St. Vincent de Paul spent the early years of his priesthood ministering among the wealthy in the French countryside near Paris. In 1609 he became tutor to the children of the Gondi family, an involvement that taught him a principle for his work: evangelize the rich and direct them to serve the poor. At that time, Vincent observed that many poorly catechized peasants were not making good confessions. He also noticed that inadequately trained priests did not know how to administer the sacrament of Penance. Encouraged by Madame Gondi, in 1617, Vincent preached a parish mission that pointed to his future. He stirred so many people to repentance that Jesuits from a nearby town had to help hear confessions.
In 1625, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission, a community of priests with a threefold commitment. Members obligated themselves to pattern their lives on Christ, to take the gospel to the rural poor, and to help educate priests in their practical duties. The priests mainly conducted parish missions, preaching and hearing confessions
With the collaboration of St. Louise de Marillac, in 1633, Vincent founded the Sisters of Charity, the first community of “unenclosed” women dedicated to care of the sick and the poor. To support the sisters, Vincent recruited rich women, who as Ladies of Charity gave their time and money.
In his last years Vincent was confined to an armchair because of his swollen and ulcerous legs. But he remained cheerful, directing his charitable works by writing hundreds of letters. He was nearly eighty years old when he died in 1660.
Vincent de Paul stumbled into his life’s work. Thus he is a healthful model for those who suffer stress trying “to find God’s plan” for their lives. Vincent did not start with grandiose plans. He began much more simply. When he observed a need, he figured out a Christian way to meet it. If we would do more of that, we would be better Christians with lower blood pressure.
from Voices of the Saints, by Bert Ghezzi
Image credit: Vincent de Paul by unknown artist, 17th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia.