September 27: Saint Vincent de Paul, Priest

1581–1660
Memorial; Liturgical Color: White
Patron Saint of all charitable societies, hospitals, and leprosy victims

Audio

<<<      A powerhouse priest organizes multitudes for charity and renews priestly formation.     >>>

Today’s saint was one of the brightest stars in the galaxy of saintly men and women whose light rejuvenated Catholicism in seventeenth-century France. Saint Vincent de Paul established charitable societies that have endured to this day. He also founded male and female religious orders that still thrive in the twenty-first century. He was a trusted counselor to bishops, cardinals, and royalty. His ideas reformed how seminarians and priests were trained so fundamentally that this vision became normative for the world-wide Church. He was the hub of many spokes: a close friend of Saint Francis de Sales, his own co-founder Saint Louise de Marillac, and the almost-saint Pierre de Bérulle. Saint Vincent had a great influence over Jean-Jacques Olier, the founder of the Sulpician Order and a prime mover behind the group of French Catholics who risked everything to found Ville-Marie de Montreal, the explicitly Catholic settlement at the farthest edge of French Canada. Our saint also inspired Blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the lay intellectual who established the Saint Vincent de Paul Societies so commonly found in parishes throughout the world.

Few saints achieved as much as Vincent de Paul. He stood at the core of an evolving group of similarly minded French saints who left an impact like a meteor on the face of the Church. So, although he cannot be understood apart from the charitable Society that bears his name, neither can his achievements be confined to that Society alone. Saint Vincent tried to use his education and personal charm to correct the errors of Jansenism, an overly rigorous spiritual and moral approach to the Christian life that infected wide swaths of the French faithful. When his personal efforts were unproductive, he became more polemical and was instrumental in procuring a papal denunciation of Jansenism.

Our Saint’s contributions to the renewal of the life of the clergy were notable. He was a proponent and founder, along with de Bérulle, of the so-called French school of spirituality, which has been so universally adopted in priestly formation that there is, in reality, no other approach. This spirituality combines asceticism, practical and active concern for the poor, a missionary drive to the unconverted, a sophisticated theological education, simple and direct preaching, and a total reliance on the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity in seeking to do the will of God. These high ideals, this total approach, also inspired Vincent’s near contemporaries Saints John Eudes, Louis de Montfort, and Jean-Baptiste de La Salle to become who they were.

To be a man of action and contemplation. To be educated but able to discourse with the simple. To focus on the salvation of souls but also on the material concerns of the needy. To be fully a priest but to have wide circles of lay friends and followers. This was the vision of Saint Vincent de Paul for all priests, and the vision he himself put into action in his own life. He was a force of nature who stormed through life for the glory of Christ alone. Devotion to Saint Vincent followed soon after his death. He was canonized in 1737. His remains are displayed for veneration in a glass coffin above the altar in the ornate chapel of the Vincentian Fathers in central Paris, not far from the chapel of the Miraculous Medal. A partially concealed staircase allows access for the faithful to see the great man up close.

Saint Vincent de Paul, you worked tirelessly for the poor, orphans, and widows. You gathered around yourself numerous helpers. Your primary motivation was not social justice but the pure will of God. Inspire us to be so committed, so dedicated, and so faithful. Amen.

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