Most of us have donated to or shopped at a St. Vincent de Paul Society store, but many of us don’t know the story of Vincent himself. It begins in very familiar ways: Vincent, the child of poor parents, displays his intellectual gifts early in life. His parents deny themselves to provide for their bright son’s education, an education he intends to use to rise in the world. Vincent wants wealth and influence and a corner office, and for a while it looked as though he would find it.
He had a particular concern for those in prison and he is the patron saint of prisoners.
Vincent became the court chaplain to Queen Margaret of Valois. Through her he cultivated other powerful friends. But then Vincent found a spiritual director, Peter de Berulle, who would change his life. De Berulle opened Vincent’s eyes to see a suffering world. He began to work in the poorest districts and in the jails and found his heart utterly transformed. He wanted only to serve Christ in the needy, the lonely, the outcast and the suffering. He had a particular concern for those in prison and he is the patron saint of prisoners.
Under Vincent’s leadership, groups of lay people came together to join him in this work. In 1625, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission (or Vincentians.) In 1633, he and St. Louise de Marillac (whose memorial is kept on March 15) founded the Daughters of the Sisters of Charity. It was said of these women that their “convent is the sick-room, their chapel the parish church, their cloister the city streets.”
Vincent kept working until he was 80 years old, an ancient age for the seventeenth century. He died in 1660. On his deathbed, he said, “I believe, I trust, I am ready.”
How can we keep this memorial of Vincent de Paul? If you are in a household with children, consider going through your house, gathering up clothing, toys, small appliances and other items to donate to a St. Vincent de Paul Society store in your area. If you don’t have a store nearby, you can make a donation to the Society itself, by mail:
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
National Council of the United States
58 Progress Parkway
Maryland Heights, MO 63043-3706.
Or go to their website and follow the prompts to donate online.
Educate yourself about the plight of prisoners here and around the world. Read what the Church has to say about the just treatment of prisoners. Read: St. John Paul II’s “Message for the Jubilee of Prisons” July 2000
Pray and ask God to open your eyes as Vincent’s eyes were opened, to see, even in the despised and the disfigured, the face of Christ. Pray that, with Vincent, you may believe, you may trust, you may be ready.