le Suore dei poveri presero il nome di Dame della Carità.
L’istituzione cittadina più importante fu quella detta dell’Hotel Dieu (Ospedale), che san Vincenzo organizzò nel 1634. Fra le centinaia di associate a questa Carità, vi furono la futura regina di Polonia Luisa Maria Gonzaga e la duchessa d’Auguillon, nipote del Primo Ministro, il Cardinale Richelieu. Le Carità vincenziane comparvero anche a Roma (1652), Genova (1654), Torino (1656).
Nel 1618 prese consistenza la predicazione rurale, tanto che altri sacerdoti si unirono a lui, i signori Gondi incrementarono il finanziamento a Padre Vincenzo e l’Arcivescovo di Parigi diede il suo appoggio, approvando la Congregazione della Missione il 24 aprile 1626, mentre il beneplacito del Re di Francia giunse nel maggio 1627 e quello di papa Urbano VIII il 12 gennaio 1632.
Nel frattempo sacerdoti missionari si raccolsero nel priorato di San Lazzaro, da cui prenderanno il nome di Lazzaristi. Per la formazione delle suore, affidò le giovani (1633) a santa Luisa de Marillac, vedova Le Gras. La nuova Congregazione prese il nome di Figlie della Carità, approvate nel 1646 dall’Arcivescovo di Parigi e nel 1668 dalla Santa Sede. Con il loro alare bianco copricapo, mantenuto fino alle nuove disposizioni del 1964, hanno sparso in ogni dove caritatevole assistenza ai malati negli ospedali, agli orfani, ai carcerati, ai feriti di guerra, agli invalidi e ad ogni sorta di miseria umana. Ancora oggi le Figlie della Carità costituiscono la Famiglia religiosa femminile più numerosa della Chiesa.
Attraverso l’Opera degli Esercizi Spirituali, i Lazzaristi divennero prestigiosi e qualificati formatori dei futuri sacerdoti, al punto che l’Arcivescovo di Parigi dispose che i nuovi ordinandi trascorressero quindici giorni di preparazione nelle loro case, in particolare nel parigino Collegio dei Bons-Enfants, di cui de’ Paoli era superiore. Più tardi, nel priorato di San Lazzaro, l’Opera degli Esercizi Spirituali si estese a tutti gli ecclesiastici che avessero voluto fare un ritiro annuale e anche a folti gruppi laici. A partire dal 1633, un ampio gruppo di ecclesiastici, con la guida di Vincenzo de’ Paoli, prese a riunirsi il martedì, dando vita alle celebri Conferenze del martedì.
Il Cardinale Richelieu volle essere informato sulla loro attività e chiese al fondatore una lista di nomi degni di essere elevati all’episcopato. Lo stesso re Luigi XIII chiese a monsieur Vincent una lista di degni ecclesiastici idonei a reggere diocesi francesi e quando fu sul punto di morte lo volle accanto al suo letto per ricevere gli ultimi conforti spirituali. Significativo poi che la direzione dei costituendi Seminari delle diocesi, disposti dal Concilio di Trento, venne assegnata nel 1660 a ben dodici rettori appartenenti ai Lazzaristi.
Nel 1643 de’ Paoli fu chiamato a far parte del Consiglio della Coscienza o Congregazione degli Affari Ecclesiastici, dalla reggente Anna d’Austria; ma l’opportunistica presenza del Cardinale Giulio Mazzarino impedì di fatto l’azione benefica di Padre Vincenzo, il quale giunse a chiedere alla regina (1649), invano, l’allontanamento di Mazzarino stesso. Fu lui ad essere rimosso, ma in compenso divenne Ministro della Carità, ministero mai esistito prima e preposto all’organizzazione, su scala nazionale,degli aiuti ai poveri.
Nei dodici capitoli delle Regulae, san Vincenzo ha riunito lo spirito che deve distinguere i suoi figli: la spiritualità contemplativa secondo il pensiero del Cardinale de Bérulle, sotto la cui direzione egli rimase per oltre un decennio; l’umanesimo devoto di san Francesco di Sales, suo grande amico, del quale lesse più e più volte le opere spirituali; l’ascetismo di sant’Ignazio di Loyola, del quale assimilò il temperamento pratico. Da queste tre fonti elaborò quella carità che vede nel povero e nel malato le sembianze di Cristo, e a quel povero e a quel malato viene portato Cristo, attraverso la carità.
Le virtù caratteristiche dello spirito vincenziano, secondo la Regola dei Missionari, sono le cosiddette cinque pietre di Davide: la semplicità, l’umiltà, la mansuetudine, la mortificazione, lo zelo per la salvezza delle anime. Suoi libri prediletti: L’imitazione di Cristo; Filotea. Introduzione della vita devota; il Trattato dell’Amor di Dio (gli ultimi due di san Francesco di Sales). Che cosa è, allora, per san Vincenzo de’ Paoli la carità? È ciò che la Tradizione insegna in merito.
Il termine carità deriva dal latino chiarita (benevolenza, affetto, sostantivo di carus, cioè caro, amato). Fra le migliori definizioni sicuramente è da annoverare quella del Dizionario Treccani: «L’amore che, secondo il concetto cristiano, unisce gli uomini con Dio e tra loro, attraverso Dio. Il termine latino caritas, che implica insieme l’idea di stima e di benevolenza, è stato preferito dagli scrittori cristiani ad amor, e quasi contrapposto a questo, come più preciso equivalente del grecoἀγάπη (contrapposto all’ἔρως)».
La carità è la terza delle tre virtù teologali, anzi, la maggiore di tutte (Mc 12, 28-31 – Cor 13, 1-13), quella per cui gli uomini possono attuare il fondamentale precetto di amare Dio sopra ogni cosa e il prossimo come se stessi per amore di Dio. «La caritade» secondo sant’Agostino, censisce il Vocabolario degli Accademici della Crusca del 1612, il secolo di san Vincenzo, «è un movimento d’animo a servíre a Dio, per se, e a se, e al prossimo, per Domeneddio».
Ed ecco cosa diceva a proposito della carità il santo guascone: «La carità quando dimora in un’anima occupa interamente tutte le sue potenze; nessun riposo; è un fuoco che agita continuamente: tiene sempre in esercizio, sempre in moto la persona una volta che ne è infiammata». Nella carità Dio è al primo posto e in quest’ordine l’Onnipotente agisce con un dispiegamento soprannaturale di forze elargite a chi Lo amasinceramente, a chi si impegna, per puro amore di Gesù, con vera carità.
I giorni e le notti di san Vincenzo de’ Paoli, che visse come consigliava ai suoi, «nel riposo e nella fiducia in Dio, addirittura nell’allegria di Dio», erano inanellati di Santa Messa, lodi, adorazione al Santissimo, meditazioni, Angelus, vespri, compieta, come lui stesso rivela in una lettera del 1640 a santa Giovanna di Chantal. E proprio quella quotidianità, che iniziava alle 4:00 e terminava alle 21:00, edificata al cospetto di Dio, era in grado di concretizzare divinamente ciò che la solidarietà non potrà mai realizzare, perché dominata dai limiti umani. «Quando lascerete la preghiera per curare un malato», diceva alle sue Figlie della Carità, «lascerete Dio per Dio: curare un malato è come recitare la preghiera» e la preghiera compie miracoli, per sé e per gli altri.
Affresco di san Vincenzo nella sala conferenze della Biblioteca regionale di Aosta.
E fra questi suscitatori di Opere, fondatori e fondatrici di Congregazioni religiose, pastori zelanti di ogni grado, ecc., si annovera la luminosa figura di san Vincenzo de’ Paoli, che fra i suoi connazionali francesi era chiamato “Monsieur Vincent”.
Gli anni giovanili
Vincenzo Depaul, in italiano De’ Paoli, nacque il 24 aprile del 1581 a Pouy in Guascogna (oggi Saint-Vincent-de-Paul); benché dotato di acuta intelligenza, fino ai 15 anni non fece altro che lavorare nei campi e badare ai porci, per aiutare la modestissima famiglia contadina.
Nel 1595 lasciò Pouy per andare a studiare nel collegio francescano di Dax, sostenuto finanziariamente da un avvocato della regione, che colpito dal suo acume, convinse i genitori a lasciarlo studiare; che allora equivaleva avviarsi alla carriera ecclesiastica.
Dopo un breve tempo in collegio, visto l’ottimo risultato negli studi, il suo mecenate, giudice e avvocato de Comet senior, lo accolse in casa sua affidandogli l’educazione dei figli.
Vincenzo ricevette la tonsura e gli Ordini minori il 20 dicembre 1596, poi con l’aiuto del suo patrono, poté iscriversi all’Università di Tolosa per i corsi di teologia; il 23 settembre 1600 a soli 19 anni, riuscì a farsi ordinare sacerdote dall’anziano vescovo di Périgueux (in Francia non erano ancora attive le disposizioni in materia del Concilio di Trento), poi continuò gli studi di teologia a Tolosa, laureandosi nell’ottobre 1604.
Sperò inutilmente di ottenere una rendita come parroco, nel frattempo perse il padre e la famiglia finì ancora di più in ristrettezze economiche; per aiutarla Vincent aprì una scuola privata senza grande successo, anzi si ritrovò carico di debiti.
Fu di questo periodo la strabiliante e controversa avventura che gli capitò; verso la fine di luglio 1605, mentre viaggiava per mare da Marsiglia a Narbona, la nave fu attaccata da pirati turchi ed i passeggeri, compreso Vincenzo de’ Paoli, furono fatti prigionieri e venduti a Tunisi come schiavi.
Vincenzo fu venduto successivamente a tre diversi padroni, dei quali l’ultimo, era un frate rinnegato che per amore del denaro si era fatto musulmano.
La schiavitù durò due anni, finché riacquistò la libertà fuggendo su una barca insieme al suo ultimo padrone da lui convertito; attraversando avventurosamente il Mediterraneo, giunsero il 28 giugno 1607 ad Aigues-Mortes in Provenza.
Ad Avignone il rinnegato si riconciliò con la Chiesa, nelle mani del vicedelegato pontificio Pietro Montorio, il quale ritornando a Roma, condusse con sé i due uomini.
Vincenzo rimase a Roma per un intero anno, poi ritornò a Parigi a cercare una sistemazione; certamente negli anni giovanili Vincenzo de’ Paoli non fu uno stinco di santo, tanto che alcuni studiosi affermano, che i due anni di schiavitù da lui narrati, in realtà servirono a nascondere una sua fuga dai debitori, per la sua fallimentare conduzione della scuola e pensionato privati.
Riuscì a farsi assumere tra i cappellani di corte, ma con uno stipendio di fame, che a stento gli permetteva di sopravvivere, senza poter aiutare la sua mamma rimasta vedova.
Parroco e precettore
Finalmente nel 1612 fu nominato parroco di Clichy, alla periferia di Parigi; in questo periodo della sua vita, avvenne l’incontro decisivo con Pierre de Bérulle, che accogliendolo nel suo Oratorio, lo formò a una profonda spiritualità; nel contempo, colpito dalla vita di preghiera di alcuni parrocchiani, padre Vincenzo ormai di 31 anni, lasciò da parte le preoccupazioni materiali e di carriera e prese ad insegnare il catechismo, visitare gli infermi ed aiutare i poveri.
Lo stesso de Brulle, gli consigliò di accettare l’incarico di precettore del primogenito di Filippo Emanuele Gondi, governatore generale delle galere.
Nei quattro anni di permanenza nel castello dei signori Gondi, Vincenzo poté constatare le condizioni di vita che caratterizzavano le due componenti della società francese dell’epoca, i ricchi ed i poveri.
I ricchi a cui non mancava niente, erano altresì speranzosi di godere nell’altra vita dei beni celesti, ed i poveri che dopo una vita stentata e disgraziata, credevano di trovare la porta del cielo chiusa, a causa della loro ignoranza e dei vizi in cui la miseria li condannava.
Anche la signora Gondi condivideva le preoccupazioni del suo cappellano, pertanto mise a disposizione una somma di denaro, per quei religiosi che avessero voluto predicare una missione ogni cinque anni, alla massa di contadini delle sue terre; ma nessuna Congregazione si presentò e il cappellano de’ Paoli, intimorito da un compito così grande per un solo prete, abbandonò il castello senza avvisare nessuno.
Gli inizi delle sue fondazioni – Le “Serve dei poveri”
Le fondazioni di Vincenzo de’ Paoli, non scaturirono mai da piani prestabiliti o da considerazioni, ma bensì da necessità contingenti, in un clima di perfetta aderenza alla realtà.
Lasciato momentaneamente il castello della famiglia Gondi, Vincenzo fu invitato dagli oratoriani di de Bérulle, ad esercitare il suo ministero in una parrocchia di campagna a Chatillon-le-Dombez; il contatto con la realtà povera dei contadini, che specie se ammalati erano lasciati nell’abbandono e nella miseria, scosse il nuovo parroco.
Dopo appena un mese dal suo arrivo, fu informato che un’intera famiglia del vicinato, era ammalata e senza un minimo di assistenza, allora lui fece un appello ai parrocchiani che si attivassero per aiutarli, appello che fu accolto subito e ampiamente.
Allora don Vincenzo fece questa considerazione: “Oggi questi poveretti avranno più del necessario, tra qualche giorno essi saranno di nuovo nel bisogno!”. Da ciò scaturì l’idea di una confraternita di pie persone, impegnate a turno ad assistere tutti gli ammalati bisognosi della parrocchia; così il 20 agosto 1617 nasceva la prima ‘Carità’, le cui associate presero il nome di “Serve dei poveri”; in tre mesi l’Istituzione ebbe un suo regolamento approvato dal vescovo di Lione.
La Carità organizzata, si basava sul concetto che tutto deve partire da quell’amore, che in ogni povero fa vedere la viva presenza di Gesù e dall’organizzazione, perché i cristiani sono tali solo se si muovono coscienti di essere un sol corpo, come già avvenne nella prima comunità di Gerusalemme.
La signora Gondi riuscì a convincerlo a tornare nelle sue terre e così dopo la parentesi di sei mesi come parroco a Chatillon-les-Dombes, Vincenzo tornò, non più come precettore, ma come cappellano della massa di contadini, circa 8.000, delle numerose terre dei Gondi.
Prese così a predicare le Missioni nelle zone rurali, fondando le ‘Carità’ nei numerosi villaggi; s. Vincenzo avrebbe voluto che anche gli uomini, collaborassero insieme alle donne nelle ‘Carità’, ma la cosa non funzionò per la mentalità dell’epoca, quindi in seguito si occupò solo di ‘Carità’ femminili.
Quelle maschili verranno riprese un paio di secoli dopo, nel 1833, da Emanuele Bailly a Parigi, con un gruppo di sette giovani universitari, tra cui la vera anima fu il beato Federico Ozanam (1813-1853); esse presero il nome di “Conferenze di S. Vincenzo de’ Paoli”.
Intanto nel 1623 Vincenzo de’ Paoli, si laureò in diritto canonico a Parigi e restò con i Gondi fino al 1625.
Le “Dame della Carità”
Vincenzo de’ Paoli, vivendo a Parigi si rese conto che la povertà era presente, in forma ancora più dolorosa, anche nelle città e quindi fondò anche a Parigi le ‘Carità’; qui nel 1629 le “Suore dei poveri” presero il nome di “Dame della Carità”.
Nell’associazione confluirono anche le nobildonne, che poterono dare un valore aggiunto alla loro vita spesso piena di vanità; ciò permise alla nobiltà parigina di contribuire economicamente alle iniziative fondate da “monsieur Vincent”.
L’istituzione cittadina più importante fu quella detta dell’”Hotel Dieu” (Ospedale), che s. Vincenzo organizzò nel 1634, essa fu il più concreto aiuto al santo nelle molteplici attività caritative, che man mano lo vedevano impegnato; trovatelli, galeotti, schiavi, popolazioni affamate per la guerra e nelle Missioni rurali.
Fra le centinaia di associate a questa meravigliosa ‘Carità’, vi furono la futura regina di Polonia Luisa Maria Gonzaga e la duchessa d’Auguillon, nipote del Primo Ministro, cardinale Richelieu.
Le prime ‘Carità’ vincenziane sorsero in Italia a Roma (1652), Genova (1654), Torino (1656).
I “Preti della Missione” o “Lazzaristi”
Anche in questa fondazione ci fu l’intervento munifico dei signori Gondi; la sua origine si fa risalire alla fortunata predicazione che il fondatore tenne a Folleville il 25 gennaio 1617; le sue parole furono tanto efficaci che non bastarono i confessori.
Il bene ottenuto in quel villaggio, indusse la signora Gondi ad offrire una somma di denaro a quella comunità che si fosse impegnata a predicare periodicamente ai contadini; come già detto non si presentò nessuno, per cui dopo il suo ritorno a Parigi, Vincenzo de’ Paoli prese su di sé l’impegno, aggregandosi con alcuni zelanti sacerdoti e cominciò dal 1618 a predicare nei villaggi.
Il risultato fu ottimo, ed altri sacerdoti si unirono a lui, i signori Gondi aumentarono il finanziamento e anche l’arcivescovo di Parigi diede il suo appoggio, assegnando a Vincenzo ed ai suoi missionari rurali, una casa nell’antico Collegio dei Bons-Enfants in via S. Vittore; il contratto fra Vincenzo de’ Paoli ed i signori Gondi porta la data del 17 aprile 1625.
La nuova comunità, si legge nel contratto, doveva fare vita comune, rinunziare alle cariche ecclesiastiche, e predicare nei villaggi di campagna; inoltre occuparsi dell’assistenza spirituale dei forzati e insegnare il catechismo nelle parrocchie nei mesi estivi.
La “Congregazione della Missione” come si chiamò, fu approvata il 24 aprile 1626 dall’arcivescovo di Parigi, dal re di Francia nel maggio 1627 e da papa Urbano VIII il 12 gennaio 1632.
Intanto i missionari si erano spostati nel priorato di San Lazzaro, da cui prenderanno anche il nome di “Lazzaristi”.
In seguito Vincenzo accettò che i suoi Preti della Missione o Lazzaristi, riuniti in una Congregazione senza voti, si dedicassero alla formazione dei sacerdoti, con Esercizi Spirituali, dirigendo Seminari e impegnandosi nelle Missioni all’estero come in Madagascar, nell’assistenza agli schiavi d’Africa.
Quando morì nel 1660, la sola Casa di San Lazzaro, aveva già dato 840 missioni e un migliaio di persone si erano avvicendate in essa, per turni di Esercizi Spirituali.
Le “Figlie della Carità”
La feconda predicazione nei villaggi, suscitò la vocazione all’apostolato attivo, prima nelle numerose ragazze delle campagne poi in quelle della città; desiderose di lavorare nelle ‘Carità’ a servizio dei bisognosi, ma anche consacrandosi totalmente.
Vincenzo de’ Paoli intuì la grande opportunità di estendere la sua opera assistenziale, lì dove le “Dame della Carità” per la loro posizione sociale, non potevano arrivare personalmente.
Affidò il primo gruppo per la loro formazione, ad una donna eccezionale s. Luisa de Marillac (1591-1660) vedova Le Gras, era il 29 novembre 1633; Luisa de Marillac le accolse in casa sua e nel luglio dell’anno successivo le postulanti erano già dodici.
La nuova Congregazione prese il nome di “Figlie della Carità”; i voti erano permessi ma solo privati ed annuali, perché tutte svolgessero la loro missione nella più piena libertà e per puro amore; l’approvazione fu data nel 1646 dall’arcivescovo di Parigi e nel 1668 dalla Santa Sede.
Nel 1660, anno della morte del fondatore e della stessa cofondatrice, le “Figlie della Carità” avevano già una cinquantina di Case.
Con il loro caratteristico copricapo, che le faceva assomigliare a degli angeli, e a cui le suore hanno dovuto rinunciare nel 1964 per un velo più pratico, esse allargarono la loro benefica attività d’assistenza ai malati negli ospedali, ai trovatelli, agli orfani, ai forzati, ai vecchi, ai feriti di guerra, agli invalidi e ad ogni sorta di miseria umana.
Ancora oggi le Figlie della Carità, costituiscono la Famiglia religiosa femminile più numerosa della Chiesa.
La formazione del clero
Attraverso l’Opera degli Esercizi Spirituali, i Preti della Missione divennero di fatto, i più prestigiosi e qualificati formatori dei futuri sacerdoti, al punto che l’arcivescovo di Parigi dispose che i nuovi ordinandi, trascorressero quindici giorni di preparazione nelle Case dei Lazzaristi, in particolare nel Collegio dei Bons-Enfants di cui Vincenzo de’ Paoli era superiore.
Più tardi, nel priorato di San Lazzaro, l’Opera degli Esercizi Spirituali si estese a tutti gli ecclesiastici che avessero voluto fare un ritiro annuale e anche a folti gruppi di laici.
Da ciò scaturì nei sacerdoti il desiderio di riunirsi settimanalmente, per esortarsi a vicenda nel cammino di una santa vita sacerdotale; così a partire dal 1633, un folto gruppo di ecclesiastici, con la guida di Vincenzo de’ Paoli, prese a riunirsi il martedì, dando vita appunto alle “Conferenze del martedì”.
Tale meritoria opera di formazione non sfuggì al potente cardinale Richelieu, il quale volle essere informato sulla loro attività e chiese pure al fondatore, una lista di nomi degni di essere elevati all’episcopato.
Lo stesso re Luigi XIII, chiese a ‘monsieur Vincent’, una seconda lista di degni ecclesiastici adatti a reggere diocesi francesi; il sovrano poi lo volle accanto al suo letto di morte, per ricevere gli ultimi conforti spirituali.
Anche la direzione dei costituendi Seminari delle diocesi francesi, voluti dal Concilio di Trento, vide sempre nel 1660, ben dodici rettori appartenenti ai Preti della Missione
Alla corte di Francia
Nel 1643, Vincenzo de’ Paoli fu chiamato a far parte del Consiglio della Coscienza o Congregazione degli Affari Ecclesiastici, dalla reggente Anna d’Austria; presieduto dal card. Giulio Mazzarino, il compito del Consiglio era la scelta dei vescovi ed il rilascio di benefici ecclesiastici.
Il potente Primo Ministro faceva scelte di opportunità politica, soprassedendo sulle qualità morali e religiose; era inevitabile lo scontro fra i due, Vincenzo gli si oppose apertamente, anche criticandolo nelle sue scelte di politica interna, specie nei giorni oscuri della Fronda, quando Mazzarino tentò di mettere alla fame Parigi in rivolta, Vincenzo allora organizzò una mensa popolare a San Lazzaro, dando da mangiare a 2000 affamati al giorno.
Nel 1649 giunse a chiedere alla regina, l’allontanamento del Mazzarino per il bene della Francia; la richiesta non poté aver seguito e quindi Vincenzo de’ Paoli cadde in disgrazia e fu definitivamente allontanato dal Consiglio di Coscienza nel 1652.
La reggente Anna d’Austria gli concesse l’incarico di Ministro della Carità, per organizzare su scala nazionale gli aiuti ai poveri; si disse che dalle sue mani passasse più denaro che in quelle del ministro delle Finanze.
Altri aspetti della sua opera
Vincenzo de’ Paoli divenne il maggiore oppositore alle idee gianseniste propugnate in Francia dal suo amico Giovanni du Vergier, detto San Cirano († 1642) e poi da Antonio Arnauld; dopo la condanna del giansenismo da parte dei papi Innocenzo X nel 1653 e Alessandro VIII nel 1656, Vincenzo si adoperò, affinché la decisione pontificia fosse accettata con sottomissione da tutti gli aderenti alle idee del vescovo olandese Giansenio (1585-1638).
Il movimento eterodosso del giansenismo affermava, che per la salvezza dell’uomo, a causa della profonda corruzione scaturita dal peccato originale, occorreva l’assoluta necessità della Grazia, la quale sarebbe stata concessa solo ad alcuni, per imperscrutabile disegno di Dio.
Fu riformatore della predicazione, fino allora barocca, introducendo una semplice tecnica oratoria: della virtù scelta per argomento, ricercare la natura, i motivi di praticarla, ed i mezzi più opportuni
Per lui apostolo della carità fra i prigionieri ed i forzati, re Luigi XIII, su suggerimento di Filippo Emanuele Gondi, istituì la carica di Cappellano capo delle galere (8 febbraio 1619), questo gli facilitò il compito e l’accesso nei luoghi di pena e di partenza dei galeotti rematori; dal 1640 il compito passò anche ai suoi Missionari e alle Dame e Figlie della Carità.
Inoltre si calcola che tra il 1645 e il 1661, Vincenzo de’ Paoli e i suoi Missionari, liberarono non meno di 1200 schiavi cristiani in mano ai Turchi musulmani.
Monsieur Vincent fu fin dai primi anni, membro attivo della potente “Compagnia del SS. Sacramento”, sorta a Parigi nel 1630, composta da ecclesiastici e laici insigni e dedita ad “ogni forma di bene”.
Vincenzo de’ Paoli fu spesso ispiratore della benefica attività della Compagnia e da essa ricevé aiuto e collaborazione, per le sue tante opere assistenziali.
Il pensiero spirituale
Nei dodici capitoli delle “Regulae”, Vincenzo ha condensato lo spirito che deve distinguere i suoi figli come religiosi: la spiritualità contemplativa del pensiero del card. de Bérulle, sotto la cui direzione egli rimase per oltre un decennio; l’umanesimo devoto di s. Francesco di Sales, suo grande amico, del quale lesse più volte le opere spirituali e l’ascetismo di s. Ignazio di Loyola, del quale assimilò il temperamento pratico; elaborando da queste tre fonti una nuova dottrina spirituale.
Le virtù caratteristiche dello spirito vincenziano, secondo la Regola dei Missionari, sono le “cinque pietre di Davide”, cioè la semplicità, l’umiltà, la mansuetudine, la mortificazione e lo zelo per la salvezza delle anime.
La morte, patronati
Il grande apostolo della Carità, si spense a Parigi la mattina del 27 settembre 1660 a 79 anni; ai suoi funerali partecipò una folla immensa di tutti i ceti sociali; fu proclamato Beato da papa Benedetto XIII il 13 agosto 1729 e canonizzato da Clemente XII il 16 giugno 1737.
I suoi resti mortali, rivestiti dai paramenti sacerdotali, sono venerati nella Cappella della Casa Madre dei Vincenziani a Parigi.
È patrono del Madagascar, dei bambini abbandonati, degli orfani, degli infermieri, degli schiavi, dei forzati, dei prigionieri. Leone XIII il 12 maggio 1885 lo proclamò patrono delle Associazioni cattoliche di carità.
In San Pietro in Vaticano, una gigantesca statua, opera dello scultore Pietro Bracci, è collocata nella basilica dal 1754, rappresentante il “padre dei poveri”.
La sua celebrazione liturgica è il 27 settembre.
Autore: Antonio Borrelli
Écrits et correspondances de Saint Vincent de Paul ; Biographies de Saint Vincent de Paul et de Sainte Louise de Marillac : http://jesusmarie.free.fr/vincent_de_paul.html