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Saint Vincent de Paul

founder of the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (the Vincentians)

Saint Vincent

Vincent de Paul was born in Gascony in about 1580 (some sources specify April 24, 1576), the third of six children born to peasant farmers. He enjoyed his first schooling under the Franciscan Fathers at Dax. Such was his progress in four years that a gentleman chose him as subpreceptor to his children, and he was thus enabled to continue his studies without being a burden to his parents. In 1596, he went to the University of Toulouse for theological studies, and there he was ordained priest in 1600.

In 1605, Vincent went to Marseille to collect an inheritance. On the voyage home, he was captured by Barbary pirates, who took him to Tunis and sold him as a slave. He ultimately converted his third master, a renegade Italian, and escaped with him to Aigues-Mortes near Marseilles in June 1607.

After short stays at Avignon and Rome, Vincent found his way to Paris, where he became favorably known to Monsieur (later Cardinal) Pierre de Bérulle, who was then founding the congregation of the French Oratory. At Bérulle's instance he became curate of Clichy near Paris (in 1611), but this charge he soon exchanged for the post of chaplain and tutor in the household of Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi, Count of Joigny (1612). This brought him into contact with the peasants on the Gondi estate, and he became concerned for their needs, physical and spiritual. After a peasant who believed himself to be dying confessed to him that his previous confessions for many years had been dishonest, Vincent began to preach in the local church on confession, repentance, forgiveness, and the love of God. His sermons drew such crowds of penitents that he had to call in a group of other priests to assist him.

In 1617, Vincent accepted the curacy of Châtillon-lès-Dombes (or sur-Chalaronne), where his sermons drew a more fashionable and aristocratic crowd. Wealthy men and women frequently came to him, expressing a wish to amend their lives, and he organized them into a Confraternity of Charity, and set them to work caring for the poor and sick in hospitals and in home visits. Out of his Confraternity of Charity there arose an order of nuns called the Daughters (or Sisters) of Charity, devoted to nursing those who were sick and poor. Many babies were abandoned in Paris every year, and when Vincent saw some of them, he established an orphanage for them, and thereafter often wandered through the slums, looking in corners for abandoned babies, which he then carried back to the orphanage.

In 1625, Vincent established the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (now known as the Vincentians, or the Lazarists), a community of priests who undertook to renounce all ecclesiastical advancement and devote themselves to work in the small towns and villages of France.

In 1633, the Archbishop of Paris gave him the Priory of St Lazare as a headquarters. There, he offered retreats six times a year for those who were preparing for the ministry. These retreats became the basis of today's seminary system, and by the time of his death his congregation was directing 53 upper and 9 lesser seminaries, a third of all in France at the time.

Vincent de Paul died in Paris on September 27, 1660, and was buried at Église St. Vincent de Paul, Paris. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729, and canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737.


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This page was last updated on September 27, 2018.