Saint Vincent de Paul
By Roger Fortin
I chose to write about St. Vincent de Paul, because shortly after becoming a parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua I was asked to become a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The year was 1968 and all I knew about the Society was that its main purpose was to help the poor of the parish. That was all that I would know even after leaving the parish several years later in 1975. Upon seeing St. Vincent de Paul, as one of the 100 Holy Heroes of the Faith, I knew it was time to educate myself, by learning about him and the society that was named after him.
Even as a young boy Vincent had shown intelligence, so much so that the neighbors said that his father should enroll him in school rather than have him tending sheep. They reminded him of another bright boy in the neighborhood who had been sent to school. He had taken Orders and got a benefice, and was able to support his parents now that they were getting old, besides helping his brothers to get on in the world. It was well worthwhile pinching a little for such a result as that.
With a good deal of difficulty the necessary money was scraped together and Vincent was sent to the Franciscans’ school at Dax, the nearest town. There the boy made such good use of his time that four years later, when he was only sixteen, he was engaged as tutor to the children of M. de Commet, a lawyer, who had taken a fancy to the clever, hardworking young scholar. At M. de Commet’s suggestion, Vincent began to study for the priesthood, while continuing the education of his young charges to the satisfaction of everybody concerned.
Five years later he took minor Orders and, feeling the urge to further his theological studies, set his heart on university training and a degree. Vincent’s father sold a yoke of oxen to start his son on his career at Toulouse, but at the end of a year Vincent was in difficulties. The only chance for a poor student like himself was a tutorship during the summer vacation, and here Vincent was lucky. The nobleman who engaged him was so delighted with the results that, when the vacation was over, he insisted on the young tutor taking his pupils back with him to Toulouse. There, while they attended the college, Vincent continued to direct their studies, with such success that several other noblemen confided their sons to him, and he was soon at the head of a small school.
For several years he continued to both teach and complete his course of theology, earned his degree, and was ordained a priest at the age 20. Unlike most new priest of the time Vincent, a humble man by nature celebrated his first Mass, in a lonely little chapel, refusing to allow any outsiders to be present.
Saint Vincent continued to show his humility and charity throughout his life, through his teachings and his actions. He was taken captive by Turkish pirates and sold into slavery, and later freed after converting one of his owners to Christianity. Upon his return to France he served as a parish priest near Paris where he started organizations to help the poor, nursed the sick, and found jobs for the unemployed. After becoming Chaplain at the court of Henry IV, of France along with Louise de Marillac, founded the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity. He instituted the Congregation of Priests of the Mission (Lazarists). Throughout his life he continued to work for the poor, the enslaved, the abandoned, the ignored and the pariahs.
His teachings are as relevant today as they were in his lifetime and we should try to emulate them as best we can. The following statement is attributed to St. Vincent de Paul and is an example as to how he himself had imitated Jesus, in his treatment of the poor. The ideas within this statement are one example as to how we should conduct ourselves today.
“Even though the poor are often rough and unrefined, we must not judge them from external appearances nor from the mental gifts, they seem to have received. On the contrary, if you consider the poor in the light of faith, then you will observe that they are taking the place of the Son of God who chose to be poor. Although in his passion he almost lost the appearance of a man and was considered a fool by the Gentiles and a stumbling block by the Jews, he showed them that his mission was to preach to the poor: “He sent me to preach the good news to the poor.” We also ought to have this same spirit and imitate Christ’s actions, that is, we must take care of the poor, console them, help them, support their cause. Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand where they are concerned. We sympathize with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: “I have become all things to all men.” Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbors’ worries and distress. It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity. With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.” ~Saint Vincent de Paul