27 September is the Memorial of St Vincent de Paul. It won’t be celebrated this year since this date is also the 26th Sunday of our Church’s calendar. But if he is “gone” from the liturgy this year, he is not (and will not be) forgotten.
He is ¼ of 2 pairs of 16th-17th century French saints—the older of the pairs being St Francis de Sales and St Jane de Chantal. Vincent’s female “alter ego” is St Louise de Marillac. Let’s talk about them all, especially what Vincent learned from the fate of St Jane and her followers. Just as a tidbit: the Daughters of Charity (founded by St Jane) in fact affectionately refer to St Francis de Sales as “Uncle Frank”!
Vincent experienced a “conversion within a conversion” after his ordination when he was called to the death-bed of a peasant. From then on, rather than being a chaplain to a noble family, he desired to dedicate himself to the poor and those in need. The result (I am greatly synthesizing here!) was the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians. They desired to dedicate themselves to ministry to the poor, especially the rural poor.
Vincent encountered Louise de Marillac, who had formerly enjoyed the spiritual guidance of St Francis de Sales. Herself a widow, she joined the work of the “Ladies of Charity” in ministry, a group whose credo was “our convent is the sickroom, our chapel the parish church, our cloister the streets of the city.” This was utterly radical (read: not permitted by the Church). It was the vision that Francis and Jane de Chantal had had—but the mistake they made was to form these women into a religious order, and by the standards of those days required the women to live in cloister, completely secluded. And so the women so eager to engage in ministry found themselves turned into a contemplative community, now known as the “Visitation.” And yes, our Visitation Monastery is one of their houses.
Vincent didn’t make this mistake. The Ladies of Charity (ultimately the Daughters of Charity today) were not a religious order; they were an association of women who simply took annual (never permanent) vows and dedicated themselves to outreach, especially in poor areas, including in education and hospital work. Even though many of their hospitals have had to be sold for lack of ability to maintain them, they were a string of institutions up and down I-65, from Mobile to Montgomery to Birmingham to Nashville to Indianapolis to Chicago. In Mobile, besides their work at Providence Hospital, they also supported the school of St James Major in Prichard.
Back to Vincent and his companions. Their work also took them into rural parts of America (read: Alabama!). For years they staffed a number of parishes here, including St Mary in Opelika, St Michael in Auburn, St Vincent de Paul in Tallassee, and so on. And of course there are many lay-based associations of outreach named for St Vincent. But he did not begin them.
Many folks know that a devout layperson, Frederick Ozanam, was inspired by the example of St Vincent, and he began what are now the St Vincent de Paul Societies. So the group here at Our Savior is the result.
Francis and Jane, Vincent and Louise. They brought many blessings to the church by their
lives: writings like Introduction to the Devout Life, their lived examples of outreach and contemplation, their humility in answering the call of the Lord in ways they never expected or could even have envisioned. St Vincent de Paul: he may be “gone” this year, but absolutely not forgotten!