By Donald Monahan, Social Action Chair at St. Gabriel Church
St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast we celebrate on September 27th, was born in 1581 to a peasant farming family in a small town named Puoy in the southeastern corner of France. Vincent, the second of six children, showed the most potential and his parents sent him to a local school as an investment in their future as well as his. He progressed through school and was a tutor to the children of families of means.
He studied theology and prepared to be a priest; he was ordained in 1600 at the young age of 19. At the time, he viewed the priesthood as a stepping stone to a higher social standing and perhaps greater wealth. But after several years, he experienced a catharsis and realized that the priesthood as a selfish means to wealth and fame was inappropriate. He began to recognize Jesus in the sick, poor and downtrodden of the world, and he began his mission of ministering to them.
St. Vincent attracted like-minded individuals who joined him in his work. They found and served God in the anawim, the poor, sick, abandoned outcasts no matter where they lived. He allowed women to minister to the poor and sick—something that had never been done.
Today, throughout the world, thousands of women and men follow in St. Vincent’s footsteps as members of the Congregation of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentians, the Daughters of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul Society Conferences, parish Social Action activities and Catholic Charity operations.
Frederick Ozanam, referred to as “The Apostle in the Top Hat” emulated the mission of St. Vincent and joined with fellow students to establish the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in May 1833. This organization continues to thrive and the work begun by St. Vincent so long ago goes on in 132 countries throughout the world. It is through the local conferences that the spirit of St. Vincent de Paul lives on—not by simply giving a handout, but, rather giving a hand up to help people reach a level of self-sufficiency. His followers still recognize Jesus in all those that seek their help.