Vincent de Paul, Priest (RM)
While serving in the poverty-stricken Clichy district of Paris, St. Vincent said to Cardinal de Retz, "I think the pope himself is not so happy as a parish priest in the midst of such kind-hearted people." He spent his life in self-giving ministry with and to the poor. St. Vincent said that such ministry liberates the one who serves as much or more than it sustains, relieves, and liberates the served. He didn't begin his priesthood with this attitude but rather grew into it.
St. Vincent was ordained in 1600. In 1605 he was captured by pirates and taken to Tunis, sold as a slave, and remained there for two years. He convinced his second master, a former monk, to return to France for absolution.
In France, St. Vincent found a patron in the papal vice-legate, who took Vincent back to Rome with him. He was sent back to France in 1609 and became the almoner (person who gives out alms) to the former wife of King Henry IV--Marguerite de Valois--and dispensed alms on a grand scale.
After serving in various other privileged posts, in 1617 he began a new life while in Chatillon-des-Domes near Lyons, where he founded the Confraternity of Charity to encourage ladies to minister "as if she were dealing with her son, or rather with God, who refers to Himself whatever good is done to the poor." There primary role was nursing the sick. The Confraternity served as the seed for the Sisters of Charity (co-founded with Louise de Marillac with pontifical approval in 1668) and the Ladies of Charity. The book says that he gave women their first public role in the Church in 800 years.
For St. Vincent social commitment and the spiritual life were united. He founded seminaries to mold missionary priests for rural France. He integrated acts of corporal and spiritual mercy. He combined unselfish commitment to the poor with his connections to the rich and powerful.
St. Vincent said, "I will set out to serve the poor. I will try to do so in a gay and modest manner, so as to console and edify them; I will speak to them as though they were my lords and masters. . . . Even when one scolds me and finds fault with me, I will not omit the fulfillment of my duty but pay . . . the respect and the honor due."
From G. Markus. The Radical Tradition: Revolutionary Saints in the Battle for Justice and Human Rights. NY: Doubleday, 1993, pp. 116-125.
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