Updated: Sep 25, 2021
“The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”
Saint Vincent de Paul was a French Roman Catholic priest to totally and wholly committed himself to serving the poor.
Vincent de Paul was born on April 24th, 1581, in the the village of Pouy, France. His last name is likely derived from a stream near their home named "Paul". With three brothers and two sisters, Vincent was the third born and showed a grasp of reading and writing early in his life. His father sent him to Dax, France as a seminarian at the age 15. In 1597, Vincent began his studies at the Universiry of Toulouse, studying theology. He was ordained a priest at 19 in 1600 but because his age broke the rules from the Council of Trent (requiring someone to be 24 before being ordained) he remained at the college and continued studying until 1604 when he received his Bachelor of Theology and a Licentiate in Canon Law from the University of Paris.
“Far from rejecting such a good man as you, He never even abandons a wicked man who hopes for His mercy.”
In 1605, Vincent sales from Marseilles on his way back from Castres. His ship was boarded and Vincent was taken captive by Barbary pirates who sold him as a slave. He was first sold as a fisherman and then sold to a physician. This physician soon became famous for his inventions and alchemy but died while travelling to Istanbul with Vincent. A former priest and Franciscan from Nice, Guillaume Gautier purchased Vincent and brought him to the mountains. Through his Christian beliefs, he converted the man's wife back to Christianity and through her conversion convinced Guillaume to return. They returned to France, landing in Aigues-Mortes in 1607.
“Even convicts, with whom I have spent some time, are not won over in any other way. Whenever I happened to speak sharply to them, I spoiled everything; on the contrary, when I praised them for their resignation and sympathized with them in their sufferings; when I told them they were fortunate to have their purgatory in this world, when I kissed their chains, showed compassion for their distress, and expressed sorrow for their misfortune, it was then that they listened to me, gave glory to God, and opened themselves to salvation.”
Vincent travelled to Rome after France, continuing his studies until being assigned to bring a message to King Henry IV. In 1617, he contacted the Daughters of Charity and began organizing the group for missionary projects, funding hospitals, and gathering relief funds for victims of war. Famously he helped gather funds to ransom 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. With the help of Louise de Marillac, the Filles de la Charite (Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul) a Society of Apostolic life for women.
After serving as a chaplain to the galleys, he returned to become Superior of the Congregation of the Mission, also called the Vincentians. These priests took vows of extreme poverty and dedicated themselves entirely to serving poor and impoverished peoples in small towns and villages.
“And what are we doing if we are not doing God's Will?”
Saint Vincent died on September 27th, 1660. His Canonization was started in 1705 by the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission and was declared blessed by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729. Eight years later, Pope Clement XII canonized him on June 16th, 1737. His uncorrupted heart is on display in a reliquary at the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris.