The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 22, 2000 Issue
Saint of the Day

Slave background bears fruit

St. Vincent de Paul devoted life to caring for poor, sick

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Mention St. Vincent de Paul and most people think of the international society founded in Paris in 1833 by Blessed Frederic Ozanam to carry out Vincent's work among the poor.

But, St. Vincent also founded two religious orders and served as a pastor and chaplain. And, even his friends, say that he was irritable and surly, though prayer helped him control himself.

This champion of the poor was himself born to peasant parents in Pouy, France, on April 24, 1580. He was ordained in 1600 after graduating from the University of Toulouse.

In 1605, he went to Marseilles to collect an inheritance and was captured by pirates, who sold him as a slave in Algeria. He escaped to Avignon in 1607, then went to Rome for more studies.

In 1609, he was sent back to France on a secret mission to Henry IV. Once there, he became the chaplain to Queen Margaret of Valois and seemed mainly intent on leading a luxurious life.

But then, in 1617 all that changed when he heard the death bed confession of a peasant. From then on, he devoted his energies to working with the poor and preaching.

In 1618, he met St. Francis de Sales and St. Frances de Chantal in Paris and later was named ecclesiastical superior of the Visitation Sisters, which Francis and Frances had founded.

He also was a tutor in the household of Count de Gondi, general of the galleys, and began ministering to the galley slaves.

In 1625, with financial support from the Gondi family, he founded the Vincentians to work among peasants and in seminaries. The order soon spread throughout France.

Next, he started parish confraternities, organizing the rich women of Paris to raise money to help the poor. He and Louise de Marillac founded the Sisters of Charity in 1633. The order marked a sharp change in the life of women religious who had previously had been kept in a cloister. Instead, they are sisters "whose convent is the sickroom, whose chapel is the parish church, whose cloister is the streets of the city."

He also opened hospitals, orphanages and seminaries, ransomed 1,200 Christian slaves being held in northern Africa, provided relief for victims of war, wrote on spiritual topics, opposed Jansenism and sent his priests abroad to preach missions.

Throughout his life, Vincent remained the friend of royalty and the nobility while dedicating himself to help lessen the suffering of the poor.

He died at Paris in 1660 on Sept. 27, the day on which we celebrate his feast. Pope Clement XII canonized him in 1737 and Pope Leo XIII named him patron of all charitable groups in 1885.

The life of St. Vincent de Paul reminds us that it's not who we know, but what we do, that allows us to store spiritual riches.

Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints, Praying with Vincent de Paul, Saint of the Day, Saints for Our Time, 365 Saints and World Book Encyclopedia

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