By Colleen Pressprich
St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was a French Catholic priest known best for his charity and compassion.
Vincent was one of six children born into a peasant family. His parents noticed his intelligence and quick wit at a young age and ensured that he received an education. When Vincent was 15 years old, his father sold the family oxen in order to send his son to seminary.
Vincent was ordained on September 23, 1600. At one point he was the chaplain to galley slaves and later was allegedly captured by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery, though some modern biographers doubt the veracity of this.
Most of Vincent’s priesthood however was spent ministering to the poor and to other priests. He organized trainings and retreats for clergy, especially those in more remote and rural areas. He felt it was important that priests had a solid grounding in theology and the ability to minister to their people well. As part of his ministry to the poor, Vincent established hospitals to serve and care for them.
Over the course of his life Vincent founded two religious orders: the Congregation of the Mission in 1625 (now known as Vincentians) and the Daughters of Charity, also known as the Sisters of St. Vincent, which he founded in 1633 with St. Louise de Marillac. Both orders are found throughout the world today.
Saint Vincent died in 1660 in Paris. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729 and canonized by Pope Clement XII in 1737. With the canonization, his commitment to charity and to reforming of the clergy was exclaimed. Saint Vincent is known as “The Apostle of Charity” and “Father of the Poor.”
His incorrupt heart can still be seen today at the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal in Paris.
After his death, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul was founded in his honor. This volunteer organization provides material help for the poor and now has about 800,000 members active in more than 140 countries.
There are many ways that you can celebrate this wonderful saint with your family. Here are a few easy ones:
- Write a letter to your priest: A beautiful way to honor St. Vincent de Paul, who was an avid letter writer (he wrote over 30,000 in his life) would be to write a thank you note or a card to your pastor. Even the littlest kids can color a picture. You’ll make his day!
- Adopt a seminarian: Choose a seminarian from your diocese to prayerfully adopt for the year (you can get a list of them through your diocese). Remember them in your family’s prayers as they prepare for the priesthood. Consider sending them a spiritual bouquet or card to let them know you’re praying for them.
- Collect food or gently used clothing for your local St. Vincent de Paul Society or spend some hours volunteering with them. Don’t have a St. Vincent de Paul Society at your parish? Consider starting one!
Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children and The Women Doctors of the Church. You can learn more about her life as a homeschooling mom and read more of her writing at elevatortoheaven.com.