St. Vincent de Paul


Holy priests don’t always start out holy. Take the case of St. Vincent de Paul. His beginning was rough, but in time, Vincent became an exemplar of priestly virtue and holiness.

Being from a poor family, his father had to sell the family’s oxen to send him to college when he was 15. His initial reason for becoming a priest was to obtain an office with an income which would allow him to provide for his family.

This worldly ambition, made worse by the rough atmosphere of the college, even caused him to reject his father who had traveled a long way to see him. Because of his father’s poor and shabby appearance, he refused to look deeper than the external appearance and see the man, his own Father who had sacrificed so much for him, beneath. He was embarrassed to be seen with such a poor man by his companions, and in his arrogance he turned his father away.

Later, St. Vincent wrote of himself that he was “of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger… in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” Without the aid of divine grace, he would have continued to be a worldly and vicious man, even though a priest!

All this would change, though, through Divine intervention. During a sea voyage, Fr. Vincent’s ship was attacked by Barbary pirates and he was taken as a slave by Muslims. For two years, he was a slave, transferred between several owners, until at last he was able to escape and return to France. This experience jarred him, and he began a conversion which would change the course of his life.

Back in France, through a series of appointments and events, Fr. Vincent became acquainted with both the upper classes and the plight of the poor; he was even assigned chaplain of the galley prisoners, whose living conditions were abominable. Because of these associations, he was able to begin establishing charitable societies of lay women and, eventually, religious sisters and priests who could address the corporal and spiritual needs of the poor and distressed with the generous support of wealthy benefactors.

From a poor and ambitious young priest, Fr. Vincent became a humble, yet powerful, instrument of God for excellent work in the Church. Not only did he aid many thousands of poor through his efforts, he also promoted excellent seminary formation, continued formation of the clergy (who were often ignorant, lazy, or abused their power), and worked to reconcile those who were separated from the Church through the Jansenist and protestant movements.

St. Vincent de Paul is world-renowned for his good works and humility. He is proof that God can use any one of us as His instrument for doing good in the world!