St Vincent – A hard act to follow

Friday was the feast day of St Vincent de Paul, whose name lives on in many of our Parishes through the work of the St Vincent De Paul Society (SVP). He did not actually found the organization which bears his name, but a brief look at his life and work should explain why the Society formed in 1833 by Frederic Ozanam is named after this Apostle of Charity.  

Vincent was born in south-west France in 1581, experiencing poverty from an early age. He was ordained to the priesthood at the age of 20, and in 1607 (following 3 years of slavery in North Africa) he moved to Paris and was appointed Chaplain to the house of Gondi – a family of wealthy Florentine merchants. Whilevisiting the hospitals of the poor in Paris, Vincent realised his true vocation lay in the service of the suffering and needy rather than in the courts of the wealthy. He was to spend the rest of his life in answer to that calling, with encouragement and financial support from the Gondi family and others of ‘high rank’ who responded to his appeals for assistance.

In the course of his work, Vincent established several organisations, all in existence today, devoted to the material and spiritual needs of the poor, including: 

The Confraternity of Charity formed in 1617 – an organisation of women who worked together in organising regular visits to the sick and needy, feeding and nursing them in their own homes.

Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) founded in 1625 – a society of apostolic life (religious order) for men formed for the spiritual education and needs of the ordinary people, and for training young men for the Priesthood. Its work now includes the provision of chaplaincies to hospitals, prisons, and the armed forces.

Daughters of Charity, a society of apostolic life for women established by Vincent and St Louise de Marillac in 1633. The Daughters, many of whom were country girls, were trained in the spiritual life, the care of the sick and education of the poor. Hospitals and soup kitchen were set up, as well as schools and homes for orphaned children. At the time of St Louise’s death in 1660 there were more than forty houses of the Daughters of Charity, and the sick poor were cared for in their own dwellings in twenty-six parishes in Paris. They have a house in Grand Avenue, Ely.  

Louise was canonised in 1934 and pronounced patron saint of social workers in 1960. Vincent also died in 1660 but had already been canonised in 1737. He is the patron of all works of charity

Hard acts to follow indeed!

Peter Morris, President 3 Churches SVP.