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St. Vincent de Paul History

St. Vincent was born of poor parents in the village of Pouy in Gascony, France, about 1580. He enjoyed his first schooling under the Franciscan Fathers at Acqs. Such had been his progress in four years that a gentleman chose him as subpreceptor to his children, and he was thus enabled to continue his studies without being a burden to his parents. In 1596, he went to the University of Toulouse for theological studies, and there he was ordained priest in 1600.

In 1605, on a voyage by sea from Marseilles to Narbonne, he fell into the hands of African pirates and was carried as a slave to Tunis. His captivity lasted about two years, until Divine Providence enabled him to effect his escape. After a brief visit to Rome he returned to France, where he became preceptor in the family of Emmanuel de Gondy, Count of Goigny, and General of the galleys of France. In 1617, he began to preach missions, and in 1625, he lay the foundations of a congregation which afterward became the Congregation of the Mission or Lazarists, so named on account of the Prioryof St. Lazarus, which the Fathers began to occupy in 1633.

It would be impossible to enumerate all the works of this servant of God. Charity was his predominant virtue. It extended to all classes of persons, from forsaken childhood to old age. The Sisters of Charity also owe the foundation of their congregation to St. Vincent. In the midst of the most distracting occupations his soul was always intimately united with God. Though honored by the great ones of the world, he remained deeply rooted in humility. The Apostle of Charity, the immortal Vincent de Paul, breathed his last in Paris at the age of eighty. His feast day is September 27th. He is the patron of charitable societies.


Born to a peasant family in France in 1580, Vincent de Paul spent his early life in a determined struggle to escape his humble roots. His family shared his ambition, hoping that a career in the priesthood would better the family fortune.

However, he suffered a rude awakening when he was appointed to a rural parish in Gascony, where desperately poor farming community members were dying of starvation.

Vincent began to take stock of his resources. His former connections with the wealthy and influential led him to seek their financial assistance; he organised them into groups to go from house to house requesting disposable items of furniture, food and clothing. The response was overwhelming and the project snowballed.

Join usPoor parishes all over France began to seek him out to learn from his example. The lives of thousands of people were changed for the better – not by receiving luxuries, but by being given a chance to take steps to improve their living conditions for themselves.

Vincent was transformed by the experience.

Faced with the extreme poverty of his surroundings and the spontaneous generosity of those who had never thought to share their resources with those in need, he went through a spiritual revolution.

He came to realise that assisting the poor was not only a matter of charity but also a matter of justice. Vincent became a legend in his own lifetime and was canonised as a saint in 1737.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul/USA has more historical information if you wish to read more.

Another important figure in the history of the Society is Blessed Rosalie Rendu, DC. She was a Daughter of Charity who lived from 1786 to 1856, around the time of the French Revolution.  Read more...


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