Over the years, each day when we read about the saint of the day, it could strike us that although he or she was poor, their family had noble blood. But not Vincent de Paul. No. He was one of seven kids in peasant family. The Franciscans, who were poor themselves, gave him the basic schooling to equip him to support himself teaching in a primary schools. And while he was doing that, he took Theology classes. When he was just twenty an old bishop ordained him a priest, but even after that he still had to tutor kids for a living. Of those times, he later wrote that when his father, a peasant, came to visit he was ashamed of people seeking him.
When Vincent was twenty-four, chasing down an inheritance, he set out on a coastal voyage to Marseilles, and he was captured by Turks. They took him to North Africa where they auctioned him off as a slave. After two years of being treated like an animal, he was traded to a kindly man who let him escape back to France.
Walking to Avignon, he began a career of ingratiating himself to important prelates who could help him. In the entourage of one of them he moved to Rome, and in the entourage of another he arrived in Paris.
But there he came under the care of a saintly prelate. That man, Cardinal Pierre Berulle, was to help in founding four great French religious orders: the Oratorians, the Sulpicians, Salesians, and indirectly the Vincentians.
Cardinal Berulle set Vincent up as permanent chaplain to France’s leading family, the Gondi’s. With that, the peasant’s son was at last free from bowing and scraping for a living.. Walking through the villages on the Gondi estate, he became painfully aware of the desperate physical and religious poverty of the peasants. At first, by himself he gave missions in village after village where the peasants had been put adrift after their baptisms. In time other good-hearted priests joined him, forming the nucleus of what would become the Vincentian Fathers.
Then, another door was opened to him. In the Seventeenth Century all of France’s sailing ships were assisted by banks of convicts rowing below deck. The head of the Gondi family held the royal appointment as commander of all those galleys, so Vincent, as chaplain to the Gondi’s, felt a responsibility to those rowers. With memories of his days and nights as a Tunisian slave, he began using all of his connections to get hospitalization and humane colnditions for those wretches.
A lady named Louise de Marillac had fallen into deep depression at the death of her husband, but Vincent’s kindness in visiting the dying man had turned her thoughts toward assisting the sick, and with his help she founded the Daughters of Charity.