The feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul is September 27, the date of his passing in 1660. He was the founder of the Vincentians and the Sisters of Charity, and is the patron saint of all charitable organizations.
Born in 1581 to a peasant family in southwestern France, Vincent studied for the priesthood at a local Franciscan college and then at Toulouse University. He was ordained a priest at the age of nineteen.
Little is truly known of Vincent’s early life in the priesthood except that he spent a year in Rome, perhaps studying. In 1612 he became a parish priest in a village just north of Paris and the following year became a tutor in the household of the wealthy and politically powerful Gondi family. He remained with the family for the next 12 years and spent some time as a parish priest where he attended to the needs of the sick and the poor in his parish. In 1617 he formed a group of women who ministered to the needs of these families. He established similar groups in other villages.
Around the year 1618 Vincent came to know Saint Francis de Sales, whose writings, especially the Introduction to the Devout Life, had a strong influence on him. That same year Vincent established a society of priests, sometimes referred to as “Vincentians,” who with the financial support of Madame Gondi, would go from village to village on the Gondi estates to preach to the peasants and conduct missions. The mission work became so successful that with the approval of the archbishop of Paris and continued financial support of the Gondis, the group established a base in Paris and their community continued to grow along with their ministry.
Meanwhile the women’s groups started to multiply. In 1633 Vincent began offering formal religious formation for this new group, called the Daughters of Charity. A new order of women religious was born that ministered in hospitals, orphanages, prisons and many other places. The order was formally approved by the Church in 1668.
Vincent’s approach to a devout life of faith was to be simple, practical and to have confidence in God’s love and mercy. He would maintain: “When you leave your prayer to care for a sick person, you leave God for God. To care for a sick person is to pray.”
At Vincent’s funeral the presiding bishop said that he had “changed the face of the Church.” He was canonized in 1737. In 1833, Blessed Antoine Frederic Ozanam would found the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1885 Pope Leo XIII named St. Vincent de Paul universal patron of all works of charity.