St. Vincent de Paul and the Sisters of Charity caring for foundlings (Painting 1907)

St. Vincent de Paul
(Feast Day July 19th)
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1877

Saint Vincent de Paul (c. 1580-1660), founder of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians) and co-founder of the Sisters of Charity, is an outstanding example of great love for the poor and unfortuanate, and the patron of charitable societies.

Vincent de Paul, a Frenchman, was born at Pouy, not far from Dax, in Gascony, and from his boyhood was remarkable for his exceeding charity towards the poor. From the care of his father's flocks he was sent to study letters. He learned the humanities at Dax, and theology first at Toulouse, then at Saragossa. Having been ordained priest, and having taken a degree in theology, he fell into the hands of the Turks, and was led captive by them into Africa. But being sold into slavery, he won his owner (an apostate) back to Christ. By the help of the Mother of God, therefore, Vincent and his owner hurried away from the shores of the barbarians. Then Vincent undertook a journey to Rome, to visit the thresholds of the Apostles. Having returned to France he governed, in a most saintly manner, first, the parish of Clichy, and then that of Chatillon. He was appointed by the king as principal chaplain of the French galleys, and showed marvelous zeal in striving for the salvation of both the drivers and the rowers. The holy Francis de Sales appointed him superior of the nuns of the Visitation, whom he ruled for nearly forty years with so great prudence, that he amply justified the opinion of their most holy founder, who confessed that he knew no worthier priest than Vincent.

To the preaching of the Gospel unto the poor, especially to the country people, he devoted himself unweariedly, until he was disabled by old age. To this apostolic work he obligated both himself and the members of the congregation, which he specially founded under the name of secular Priests of the Mission, by a perpetual vow confirmed by the Holy See. And how greatly he labored for bettering the discipline of the clergy, is attested by the seminaries erected for senior clerics, by the frequency of sacred conferences among the priests, and by the religious exercises preparatory to the sacrament of Holy Orders; for which purposes, as well as that of giving pious retreats for laymen, he desired that the houses of his institute should be freely opened. Moreover, for the extension of faith and piety, he sent evangelical laborers, not only into the provinces of France, but also into Italy, Poland, Scotland, Ireland, and even to Barbary and to the Indies. And at the death of Louis XIII, whom he had attended and exhorted on his deathbed, Vincent himself was summoned by the queen, Anne of Austria, mother of Louis XIV, and made a member of the young King's Council of Conscience. In this position he most zealously urged that only the more worthy men should be placed in authority over the churches and monasteries; that civil discords, single combats, slowly-spreading false doctrines, which he both perceived and dreaded, should be ended; and that due obedience should be rendered by all to the apostolic decisions.

There was no kind of misfortune which he did not, with fatherly tenderness, endeavor to relieve. The faithful groaning beneath the Turkish yoke, infants which had been abandoned, wayward youths, maidens exposed to danger, nuns driven from their convents, fallen women, convicts condemned to the galleys, infirm strangers, disabled workmen and even lunatics, and beggars without number, all these he received and devoutly assisted with resources and in hospices which have lasted to this day. When Lorraine, Champagne, Picardy, and other provinces were devastated by plague, famine, and war, he relieved their necessities with an open hand. He founded many societies for seeking out and alleviating the lot of the wretched, among them a celebrated association of matrons, widely spread under the name of Sisters of Charity. He likewise promoted the foundation of the Daughters of the Cross, of Providence, and of St. Genevieve, for the education of the weaker sex.

Amid these and other most important affairs he was ever intent upon God, affable to everyone, and always true to himself, simple, upright, lowly, and ever shrank from honors, riches, and luxuries. He was heard to say that in nothing was there any pleasure for him except in Christ Jesus, Whom he desired to imitate in all things. At length, worn out with bodily pains, labors, and old age, on September 27th, in the year of salvation 1660, and in the eighty-fifth year of age, at Paris, in the house of St. Lazare, which is the mother-house of the Congregation the Mission, he calmly fell asleep. Since he became illustrious for virtues, merits, and miracles, Clement XII placed him among the Saints, assigning July 19th as his annual feast. And Leo XIII, at the earnest request of many bishops, claimed and appointed this notable hero of divine charity, who has deserved so exceedingly well of every class of men the special patron before God of all the charitable societies existing in the entire Catholic world, and in any way soever emanating from his foundation.


I. The continual labors and cares of St. Vincent had only one aim: the spiritual welfare of others and the prevention of all offences to God. He declaimed against those who incited others to sin and vice, and thus led them to eternal destruction. He fully comprehended the truth of the words of St. Dionysius the Areopagite: "Among all divine works none is more divine than laboring with God for the salvation of souls." Have you no opportunity to perform a work which is so agreeable in the sight of the Lord? Think well, and do not neglect it. St. Vincent was also convinced that among all evil works, there is none more evil and displeasing to God than when we incite others to sin and thus assist the devil in gaining souls. Those who do this are called by the Holy Fathers of the Church messengers, representatives, vicars of the devil, because they are sent and incited by him to execute his plans for the destruction of men. They are his vicars, because they do that which is really the devil's work. Still more severely speaks St. James of Nisibis: "All those," says he, "deserve the name of devils, who prevent others from keeping those commandments, which appear hard to keep, and who advise them to follow the devices of the flesh." He means to say that such people may be regarded as real devils; but I add that they are worse, more hurtful and more to be feared than the devils themselves, as many a person whom Satan cannot tempt, is incited to sin by their flatteries, promises, and still more by their bad example, and, hence is led to destruction. If you, therefore, desire to be a representative of the devil, or his vicar, you ought to be informed that his abiding place belongs also to you. According to the words of Christ, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels: "Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, which was prepared for the devil and his angels " (Matth. xxv.). Angel means a messenger, a representative. For you and your equals, as angels and messengers of the devil; for you, deceiver, as a representative of the devil, for you is hell, and in hell the eternal fire, if you do not leave your wicked ways. Endeavor to repair the evil you have occasioned, and do penance. What will you do?

II. The countenance of the dying St. Vincent expressed the comfort and happiness that filled his soul. This was probably because he thought of his innocent life, his zeal in the service of God, his constant endeavor to do good. You may well believe me when I say that you will not be thus consoled in your last hour, when you remember your sinful, unchaste life, your negligence in the service of the Almighty, your idleness in performing good works. The recollection of them will cause you inexpressible fear and horror. Before all, will the thought of those sins torment you which you committed so wantonly, and which you have not even confessed rightly, much less expiated. "They shall come with fear at the thought of their sins," says the Holy Ghost, "and their iniquities shall stand against them to convict them." (Wisdom, iv). The wicked Antiochus did not heed his sins during the time that his health was unimpaired; he gave them not even a thought: but when his last hour approached, he said: "But now I remember the evils that I did in Jerusalem." (I. Macc, vi.) Now, not before: now that I am called into eternity, to appear before the judgment-seat of the Most High, now I remember them against my will. But what resulted from this remembrance? "Into what tribulation am I come, and into what floods of sorrow." (I. Mace, vi.) If you would not experience equal woes, but die comforted and happy, lead a Christian life after the example of St. Vincent. Avoid evil, and practice good works. Should your conscience be stained with sin, expiate it by sincere penance, without losing another day.

Novena Prayer in Honor of
St. Vicent de Paul

O glorious Saint Vincent, heavenly patron of all charitable associations and father of all who are in misery, whilst thou wast on earth thou didst never cast out any who came to thee; ah, consider by what evils we are oppressed and come to our assistance! Obtain from thy Lord help for the poor, relief for the infirm, consolation for the afflicted, protection for the abandoned, a spirit of generosity for the rich, the grace of conversion for sinners, zeal for priests, peace for the Church, tranquillity and order for all nations, and salvation for them all. Yea, let all men prove the effects of thy merciful intercession, so that, being helped by thee in the miseries of this life, we may be united to thee in the life to come, where there shall be no more grief, nor weeping, nor sorrow, but joy and gladness and everlasting happiness. Amen

(Indulgence of 300 days; plenary indulgence once a month, on the usual conditions, for the daly devout recitation of this prayer. --Pius IX., Nov. 23, 1876)


The Litany of St. Vincent de Paul
(For Private Use Only)

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Christ, hear us,
Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of heaven,
Have mercy on us.

God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.

God the Holy Ghost,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, Pray for us.*

Saint Vincent de Paul,*

St. Vincent, who at the tenderest age didst display a wisdom most mature,*

St. Vincent, who from thy childhood wast full of pity and compassion,*

St. Vincent, who like David, from a simple shepherd becamest the ruler and pastor of the people of God,*

St. Vincent, who in thy captivity didst preserve perfect freedom,*

St. Vincent the just man, who didst live by faith,*

St. Vincent, always supported on the firm anchor of a Christian hope,*

St. Vincent, always inflamed with the fire of charity,*

St. Vincent, truly simple, upright, and fearing God,*

St. Vincent, true disciple of Jesus Christ, always meek and humble of heart,*

St. Vincent, perfectly mortified in heart and mind,*

St. Vincent, ever animated with the spirit of Jesus Christ,*

St. Vincent, generous maintainer of the glory of God,*

St. Vincent, ever inwardly burning and ever outwardly transported with zeal for souls,*

St. Vincent, who in Christian poverty didst find the precious pearl, and the rich treasure of the Gospel,*

St. Vincent, like to the Angels in thy purity,*

St. Vincent, ever faithful in obedience and ever victorious in word,*

St. Vincent, from thy earliest years constantly devoted to works of charity,*

St. Vincent, who didst fly with most diligent care the slightest appearance of evil,*

St. Vincent, who in all thine actions, didst aspire to the practice of the most perfect virtue,*

St. Vincent, who, like a rock, remainedst immovable amidst the stormy sea of this world,*

St. Vincent, who, constant as the sun in its course, wentest ever onward in the paths of truest wisdom,*

St. Vincent, always invincible by all the arrows of adversity,*

St. Vincent, as patient in suffering as thou wast indulgent in forgiving,*

St. Vincent, ever docile and obedient son of the holy Roman Church,*

St. Vincent, who hadst exceeding horror of the novel ways and subtle words of heresy,*

St. Vincent, destined by a special Providence to announce the Gospel to the poor,*

St. Vincent, tender father and perfect model of ecclesiastics,*

St. Vincent, prudent founder of the Congregation of the Mission,*

St. Vincent, wise institutor of the order of the Sisters of Charity,*

St. Vincent, always tender in compassionating and always prompt in relieving the necessities of the poor,*

St. Vincent, equally fervent in the practice of prayer and in ministry of the word,*

St. Vincent, perfect imitator of the life and virtues of Jesus Christ,*

St. Vincent, who didst persevere to the end in eschewing evil and doing good,*

St. Vincent, who, as in life so in death, wast most precious in the sight of God,*

[St. Vincent, who by the knowledge of absolute truth, by the love of sovereign goodness, by the joys of a blessed eternity, possessest perfect happiness,*
Pray for the members of the Church, and especially for the members of this brotherhood.]

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

V. The Lord hath led the just man through right ways,
R. And showed unto him the Kingdom of God.

Let Us Pray.

Great God, Who, by an effect of Thine infinite goodness, hast renewed in our days, in the apostolic character and humility of Thy blessed servant Vincent, the spirit of Thy well-beloved Son to preach the Gospel to the poor, relieve the afflicted, console the miserable, and add new luster to the ecclesiastical order; grant, we beseech Thee, through his powerful intercession, that we also, delivered from the great misery of sin, may labor to please Thee by the practice of the same humility, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who liveth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Hymn to St. Vincent De Paul

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

There is no grief or care of men
Thou dost not own for thine;
No broken heart thou dost not fill
With mercy's oil and wine.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

Thy miracles are works of love,
Thy greatest is to make
Room in a day, for toils that weeks
In other men would take.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

All cries of suffering through the earth
Upon thy mercy call,
As though thou wert, like God Himself
A father unto all.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

Dear Saint, not in the wilderness
Thy fragrant virtues bloom.
But in the city's crowded haunts.
The alley's cheerless gloom.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

The father of the childless old,
The lonesome widow's stay,
The gladness of the orphan groups
Out in the streets at play.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

Yet not unto the towns confined
The gifts thy mercy gave.
The Gospel to the villager,
His freedom to the slave.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.

For charity anointed thee
O'er want, and woe, and pain;
And she hath crowned thee emperor
Of all her wide domain.

O Blessed Father! sent by God,
His mercy to dispense,
Thy hand is out o'er all the earth,
Like God's own providence.


From the Pen of Saint Vincent de Paul

Every time that some unexpected event befalls us, be it affliction, or be it spiritual or corporal consolation, we should endeavor to receive it with equanimity of spirit, since all comes from the hand of God.

He who submits himself to God in all things is certain that whatever men say or do against him will always turn to his advantage.

After knowing the will of God in regard to a work which we undertake, we should continue courageously, however difficult it may be. We should follow it to the end with as much constancy as the obstacles we encounter are great.

We should never abandon, on account of the difficulties we encounter, an enterprise undertaken with due reflection.

We should be cordial and affable with the poor, and with persons in humble circumstances. We should not treat them in a supercilious manner. Haughtiness makes them revolt. On the contrary, when we are affable with them, they become more docile and derive more benefit from the advice they receive.

That which we suffer in the accomplishment of a good work, merits for us the necessary graces to insure its success.

We ought to have a special devotion to those saints who excelled in humility, particularly to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who declares that the Lord regarded her on account of her humility.

The Foundling Hospital of St. Vincent De Paul
M.A. Henry Beford, 1856

There are few institutions in Paris which excite more admiration in strangers than the Foundling Asylum, the Hospice des Enfans trouves, in the Rue d'Enfer. No one can visit it without being moved with feelings of love and veneration for St. Vincent de Paul, whose work it is; and when we call to mind the difficulties he had to encounter in first establishing it, and the still greater trials which threatened its very existence while it was yet young, we shall indeed acknowledge that it is His work who taught His servant to say, "When my father and mother forsook me, the Lord took me up."

Let us trace up this noble institution to its source in the charity of Vincent. Nothing could be more deplorable than the state of the poor foundlings of Paris when they first attracted the attention of our Saint. Not less than three or four hundred children were yearly left exposed by their parents in the public streets; and what does the reader think was the provision made by the government of that day for these little outcasts of society? It sounds well when we hear that a police regulation required that every child thus found should be taken by certain officers to a house appointed for their reception; but if we follow these officers to La Couche, in the Rue St. Landry, what preparations do we find for the nurture and care of this crowd of helpless infants? A widow, with two or three servants; and these so miserably paid, that the barest necessities of life cannot be obtained for those who need the most delicate attention and care! There are no wet-nurses for the youngest, no fitting food for those who have been weaned.

It naturally followed, that the greater part died almost immediately; while most of those who lingered on in a sickly existence were quieted in their pains, and in the end silenced for ever, by narcotics, which were given them by their ruthless guardians. Well was it for those who died thus; for they thereby escaped a harder and more cruel fate. Humanity shudders when it thinks of the lot of those who were given away, or sold for a few pence, to any who would take them from a place which it sounds like mockery to call their home. Some were hired to suck the milk from diseased breasts, who thus with their nurture drew in death; while others--horrible to relate--were bought as victims for diabolic art, and ministered with their blood to the requirements of those who sought therein restoration to health and a revival of the powers which sin and excess had corrupted and destroyed. The bath of infants' blood is no mere classic dream; for the seventeenth century saw revived (if they had ever really ceased) the mystic charms and satanic remedies which heathenism had used. And while the bodies of these little ones were thus neglected and suffered to perish, none cared for their souls. The miserable creature who had the nominal care of them herself confessed that she had never baptised one, nor did she know of a single case in which that blessed sacrament had been administered! And yet three or four hundred yearly entered her house.

This gigantic evil crossed Vincent's path: his tender heart recoiled in horror from cruelty so great and from neglect so terrible. To pass it with an exclamation of surprise or disgust, to drop over it a tear of sorrow, and thus to leave it, was not his way. His was an active charity, which shrank from no difficulty, and knew not the word "impossible." Yet was he prudent and cautious in what he undertook. He did nothing on impulse; and so he never gave up what he once began. Thus, in this case as in others, he considered long and carefully what he should do; he weighed his means against the requirements, and found that he must begin in a small way. He called in the aid of the good ladies of the Hotel-Dieu, and sent them to examine the state of " La Couche." They went, and saw what has been related. What language could express their astonishment and distress at the spectacle which there presented itself! How can they meet so great a claim upon their charity? how cope with so overwhelming an evil? Under Vincent's advice, they agree to select by lot twelve of these poor creatures, and place them in a house near the gate of St. Victor. Madame Le Gras and her Sisters of Charity undertook the immediate charge of them, and wet-nurses were provided.

It was in 1638 that this first step was taken, and gradually the number thus selected was augmented as the means for their support increased; and the contrast between those who had been thus taken and those who were left behind moved the hearts of these generous ladies to make greater sacrifices in their behalf. Thus matters went on for two years; at the end of which time, in 1640, Vincent called these ladies together, and laid before them a design for completing the work by taking charge of all these foundlings.

It was an arduous and costly task; and his prudence would not suffer him to do more than urge them to make trial of their strength and means. All he wished them to do was to make an experiment. If their resources would not suffice, they must give it up; in the meantime he would try what he could do for them.

He was a man of business, and sat down to count the cost of the enterprise; and this was the pecuniary view of the case. The ladies had no more than 70 of fixed income which they could devote to this work: at Vincent's request, the queen regent, Anne of Austria, ever forward in works of charity, gave an annual grant of 600; and to this our Saint added all that he could spare from the resources ofSt. Lazarus and from the funds which the charitable placed at his disposal. After all, there was a large additional sum required to meet the necessary expenditure, which was certainly not less than 2,000 ayear.

Nobly did they struggle on against all difficulties for some years; every nerve seemed strained, every power taxed to the uttermost, to carry on the undertaking and to preserve the poor deserted ones from the fate which awaited them should they have to return to their old quarters. But now difficulties increase: national distress shows itself on all sides, the curse of faction once more comes over the land, sin and misery rise together in greater force than ever; and so the demands upon this especial charity augment with its increasing poverty. Moreover, the famine which at this time afflicted the province of Lorraine called for unexampled relief; and those who had burdened themselves with the charge of the foundlings are now foremost in aiding the efforts which Vincent is making for the support of thousands of their starving countrymen.

Can we wonder if at such a time the hearts of these noble women should despond, and that their resolution respecting the orphans should falter? Common prudence seemed to urge them to consolidate their energies on the more pressing need, and to give up, at least for a time, what, after all, had been undertaken only as an experiment. Such was the state of affairs in 1648, when Vincent took his resolution, and called once more around him those liberal souls who were doing so much.

The general meeting is held; Vincent is there, and in the crowd of those present we may observe Madame Le Gras, as well as Madame de Goussault. Every heart beats high with anxiety--for what will Vincent advise? He is so cautious, so prudent, that, it may be, the more enthusiastic are half-inclined to condemn his counsel beforehand; while those who have more calmly weighed the matter in hand sigh as they feel the necessity of drawing back from what seems a hopeless task. At any rate there is this consolation, that they have done their best; and that, had not these national calamities come so unexpectedly upon them, they might still have persevered. It is painful, indeed, to draw back; but is it not madness to go on? Thus they thought; and therefore their hearts were sad, and many a bright eye was dimmed with tears for those whom they were about to abandon.

But what thinks Vincent all this while? It may be that their own thoughts occupy them too exclusively, or those ladies might have marked a determination about the Saint's brow, and a sweet expression of ardent charity in those benignant eyes, which would in part have revealed the purpose within his mind.

And now Vincent rises; and in breathless silence they listen to the words of their sage counsellor, while he weighs the momentous question, whether they shall continue or give up the charge of the poor foundlings. Calmly and impartially does he set forth the reasons on both sides. He reminds them that it is only an experiment they have been making, and that consequently they are not bound by any obligation to continue it. But then he fails not also to call to their remembrance the fruit of their labours; how five or six hundred infants have been snatched from the hands of death, many of whom have learnt, and others were now being taught trades, by means of which they cease to be an expense to any one. He then goes on to tell them how through their care these little ones have been brought to know and to serve God; how with their earliest accents they have learned to speak of Him; and what bright hopes for a happy future these good beginnings presage. As he speaks, his words grow warmer; and at last, with deep emotion, and with irresistible sweetness, he exclaims: "Yes, ladies, compassion and charity have led you to adopt these little creatures for your children; you became their mothers by grace, when those who are their mothers by nature abandoned them; see now, if you too will forsake them. Cease to be their mothers, that you may become their judges; their life and death are in your hands. I have now to receive your decision. The time has come for you to pronounce sentence, and to declare whether or no you will still have pity on them. If you continue your charitable care over them, they will live; if you abandon them, they will undoubtedly perish. Your own experience forbids you to doubt it.''

The result may be easily imagined. Cost what it might, the good work should go on; and with tearful eyes but joyful hearts, they resolved to take courage from the words of Vincent, and to persevere in what was so evidently the will of God.

The king granted them the chateau at Bicetre, which Louis XIII. had destined for invalided soldiers; and thither for a time they sent the infants who had been weaned; but the air proving too keen, they were soon brought back to Paris, and lodged in a house near St. Lazarus. Here they were intrusted to twelve Sisters of Charity, who brought them up, and communicated to them the first rudiments of education. Those who were not yet weaned were given in charge to some country women, and were visited from time to time by the sisters, and occasionally by the Fathers of the Mission.

In course of time two houses were bought for these children. Louis XIV. increased the annual grant which his mother had made; and the good queen-dowager continued throughout her life the patronage she had so generously extended to the charity in the hour of its greatest need. From that day to this the institution has flourished; and those who visit it in its present habitation in the Rue d'Enfer, or in any other of its many dwelling-places, find as of old the Sisters of Charity carrying on the very work Vincent left in their hands, and recognise in its vitality another token of the heavenly mission of him whose works not only remain in vigorous life to the present day, but grow and expand with the wants and necessities of each succeeding age.