For a large part of the liturgical year, we devote ourselves to listening to the mystery of Christ in all its aspects unfolded as we seek God's truth and understanding.
Vincent de Paul, Priest, c. 1580-1660
Vincent was born at Pouy, France, in 1581, the third of six children. His parents, who were poor farmers, recognized his potential and were determined to give him a good education. He was educated at the college at Dax and at the University of Toulouse and was then ordained at the early age of twenty.
While not a lot is known of this period in his life, we do know that in 1605, while on a trip to Marseilles, Vincent was captured by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Following his escape from Tunisia in 1607, he became chaplain to the Queen of France and tutor to the children of the Count de Joigny.
At this point in his life, by his own telling, Vincent’s ambition was little more than to have a comfortable life. Certainly, there was no sign of the great things which Vincent was to accomplish in later years. Called upon to hear the deathbed confession of a peasant in 1617, however, he became aware of the spiritual needs of the poor people of France. Vincent began preaching to the poor and soon left the house of his patron to become pastor of a church. There he instructed the people in the necessity for repentance and converted many from a scandalous lifestyle.
The following years brought wide renown to Vincent de Paul. He became noted for his work among the poor, and was a chaplain to galley slaves waiting to be shipped abroad. In 1625, with the help of his former patron, the Count de Joigny, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Missions (known today as the Vincentians), an order devoted to work among the peasants. In 1633, along with Saint Louise de Marillac, he founded the Sisters of Charity.
In his lifetime, Vincent de Paul established hospitals, orphanages, and seminaries; ransomed slaves in northern Africa; sent his priests abroad to preach missions; and organized far-flung relief among victims of war. It is remarkable that one man, without the advantages of birth and fortune so necessary for success in those times, could achieve so much.
Saint Vincent de Paul suffered from ill health in his later years and died quietly sitting in his chair at the age of 80 on September 27, 1660 and his memorial is celebrated on the anniversary of his death. He was canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737 and declared the patron of all charitable groups by Pope Leo XIII.
Vincent's message today: Even though he was ordained a priest at an early age, it took an awakening event for Vincent to recognize what God was calling him to do. The same is true for many of us, no matter what age we are. God may be asking us to do something as simple as praying for our neighbor. On the other hand, God may be asking us to do much more.