There are many good biographies of St. Vincent de Paul; I refer you to them to meet the great person of God and know the great work he carried out throughout his life. Continuing his work now are the missionaries of the Congregation of the Mission, the Daughters of Charity, as well as the members of both a large number of religious congregations inspired by the Vincentian charism of evangelization and of such secular movements as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Vincentian Marian Youth, the MISEVI, among many others.
Biographies of Vincent de Paul
Let us begin with some biographies, that you can download and read:
- Louis Abelly, The Life of Vincent de Paul. Louis Abelly was born in Paris in the early seventeenth century. He had a doctorate in theology, was a member of the Tuesday Conferences and the bishop of Rodez. He resided in the Mother House of the Congregation of the Mission until his death in 1691. Vincent de Paul valued him highly. Abelly wrote his biography in 1664, four years after Vincent de Paul’s death. Despite biases and gaps, this biography continues to be an important key to knowing Vincent de Paul. The work is divided into three volumes. Only the first is, properly speaking, a biography. The second contains a series of letters and documents from various officials. The third describes, by quoting Vincent, his virtues.
- José María Román, Saint Vincent de Paul, a biography. People have said about Vincent, “his works surround him like a forest and his humility envelops him like a fog.” Fr. José María Román leads us through that forest and fog. His work on St. Vincent is a fruit of years of reflection and study. It came out during the celebration of the fourth centenary St. Vincent’s birth. As a professional historian, Fr. Roman is able to apply the methods of historical criticism to the data about the life and times of St. Vincent; as an experienced priest, he is a competent guide and interpreter of the spirituality of the giant of charity. I am sure readers of this biography, and of St. Vincent’s writings, will find in the forest and in the fog, much light and guidance for their lives. Available online here.
- Pierre Collet, Life of St. Vincent de Paul: Founder of the Congregation of the Mission and the Sisters of Charity, trans. by a Catholic Clergyman (Baltimore, Md: John Murphy and Co., 1850). Available online: first part, second part, third part, fourth part, and fifth part.
I hope you enjoy these biographies.
Vincent de Paul’s Writings
In addition, Vincent de Paul was a prolific writer. His writings are collected in thirteen volumes of many pages each. These volumes contain all correspondence and writings, as well as the many conferences he gave to the Vincentian missionaries and to the Daughters of Charity of his time.
We find among his works gems of Christian thought such as these statements: To serve the poor is to serve Jesus Christ; Where there is suffering, there is Jesus Christ; Go to the poor and you will find God; It is impossible to persevere without prayer, to name just a few.
There are thousands of pages that deserve to be read leisurely and quietly:
A witness for the XXI century
We who follow Jesus Christ, by following Vincent de Paul’s footsteps, recognize in his life the transforming imprints of Jesus Christ, who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), especially on behalf of those in most need of his closeness and support, who was moved with pity for those who “were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34). Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who goes after the lost to bring them back, to gather them all, so that “there will be one flock” (Jn 10:16).
Vincent de Paul also felt the helplessness of the “poor country people” of his time, as he himself expressed it. They are practically abandoned by all. They “die of hunger and are condemned.” Poverty, hunger and ignorance served as triggers for a great work of faith and love that Vincent, in fidelity to Jesus Christ’s call, started, and which, several centuries later, continues to this day.
The poor are more than just persons who extend theirs hands and ask for help. They are the authentic locus of theology. Says Miguel Angel Corral Chagolla: “They are the key to understanding God’s the revelation to human beings and to grasping the profound meaning of salvation brought by Christ. They are the theological locus par excellence.” Those who suffer, the needy, show us the most authentic face of God.
So, I invite you to get close to the charism of St. Vincent, a Christian who was able to “make effective the Gospel” and to put Christianity into people’s lives and, hence, to bring men to God. Extending his arms towards others, Vincent admirably maintained the difficult balance between the horizontal and the vertical, the relationship with God and the building of the Kingdom.