September 27 is the feast day of Saint Vincent de Paul, and this year it marks 360 years since the French saint’s death. His example lives on across the globe in communities of faith, some of which are mentioned below. The good news of redemption and hope is still being shared through the Vincentian vocation, an active expression of faith described in this post (Luke 4:16-19).
My introduction to the Vincentian charism came when I lived in Denver and was close friends with a cohort of the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers. (In fact, he is the patron saint of volunteers and charitable societies.) Through Bill and Mary Francis’ leading of the program, I witnessed the way the Gospel directly influences justice in the world, particularly in the tangible caring for the poor and marginalized.
The ecumenical CVV cohort invested in the local community in tangible ways, connecting with nonprofits and ministries that saw and served folks who typically go unnoticed. My friends worked with homelessness, elderly folks, and at urban farms. “Extracurricular” activities included visiting the recycling plant and participating in communal efforts for racial justice. Every week I joined them for mass and dinner, experiencing God’s grace during a trying time in my own life.
Like Tabitha’s example in the early church, the Vincentian heart is for the poor and marginalized. Saint Vincent noticed inequities and sought to address them through his ministry as an outpouring of his faith. For this he was canonized.
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”Matthew 11:4-6, NIV
Saint Vincent methodically reminds Christians of the gentleness of God for those most in need, the poor on the losing end of conflicts. Then as now, Vincentians take special interest in homelessness, and his charism extends to forced migrants fleeing violence or ecological destruction as well as to others affected by the environment.
Even before then, his heart was stirred both for the poor and for those who would serve him, if empowered and organized.
“Our Lord draws no less glory from the ministry of women than from that of men, and the care of the sick even seems preferable to that of the healthy; the male servants of the poor will therefore show as much concern for the preservation and growth of the women’s association as for their own”Saint Vincent de Paul, CCD 13b, 132
“The first foundation made by Vincent de Paul was for lay women in 1617, when he experienced a personal conversion that led him to discover the pervasiveness of poverty in his day. He responded with bold initiatives to address these social problems. Vincent’s integration of evangelization and charity became the Vincentian charism,” VinFormation writes.
At a celebratory virtual brunch on Friday, attendees were asked how we “met” Saint Vincent. I met him through my friends in Denver. But fast forward a couple years, and I was accepted to a graduate school that I didn’t initially realize was Vincentian! Ignorant of Church history, I didn’t realize my university was called by his surname. Now it’s come full circle, and now I am on a journey to learn more from his expression of faith as one I can identify with.
Saint Vincent did not live out a sterile Gospel; rather, he embraced a holistic one. He fed hungry people and clothed whose who were cold and exposed (Mt. 25:35-40). He spent his life getting his hands dirty, multiplying organizations of service, and loving those neglected by the world. He recognized justice as integral to faith.
We cannot better assure our eternal happiness than by living and dying in the service of the poor, in the arms of Providence, and with genuine renouncement of ourselves in order to follow Jesus Christ.Saint Vincent de Paul
For more information on Saint Vincent, his history, work, or words, you can read his life and works here.