St. Vincent de Paul was born in Pouy (now called St. Vincent de Paul), Landes, France, in 1581, the third of six children in a peasant family.
His early life was unremarkable. After ordination in 1600, he had several pastoral and chaplain assignments. However, in 1611, he had a four-year crisis in faith. From this agony he emerged with a burning love of Christ and a determination to devote his life to working for the poor.
His concern for the poor had two main objectives. The first was the care of the destitute, the sick, and the foundlings. He succeeded in this by turning to the hitherto untapped resource of devout women. In 1617, he founded the first Confraternity of Charity, an association of well-to-do lay women who went to the homes of the poor to care for the hungry and the sick. In the next six years, he devoted himself to establishing these confraternities throughout France.
In 1633, young girls who had been helping in this work formed the Daughters of Charity. St. Vincent composed their constitution and became their superior general. His rule required that, besides their daily devotions, they have careful training in catechizing; in how to teach reading, writing, cooking, sewing, weaving, lace-making, and other skills that might raise the destitute from their misery; and to prepare the foundlings for a productive life.
The second objective of St. Vincentís ministry was the improvement of the quality of the priesthood. In 1625, he founded the Congregation of the Missions (now known as the Vincentians) for the purpose of preaching missions to poor country people. In 1626, he initiated ten-day retreats to prepare young men about to be ordained. Then, in 1633, he organized Tuesday Conferences for young priests to gather together and discuss their apostolate. These retreats became the inspiration and bases for the seminaries, which Vincent began to establish in 1642, and which he continued to develop for the rest of his life.
Other suffering souls also claimed his concern. He was chaplain-general of the galley slaves and tried to alleviate their corporal and spiritual woes. He also sent priests to serve as chaplains to the French army and organized relief for the war-devastated province of Lorraine.
St. Vincent was blessed in his friendships. St. Francis de Sales was his friend as was St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Especially important was his spiritual and temporal collaboration with St. Louise de Marillac whose vision and energy established the Daughters of Charity as devoted and competent servants of the poor.
St. Vincent de Paul died in 1660. He was canonized in 1737. In 1885, he was named patron of all works of charity.
Prayer to St. Vincent
O God, who, for the salvation of the poor and the instruction of the clergy, didst raise up a new family in our Church through Saint Vincent, grant, we beseech Thee, that animated by the same spirit, we may love what he loved and practice what he taught, Through Christ Our Lord. AMEN
Text from: Tyrrell, William G. A Century of Spiritual Service: Church of St. Vincent de Paul. Albany: Church of St. Vincent de Paul, 1985.