Vincent de Paul

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Saint Vincent de Paul, C.M.
Vincent de Paul.PNG
A portrait of St. Vincent de Paul
by [[Simon François f e Tours]] (17th century)
Priest and founder
Born (1581-04-24)24 April 1581
Pouy, Guyenne and Gascony,
Kingdom of France
Died 27 September 1660(1660-09-27) (aged 79)
Paris, Kingdom of France
Honored in Catholic Church, Anglican Communion
Beatified 13 August 1729, Rome, Papal States by Pope Benedict XIII
Canonized 16 June 1737, Rome, Papal States by Pope Clement XII
Major shrine St. Vincent de Paul Chapel,
95, Rue de Sèvres,
Paris, France
Feast 27 September
19 July (Roman Calendar, 1737-1969)
Patronage charities; horses; hospitals; leprosy; lost articles; Madagascar; prisoners; Richmond, Virginia; spiritual help; Saint Vincent de Paul Societies; Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory; Vincentian Service Corps; volunteers
Ranquines, birthplace of Vincent de Paul

St. Vincent de Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660) was a priest of the Catholic Church who dedicated himself to serving the poor. He is venerated as a saint in the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He was canonized in 1737.[1] De Paul was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity[1] and is known as the "Great Apostle of Charity".


St. Vincent was born in 1581 in the village of Pouy in Gascony, in the Province of Guyenne and Gascony, the Kingdom of France, to a family of peasant farmers, father Jean de Paul and mother Bertrande de Moras.[2] There was in the vicinity, a stream named the Paul and it is believed that this might have been the derivation of the family name. Vincent himself, wrote the name as one word – Depaul, possibly to avoid the inference that he was of noble birth but none of his correspondents did so.[2] He had three brothers – Jean, Bernard and Gayon, and two sisters – Marie and Marie-Claudine.[2][3] Vincent was the third child.[2] At an early age, he showed a talent for reading and writing but during his childhood, his work was as a herder of his family's livestock.[2] At 15, his father sent him to seminary, managing to pay for it by selling the family’s oxen.[4]

For two years, he received his initial education at a college in Dax, France adjoining a monastery of the Friars Minor where Vincent and others resided while attending the college.[2] In 1597, he began his studies in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Toulouse,[2] The atmosphere at the university was anything but pious or conducive to spiritual contemplation. Fights broke out between various factions of students which escalated into armed battles. During the course of the unrest, an official was murdered by two students.[2] Nevertheless, Vincent continued his studies and was able to help pay for his education through tutoring others.[2] He was ordained on September 23, 1600 at the age of nineteen in Château-l'Évêque, near Périgueux.[2] This was against the regulations established by the Council of Trent which required a minimum of 24 years of age for ordination and when Vincent was appointed parish priest in Tilh, it was appealed against in the Court of Rome.[2] Rather than respond to a lawsuit in which he would probably not have prevailed, he resigned from the position and continued his studies.[2] On October 12, 1604, he received his Bachelor of Theology from the University of Toulouse.[2] Later he received a Licentiate in Canon Law from the University of Paris.[2]

Abduction and enslavement[edit]

In 1605, Vincent left Marseilles by ship, on his way back from Castres where he had gone to sell some property he had received in an inheritance from a wealthy patron in Toulouse and was taken captive by Barbary pirates, who brought him to Tunis.[5] De Paul was auctioned off as a slave to the highest bidder, and spent two years in bondage.

His first master was a fisherman but Vincent was unsuitable for this line of work due to sea-sickness and was soon sold. His next master was a spagyrical physician, alchemist and inventor. Vincent became fascinated by his arts and was taught how to prepare and administer his master's spagyric remedies.[2] For those who see the hand of Providence in all the events in the life of a true saint, this extraordinary period might have served to affirm that belief, for it was only in a Muslim country that Vincent would have been able to acquire the medical knowledge that would become the basis of his life's work as a giver of health-care to the impoverished. At that time, science and medicine were far more advanced in Muslim countries than in Europe, where medicine was little more than the blind leading the blind in medical quackery, the exception being those herbalists and traditional healers whose knowledge of the medicinal properties of plants, fungi and minerals had been passed down through generations. These traditional healers, who lacked any formal education for the most part, were almost completely obscured by the pseudo-science of the "learnéd".[6]

The fame of Vincent's master became so great that it attracted the attention of Sultan Achmet the First who summoned him to Istanbul. During the passage, the old man died and Vincent was sold once again.[2] Vincent's new master was a former priest and Franciscan from Nice, named Guillaume Gautier. He had converted to Islam in order to gain his freedom from slavery and was living in the mountains with three wives. The second wife, a Muslim by birth, was drawn to Vincent and visited him in the fields to question him about his faith. She became convinced that his faith was true and admonished her husband for renouncing his Christianity. He became remorseful and decided to escape back to France with his slave. They had to wait ten months but finally they secretly boarded a small boat and crossed the Mediterranean, landing in Aigues-Mortes on June 28, 1607.[2]

Return to Europe[edit]

After returning to France, de Paul went to Rome. There he continued his studies until 1609, when he was sent back to France on a mission to Henry IV of France; he served as chaplain to Marguerite de Valois. For a while he was parish priest at Clichy, but from 1612 he began to serve the Gondi, an illustrious family. He was confessor and spiritual director to Madame de Gondi.[5] It was the Countess de Gondi who persuaded her husband to endow and support a group of able and zealous missionaries who would work among poor tenant farmers and country people in general.[7]


In 1617, De Paul founded the "Ladies of Charity" (French: Dames de la Charité) from a group of women within his parish. He organized these wealthy women of Paris to collect funds for missionary projects, found hospitals, and gather relief funds for the victims of war and to ransom 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. From these, with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, came the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (French: Filles de la Charité).[1]

In 1622 de Paul was appointed chaplain to the galleys.[3] After working for some time in Paris among imprisoned galley-slaves, he returned to be the leader of what is now known as the Congregation of the Mission, or the "Vincentians". These priests, with vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability, were to devote themselves entirely to the people in smaller towns and villages.[7]

He was zealous in conducting retreats for clergy at a time when there was great laxity, abuse and ignorance among them. He was a pioneer in clerical training and was instrumental in establishing seminaries.[7]

Vincent de Paul died at Paris, 27 September 1660.[5]


In 1705, the Superior-General of the Lazarists requested that the holy process of de Paul's canonization be instituted. On 13 August 1729, Vincent was declared blessed by Pope Benedict XIII. He was canonized nearly eight years later by Pope Clement XII on 16 June 1737. In 1885, Pope Leo XIII gave him as patron to the Sisters of Charity.[5] He is also patron to the Brothers of Charity.

St. Vincent's body was exhumed in 1712, 53 years after his death. The written account of an eye witness states,"the eyes and nose alone showed some decay." However, when the body was exhumed again during the canonization in 1737 it was then discovered to have decomposed due to an underground flood. His bones have been encased in a waxen figure which is displayed in a glass reliquary in the chapel of the headquarters of the Vincentian fathers in Paris. His heart is still incorrupt, and is displayed in a reliquary in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris.[8]

The waxen mask and hands encasing the bones of St. Vincent de Paul.

In 1737, his feast day was included in the Roman Calendar on 19 July, because his day of death was already used for the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian. It was originally to be celebrated with the rank of "Double", which was changed to the equivalent rank of "Third-Class Feast" in 1960.[9]

St. Vincent is honored with a feast day in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church (USA) on September 27.

One of the feasts celebrated by the French Deist Church of the Theophilanthropy was dedicated to Vincent de Paul.

Pope Paul VI transferred the celebration of his memorial to September 27, Cosmas and Damian having been moved to September 26 to make way for him, as he is now better known in the West.[10]


St. Vincent de Paul is the patron of all works of charity. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a charitable organisation dedicated to the service of the poor, was established by French university students in 1833, led by the Blessed Frederic Ozanam. The Society is today present in 132 countries.[11]

St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Manhattan, New York City


DePaul University takes its name from Vincent de Paul.[12] St. John's University in New York City was founded in 1870 by the Vincentians.[13]

Parishes are dedicated to St. Vincent de Paul in Chicago, Illinois;[14] Omaha, Nebraska;[15] Mays Landing, New Jersey;[16] Mt. Vernon, Ohio.[17] Houston, Texas;,[18] Wheeling, West Virginia,[19] Coventry, Rhode Island, Churchville, New York,[20] Peryville, Missouri,[21] Lenox Dale, Massachusetts,[22] and Baltimore, Maryland [23]

In popular culture[edit]

Pierre Fresnay portrayed Vincent de Paul in the 1947 biographical film, Monsieur Vincent.


  1. ^ a b c Donald Attwater (1982) The Penguin Dictionary of Saints p 337, Aylesbury
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Pierre Coste (1932) Monsieur Vincent: Le Grand Saint du grand siècle, Desclée de Brouwer, Paris, France
  3. ^ a b Michael Walsh, ed. (1991) Butler's Lives of the Saints p 304, HarperCollins Publishers, New York
  4. ^ "St. Vincent de Paul", Seton Healthcare
  5. ^ a b c d Dégert, Antoine (1912) "St. Vincent de Paul", The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 15, Robert Appleton Company, New York, accessed 9 Jan. 2013
  6. ^ Pormann, Peter E.; Savage-Smith, Emilie (2007). Medieval Islamic Medicine. Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0-7486-2066-4. 
  7. ^ a b c Foley OFM, Leonard, "St. Vincent de Paul", Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons, and Feast, (revised by Pat McCloskey OFM), Franciscan Media, ISBN 978-0-86716-887-7
  8. ^ Joan Carroll Cruz (1977) The Incorruptibles pp. 248–9, Tan Books and Publishers, Inc.
  9. ^ General Roman Calendar of 1962
  10. ^ Calendarium Romanum p. 140 (1969) Libreria Editrice Vaticana
  11. ^ Herbert Hewitt Stroup (1985) Social Welfare Pioneers p. 185, Rowman and Littlefield ISBN 0-88229-212-9
  12. ^ History, DePaul University
  13. ^ St. John's University homepage
  14. ^ St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Lincoln Park, Chicago
  15. ^ St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Omaha, Nebraska
  16. ^ Parish of St. Vincent de Paul, Mays Landing, New Jersey
  17. ^ St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Mt. Vernon, Ohio
  18. ^ St. Vincent de Paul, Houston, Texas
  19. ^ St. Vincent de Paul, Wheeling, West Virginia
  20. ^ St. Vincent's, Churchville, New York,
  21. ^ St. Vincent De Paul Parish, Perryville, Missouri
  22. ^ St. Vincent's, Lenox Dale, Massachusetts
  23. ^ St. Vincent de Paul Church, Baltimore, Maryland.

External links[edit]