Vincent de Paul, St.
VINCENT DE PAUL, ST.
Apostle of charity and founder of the Congregation of the Mission (see vincentians) and of the Daughters of charity; b. Pouy (now called Saint-Vincent de Paul), Landes, France, April 1581; d. Paris, Sept. 27, 1660. Vincent was the third of six children born in a peasant family. He studied the humanities at Dax from 1595 to 1597, then went to Toulouse for theology. After his ordination (1600) he earned the baccalaureate in theology at Toulouse (1604). His whereabouts from 1605 to 1607 are uncertain; one version has it that he was captured at sea and enslaved by the Muslims of Barbary, then made an adventurous escape by ship. It is certain that he was at Avignon and Rome in 1607–08.
The Conversion of an Apostle. In 1608 he arrived in Paris and there met Pierre de bÉrulle who later, exercised a profound influence on his life. The gradual conversion of Vincent from a seeker of benefices to a seeker of God began probably about this time; it seems to have been completed at the latest by about 1620. During the years immediately after conversion Vincent was almoner (1610) to Queen Marguerite of Valois (repudiated wife of Henry IV); pastor (1612–26) of the parish of Clichy near Paris; and chaplain (1613 to c. 1625) to the family of Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi, who was general of the galleys of France, brother of Henri de Gondi (first cardinal de Retz), and father of Jean François Paul de Gondi (second cardinal de retz).
From about 1611, Vincent endured a three-or four-year temptation against faith; the trial left him after he resolved to devote his life to the service of the poor. As chaplain, he not only looked after the spiritual needs of the Gondi family and their household staff, but also felt himself responsible for the peasants on the vast Gondi estates. The deathbed repentance (1617) of an apparently good-living peasant opened his eyes to the spiritual misery of the peasantry. A sermon on general confession preached with great fruit on Jan. 25, 1617, in Folleville, near Amiens, was considered by the chaplain as the first of his mission. For a brief period in 1617, Vincent was pastor of Chatillon-les-Dombes near Lyons, where he founded the first Confraternity of Charity, an association of pious laywomen who helped the poor and the sick. Having returned to the Gondis in December 1617, he drew up plans to evangelize all their lands; thus his principal work from 1618 to 1624 was preaching missions and establishing the Confraternity of Charity on the Gondi territories. As chaplain general of the galleys from 1619, Vincent did all in his power to alleviate the corporal and spiritual woes of the galley slaves.
His friendship with (St.) francis de sales and (St.) Jane Frances de chantal began in the winter of 1618–1619. In 1622 Francis de Sales appointed him superior of the Visitation convents in Paris; at this time Vincent also undertook the spiritual direction of Mme. de Chantal. Vincent became principal of the Collège des Bons-Enfants in Paris in 1624; that same year Bérulle introduced him to Jean Duvergier de Hauranne, later known as the Abbé de Saint-Cyran. Vincent and Jean became very close at this time, even sharing a common purse. When Duvergier's Jansenistic convictions became more pronounced, however, their friendship cooled considerably, and in 1648 Vincent took an active stand in opposing jansenism. The defeat of the movement in France is due in great measure to his work and influence in the subsequent years.
Apostolic Foundations. On April 17, 1625, the Gondis founded the Congregation of the Mission (known also as Vincentians and Lazarists) for the purpose of preaching missions to poor country people. The congregation was approved by the archbishop of Paris April 24, 1626, and soon after, the first missionaries banded together in formal union around Vincent. Royal ratification in May 1627 gave the congregation legal status in France, but in 1628 Rome twice refused its approval. In Paris in 1632, Vincent took possession of the priory of Saint-Lazare, which became the motherhouse of the congregation until the Revolution, and from which the name Lazarists is derived. Urban VIII finally approved the community in the bull Salvatoris nostri (1633).
Vincent had met louise de marillac, his collaborator in many charitable works, in 1625. The Daughters of Charity were formed (1633) from a group of girls who had been assisting her and had gathered together in her home. Vincent composed their rule, gave them conferences, and governed as superior general. They in turn rendered him invaluable assistance in his charitable works, e.g., the care of foundlings, which they undertook in 1638 and in which they continued long after his death.
In 1626 in Beauvais, Vincent initiated the retreats for ordinands, a 10-day period of training in moral theology and Holy Orders for those about to be ordained. These retreats spread quickly over France and into Italy and Poland. Until 1642 they were the most successful form of clerical training in the whole of France, and they became the inspiration and basis for the later seminaries of ordinands. Vincent also organized (1633) the Tuesday Conferences, a select group of clerics who had made the retreats for ordinands and who wished to meet together for their own benefit and for that of the apostolate. In 1636, following the norms of the Council of Trent, he founded a seminary for young boys at Bons-Enfants. In 1642 he added to it a seminary of ordinands, the first of 18 such institutions conducted by his congregation during
his lifetime. In 1645 Vincent moved the conciliar seminary from Bons-Enfants to Saint-Lazare and renamed it the Seminary of Saint-Charles; an utter failure as a Tridentine seminary, it proved a success as a minor seminary. The seminary of ordinands at Bons-Enfants meanwhile gradually developed into a major seminary.
Vincent sent ten priests to serve as chaplains with the French army in 1636, and beginning in 1639 he organized relief for Lorraine and other provinces devastated during the Wars of Religion. Several times he acted as mediator in attempting to restore peace to a divided France. Vincent assisted Louis XIII on his deathbed in 1643 and became a member of the Council of Conscience, a committee formed to advise the King on religious matters. He kept this post until 1653, when opposition to Mazarin forced him to quit the office.
Years of Fulfillment. The last period of his life was not one of many new undertakings, but rather one in which his earlier works (Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, missions, seminaries, charities) spread throughout France and beyond it. He completed and distributed the rules of his congregation to his disciples in 1658. The death of Louise de Marillac early in 1660 saddened him, and Vincent himself died peacefully in that year. His body lies at the motherhouse of the Parisian province of the Congregation of the Mission.
Although acclaimed a saint by his contemporaries, Vincent was not formally beatified until 1729. In 1737 he was canonized by Clement XII and in 1885 he was named patron of all works of charity of which he is in any way the inspiration. Vincent de Paul was neither a profound nor an original thinker; yet few have accomplished as much. His success was a result of natural talents and of a tremendous amount of work, but above all of a profound spiritual life. In this he was deeply influenced by Bérulle and Francis de Sales, but he modified their ideas according to his own insights. The piety that he practiced and taught was simple, nonmystical, Christocentric and oriented toward action.
Feast: July 19.
Bibliography: Works. Correspondance, entretiens, documents, ed. p. coste, 14 v. (Paris 1920–25), v.11 and 12 rev. and ed. a. dodin as Entretiens spirituels aux Missionnaires (Paris 1960); Letters, ed. and tr. j. leonard (London 1937); Conferences … to the Sisters of Charity, tr. j. leonard, 4 v. (Westminster, Md.1952); V. de P. and Louise de Marillac: Rules, Conferences, and Writings, ed. f. ryan and j. e. rybolt (New York 1995); Correspondence, Conferences, Documents, tr. p. coste (Brooklyn, N.Y.1985). Literature. l. abelly, Vie du vénérable serviteur de Dieu, V. de P., 3 v. (Paris 1664); The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul, ed. j. e. rybolt (New Rochelle, N.Y. 1993). g. arnaud d'agnel, Saint V. de P., A Guide for Priests, tr. j. leonard (London 1932). g. l. coluccia, Spiritualità vincenziana (Rome 1978, 1980). p. coste, The Life and Works of St. V. de P., tr. j. leonard, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 1952). l. cristiani, Saint V. de P., tr. j. r. gregoli (Boston 1977). h. daniel-rops, Monsieur Vincent, tr. j. kernan (New York 1961), picture album. j. delarue, L'Idéal Missionnaire du prêtre d'après saint Vincent (Paris 1947); Ce que croyait Monsieur Vincent (Paris 1974). a. dodin, Saint V. de P. et la Charité (Paris 1960), tr. as V. de P. and charity, tr. j. m. smith and d. saunders, ed. h. o'donnell and m. g. hornstein (New Rochelle, NY 1993); L'esprit vincentien (Paris 1981); Monsieur Vincent parle à ceux qui souffrent. Suivi de La prière de Blaise Pascal, pour demander Dieu le bon usage des maladies (Paris 1981); En prière avec Monsieur Vincent (Paris 1982); François de Sales, V. de P. (Paris 1984); La légende et l'histoire de Monsieur Depaul à saint V. de P. (Paris 1985); Initiation à saint V. de P. (Paris 1993). p. guilhaume, Saint V. de P.: l'ambassadeur des pauvres (Monte Carlo 1988). j. m. ibÁÑez, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo (Salamanca 1977); Vicente de Paúl: realismo y encarnación (Salamanca 1982). a. l. mclaughlin, St. V. de P., Servant of the Poor (Milwaukee 1965). r. p. maloney, The Way of V. de P.: A Contemporary Spirituality in the Service of the Poor (Brooklyn, N.Y. 1992); He Hears the Cry of the Poor (Hyde Park, NY 1995). m. u. maynard, Virtues and Spiritual Doctrine of Saint V. de P., rev. c. a. prindeville (St. Louis 1961). p. miquel, Vincent de Paul (Paris 1996). j. m. muneta, V. de P.: animador del culto (Salamanca 1974). b. pujo, V. de P.: le précurseur (Paris 1998). m. purcell, The world of Monsieur Vincent (Chicago 1989). l. robineau, Monsieur Vincent, raconté par son secrétaire (Paris 1991). m. roche, Saint V. de P. and the Formation of Clerics (Fribourg 1964). y.-m. salem-carriÈre, Saint V. de P. et l'armée (Paris 1975). Saint Vincent de Paul et la Révolution française (Bouère 1989).
[m. a. roche]