Written by: Sam Abbott, UF Student
The “Father of the Poor” was born into a peasant family in France in the late sixteenth century. One would assume that his humble origins would be the reason for his dedication to the less fortunate, but as a child, St. Vincent had only worldly aspirations. Surprisingly, he believed his best opportunity to fulfill his ambition and achieve the wealth and fame he desired was to become a priest!
A few years after he was ordained in 1600, St. Vincent was captured by North African pirates while traveling across the Mediterranean. After a few years as a slave, he was able to escape and returned to France. After returning to Paris, St. Vincent became acquainted with Fr. (and later Cardinal) Pierre de Berulle, who was attempting to create an order of spiritual priests who would reform the impious ways of the French clergy. Inspired by this friendship and from the death bed confession of a French peasant, St. Vincent set forth on a path to sanctity. From then on, his life’s mission can be summed up by his declaration, “Go to the poor: there you will find God.”
St. Vincent began to work tirelessly for the spiritual and physical relief for the poor and sick in the neglected parishes of France. With the help of St. Louise de Marillac, St. Vincent established the Daughters of Charity, a religious confraternity “whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city.” He also established a prison ministry, distributed his money to the deserving poor, and organized the ransoming of over 1,200 Christian galley slaves from North Africa. He also helped reform the priesthood in France by developing the precursor to modern-day seminaries and holding retreats where he would help French priests refocus their lives on God and serving their parishes.
The most notable achievement of St. Vincent de Paul was his establishment of the Congregation of the Mission, now known as the Vincentians. This order of priests took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability and devoted themselves to the peasants in rural towns and villages. The Vincentians would establish hospitals and schools as well as administer to the destitute and homeless of these communities. During his life, the Vincentians spread across Europe from Italy to Poland.
The Vincentian Order would continue St. Vincent’s work all over the world. The success of St. Vincent and his order led to the fame he had hoped as a youth to achieve, but it was from his service to the poor, his humility, and his simplicity that gave prominence. Rather than bask in his glory, St. Vincent rejected his younger self’s ideals and continued to serve the poor until his death in 1660. St. Vincent de Paul had dedicated his life to help the less fortunate in any way possible. He was a servant to the poor and therefore, a servant to God.
The legacy of “The Apostle of Charity” continued long after his death. In 1833, Blessed Frederic Ozanam was inspired to establish the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a charity dedicated to helping the impoverished in communities across the world. If you would like to get involved with the St. Vincent de Paul Society here in Gainesville, contact Betty Lynn Brown-Spears at (352) 222-0588 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today on September 27th, the Feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, may we be reminded of Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.