This Friday, Sept. 27, is the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul. You have probably heard of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, or as it is called in some other places I have been, “St. Vinny’s.” The Society is a wonderful organization that does a tremendous amount of good, and every active parish where I have been has one. What you may not realize is that St. Vincent de Paul did not himself found the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
Vincent was born in Gasgony in France in the late 1500’s. A good student, his father sold his oxen to pay for his son’s education. In the year 1600, at the early age of 19, Vincent was ordained a priest. At that time being a priest was a fairly comfortable career economically, and so Vincent was set.
Everything was going fine until he got an inheritance in Marseilles. While returning from claiming the inheritance he was captured by Barbary pirates. These are the same set of pirates that more than a century later would end up fighting the Marines of a brand new country, the United States of America. Anyway, in 1605 poor Vincent was hauled off to Tunis and sold as a slave. After two years in slavery Vincent escaped with the help of the wife of his owner. He went to Rome for further study, became involved in political missions to France, and eventually ended up as confessor to the wealthy and influential family, which gave him entree to many noble and high-society families in France. Using this position, in 1617 Vincent founded the Ladies of Charity to organize the efforts of wealthy and powerful women to assist missions, found hospitals and assist the victims of war. They also ransomed 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa. This organization grew, and with the help of St. Louise de Marillac, the Daughters of Charity was founded. Sr. Sharon Groestsch, who has worked here as a spiritual director for years, is a Daughter of Charity. In her work with St. Austin’s Small Christian Communities, Sr. Sharon helped in the founding of Saint Louise House in Austin, which cares for homeless women with children.
In 1622 Vincent was appointed chaplain to the galley slaves and worked among imprisoned galley slaves in Paris. As if he did not have enough to do, Vincent became the leader of a group of priests called the Vincentians, dedicated entirely to helping the rural poor. Vincent worked tirelessly giving retreats for clergy, improving clerical training and founding seminaries. Vincent died in Paris on September 27, 1660, at the age of 79. He was canonized in 1737. Among the many causes and organizations that St. Vincent de Paul is a heavenly patron of is, rather unusually, Richmond, Virginia and of course, De Paul University.
However, we still have not gotten to the St. Vincent de Paul Societies. We must shift forward to Paris in 1833, more than 170 years after Vincent’s death. A group of students from the University of Paris, lead by Frederic Ozanam, responding to the poverty they saw around them in the slums of Paris, founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Ozanam was only 20 years old when the St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded, which shows what university students can do when motivated and organized. Today, St. Vincent de Paul Societies are in 148 countries and have about 700,000 members, doing a lot of very practical, hands-on, direct charity and help. We have a chapter here at St. Austin that quietly but effectively responds to the needs of people in our area, regardless of religion, race or politics. If you would like to know more about the St. Vincent de Paul Society chapter at St. Austin and how you can help, call 512-477-1589 or contact Michael Murphy (president) or Jack Gullahorn (vice-president) or our parish Director of Social Ministries, Ms. Pat Macy, firstname.lastname@example.org.