The Confraternity of Charity (1617) was the first institutional expression of the Vincentian charism and it involved lay leadership for social action. This came about when Vincent proposed that the women of the parish in Chatillon-les-Dombes join together for organized charity. Later, the first Confraternity of Charity for men was established at Folleville (1620). Mme. de Gondi requested evangelization on her lands and was instrumental in the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission (1625). From the confraternities later arose both the Daughters of Charity (1633) and the Ladies of Charity (1635) in Paris.
In Vincent's words:
- "When I was living near Lyons, in a small town to which Providence had called me to act as parish priest," he said to the Daughters of Chatity one day, "on a certain Sunday just as I was vesting to say Mass, a person came to tell me that, in an isolated house a quarter of a league away, the whole family lay ill, so that not a single one of them could come to the assistance of the others, and they were in such dire straits as cannot be expressed. It moved me to the depths of my heart. I did not fail to speak feelingly about them during the sermon, and God, touching the hearts of those who were listening, caused them all to be moved to compassion for the poor afflicted people.
- "After dinner, a meeting was held in the house of a good lady in the town to see what help could be given and every single one of those present was quite prepared to go and see them, to console them by talking to them and to help them to the best of their ability."
- "After Vespers, I took a good, honest man, a native of the town, as my companion and we walked along the road together to go and pay them a visit. We passed on the road some women who had gone in front of us, and a little farther on, wc met others returning. And as it was Summer and the weather was very hot, these good women were sitting down by the road to rest and refresh themselves. And in fact my Daughters, there were so many of them that you would have said it was a regular procession.
- "When I arrived, I visited the sick and went to look for the Blessed Sacrament for those who were in most urgent need, but not in lhe Parish Church, because it was not a parish, but depended on a Clhapter of which I was the Prior. So then after hearing their Confessions and giving them Holy Communion, the question arose as to how we could help them in their need. I suggested to all these dear, good people whose charity had induced them to visit the family, that they should take it in turn, day by day, to cook for them, and not only for them but also for other cases which might arise. That was the first place in which the Charity was established."[fo1]
The facts thus narrated by St. Vincent took place on Sunday, 20th of August 1617. Three days later, 23rd August, a certificate of the formation of a confraternity was sealed. More exactly it was "a Corporation which in time could be raised up as a confraternity, with its own rules, subject to the approval of the Archbishop, to whom it would be submissive totally."[fo2] After three months, on 24th of November, the new association and its rules were approved by the Archbishop of Lyons and fifteen days later, on the 8th of December 1617, it was formally erected as the First Confraternity of Charity, with the election of its Officers and other matters connected with the Rules.
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