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Villepreux

Villepreux, France is where, on February 23, 1618, Vincent de Paul established the second Confraternity of Charity.(See Abelly: Book One, The Life of Vincent de Paul.) He had been living in the area from about 1613 as a tutor for the family of Philippe-Emmanuel de Gondi. While Vincent was preaching a mission there in 1617, Marguerite Naseau, who is recognized as the first of the Daughters of Charity, came to him for confession. Villepreux is about 14 miles from Marguerite's hometown of Suresnes. She told Vincent of her desire to serve the poor; he took her to Paris, which is about 20 miles to the east, where he placed her in the care of Louise de Marillac.

In January, 1649 Vincent briefly took refuge in Villepreux; Jules Cardinal Mazarin, the chief minister of France, had become angry at Vincent's suggestion that Mazarin resign in order to end the civil war (La Fronde) that had broken out. Vincent's last visit to Villepreux was in December, 1652.

The first written mention of Villepreux occurs in 856 CE in a charter of Charles the Bald (Charles II of France). Its name hints of its origins: a town surrounded by pear trees. Although today Villepreux's population numbers only about 10,000, before the time of Louis XIV (1638-1714), the town was larger than nearby Versailles.

In Villepreux is a church dedicated to Vincent de Paul. It is notable for a mural on the facade created by 20th century artist Robert Lesbounit. The interior has an Apocalypse by Lesbounit, which is done entirely in shades of grey.


Additional Information about Villepreux

Villepreux, among the oldest towns in the Ile de France, was part of the Gondi estates from 1568 to 1664 and included the lands at Versailles that the family eventually sold to Louis XIII as a hunting preserve. Vincent's name is connected with Villepreux in several ways. Although precise information is lacking, it is nearly certain that he stayed at the Gondi chateau occasionally while he was the family tutor (until 1617). In early 1618, after his return from Châtillon, he gave a series of missions nearby with two priests. One was Jean Coqueret (1592-1655), a friend of Francis de Sales, and later superior of the Disclased Carmelite nuns in France. The other was Monsieur Belin, the chaplain for the Gondis at Villepreux. Together, they established a Congraternity of Charity here, the second one after Châtillon. Madame de Gondi was present on 23 February for one of the mission events in the village church. The same Belin was probably one of the first companions of Vincent, along with Antoine Portail, but his work at Villepreux kept him from fully joining the Mission (Letter 190).

It was probably here in 1629-1630 that Vincent met Marguerite Naseau (or more correctly Nezot) regarded as the first Daughter of Charity. She was living here with a few others and spent her time in educating children. These young women had come to attend the mission, and Marguerite later spoke to him about her vocation to serve the poor. Vincent also sent Louise here in 1630 to help support the Confraternity. The same Marguerite Naseau also returned for a time to Villepreux in the service of the Confraternity, although her various assignments are not that clear, since the Daughters of Charity had not yet been founded. Vincent visited again in December 1633, when he came to see the young Catherine de Gondi, the wife of his former student, Pierre de Gondi, eldest son of Vincent's patron, Philip Emmanuel. The purpose of his visit is unknown.

After Philip Emmanuel's ordination to the priesthood as an Oratorian and in his retirement, he lived for a period at the chateau. Cardinal Mazarin had expelled him from Paris because of the problems Cardinal de Retz, Gondi's third son, had caused him. Vincent visited Philip Emmanuel here from time to time. One visit of a week's duration is recorded in 1648. Vincent also visited in January 1649 after his failed attempt to persuade the queen and Cardinal Mazarin to come to terms with the leaders of the Fronde. It was perhaps at this time that he recalled seeing the count in a tattered cassock. He told the Daughters of Charity: I have seen him when he was a courtier changing his clothes three times a day, when he was at Court and since then I have seen him in a poor old torn cassock out at the elbows. I have seen that with my own eyes (Conference 82). Vincent also visited his friend and benefactor again here in the summer of 1655. Brother Robineau, the saint's secretary, recorded that while returning from this visit, Vincent stopped his carriage to give two women a lift into Paris. Moved by their age and weakness, he departed from his normal procedure. The old Gondi chateau, begun around 1600, was demolished in 1885. A new one was built and stands amid elegant gardens.

Close to the chateau is the village church, dedicated to Saint Germain. This church dates from the twelfth century and was the site of Vincent's early preaching. The apse chapel is dedicated to him, although there is nothing written to indicate this. The church is said to have an old rose silk chasuble that Vincent used, but its whereabouts is unknown. His work is presented in more detail in the new church, located in the quarter called la Haie Bergerie. Built in 1967, the parish church of Saint Vincent de Paul boasts an unusual facade. It shows the life of Saint Vincent (although without depicting him in any recognizable way), through prominent dates and places --- among which is the 1618 mission in Villepreux.

Another of Vincent's undertakings is the Charité des Pauvres (1. rue Pierre Curie, formerly Grande Rue). This building began in 1658 and the Gondis and other endowed it so well that funds remained until the nineteenth century. The Confraternity Vincent founded supported the charitable works carried on in this hostel remarkable for its old corbelled facade. Daughters of Charity also worked in Villepreux from 1898 until recent years. Their house still standing is entered from the side street (Rue Amédée Aexandre). A small statue of Saint Vincent placed in a niche adorns the front of the building, now used for the elderly. Today, Villepreux is a town of some 9,000 people. Parishes of Villepreux, including the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul
Official Web site of VillepreuxCategroy: Vincentian History