Menu

Founder page – Maloney version

When Vincent de Paul died over 350 years ago, all of Paris mourned. It was much the same as when Mother Theresa died. Poor and rich alike wept because they loved this man whose life (1581-1660) had been extraordinary. Fr. Robert Maloney, 24th Successor VIncent, writes in American Magazine.

As a teenager he fled the poverty of his peasant village, was ordained illegally at 19 and began to build a secure future as a priest eager to take on lucrative jobs. Gradually, however, he underwent an extraordinary conversion and decided to devote his life to God in the service of the poor.

“Love is inventive, even to infinity,” Vincent told his followers. He also showed them what such inventiveness meant. Few saints have been as active. If one highlights only his principal accomplishments, the list is still impressive.

Struck by the need to organize practical works of charity in Châtillon, France, Vincent, then 36, founded “the Charities.” The work spread rapidly. Under different names in different places but linked worldwide as the International Association of Charities, the association today engages more than 260,000 members in 53 countries. (Frederic Ozanam and six companions adopted a similar structure centuries later to found in 1833 the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; it now has 750,000 members in 145 countries.)

Vincent also established the Congregation of the Mission, which by the time of his death had spread to Poland, Italy, Algeria, Madagascar, Ireland, Scotland, the Hebrides and the Orkney Islands. He served as superior general of the congregation until his death, writing its rules, conducting general assemblies and resolving foundational questions. The priests at the motherhouse conducted more than 1,000 parish missions.

Increasingly involved in the reform of the clergy, Vincent met with clergy leaders every Tuesday for ongoing formation. More than 12,000 young men made retreats in preparation for the priesthood. During the last 25 years of his life, Vincent established 20 seminaries.

In midlife, Vincent, age 52, joined with Louise de Marillac, a 42-year-old widow with an intense attraction to the religious life, to co-found the Daughters of Charity. With Louise at his side, he served as superior general, drafting a rule and working out the revolutionary juridical formula that would make this community of women a powerful apostolic force. The Daughters of Charity were among the first sisters to work outside the cloister, serving the poor in their homes, in hospitals and in schools—a model followed by hundreds of thousands of sisters in succeeding centuries.

As the daughters took to the streets of Paris, Vincent faced opposition. “Did not the Lord agree that women should enter his company?” Vincent would ask. “Did the Lord not lead them to perfection and to the service of the poor? If, therefore, the Lord did it—he who did everything for our instruction—should we not do the same thing?” Rapidly, more than 60 houses of the daughters sprang up in France and Poland. And in the years after Vincent’s death, the Daughters of Charity became one of the church’s largest congregations.

Vincent also promoted the care of foundlings. He assigned many members of the Daughters of Charity to the work and built 13 houses to receive the children. In 1647, when funds fell short, Vincent issued a simple, eloquent appeal to the Ladies of Charity, a group of wealthy women he had assembled: “Ladies, if you continue to support these little ones, they will live. If you abandon them, they will die. Pronounce sentence. Their life and death are in your hands. What is your verdict?” They elected to support the children.

When the Thirty Years’ War began to wind down, Vincent organized relief. He sent Brother Matthew Regnard (nicknamed Reynard, or fox) across battle lines in Lorraine 53 times, disguised and carrying a fortune for the relief of the people.

For nearly a decade, Vincent also served on the Council of Conscience, an elite administrative body that advised the queen on the selection of bishops. Eventually, Cardinal Jules Mazarin, whose criteria for choosing bishops were more political than Vincent’s, maneuvered to have him removed. Yet Vincent remained a counselor to the great spiritual leaders of the day.

In 1652 poverty enveloped Paris, and Vincent, then 72 years old, initiated massive relief programs. At the motherhouse, the priests and brothers provided soup twice a day for thousands of poor people, and the houses of the Daughters of Charity fed countless others. “Let us love God,” he encouraged them, “but let it be with the strength of our arms and the sweat of our brows.” He organized collections and each week distributed some 6,000 pounds of meat and 3,000 eggs, as well as winter and summer clothing.

These examples are merely the highlights of his life of service. So striking were his activities that the homilist at his funeral said of Vincent, “He just about transformed the face of the church.”

What made him tick? [ link? Understanding Vincent]

Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with how we are living up to the mission of St. Vincent de Paul, and how you can help.