(PARDON ME - I PUBLISHED THIS YESTERDAY)
Today we honor St. Vincent de Paul who was born in southern France in 1580 just as the Council of Trent was coming to an end. In those days the odds for success were stacked in favor of the nobility. So it was something of a miracle that Vincent, one of seven children in a peasant family should make a name for himself.
Treated to free schooling by Franciscans who were as poor as his family, Vincent learned enough to get employment as a tutor. With no formal seminary training, he prepared himself for the priesthood, receiving ordination when he was just twenty. Hearing of the death of a propertied relative in Marseille, he found passage on a Mediterranean merchant ship, only to be captured by north African pirates, who sold him into slavery.
He was about twenty-five when, bringing his master to accept Baptism, he was set free in southern France. After walking to the old papal city of Avignon, he won his way into the service of its bishop, who brought him along on a visit to Rome.
In 1609, when he was twenty-nine, he found a place for himself in the service of Rome’s delegate to the court of Henry IV of France. In Paris Vincent’s earnest priestly ways won him a position as spiritual director to the Gondis, who were France’s most powerful family.
As pastor of their church, Vincent could put aside his life-long search for security, so that he could identify himself with his peasant roots. Then, he began looking out for the spiritual and physical welfare of the peasants on the Gondi estates, and he was securing the help of other unemployed priests, organizing them in missions to the poor.
He found that the head of the Gondi family was the general in charge of all the galley slaves working in France’s merchant ships; and remembering his own years as a slave he began petitioning the French crown for decent medical care for galley slaves.
In 1625 when he was forty-five his path crossed with that of a thirty-five year old Louise de Marillac who was nursing her dying husband. After her husband’s death, Louise corresponded with Vincent for four years, and their joint prayers and idea exchanges led to her founding the Daughters of Charity.