Vincent de Paul in Gannes-Folleville

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

Gannes-Folleville or the Revelation of the Popular Mission

by: Santiago Barquín

Because of the length of this article this is the first part of two parts ... the second part can be found at: http://famvin.org/wiki/Vincent_de_Paul_in_Gannes-Folleville_-_Part_II

[This article first appeared in San Vicente de Paúl, ayer y hoy¸ XXXIII Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2008, p. 245-385]

Introduction

Attentive to the signs of the time we have come to understand that our primary obligation at this historical moment is to proclaim the gospel of Christ, the gospel which is the true source of our freedom and our humanity. With just a few words the Lord indicated the focus of that proclamation which ought to be at the center of every process of evangelization. At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus summarized the essence of his gospel: “this is the time of fulfillment; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) [1].

I have been requested to share some reflections with you on Vincent de Paul and his experiences in Gannes-Folleville. I have also been asked to analyze that experience from the perspective of its relationship to the establishment of popular missions. With a certain fear and trepidation I undertake that task and develop this theme.

The focus of this presentation is the process of evangelization at the present time and I have no hesitation in stating this. The new evangelization ought to heal the hearts of people and such healing will occur through a knowledge of the living God because those who do not know God, do not know the human person and those who have forgotten God destroy the humanity of people as they ignore the true dignity and greatness of the human person [2]. Saint Irenaeus expressed the same idea in the following words: For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God [3].

I begin my presentation with some preliminary notes in which I set forth some well-established ideas. These ideas will provide a perspective for all those elements which I believe the reader must be mindful of in order to better understand this presentation.

Before proceeding, however, I want to ask some questions: Did Vincent de Paul have some personal missionary experience in Gannes-Folleville? If he did, were those experiences unique and foundational? Furthermore, were those experiences so transcendental that they gave rise to the popular missions?

I have discovered that there are sufficient people (I say “sufficient people” in order to avoid saying “almost everyone” or “many”) who feel that said experience was a revelation and even a theophany. At the present time, however, there is one individual who has doubts about this. He believes that throughout Vincent’s life there were many such events that occurred in various parts of France. As the years passed and as he felt that his own life was coming to an end, Vincent narrated those events once again, joined different events together and reconfigured them in such a way that they would serve as an encouragement for future generations. We will discuss this matter in greater detail in the section entitled: Some current questions: Fr. Bernard Koch, CM.

In the third section I pose the question: did the popular missions arise as a result of the events that took place in Gannes-Folleville? I discovered that such missions already existed in France and many of Vincent’s contemporaries were engaged in this ministry and they seemed to emphasize different aspects of the faith in accord with their own personal perspective. At the same time, however, I will show that a mission was given in Folleville in 1617.

In the fourth section I will analyze the various aspects of the present reality of this area (I have entitled this section: Gannes-Folleville at the present time). There I begin by examining the past and the present social-religious situation and point out certain parallels. I will then highlight the close relationship between the Congregation of the Mission and the ministry of popular missions, a relationship that has existed throughout the history of the Congregation. Lastly, I will pose the question about the relevance of the popular mission in the Congregation of the Mission at the present time and in the immediate future and I will also respond to that same question. I hope that this presentation will help us to clarify our understanding, clear up our doubts and encourage us to move forward into the future because the popular missions can have meaning if we renew and reorient this ministry as a result of our reflection on their origin in the Church and in the Congregation of the Mission.

I will then present five conclusions or, perhaps it is better to say, objectives. These conclusions highlight the tasks that, at this time and in my personal opinion, we must accomplish.

Preliminary Notes

We are accustomed to hear (as something that is commonly known and historically confirmed) that Vincent de Paul had three significant experiences that gave direction to his life and ministry. According to our tradition these experiences occurred in Gannes-Folleville, Châtillon-les-Dombres and Montmirail-Marchais. Furthermore, these experiences are related to the origin and the purpose of some of the Vincentian institutions that are closely interrelated with one another. The experience at Gannes-Folleville is related to the origin of the Congregation of the Mission, Châtillon-les-Dombres to the origin of the Confraternity of Charity and the Daughters of Charity, and lastly, it is said that the Congregation of the Mission was confirmed in its vocation and mission as a result of the events that occurred in Montmirail-Marchais. In fact, some historians have referred to these events (or at least some of these events) as “revelatory” [4], that is, the means which God used to enable Vincent de Paul to discover the meaning of his vocation and his ministry as well as the purpose of the various institutions that he would establish. Was it really those concrete, specific events that revealed to Vincent de Paul the meaning of his vocation and the mission of the institutions that he established? Would it not be better to state that it was these events as a whole that pointed out the path that was to be followed? Have we not created a “myth” around the events that Vincent experienced in Gannes-Folleville, Châtillon-les-Dombres, and Montmirail-Marchais?

Before going any further I believe that it would be good to recall the fact that today those institutions and men and women whom we refer to as members of the Vincentian Family share a spirituality that is proper to them, a spirituality that has been passed on to them by Vincent de Paul and that is related to the events that formed his personality, his vocation and his mission. This spirituality, this distinctive characteristic, which is also a distinctive characteristic of the Church is “the option for the poor” [5]. For the sons and daughters of Vincent de Paul this option is a theological reality [6]. By this we mean that for the Church and for us “God is the first person who opted for the poor” and therefore, “the cause of the poor is the cause of God” and “the question of the poor is the question of God” [7]. Vincent de Paul did not use those words but the phrase that he did use communicated the same idea: poor persons are our portion [8]. For Vincent de Paul and his followers the poor are their portion … their preferred portion? their exclusive portion? In this regard we refer to the proposals that John Paul II placed before the Church at the beginning of the third millennium when he asked all Christians to stake everything on charity, that is, to make a commitment to practical and concrete love for every human person (Novo Millennio Ineunte, #49), a love that is shown to the poor in a special and preferential manner so that in every Christian community those who are poor will feel as though they are at home.

In Vincentian spirituality even though each branch of the Family has a specific activity which is given a priority status, nevertheless all the branches must remember to act and to put into practice that which is both proper and common to all. In other words, the primary task of the Congregation of the Mission is the evangelization of the poor. But the Congregation has to establish Charities in the various places where they minister and also has to provide for the material needs of the poor. The service of the Congregation, in order to be complete and authentically Vincentian, must provide at one and the same time for the material and the spiritual well-being of the poor. The Daughters of Charity and the members of the AIC have service as their characteristic trait, that is, material service on behalf of those who are poor and in need. Their service, however, would be incomplete and inauthentic and would not be Vincentian if the members neglected to provide for the spiritual needs of those same individuals. In other words, the Daughters of Charity and the members of the AIC would not fulfill their mission if they healed the physical wounds and ailments of the poor, if they confronted the injustices that afflict the poor and did not at the same time seek reconciliation and spiritual peace for those same persons, if they did not seek to eliminate the causes that produce those evils and injustices [9]. Thus, a battle must be waged on two fronts: on the spiritual and the material front. They have to work with resolve to change the hearts of the people with whom they live so that where selfishness abounds, love might begin to reign. Such a change involves a change in attitude, a change of heart that must accompany the healing of wounds and the distribution of food.

Finally, Vincentian activity must always involve evangelization and service, that is, the word that provides people with God’s consolation and mercy and the social, material and humanitarian activity that alleviates and heals people (especially the poor) of the evils that afflict them … these two must always be joined together. As we have already stated, these two dimensions are like the two sides of a coin that must be present in our life and activity, our vocation and mission, so that “said coin” might be seen as authentic and not false, so that it might have value and can therefore easily be circulated among people. In other words, in order for the gospel that we proclaim to be true and verifiable it must enable the people (preferably the poor) who receive it and embrace it to transform themselves. The gospel that we proclaim should offer people a more human and dignified future and should also change selfish hearts through the purifying fire of God’s love which is received and accepted.

Gannes-Folleville

Vincent de Paul experienced in Gannes-Folleville (two villages in France) a series of events that were not new for him but which, as the years passed, had an extraordinary impact on him which he communicated to his followers as points of reference. We are referring to the confession of the dying man in Gannes and the popular mission which followed that confession. We are going to reflect on those events, on the historical facts, on the impact of that event on Vincent de Paul, on some traditional interpretations of those events and finally, on some current questions that Father Bernard Koch, a member of the Congregation of the Mission, has posed. Let us begin with the events themselves.

The Historical Event

Vincent de Paul accompanied Madame de Gondi as she visited the lands that her family owned in the area of Picardy [10]. The year was 1617. Vincent de Paul and Madame de Gondi had paused to rest in the family castle in Folleville (the Diocese of Amiens). Vincent, as he so often did, was concerned about the spiritual welfare of the people who lived on the de Gondi lands [11]. It was then that Vincent received an important and urgent message: in Gannes, a man was on his deathbed and requested his presence. Vincent set out and arrived at the house of the infirm man. His biographers narrate what occurred there: One day in January 1617, we find Vincent accompanying Mme de Gondi to her castle in Folleville, in Picardy. From nearby Gannes, two leagues away, came the news that a dying peasant wished to see M. Vincent. Immediately he hurried to the sick man’s bedside. In that humble dwelling he sat down by the sick man’s bed to hear his confession. He urged the man to make a general confession of all the sins of his life. The peasant began to recite the sad rosary of his sins. It was worse than Vincent expected. The man had a reputation for being honourable and virtuous but buried in his conscience were burdens that he had never revealed. Year after year, and confession after confession, he had kept silent --- through ignorance, shame or hypocrisy --- about the most serious sins he had committed. Vincent had the feeling that in a final moment of grace he was dragging a soul from the clutches of the devil. The peasant felt the same. Remorse for a whole lifetime of sin lifted the guilt from his soul. He felt liberated. If it had not been for that general confession he would have been damned for eternity. He was filled with unrestrainable joy. He had his family brought to his home, together with the neighbours and Mme de Gondi herself. He told them his story [12].

With some variations, Vincent spoke about these events at the end of his life … specifically on January 25, 1655 (CCD:XI:163) and May 17, 1658 (CCD:XII:7) [13]. As we will point out later, Vincent spoke with much enthusiasm. With the perspective of time, Vincent discovered in this event and in other similar events the origin and the meaning of his vocation and mission as well as the ministry of the members of the Congregation of the Mission.

The man died three days later [14]. During that time, however, that man publicly confessed his sins which previously he feared to tell in private to his confessor. He gave thanks to God for having been saved by the opportunity to make a general confession (Vincent had asked the man to make such a confession). Madame de Gondi was both moved and shocked by this event. In her concern she spoke to Vincent: “Ah. Monsieur! What's this?”... “What have we just heard? No doubt it's the same for most of these poor people. If this man who is considered an upright man was in a state of damnation, what will it be like for others who live more badly? Ah. M. Vincent! How many souls are being lost! How can this be remedied?”(CCD:XI:3).

Vincent de Paul and Madame de Gondi found a way to avoid the possibility of eternal damnation: they organized a popular mission in Folleville. The central theme of that mission was general confession (how to prepare for such a confession and how to make that confession). On January 25, 1617 Vincent entered the pulpit of the church in Folleville. José María Román summarized that event with the following words … the sermon was powerful and easily understood. He instructed them, he moved their hearts and encouraged them [15]. Later Vincent himself realized what had happened and by way of summary he stated: He [God] blessed what I said (CCD:XI:4) [16]. According to his biographers so many people came forward to confess their sins that Vincent requested the assistance of the Jesuits in Amiens. The confessors were overwhelmed with the number of penitents [17].

This event has impacted the biographers of every era in such a manner that they affirm (in my opinion, hyperbolically) that this was the first sermon of the Mission [18] or the first mission sermon [19]. The writings of Vincent de Paul state that the sermon in Folleville was “the first sermon of the Mission (CCD:XI:4). First mission sermon or first sermon of the Mission? Did not Vincent act in the same manner in the different places that were part of the de Gondi estate? Folleville was not the first place where Vincent preached a popular mission nor was he completely original in his preaching. Also at that time Vincent was not the only person preaching popular missions. According to all of his biographers, however, Vincent de Paul, with some other priest, preached popular missions on the theme of general confession in all the neighboring and bordering villages … and with similar success [20]. We will speak more about this later on. It is certain, however, that these experiences had an impact on Vincent or, at the very least, they made him question himself with regard to his vocation and mission. Given the urgent need to provide instruction and pastoral care to so many poor country people could he continue to serve just one family? Should he not dedicate his life to the instruction and salvation of the poor country people? Vincent’s biographer, Pierre Coste, places the following questions in Vincent’s mind: The mission at Folleville clearly revealed to Vincent de Paul what God expected from him. When so many souls in these country villages were endangering their eternal salvation, was it fitting that he should spend the greater part of his time within the narrow circle of a single family, giving lessons to two or three children? After a long and terrible struggle, God had set him free from temptations against the Faith after he had made a resolution to devote the rest of his days to the service of the poor; were his duties as a tutor compatible with this engagement and was there not reason to fear lest the temptation would return if he did not fly from the de Gondis? [21]

Vincent, in fact, responded to those questions and left the de Gondi house and moved forward in order to make the gospel effective in Châtillon-les-Dombes (that event, however, is beyond the scope of this presentation).

The Impact of the Events on Vincent de Paul

There is no doubt that the pastoral ministry among the country people had an impact on Vincent de Paul. The spiritual and material misery that he found there made Vincent question himself and also made him look for solutions. In the beginning he was not sure about what to do but as time passed and with the help of Divine Providence he was able to see with greater clarity the path that had to be followed.

Madame de Gondi offered to finance the popular mission in the villages there were part of the family estate [22]. Vincent doubted, reflected and consulted. Some more years would pass before he established the Congregation of the Mission to bring the good news and God’s forgiveness to the poor country people [23]. In Gannes, in Folleville and in the surrounding villages Vincent became aware of the spiritual abandonment and misery of the country people. Vincent’s heart, ever more sensitive to the things of God and to the mission of a good priest, was torn apart. José María Román describes this in the following words: In Gannes, in Folleville, and in Châtillon Vincent had discovered the profound spiritual dereliction of these poor country people, their ignorance of the fundamental truths of faith, their routine practice of a mildewed, musty Christianity and their lack of even basic preparation for the sacraments. The results of all this were only too evident and Vincent’s heart was seared at finding “a people who risked being damned because they were ignorant of the truths necessary for salvation and because they did not confess their sins.” A radical solution had to be found and the missions aimed at providing just this. Each mission was like planting the seeds of Christianity afresh [24].

Vincent began to act. Together with some priests who accompanied him, he dedicated himself to preaching popular mission to the poor country people. He began to do this on the lands that belonged to the de Gondi family. It was at that time that the Congregation of the Mission was established with a special mission: the evangelization of the poor country people. The members were expected to dedicate all the days of their life to that mission. Madame de Gondi was always the animator, par excellence, of that foundation but the ultimate inspiration (apart from God) came from the holy and wise M. Duval [25].

The material and spiritual misery of the French country people had an impact on Vincent de Paul, a profound impact. In June 1628 he wrote to Pope Urban VIII and requested pontifical approbation of the new company (CCD:I:38-45; 47-53). This lengthy letter was written in Latin and has been preserved. In that letter we find the following words: the poor country people … often die miserably in the sins of their youth because they are ashamed to confess them to their pastors or curates, whom they know and with whom they are familiar (CCD:I:40).

The poor country people were overwhelmed by their misery and sins and died in that state. Therefore, according to the theology of that era, they were hopelessly condemned. An effective means had been discovered in the Catholic world that could remedy that situation: the popular mission. Therefore, it was helpful and necessary that a team of priests would dedicate their life to preaching those missions and hearing the confessions of those poor people. Vincent’s only desire in writing the Pope was to obtain full and universal recognition for the Congregation of the Mission after the manner in which it was established in Paris. He did not succeed in his first attempt.

Even as the years passed the impact of those first experiences was maintained. He spoke lovingly and enthusiastically about those experiences in his reflections. When Abelly narrated the events that occurred in Gannes he placed the following words on the lips of Vincent: Shame prevents some of the good country people from confessing their sins to their pastors, but this leaves them in serious danger … Alas, Monsieur Vincent, how many souls are lost! What shall we do about this? … It was January 1617, when all this happened, on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul … this lady asked me to preach in the church of Folleville to persuade the local people to make a general confession. I did this … God ... blessed this sermon. All those present were moved by God and came to make their general confession .. We next went to other villages in the vicinity which also belonged to Madame, to do the same as we had done in the first. We had large crowds, and God gave us his full blessing. This is how the first mission was accomplished. That it took place on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul was due solely to God’s design [26].

Vincent maintained fresh and alive all those memories and the various experiences that occurred in those different places. In those events he discovered the meaning of his life and the purpose of his vocation. He discovered this not only for himself but for all the members of the Congregation of the Mission in every place and in every era. Vincent recalled all of this on January 25, 1655 during the repetition of prayer on the day when the Missionaries were celebrating and remembering the establishment of the Congregation. Vincent did not describe the events as they occurred but rather he reinterpreted the events and presented them in a manner that was intended to renew the spirit and encourage the Missionaries to continue their mission: No one had ever thought of that! We didn't even know what missions were; ... two things moved the General’s wife to have those poor people make a general confession, one ... when the late Lady went to make her confession to her Pastor, she noted that he didn't give her absolution: he mumbled something between his teeth and did the same at other times when she went to confession to him. That bothered her a little ... When she told me this. 1 was on the alert and paid special attention to the priests to whom I made my confession. 1 found that this was indeed true and that some of them didn’t know the words o f absolution. ... [the other reason] ... the danger all those poor souls were in. She determined to find a solution to this tragic situation by having someone preach to them on how to make a good general confession and the need there was for making at least one during their lifetime. This was a success ... Next, seeing how successful that was, we thought about how to arrange for someone to go from time to time to that Lady's estates to give a mission there. I was instructed to speak to the Jesuits about their taking on this foundation ... they could not accept this foundation … we decided to form an association of a few good priests (CCD:XI:162-164) [27].

Vincent recalled these events with enthusiasm and also realized that he was not presenting some exact, literal narration of the events. He united together distinct yet convergent aspects. He reminded the Missionaries that they were those good priests who came together in order to give missions and to instruct those preparing for Orders in those matters that pertain to the pastoral ministry of a good priest. He rejoiced in recalling the fact that those original seeds were growing and developing and he hoped that this would continue into the future. For this to occur there was nothing better than remaining faithful to the origins, the spirit and the first love. I believe that the words that Vincent spoke when he concluded the repetition of prayer on that day should be interpreted in that manner: our first reason for going to Communion today is to thank God for the institution of the Mission; the second is to ask his pardon for the faults the Company in general and each individual in particular have committed up to the present; and the third is to ask him for the grace to correct ourselves and to carry out better and better the ministries in which it’s engaged (CCD:XI:164).

Three years later (May 17, 1658) Vincent once again reminded the Missionaries about the origin of the Congregation. On the occasion of the distribution of the Common Rules to the missionaries Vincent gave a conference on the theme: Observance of the Rules (CCD:XII:1-12). Faithful to his method he spoke first about the motives that should guide all in observing the rules. Among those motives he pointed out that they [the rules] are all drawn from the Gospel (CCD:XIII:3) and Our Lord came and was sent by his Father to evangelize poor persons (CCD:XII:3). Evangelization of the poor country people is the task, the mission of the Company. He pointed out that it is a great privilege for all of them to do what Our Lord came from heaven to earth to do, that is, to evangelize (CCD:XII:4). There had been a delay in presenting the book of rules because Vincent was convinced that it was important to act first and only then to write rules. This had been Vincent’s experience in the many activities that he undertook and it was that process that enabled Vincent to purify his intentions and actions and to recognize that what he was doing was in accord with the divine will and did not proceed from some human desire. It was in this context that he reminded the Missionaries about their origins. Here he reconstructed various disparate events that were becoming foundational and original for the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent spoke the following words to encourage his confreres: Would you call the origin of our missions human? One day I was called to hear the confession of a poor man who was seriously ill. He had the reputation of being the most upright of men --- or at least one of the most upright men --- of his village. Yet, he was burdened with sins he had never dared to confess, as he himself afterward declared aloud in the presence of the late wife of the General of the Galleys. “Madame,” he said, “I would have been damned had I not made a general confession, because of the serious sins I had never dared to confess.” The man died shortly afterward and the said Lady, realizing the necessity of general confessions, wanted me to preach a sermon on this subject the next day. I did so, and God blessed it so much that all the inhabitants of the place made a general confession. There was such a throng of people that I had to send for two Jesuit Fathers to come to help me hear confessions, preach, and catechize. This led to doing the same thing for several years in the other parishes on the estates of the said Lady. In the end she wanted to maintain some priests to continue these missions, and, for this purpose, obtained for us the College des Bons-Enfants, where M. Portail and myself went to live, taking with us a good priest to whom we paid fifty ecus a year. The three of us used to go off to preach and give missions from village to village. When we were leaving, we’d give the key to one of the neighbors, or ask him to sleep in the house at night (CCD:XII:7-8).

In Vincent’s opinion God, through the mediation of Madame de Gondi and some other good persons, was the originator and the organizer of the Congregation of the Mission. It is true that Vincent had a role to play in all of this activity but he always found the hand of God at work in these matters. In fact, Vincent said as much to his followers … and he hoped that things would continue in that same manner throughout the life of the Company. He wanted the Missionaries to continue to be worthy instruments so that the will of God would be fulfilled. Thus, they were to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor and they were to do this with courage and enthusiasm. He placed before his followers multiple and various events and experiences. Now, however, all of those were combined into one experience that was to serve as a model and a paradigm. Indeed, with the passage of time all those events and experiences were reconfigured so that they presented a profile of the Congregation of the Mission … those same events and experiences also defined Vincent’s vocation. Vincent had many experiences and had met many poor country people; he had given many popular missions and had heard innumerable confessions. From among all those different experiences, he highlighted certain ones in order to animate and encourage those who were listening to him and who, in his absence, would have to carry on the mission. Therefore, these narrations are special and are going to be remembered as foundational.

Vincent knew from firsthand experience that the poor country people were lacking in material and spiritual matters, in human and social matters. Vincent experienced those needs of the poor in the very depths of his being. He made every effort to search for and to find ways that would enable those men and women to change their situation, to live in the grace and the salvation that comes from God through the gospel and through the person of Jesus Christ. Those experiences had a profound impact on Vincent but he always found the strength to minister and confront the challenges that were placed before him day after day. Therefore, while the Missionaries did everything they could, God was doing what he had foreseen from all eternity (CCD:XII:8). As the Missionaries engaged in their ministry, others were encouraged to do the same and joined them … Vincent reminded his confreres about all of this in the May 17, 1658 conference when he stated: [God] gave a certain success to our works, which when some good priests saw it, they joined us and asked to stay with us (CCD:XII:8).

Traditional Interpretations

We have explained, according to our tradition, the events that occurred in Gannes-Folleville. We have also seen the impact of those events on Vincent. We are now going to comment on some of the more traditional interpretations that have been given to those events. We will begin with Abelly and Coste, two classical biographers of Vincent and will then continue with a reflection on some of the more common interpretations that have been offered in this forum, the Vincentian Studies Week, or in other written works that have been published in Spanish.

Previously we stated that Abelly viewed the events that occurred in Folleville as original and, in a certain sense, transcendental for the evolution and the journey of Vincent de Paul. In this matter he states: The mission in Folleville was the first given by Monsieur Vincent and has always been considered as the seed for all the others to follow. Every year, on the twenty-fifth of January, he and his Congregation thanked God for all the graces given in his infinite bounty to this first preaching. He always wanted this feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul to be regarded as the founding date of the Congregation of the Mission, although it was to be eight more years before this first seed grew and multiplied. He never thought that this tiny mustard plant would serve as the basis for the establishment of a new Congregation in the Church, as later came about. This is why the missionaries of the Congregation celebrate the feast of the conversion of the apostle, in memory of the way this new Paul, their father and founder, happily completed on this day his first mission. This first one was to be followed by so many others, leading to the conversion of a large number of souls, and contributing so strikingly to the growth of the kingdom of Jesus [28].

Abelly states that in Folleville Vincent did not simply preach one sermon but preached a popular mission. Several times he insists on that point that this was the first mission: the first among many others that would take place at a later date … the first mission and for this reason the mission in Folleville became the seed or the model for the other missions that Vincent would give throughout his life … the first mission that was highly blessed by God and yielded significant fruit for the building up of the kingdom of God. The establishment of the Congregation of the Mission is highlighted among those fruits. Vincent ordered that day and those events to be remembered but we do not know when he did this nor do we know when all of those events began to be celebrated as fundamental events that led to the establishment and the future development of the Congregation of the Mission. That did not occur at the beginning … the Congregation was established eight years later as the fruit of multiple requests from persons and existing Congregations and also after many rejections of those requests. Abelly states: Madame de Gondi recognized clearly by the success of this first mission the necessity of general confession, particularly among country people. She saw how a mission could help bring this about among the people. She conceived the idea of giving a foundation of sixteen thousand livres to any community willing to undertake the giving of a mission every five years in all her territories. She charged Monsieur Vincent with carrying out this project. He appealed first to Father [Etiemie] Charlet, provincial of the Jesuits, who said he would need to consult Rome before accepting. The answer was unfavorable. The Fathers of the Oratory also received the offer, but they too refused. Lastly, not knowing where to turn, she wrote her will, which she reviewed yearly. In it she gave sixteen thousand livres to set up this project. It would be arranged in the time and place judged appropriate by Monsieur Vincent [29].

Again Abelly insists that Folleville was the first popular mission which on this occasion is designated as the first proof. Thanks to Madame de Gondi the need and the importance of popular missions and general confessions were discovered. Vincent and Madame de Gondi acquired a clear and precise understanding of the fact that the popular mission would provide people with an opportunity to make a good general confession which would result in the conversion or the transformation of those people who had grown lax in their lives as Christians or who had completely neglected their practice of the faith. As a result of the missions the poor country people could renew their lives. But who would give these missions? At that time, only God knew … Vincent had no idea.

Pierre Coste points out that the events of Gannes and Folleville were fundamental, transcendental and enlightening for Vincent de Paul and his later life: The mission at Folleville clearly revealed to Vincent de Paul what God expected from him. When so many souls in these country villages were endangering their eternal salvation, was it fitting that he should spend the greater part of his time within the narrow circle of a single family, giving lessons to two or three children? After a long and terrible struggle, God had set him free from temptations against the Faith after he had made a resolution to devote the rest of his days to the service of the poor; were his duties as a tutor compatible with this engagement and was there not reason to fear lest the temptation would return if he did not fly from the de Gondis? [30]

According to Coste, that which was experienced and lived in Folleville was providential for Vincent’s discernment of his personal vocation. Coste stated that God showed Vincent in a very clear manner the path to follow. Vincent had to put aside tutoring the de Gondi children and must now dedicate himself to the instruction of the poor country people in France. He had endured temptations with regard to his faith but now the resolution that had been taken would bring an end to those temptations …. indeed, he began to follow that which had been pointed out to him in the events that occurred in Folleville. We see, then, that Vincent opted for the path that was shown to him in Folleville.

Vincent not only found the vocation that he was looking for but the events in Folleville demanded the establishment of a new Congregation in the Church, the Congregation of the Mission. This would be one of the mature fruits of the events that took place in Folleville: The Congregation of the Mission is the result of the sermon at Folleville; it sprang from it as the tree does from the seed. Hence the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul was always, for Saint Vincent and his disciples, a day of thanksgiving to Almighty God [31].

According to Coste, the mission in Folleville produced two important and interesting fruits: [1] the vocation of Vincent de Paul who dedicated his life to the instruction and the evangelization of the poor country people, [2] the mission of the Congregation of the Mission which was to extend in place and in time the vocation of Vincent de Paul. Both of these realities were revealed in a suggestive manner on the day on which the Church celebrated the conversion of Saint Paul, the apostle (January 25, 1617).

In that last reference, Coste speaks about a sermon and not a mission. But in the other reference (cf., footnote #20) Coste clearly states that a popular mission was given in Follville. It can be concluded that in Folleville, Vincent gave a popular mission and as a result, his own personal vocation as well as the mission of the Congregation of the Mission blossomed like the tree that blossoms from its corresponding seed. Therefore, on January 25th, the followers of Vincent ought to recall and celebrate those events with gratitude and joy, blessing God for all that had happened and asking God for the strength to not grow weary or discouraged in the evangelical task that was begun on that day.

In 1976 the Fifth Vincentian Studies Week took place in Salamanca. During that time there was a presentation on the relationship between Vincent de Paul and the evangelization of the country area. Father José Manuel Sánchez Mallo was the presenter and he began his development of that theme with the following words: January 25, 1617, Folleville, a small village in France. The event is well-known by everyone. Vincent de Paul viewed this date as the beginning of his missionary endeavor, that is, that was the first sermon of the Mission and the success God gave it on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, and he certainly had a plan on that day (CCD:XI:4). Vincent’s life was marked by that event; it was a true theophany. The events that occurred in 1617 were complemented by the events in Clichy (1612), Châtillon-les-Dombes (1617), and Marchais (1621) and Vincent now read the gospel in a new manner. He was especially drawn to the gospel of Saint Luke and more specifically to the text of 4:18 which repeats the passage from the prophet Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to the prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). Vincent took this passage, to evangelize the poor, as the motto for his life. After the experience in Folleville, however, the poor took on a particular character: the poor country men and women. Therefore, the Lucan text has to be completed with “the maxime ruricolis” namely, the country poor. From that time and as a result of the will of their Founder, the priests of the Mission have as their motto: to evangelize the poor, “maxime ruricolis” [32].

Father Sánchez Mallo described the experience in Folleville with the significant word theophany, a concrete revelation of God or the plans of God that sets in motion a person to carry out the indicated mission. According to Father, on that day and in the midst of those events, the vocation and the mission of Vincent de Paul were clarified and brought together once and for all. Nevertheless, a type of divine revelation was needed to complete and reinforce all of this. In fact, from 1612 when he was in Clichy until 1621 when he was in Marchais, Vincent was seeing with ever greater clarity what God wanted and desired from him. During those years of 1612-1621, 1617 was fundamental for the life and ministry of Vincent de Paul. According to experts in Vincentian studies, during that year Vincent would have two very fundamental experiences, one in Folleville and then, later, another in Châtillon.

What will be Vincent’s mission … the mission that he discovered and consolidated during those years? Vincent would dedicate his life to the evangelization of the country people, or as he liked to say, the poor country people. It was those experiences that gave meaning and significance to the motto of the Vincentian Missionaries: the Lord has sent me to evangelize the poor, especially the country poor. According to the gospel of Saint Luke that vocation is wholly evangelical and it continues the mission of Jesus of Nazareth. That day and that experience were etched forever in Vincent’s heart and should be burned into the flesh of the Vincentian Missionaries.

The Missionary, José María Ibáñez Burgos participated in the Fifth Vincentian Studies Week and he developed the theme: the rural society and its impact on the vocation of Vincent de Paul [33]. In his presentation he referred to two experiences (which according to him were revelatory experiences) with regard to Vincent’s vocation and mission: the experience in Gannes-Folleville and the experience in Châtillon-les-Dombres [34]. He adds, as a complement to those, the encounter with the Huguenot in Montmirail and the popular mission in Marchais [35]. He briefly explains the events in Gannes that occurred at the bedside of the dying man. He states: At the bedside of this infirm man who lived in the rural area Vincent recognized that the poor country people are condemned because they have made bad confessions. Making use of the charitable voice of Madame de Gondi, God interrogated Vincent: “What is this? What have we just heard?” she says after learning about the confession of the dying man. “Ah, M. Vincent! How many souls are being lost! How can this be remedied?” [36]

God touched the heart of Vincent and made him understand that the country people needed good and holy confessors and also needed preparation in order to make a good confession. God, through Madame de Gondi, questioned Vincent and asked for a response, asked for methods and means. Now, however, Vincent was becoming aware of the negative religious situation of the poor country people as well as the ignorance and the ineptitude of the priests who cared for them [37].

Vincent was restless and found no serenity with the present state of his life. It was like he was debating himself and looking for answers … there was clarity and at the same time there were hesitations and doubts. Doubts, reflections, work and decisions had to be made. The more immediate response was found in attempting to eliminate the bad situation. For the time, however, Vincent saw no other solution than to exhort people to make a general confession. Invited by Madame de Gondi, he attempted to confront that situation by preaching a sermon on January 25, 1617 in the church in Folleville. During the following days Vincent continued to instruct the people who lived in that parish and prepared them to make a general confession. Assisted by another priest and by the Jesuits in Amiens, Vincent heard their confessions. When “the mission” was concluded in Folleville, Vincent went to other villages where he continued this mission activity and where he began to see more clearly his own mission [38].

The first immediate response was a popular mission. He began with a sermon on general confession, continued to catechize the people and concluded by celebrating the Eucharist and hearing their confession. He knew what he had to do but he was still not fully aware of his proper mission. He was aware, however, that the popular mission was the remedy for the evils that the poor country people were experiencing. Therefore, popular missions were given not only in Folleville but in all the villages that were part of the de Gondi estate. Folleville became for Vincent the place of initiation, the beginning, the place of that original inspiration that resulted in a wholehearted commitment to the Church of Christ [39]. Here we are probably dealing not so much with some geographical place, but with a theological space, now so much with some origin in time and space but a theological origin. At the conclusion of those popular missions, Vincent made a decision to leave the de Gondi estate and mature in his vocation and mission. Châtillon was waiting for him … it was there that Vincent would receive another spiritual jolt that would continue to mold his life, his person and his ministry.

In his presentation, José María Ibáñez Burgos balanced Vincent’s experiences in Gannes-Folleville and Châtillon-les-Dombees [40]. What did he offer in creating this balance? Let us see: For Vincent de Paul 1617 was rich in signs and as a result experiences now became more significant for his life. He was convinced that the souls of the poor country people were being lost because they did not make good confessions and also as a result of their ignorance they lacked support in the fundamental truths of the faith …

He then added: These revelation that occurred in 1617 would serve as a lever for all Vincent’s great works and would mark the beginning of the Vincentian institutions. These in turn would reveal, exteriorly, the progression and the extent of Vincent’s awareness … this awareness was at one and the same time a stimulus and an accusation.

For Vincent de Paul the year 1617 was one of many rich experiences and responses. It can be said that experiences can be measured by their influence on the life of an individual and it was certainly so for Vincent. On the one hand, he was convinced that the poor country people were being condemned because of their bad confessions and because they lived in ignorance with regard to the fundamental truth of their faith and of their lives as Christians. On the other hand, Vincent discovered, directly or indirectly, that he was culpable for this situation … culpable because the Church itself was culpable in that priests in general were abandoning their pastoral ministry (either out of ignorance or because they were seeking a more comfortable and more worldly life). This growing awareness would weigh heavy upon Vincent as he decided definitively to dedicate himself to the evangelization and the promotion of the poor country people who were marginalized and abandoned.

As Vincent became aware of the reality and of what had to be done, he also perceived that he had to give continuity to the work that had been begun … continuity in time and place. Therefore, more hands, more people were needed … and so the revelations of 1617 would bring about the great Vincentian works and institutions. Father Ibáñez is more precise about this in a footnote that reads: As a result of the experience in Gannes and the mission in Folleville, Vincent established the Congregation of the Mission (1625), organized parish missions and retreats for the Ordinands (1628), established the Tuesday Conferences (1633) and seminaries (1641) [41].

For Father José María Ibáñez Burgos, Vincent de Paul put into motion a series of responses and activities in order to confront the root of those evils. If the poor country people were being condemned, it was because they were lacking good priests. Therefore, the people needed missionaries … and because Vincent did not receive a positive response from those Congregations with whom he had discussed this idea, the Congregation of the Mission came into existence. Then, since the popular missions were not enough and since it was necessary to prolong the fruits of those popular missions, there arose the need to form and instruct the priests in their vocation and mission. Thus, the retreats for Ordinands, the Tuesday Conferences, and the ministry in seminaries were initiated (sound foundations that would enable the growth of all this activity). The Council of Trent required the establishment of seminaries in every country [42] and Vincent de Paul was determined to take up the cause of the reform of the clergy and the episcopacy … a work that had already been initiated.

Vincent was finding his mission and viewed that mission in light of the activities implied in his various experiences. We can say that the events in Gannes-Folleville gave form to his person as a missionary and also gave form to his missionary and charitable activity. Those experiences rooted him in the people, incarnated him in the poor and in God. Those experiences made him an evangelizer and a charitable person. José María Ibáñez Burgos states: The evangelizing activity of Vincent de Paul originated from two fundamental experiences: Gannes-Folleville and Châtillon-les-Dombes. Both experiences guided his fidelity, his re-creation and his incarnation. With regard to other people those experiences led him to evangelize people by communicating to them the truth that saves and by revealing to them the charity that completes and verifies the process of evangelization [43].

If we take in a literal manner these affirmations of the experts in Vincentian Studies, we could say that Vincent de Paul changed and became another person as the result of those two experiences. However, Vincent was not radically new as the result of those experiences nor did his life move in a completely different direction. The change was gradual and Vincent began to act with a greater awareness in light of the obstacles that he had to confront. No human person changes from one day to the next. Their past history influences the changes that they undertake and all change is accomplished slowly. Vincent, after Folleville and Châtillon, was not some wholly changed person nor was he previously a person who was simply looking for a benefice and an honest retirement. For some years he had put aside the idea of such a retirement and he was acting as a good priest, completely dedicated to the mission that was proper to him. The events in Folleville and Châtillon led to greater perfection in his life and activity. In other words, evangelization and charity would configure his life and the life of his followers and would give meaning to his mission and the mission of his followers.

A team of five French Missionaries also had an intervention in the Fifth Vincentian Studies Week. With their various ideas they contributed to the development of the general theme and they enriched our study with their analysis of the sources. The presentation was entitled: Vincent de Paul’s experience and ours [44]. The starting point of their analysis of the events was the same as ours, that is, they gathered together the data concerning the events that occurred in Folleville. They were convinced that those experiences and what followed as a result of those experiences had a profound impact on Vincent … as much of an impact as the events that occurred in Gannes [45]. They invited us to read those events and then made some observations:

(1)Another step was taken … toward becoming the Priest of the Mission. Vincent had evaluated the advantages of parish pastoral ministry (Clichy) and compared that ministry to “private” ministry. Now Vincent had to weigh the advantages of his missionary intervention (Folleville) with his sedentary mission as a pastor. For the infirm man in Gannes, the pastor there was not enough … in fact it proved to be an obstacle. In his letter to Urban VIII (June 1628) Vincent spoke about this matter when he stated: the poor country people … often die miserably in the sins of their youth because they are ashamed to confess them to their pastors or curates, whom they know and with whom they are familiar (CCD:I:40). Missionary activity did not involve the same risk and therefore, he viewed this ministry as a necessary and effective complement to his sedentary pastoral ministry as pastor.

(2)That missionary experience naturally led Vincent to the idea of itinerant missionaries. That idea found expression in the following words: we then went to all the other towns and villages that were located on the lands that were owned by Madame de Gondi.

(3) In all of the different accounts of these events we became aware of the great importance of preaching and general confession (the missionary as a man of the Word). In each of the accounts we find an outline of the mission: instruction, creating an openness and a willingness to approach the sacraments, listening to the confession of the people.

(4) We also notice that from the very first experience Vincent involved others in this ministry. He realized that he would need many collaborators in order to become actively involved in this ministry … at times the Jesuits were involved (CCD:XI:2-4), but this ministry was actually contrary to the purpose of that Institute (CCD:XI:163-164).

(5) Vincent experienced those events and was faithful to their underlying significance:

  • He came to verify the fact that a twofold ignorance created those situations, (a) the people were ignorant of the truths necessary for salvation and (b) the pastors did not know the words of absolution.
  • Vincent came to understand that there was a lack of faith.

In summary, Vincent became aware of the overall situation and the urgent needs and he acted. As a result of the experiences in Gannes and Folleville he organized (in a line of continuity) the missions and the priests of the Mission, retreats for the Ordinands and a threefold reform that involved the clergy, religious, and bishops [46].

In Gannes and Folleville, Vincent came to understand the situation of misery and diagnosed its causes. People there found themselves in the midst of two problems and Vincent revealed to them a solution. Vincent found a twofold ignorance in those villages: the ignorance of the people with regard to the truths necessary for salvation and the ignorance of the priests as revealed in their actions which showed a lack of knowledge in theology and pastoral ministry. With bad pastors, the people in the country could not grow and mature in their faith or in their lives as Christians.

Vincent, experienced in pastoral ministry, discovered the appropriate remedy. The popular mission offered more advantages than any direct permanent form of pastoral ministry. The fact that the Missionaries were mobile was also more advantageous for the people than the sedentary ministry of the permanent pastor. Nevertheless, both forms of pastoral ministry are valid and useful. One does not take the place of the other but rather they are complementary to one another, thus creating an overall better situation. The path that Vincent followed was that which enabled him to resolve the situation that threatened the religious life of the people. After Gannes and Folleville, Vincent went into action. In light of the impossibility of finding a permanent team of missionaries to engage in that ministry (giving popular missions) Vincent established a new congregation in the Church, the Congregation of the Mission. Its members would give popular missions in towns and villages. That activity implied mobility and not remaining in one place. The towns and villages where those mission were preached needed pastors who would provide permanent care to those people who had been converted and/or renewed and healed. The formation of the clergy and pastoral and spiritual support of pastors was as necessary as the popular missions. Thus seminaries, the Tuesday Conferences, retreats for the Ordinands … all of these became ministries in which the members of the new Congregation would become engaged.

All of this came into existence with the passage of time and as a result of reflection on the events and experiences that occurred in Gannes-Folleville and the other towns and villages on the de Gondi estate that were evangelized and where popular missions were given by Vincent de Paul during those early years. This was a time of action and calculation. Little by little Vincent made a reality that which, later in his life, was a constant. I am referring to the fact that once Vincent understood an event and realized that such an event was in accord with the will of God, then he acted [47]. In other words, Vincent realized the need of knowing how to wait and not rush ahead of the plans of Providence … only when one is assured of being guided by providence does one rush to the aid of the neighbor as though one were going to a fire.

José María Román, in his biography on Saint Vincent, points out that the event in Folleville was “the first mission sermon” [48]. That event is viewed by the historian as the occasion on which Vincent’s vocation was revealed and discovered. He calls that an unexpected event and the source that led to the revelation of said vocation [49]. Little by little the narration of those events unfolded. He highlights the impact of those events on Madame de Gondi and then, because of a mutual agreement, she and Vincent began to put in place some of the remedies that they believed were both necessary and appropriate. The narration of those events concluded with the following affirmation: It was a revelation. Vincent decided that this must be his mission; this was what God was calling him to, he was to take the gospel to these poor country people. He did not found any Congregation that day. Perhaps the idea of forming one never entered his head. He just preached a sermon, “the first sermon of the Mission”. Eight years were to pass before he set up the Congregation of the Mission and yet throughout his life he would have his missioners celebrate 25 January as the birthday of the company [50].

All of this seems to have been very easy, but nevertheless this was more complex than, at first glance, it appears to have been. In Folleville it was not just one sermon that was preached, but rather an entire popular mission was developed there. At the same time Vincent did not come to some sudden understanding of his vocation (as though this was some spectacular and transformative event). It was only much later that Vincent discovered that those events, together with other similar events, were revelatory, that is, they provided him with a clear and distinct perception of what God wanted from him. Yes, those events united Vincent with God’s plans for his life, for his vocation and for his ministry. Years later he would discover that he alone was unable to give continuity to the activity of the popular missions and the growth of the fruits that resulted from those missions. He needed other people, a more numerous group of people. It was thus that the Congregation of the Mission came into existence.

José María Román united another event to the experiences that occurred in Folleville and Madame de Gondi would share in that experience. Madame de Gondi noticed that when she went to confession, the priest did not recite the words of absolution and she discussed this matter with her spiritual director. Vincent de Paul, who had also investigated that matter had come to the same conclusion. Both felt that well-prepared general confession was a magnificent solution for the poor country people. They also agreed that the ignorance and neglect of the priests had to be confronted. All of this led Vincent de Paul to promote a reform of the Church, a reform that would transform the life of the faithful and the life of priests: We now see Vincent in possession of two basic elements of his profound religious experience --- the spiritual misery of a Christian people without the gospel, and the frightening lack of training for the clergy who were ignorant of even the most elementary rules for the exercise of their ministry. These were two evils vigorously denounced by the Council of Trent which suggested catechetical work should be undertaken and centres set up for the training of priests [51].

Vincent and his Missionaries would offer popular missions during which they would provide catechesis and they would also become engaged in ministry in seminaries where they were able to provide for the formation of the clergy. Those needs of the Church which were highlighted by the Council of Trent would be satisfied by the activity of the Vincentian Missionaries and other similar groups. The events that were experienced by Vincent de Paul and Madame de Gondi in Gannes and Folleville (as well as in other places) would give rise to various responses, actions and institutions that would eliminate the present lacuna in the life of the faithful and the pastors. It was those lacuna in the priests that had become a great evil for the Church, in general.

Italo Zedde in the Diccionario de espiritualidad vicenciana [52] refers to the events that occurred in Folleville and states: Folleville continues to be the fundamental event for all of Vincent’s future activity and by way of comparison there is no other more significant event. This event (and we have four narrations of this event) was etched in the spirit of Vincent de Paul. The mission in Folleville, which marks the date of the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission, reveals the specific charism which motivated Vincent to reach out to the poor. Any analysis of this event requires many pages [53].

Once again we see that in Folleville Vincent did not preach just one sermon but rather offered a whole popular mission with all its various movements and activities so that it might produce the desired fruit. According to Italo Zedde that mission was the fundamental event in all the activity of Vincent de Paul and became the indication, par excellence, of the charisma of Vincent with regard to his relationship with the poor. That was highlighted in the text that we have just referenced. Some other affirmations with regard to the same reality will appear in some later sections and will require greater precision and explanation.

Nevertheless, we can draw some conclusions from the Gannes-Folleville experience. As a result of those experiences Vincent committed himself, in a definitive manner, to the gospel of Jesus Christ, to the Church, to the salavation and the conversion of the poor country people and to the proclamation of God’s mercy [54]. In the opinion of Italo Zedde that is an essential truth. In itself it is a valid affirmation but if we apply that affirmation in some exclusive and unique manner to the events of 1617 then such an affirmation becomes an exaggeration and a hyperbole. It is true that when Vincent recalled that event and recounted it to his followers he presented it as a providential moment and therefore a moment of slavific importance [55]. Vincent realized that, however, only later, near the end of his life. Therefore, I prefer to see all of Vincent’s activity through the lens that Italo Zedde utilized when he spoke about Folleville (each and every one of the missions and the activities that accompanied those missions that were given in so many different places): In Folleville Vincent attempted to bring salvation to the poor country people in the purest spirit of the language of Lucan theology [56].

More recently, in 2006, a new work on Vincent de Paul was published. Specifically I am referring to Vicente de Paúl y la Misión [Vincent de Paul and the Mission]. This book was written by Mikel A. Sagastagoitia [57], a Vincentian Missionary serving in Puerto Cortez, Honduras. Naturally he deals with the events that occurred in Gannes-Folleville [58]. Mikel narrates the events that occurred there and analyzes them. He states: The experience in Gannes-Folleville is going to reveal to Vincent the spiritual abandonment of the poor country people. While Vincent was searching for some comfortable pleasant situation among other distinguished and important persons, the poor country people were living and dying without any priest to evangelize and care for them [59].

Revelation --- yes; greater awareness --- yes. But was Folleville a unique experience or was it one experience among other experiences? What appears to be certain is that during the first months of 1617 Vincent had some powerful spiritual experiences as a result of his contact with the poor country people who lived on the de Gondi estate. Vincent, in his interior, felt the spiritual abandonment of those country people while he lived a comfortable people (with perhaps even certain refinements). At the same time he told himself that he was providing spiritual assistance to one family while many, many families had no priest to assist them or to evangelize them. I have no doubt that those experiences and reflections led Vincent to give a radically new form to his life. We can conclude such from his writings and teachings, just as we can interpret the same from the study of his activity: January 25th --- we can say that the life of Vincent de Paul was changed from top to bottom. He no longer found any meaning in his life as he continued to reside in Paris where priests and friars were so numerous. He felt that it was a waste of his time to tutor the de Gondi children who would have many possibilities in their later life … he also felt that he was not using his time well as he provided spiritual assistance to Madame de Gondi to whom he also felt bound. Vincent felt that God was calling him to live his priesthood by proclaiming the Good News to the poor country people [60].

The spiritual misery of the poor country people and the ignorance of the clergy [61] were two malignancies that were making a wasteland out of the French countryside and predisposing people to abandon the faith, Catholicism and Christian morality. Those people were ignorant as a result of the lack of good priests and good evangelizers. Vincent de Paul could not remain with his arms folded … God and Madame de Gondi intervened in such a way as to lead Vincent in the search for a solution to that situation. He looked, proposed several ideas, reflected and one day decided. The fruit of that search and reflection was the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission [62]. Mikel A. Sagastagoitia summarizes that time of searching in the following manner:

In Gannes-Follevilee, Vincent discovered four radical elements that, in accord with José María Román, we could synthesize in the following manner: 1. The French country people were living in the midst of a disastrous religious situation. 2. The primary responsibility for that situation fell upon the priests who were ill-prepared, ignorant and lacking in zeal. 3. There were no Congregations or Orders that were concerned about the evangelization of the poor country people. 4. The popular mission, oriented toward general confession (with all its catechetical and sacramental demands) was seen as an effective remedy to that situation.

These were the realities that would give form to the missionary vocation of Vincent de Paul. Molded by those realities, the mature priest consulted Berulle about the idea of leaving Paris in order to minister among the poor country people. Providence sent him to a small village about five hundred kilometers from the capital. The village was Chatillon-les-Dombes and there Vincent would encounter further experiences that would give form to his person as an evangelizer [63].

The conclusion is clear: the disastrous religious situation of the poor country people, the culpability of the priests for that situation and the urgency for a team of missionaries to give popular missions in the towns and villages. The effectiveness of those missions was the mature fruit that Vincent de Paul harvested during those first months of the year 1617. But those same realities and experiences that he contemplated in 1617 were not something completely new. It was that in 1617 Vincent saw things more clearly and was in a better place to be able to do something positive. He would still need some further encounters with the religious and material situation of the poor country people in order to mature and take some definitive steps with regard to the missionary vocation that he felt called to fulfill.

Some Current Questions: Fr. Bernard Koch, CM

As we have been able to see, the traditional commentaries and interpretations that have been given to Vincent’s thought and activity sustain (with almost complete unanimity) that the events that occurred in January 1617 were exceptional, revelatory and unique events. Yet, were those events so extraordinary and unique … so exceptional? Can we continue to make the same affirmation today? A critical study of the documents that we possess reveals that we cannot make such an affirmation or, at the very least, we must give nuance to those affirmations. Father Bernard Koch, a member of the Congregation of the Mission, attempts to respond to those questions in an article that was published in Bulletin des Lazaristes de France (1977) [64]. We will now analyze that article.

The Limitations of the Traditional Interpretations

Father Bernard Koch begins his article by posing a question about the veracity of the date, January 25th, 1617, as the occasion for “the first sermon of the Mission” and for “the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission”. These are some of his words: For some time the Congregation of the Mission has recalled January 25th, 1617 as the date on which Saint Vincent preached the first sermon of the Mission and established the Congregation of the Mission (eight years before the contract that established the Congregation was signed). This date is based on the words of Vincent himself but what is the truth about that reality? What is the truth that surrounds those events? [65]

It is not easy to respond to that question. The first written text that presents the sermon of January 25, 1617 that was preached in Folleville as “the first sermon of the Mission” is found in the biography of Louis Abelly. He extracted that information from one of Vincent’s conferences and inserted it (undated) into his biography on Vincent [66]. Since this is undated, however, (and Abelly expressly states that it is undated) we do not know what happened or what Vincent said … we can only base ourselves on documents that are dated [67]. But can we find that support in other documents? In his article, Father Koch tells us that we will not find a positive answer in that regard: We cannot find support in the documents that we have in our possession and we also know that during the sacking of Saint-Lazare that occurred on July 13, 1789 between two-thirds and four-fifths of the material that was preserved in the Archives was lost. Of the almost 8,000 letters that were known to Father Collet before the Revolution, only 2,500 remain. We only have 120 of the weekly conferences that were given to the Sisters and 145 conferences and repetitions of prayer that were given to the Missionaries. We have no knowledge about what Vincent said or wrote in those documents that were destroyed but in the documents that we do have there is information that merits our consideration … and we do have an impressive amount of material [68].

The documents that we possess at the present time are not the same documents that were accessible to the Missionaries before the time of the French Revolution. The French Revolution wreaked havoc on the Archives at the Motherhouse. Therefore, if some letter or conference stated something on this matter of January 25th, we do not know that information. That, then, is the first reality that we must admit. Mindful of that reality, Father Koch begins to analyze the written documents that we possess at the present time.

Mindful of what has just been stated, Father Koch affirms (and in my opinion rightly so) the following: Contrary to common belief, the documents that we have testify to the fact that Vincent preached and recommended general confession before 1617 and before the events that occurred on the de Gondi estate [69].

Why can we make such an affirmation? We can do so because his biographer, Louis Abelly, tells us that Vincent evangelized and catechized the people on the de Gondi estate before 1617 [70]. Furthermore, we can affirm that reality from other documents of Vincent de Paul that support the fact that Vincent was engaged in such activity before the date of the events in Gannes-Folleville [71]. Specifically, we possess four documents that are very interesting in this regard: a sermon on the catechism (CCD:XIIIa:31-36), two sermons on communion (CCD:XIIIa:36-38, 38-42 and a request for faculties (CCD:I:17)[72] that was addressed to the Vicar General of Sens and dated June 20, 1616 (seven months before the events in Gannes-Folleville). Those document allow us to understand that on various occasions Vincent interacted with the poor country people, something that he would do with greater frequency and greater dedication since he was no longer dependent on the de Gondi family. In other words, when the occasion presented itself Vincent was engaged in those activities proper to a popular mission … he was engaged in this activity (perhaps on a lesser scale) during the years that preceded the events in Gannes-Folleville.

Scope of the Written Documents

If Vincent organized popular missions before 1617, then what is the significance of the events in Gannes-Folleville, especially since those events are referred to as transcendental, unique and fundamental? If the mission sermon in Folleville was so important from the time that it was preached then why did Vincent speak about this to the Missionaries only when his years were coming to an end? Father Koch formulates those questions in his article and at the same time offers some interesting responses.

For Bernard Koch, Vincent, before 1617, had discovered the spiritual misery of the poor country people. Nevertheless, Marguerite de Silly, Madame de Folleville [73], was closely related to Vincent during those years prior to 1617, a time when she also discovered and understood those realities in all their starkness. This discovery led her to search for short-term and long-term solutions and remedies. It was she who mobilized Vincent and pushed him toward the path of his vocation to serve the poor country people. The words that were spoken by the dying man in Gannes (words that showed his relief as a result of having the burden of his sins lifted from his conscience) revealed to Madame de Gondi that which Vincent could not say because he was bound by the seal of confession [74]. Gannes and Folleville confirmed Vincent in his understanding. He also realized that in order to undertake the ministry of popular missions he would need more people, more priests: Folleville for Vincent was a type or confirmation or consecration that was made known through the voice of the people … on the other hand, Vincent discovered that one did not undertake the ministry of popular missions without other priests, without a team [75].

Let us continue to look for answers! If the events that occurred in Gannes-Folleville were so important to Vincent de Paul, in the manner that is pointed out by his biographers and in other more significant studies, then surely Vincent would have spoken about this in his letters and conferences. Let us examine Vincent’s letters and conferences to see what we find in this regard. In the letters dated during the month of January (and here we refer to that month in all the different years of Vincent’s life) and in all the letters that have been passed on to us (some two thousand five hundred) we find no reference to this event or any other event that even seems closely related to this matter. We cite here then the words of Father Koch in this regard: In the letters, in the two thousand five hundred letters that we possess, in the letters that are dated during the month of January as well as letters that are dated in any manner, there is no mention about the sermon in Folleville or the confession of the dying man in Gannes. Vincent frequently wrote about the popular missions and general confessions, but there is no reference to the experience in Folleville and we find nothing that would allow us to say that Vincent’s life and/or ministry was based on that experience [76].

We make that statement with regard to the letters, but what about the conferences? The first mention of that event is dated 1642 and was spoken by Monsieur Portail and not Vincent de Paul. M. Portail had replaced Vincent and was giving a conference to the Daughters of Charity. We cite once again the words of Father Koch: The occasion was most fortuitous. Vincent had been prevented from being present for the conference and so M. Portail, the Director of the Daughters, began the conference on the theme of the care of the sick. One of the Sisters stated that she believed that is was necessary to prepare the infirm to make a general confession. M. Portail added that this was very important, indeed, and that God was blessing this practice, since he had made use of it to inspire the wife of the General of the Galleys to establish the Priests of the Mission (CCD:IX:49) [77].

That narration was, indeed, a fortuitous event. I would call it misplaced since it did not take place on January 25 but on March 9, 1642. The protagonist is not the interested party but another individual who had listened to this account from either Vincent de Paul or some other person who knew about that event. The narration of those events by M. Portail reveal that the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission was in some way related to the practice of general confession and therefore, also related to the popular missions. M. Portail, then, told the Sisters about the events that occurred in Gannes … events that involved and dying man, Vincent de Paul and Madame de Gondi (CCD:IX:49-50). The narration is important and transcendent: This narration is important because it contains one of the elements that led to it becoming so prominent in later accounts. The narration that follows is very brief. Madame de Gondi was visiting an elderly man whom she counseled to make a general confession. After he had confessed to M. Vincent, the man shared with Madame de Gondi his relief since the burden of his sins had been lifted. This promoted Madame de Gondi to establish the Priests of the Mission. That is the account and yes, it is important. It shows that Vincent spoke about this event with his followers and one of them obviously remembered those details [78]

According to that reference, the Congregation of the Mission came into existence in the midst of those events. The person who moved things forward was not Vincent de Paul but Madame de Gondi. For M. Portail to affirm and narrate the details that he referred to in that conference, he must have listened to those details from either Vincent de Paul or Madame de Gondi. We see there a hint of the importance that would be given to those events at a later time. Nothing, however, is said about the sermon, no date is given and no specific place is mentioned (neither Gannes nor Folleville) and there is also no mention about the first sermon of the Mission … nothing is said about any of these matters. The need to make a general confession was the focus of the conference [79]. It is interesting to note that Vincent arrived while M. Portail was giving the conference but said nothing in that regard and no one asked him any questions.

On January 25, 1643 Vincent gave a conference to the Daughters of Charity (CCD:IX:66-77) and spoke to them about imitating the virtues of village girls, a theme that could have led to the narration of those events in Gannes-Folleville, but Vincent said nothing in that regard. In light of that fact, Father Bernard Koch states: Not a word was spoken about the sermon in Folleville … everything revolved around the virtues of the young village girls … he referred to the place where he was born, the misery of the poor country people in Lorraine where lands had been plundered by the army. In other words, in 1643 there was no celebration to commemorate the origins of the Mission. In the house of the Daughters of Charity the question about Gannes-Folleville was never raised [80].

Vincent gave another conference to the Daughters of Charity during the month of January, but that conference was given two years later (CCD:IX:162-170, 171-178). The theme of the conference was observance of the rule and at first sight it seems that it would have been appropriate to refer to the events that occurred in Gannes-Folleville, especially since Vincent spoke about the years of his childhood, the events that occurred in Châtillom-les-Dombes, the first Confraternity of Charity and Marguerite Naseau. But once again he said nothing about Gannes-Folleville [81]. From the material that is available to us no one would ever again refer to those events or speak about them to the Daughters of Charity.

In 1647, and in an indirect manner, we are given some information about the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission. Such details came from Madame de Gondi who referred to the establishment of the Congregation as being related to the problems of the pastors in those towns and villages, that is, the situation was such that they [the pastors] did not even know the words of absolution. This was confirmed by Father Hilarión de Coste, who wrote about Madame de Gondi [82]. I transcribe here the words of Father Koch who corroborates what I have just stated: He would never again speak about the sermon in Folleville nor would he refer to the elderly man who was dying; the motive for the establishment of the Congregation of Mission is something else: the ignorance of that priest (and undoubtedly many other priests) with regard to the formula of absolution … this meant that the people did not receive valid absolution from their sins [83].

Is it possible that there was so much silence in this regard? Can’t we find any document with regard to this matter? We have to wait until January 25, 1655 to read something that was spoken by Vincent. Indeed, Vincent spoke about this matter during a repetition of prayer with the Missionaries. The theme that had been proposed for meditation was the origins of the Congregation of the Mission (CCD:XI:162-164). Father Koch states: This is one of the two texts (even though it is short) that we have with regard to this matter. This material shows us that at that time the establishment of the Congregation was commemorated and related to the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul. Vincent spoke those words, however, thirty-eight years after the events [84].

The author of this presentation affirms the fact that we are dealing with a brief discourse that took place during a repetition of prayer. We also affirm the fact that the origin of the Congregation of the Mission was the motive for the festive commemoration and those events were connected to the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul. Thirty-eight years had passed since those events had occurred. Had something happened that would have motivated Vincent to share with the Missionaries that material that was developed during the repetition of prayer on January 25, 1655? Since March 9, 1642, in the house of the Daughters of Charity (and on that occasion it was M. Portail who spoke) nothing had been said about that theme (and again here we can only refer to the documents that we have in our possession). It is most probable that something had happened even though we will never know this with any certainty. With the documents that are available to us we can only speculate about this matter [85]. We can, perhaps, find some insight into this matter if we place the four narrations side by side and then contemplate that material. This material is laid out in that form and is found in the Appendixes at the conclusion of this presentation.

Let us pause to analyze the text from the repetition of prayer (January 25th, 1655). We point out here (without any attempt to be exhaustive) the essential points and affirmations:

  • 1. The communion of each person should be offered in thanksgiving for the foundation of the Company “on a day like that of the Conversion of Saint Paul”;
  • 2. The Congregation did not come into existence as a result of human inspiration … we had not even thought of such a thing; it came from God.
  • 3. It was an initiative of Madame de Gondi who was moved on the one hand by the ignorance of the priests with regard to the words of absolution and on the other hand by the danger in which those souls found themselves as a result of those invalid confessions … Madame de Gondi encouraged Vincent to preach on the manner to make a good confession [86].

In other words it is good to commemorate that day, the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul, and give thanks to God for the establishment of the Congregation of the Mission because it was God, through the mediation of Madame de Gondi, who gave birth to the Congregation. The discovery of the ignorance of the pastors and the resulting spiritual poverty of the faithful has made Madame de Gondi the animator, par excellence, of the popular missions. It was at her encouragement that the Missionaries continually preached about the manner in which one should make a good general confession. This is fundamental and is what can be concluded from the text. Notice that what gave origin to the Congregation of the Mission was confession and the formula for absolution … nothing is said here about the dying man in Gannes. Even though there is reference to a sermon as the first sermon, there is no mention of Folleville but yet there is reference to the assistance and help from the Jesuits in Amiens. I conclude this point with the following words of Father Koch: We make note of the fact that the motive which Fr. Hilarión referred to makes no mention of the dying man in Gannes. On the contrary, there is, for the first time, reference to a sermon as “as the first preaching”. The intervention of the Jesuits is also mentioned as well as Amiens, but nothing is said about Folleville [87].

We recall here the fact that we are talking about 1655 and Vincent is seventy-four years old. For a few years now Vincent (according to Fr. Koch) [88] is bringing into the light of day some experiences from the past. For example on July 27, 1653 he spoke about his stay in Clichy (CCD:IX:507) and again on September 26, 1659 (CCD:XII:276). On December 19, 1659 he spoke about how he felt ashamed of his father when he was a young student (CCD:XII:351). We also find some other references to his past life in his communication with the Missionaries and the Daughters of Charity. We refer here to the following examples: on several occasions he referred to his humble origins (he did this at least three times with the Missionaries between June 1658 and August 1659 (CCD:XII:19, 220, 242) and spoke the same way in a conference that he gave to the Daughters in November 1659 (CCD:X:547). In January 1643 he spoke to the Daughters of Charity and referred to the country from which he came (CCD:IX:70) and in October 1655 he spoke to them about his experience among the galley slaves (CCD:X:103). In June 1656 Vincent spoke with the Missionaries in the third person about a time when he had been unjustly accused of theft (CCD:XI:305) and in May 1659 he reminded the Missionaries about the events that occurred in Châtillon (CCD:XII:190-191).

What is the significance of these references to those events? Vincent de Paul, like all those people who reflect on their life as they grow older, recalled past experiences and shared those experiences with other persons. Therefore, if there had been some silence in regard to Gannes-Folleville and now, suddenly those events are referred to, it is because during the final years of Vincent’s life he reinterpreted his life and spoke about those events to his followers. Therefore, by way of summary, Father Koch states: for some time Vincent had been re-reading his life and is not overly concerned with precision in this matter [89] . We notice that the same occurs when grandparents share their experiences with their grandchildren … the grandchildren learn about those matters and later recall them and celebrate them.

Let us take another step forward and we find ourselves in the year 1658. January 25th is approaching. Because the day falls on Friday there will be chapter and a conference. But because it is a feast Vincent decided to suppress them: Because of the devotion on this feast of Saint Paul, anniversary of the birth of the Mission, M. Vincent declared that there would be neither Chapter nor conference (CCD:XII:430). Vincent made that announcement on January 18, 1658 at the conclusion of his conference on the death of our coadjutor Brother Hermet. Father Koch states that the chapter and the conference were suppressed because they were to celebrate with devotion the birth of the Company [90]. In this regard Father Koch adds that it appears that such a celebration was institutionalized and established: we see that this commemoration was truly institutionalized, even though this is not mentioned in other years nor in a list of themes [91].

On May 17, 1658, Vincent finally distributed the Common Rules that had just been published. He reminded the Missionaries that much time was needed to redact the rule and then have them presented to the Missionaries … this was a process that gradually unfolded, a process that occurs with every work that comes from God and that also occurred on the occasion of the birth of the Congrgation. That last affirmation led Vincent to recall the beginnings of the Congregation. On that occasion Vincent did refer to the confession of the dying man and to a mission sermon (CCD:XII:7). The narration is made in the first person but he did not mention any place … neither Gannes nor Folleville nor Amiens were referred to [92] .

Folleville, 1617: history, myth or rereading of history

In light of everything that we have stated so far, the reference of Folleville, January 1617, what is that all about? Is it history? Is it myth? Is it a re-reading of several similar events? Father Bernard Koch draws some conclusions [93] that I am going to summarize.

In the first place, with regard to the undated reference that we find in Abelly [94], it can be stated that a careful examination of this text reveals that we are dealing with a compilation of three known narrations, that of M. Portail and the two narrations of Vincent de Paul. It seems that Abelly added passages from other conferences that were later destroyed but he also seems to indicate a date that is as late as the dated narrations. On the other hand, the narration in Abelly is the only one that refers to the villages of Gannes and Folleville and to the name of Father Fouché. Abelly could have known that information from conferences that were lost or from some conversation with Vincent or some other person. Finally, the name of the town Folleville appears in no text of Vincent de Paul, except in the Rules for the Confraternity that was established there (October 1620), and even then there is no mention of 1617 (CCD:XIIIb:40, 48). That, however, does not eliminate the reality of that event confirmed by the missions and the Confraternity of Charity (September and October 1620) (CCD:XIIIb:40-48, 48-53).

We must note that secondly, reference had been made to various dying elderly men, similar to the man in Gannes, and this has caused confusion. Vincent stated this very clearly on December 6, 1658 (CCD:XII:73). It is clear that we are dealing with a distinct case. In Gannes, according to some texts, the man died three days later. But with regard to the man in the narration of December 6, 1658, it is stated that he was healed, participated in the mission and there made his confession. Similar cases were repeated with some frequency. In fact, Vincent de Paul exclaimed: how many do we find who conceal them [their sins] through shame! (CCD:XII:73). If there are several distinct cases, then why is there only mention of the man in Gannes? The answer is probably the following: with the passage of time Vincent began to highlight one specific situation and this acquired an extraordinary significance. Therefore, to continue to speak about the dying man in Gannes as an historical milestone would reveal that we are not careful in reading the documents that we possess.

Thirdly, we can state that after a long period during which Vincent and his companions had lived under the inspiration of the creative impulse, they paused to analyze what had occurred and they re-interpreted the paths along which God had led them. Vincent was aware of the fact that popular missions had been organized before 1617. In fact he had carefully guarded some documents, specifically, a letter and three sermons. He probably guarded some others but they were destroyed during the events that occurred on July 13, 1789. Today, we do not possess the famous sermon of January 25, 1617 but we can read some of his sermons from years prior to that date. In 1642, twenty five years after the events, Vincent summarized in one sentence a ten year process of reflection and activity (a period that began before 1617 and continued until the time of the signing of the contract in 1625). In other words, Vincent gave a date of 1617 to the words that were actually spoken by Madame de Gondi in 1625, words that were spoken at the time that the foundational document was signed and when funds were provided to underwrite the costs of the Missionaries who had been offering popular missions for several years. All of this occurred in 1655. Vincent de Paul saw relevance in the experience that occurred in January 1617 and read into that experience the establishment, by God, of the Congregation of the Mission and the beginning of the ministry of popular missions.

Finally, we find a precedent for all of this in the formation of the books of the Bible. There, some of the sacred authors kept in their memory the various gestures of God and later, re-read those events. So also Vincent stored up in his memory the various activities of the missionaries and during moments of prayer and illness, interpreted those events. From the perspective of time, Vincent was able to reflect on God’s impact on his life and on his journey through life. At the same time he reflected on the way in which God had changed the lives of his companions. He viewed some of the events of that journey as emblematic and a catalyst for the future. Since he had kept some sermons and letters Vincent knew that he had given missions before 1617. During his long lifetime he had the opportunity to reflect on those events, those emblematic and catalyzing events, and was able to communicate those events to the Missionaries [95]. The narration of the events in Gannes-Folleville was a re-reading of all such parallel events in Vincent’s life and the life of the other missionaries. Those events then remained as emblematic and as a catalyst for future generations.

Footnotes

  1. J. Ratziner, Ser cristiano en la era neopagana [To be Christian in a neo pagan era], Encuentro, Madrid, 2006. (Translator’s note: I could find no reference to this work being published in English)
  2. This is part of a discourse of Cardinal Ratziner that was given during the European synod (1992) and was printed in the book that is referred to in footnote #1.
  3. Saint Irenaeus, Against Heresies, IV:20.7; http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/irenaeus-book4.html
  4. José María Román, CM, St. Vincent de Paul: a Biography, translated by: Sister Joyce Howard, DC, Melisende, London, 1999, p. 113-116. This author refers to the events at Gannes-Folleville as a revelation (p. 113). When referring to the events in Châtillon he uses similar language and states: Something else was needed before Vincent could understand the special requirements of the Mission that providence had destined for him. He was to discover what this was at Châtillon (p. 123). With regard to the events that occurred in Montmirail-Marchais, he states that this was the ultimate sign (p.156) or the unexpected confirmation (p. 156). Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God Vincent de Paul, Founder and First Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission, edited by John E. Rybolt, CM, translated by William Quinn, F.S.C., notes by Edward R. Udovic, CM and John E. Rybolt, CM, Introduction by Stafford Poole, CM, Index translated and edited from the Pémartin edition of 1891 with additional annotations by Edward R. Udovic, CM, New City Press, New Rochelle, New York, 1994, Volume I, p. 59-83. This author states that the events in Gannes-Folleville were like the seed for all the others [popular missions] that were to follow (p. 61); the establishment of the Confraternity of Charity in Châtillon was viewed as the first, the mother confraternity, of a great many others he and his Congregation have since established in France, Italy, Lorraine, in Savoy and elsewhere (p. 73); the events in Montmirail-Marchais revealed to everyone that the Missionaries were witnesses to the guidance of the Church by the Holy Spirit … they gave this witness by [their] work for the instruction and sanctification of the poor! (p. 83). Pierre Coste, CM, The Life and Works of Saint Vincent de Paul (Monsieur Vincent: Le grand saint du grand si?cle), translated from the French by Joseph Leonard, CM, the Newman Press, Westminister, Maryland, 1952, volume I, p. 68-104. With regard to the mission in Folleville this biographer states: the mission at Folleville clearly revealed to Vincent de Paul what God expected from him (p. 70) and spoke in a similar way about the events that occurred in Châtillon and Montmirail-Marchais. J. M. Sánchez, “Presentación”, Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, [Vincent de Paul and the evangelization of the country area] Fifth Vincentian Studies Week (September 6-11, 1970), CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 9. This author, in his presentation during the Vincentian Studies Week, stated that the events in Gannes-Folleville were a true theophany for Vincent de Paul.
  5. In the Church, in general and more particularly in the Vincentian Family, there has always been an awareness of this option even though the members have not always lived out this option with the same intensity. As a result of the Second Vatican Council and its call “to return to the sources”, this option has taken on a new significance. Some further refine this option as “a preferential option”. I believe that speaking in that manner with regard to Vincentian spirituality is not very precise. “Preferential” means that a preference is given to one factor that is chosen from among many other factors. In Vincentian spirituality, however, the option for the poor is not preferential, but is connatural, essential … in fact, without this option there can be no Vincentian missionary activity.
  6. Cf., Celestino Fernández, “Pobres-Servicio” [Poor-Service] in Diccionario de Espiritualidad Vicentianna [Dictionary of Vincentian Spirituality], CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1995, p. 482.
  7. Ibid.
  8. VINCENT DE PAUL, Correspondence, Conference, Documents, translators: Helen Marie Law, DC (Vol. 1), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 1-13b), James King, CM (Vol. 1-2), Francis Germovnik, CM (Vol. 1-8, 13a-13b [Latin]), Esther Cavanagh, DC (Vol. 2), Ann Mary Dougherty, DC (Vol. 12); Evelyne Franc, DC (Vol. 13a-13b), Thomas Davitt, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Glennon E. Figge, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), John G. Nugent, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]), Andrew Spellman, CM (Vol. 13a-13b [Latin]); edited: Jacqueline Kilar, DC (Vol. 1-2), Marie Poole, DC (Vol. 2-13b), Julia Denton, DC [editor-in-chief] (Vol. 3-10, 13a-13b), Paule Freeburg, DC (Vol. 3), Mirian Hamway, DC (Vol. 3), Elinor Hartman, DC (Vol. 4-10, 13a-13b), Ellen Van Zandt, DC (Vol. 9-13b), Ann Mary Dougherty (Vol. 11-12); annotated: John W. Carven, CM (Vol. 1-13b); New City Press, Brooklyn and Hyde Park, 1985-2009; volume XII, p. 4 Future references to this work will be inserted into the text using the initials [CCD] followed by the volume number, followed by the page number; for example, in this case, CCD:XII:4.
  9. Vincent spoke to the Missionaries and stated: If there are any among us who think they are in the Mission to evangelize poor people but not to alleviate their sufferings, to take care of their spiritual needs but not their temporal ones, I reply that we have to help them and have them assisted in every way, by us and by others, if we want to hear those pleasing words of the Sovereign Judge of the living and the dead, "Come, beloved of my Father; possess the kingdom that has been prepared for you, because I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; sick and you assisted me." To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works (CCD:XII:77-78); to the Daughters of Charity he said: Do you think, Sisters, that God expects you simply to bring his poor persons a piece of bread, a little meat, some soup, and some medicine? Oh no, Sisters! that was not his plan in choosing you from all eternity to render him the services you do for him in the person of the poor. He expects you to provide for their spiritual needs as well as for those of the body. They need heavenly manna; they need the Spirit of God (CCD:IX:189); and to the members of the Confraternities he said: Because the aim of this organization [the Confraternity of Charity] is not only to assist poor persons corporally, but spiritually as well, the Servants of the Poor will strive and take great pains to dispose those who seem to be approaching death, to die well. They will arrange their visit for this purpose and pray often for that, making some little elevation of their hearts to God for this intention (CCD:XIIIb:14).
  10. Cf., Abelly, op.cit., I:59-62; Román, op.cit., p. 113-116.
  11. When the de Gondis resided in their country houses at Joigny, Montmirail, or Villepreux, he [Vincent] looked after the spiritual welfare of the people of these districts and carried out all his priestly duties … He was accustomed to ask his penitents to review the sins of their past life, which was an excellent means both of knowing them and tranquillising their consciences; in this way many reserved cases were revealed, and for these he applied to the Ordinary for faculties to absolve (Coste, op.cit., I:63-64).
  12. Román, op.cit., p. 114. This same event narrated by Abelly, op.cit., I:59; Coste, op.cit., I:68.
  13. See also CCD:XI:2-4; this conference is taken from Abelly, op.cit, I:60-61.
  14. Abelly, op.cit., I:60; CCD:XII:7, here Vincent stated that the man died shortly afterward.
  15. Román, op.cit., p. 115.
  16. See also, Abelly, op.cit., I:61; Coste, op.cit., I:68; Collet, The Life of Vincent de Paul: Founder of the Congregation of the Mission and of the Sisters of Charity, translated from the French by a Catholic clergyman, John Murphy and Co., Baltimore, Md., 1845, p. 31-32.
  17. Cf., Roman, op.cit., p. 115; Abelly, op.cit., I:61; Coste, op.cit., I:69; CCD:XI:4.
  18. Abelly, op.cit., I:61 [Translator’s Note: the Spanish text reads, el primer sermón del la Misión, and in this context “Misión” refers to the Congregation of the Mission and not the popular mission. Therefore, the English translation of this text which reads, this is how the first mission was accomplished should more accurately be translated, “this was the first sermon of the Mission”. I have also checked the French which reads: “le premier sermon de la Mission” and this translation would be in agreement with the Spanish translation and further convinces me that the English translation in this case is incorrect since in English, the reference is to the popular mission and not to the Congregation of the Mission (which is the meaning of the word “Mission” in both French and Spanish).
  19. Roman, op.cit., p. 113.
  20. Cf. Román, op.cit., p. 115; Abelly, op.cit., I:61; CCD:XI:2-5.
  21. Coste, op.cit., I:70-71.
  22. Cf., Abelly, op.cit., I:62; Roman, op.cit., p. 162-163
  23. In fact, the Congregation of the Mission was established on April 17, 1625; on April 14, 1626 it was recognized by the Archbishop of Paris and in May 1627 it was recognized of King Louis XIII with the signing of the patent letters. The foundational contract was drawn up in the de Gondi palace (at that time Madame had died). Cf., Roman, op.cit., 175-184; Abelly, op.cit., I:109-112. The foundation contract of the Congregation is found in CCD:XIIIa:213-217.
  24. Roman, op.cit., p. 137; CCD:I:112-113.
  25. José María Ibáñez, “La sociedad rural en la vocación de San Vicente de Paul” [The rural society and its impact on the vocation of Saint Vincent de Paul] in Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, [Vincent de Paul and the evangelization of the country people], Fifth Semana de Estudios Vicencianos (September 6-11, 1976), CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salmanaca, 1977, p. 51-52. In that presentation we read: It was not the “endless insistence” of Françoise-Marguerite de Silly, Madame de Gondi, who influenced Vincent to accept this proposal (even though this idea has often been repeated and even today is still repeated). God utilized another stronger and more threatening voice, that of “the holy and wise M. Duval who said: “servus sciens voluntatem Domini et non fasciens vapulabit multis. These words were barely spoken when the will of God was revealed to Vincent de Paul. He ought to establish “the Congregation of the Mission”, that is, a Company that has for its portion persons who are poor, devoting itself totally to the poor (CCD:XII:71; cf., Collet, op.cit., in Book II of this work; CCD:XII:70-71, 301; XI:69), a Company that is animated with the Spirit of God and preserved by the operations of this Spirit (CCD:XII:109), a Company pleasing to his Eternal Father and useful to his Church (CCD:XII:109).
  26. Abelly, op.cit., I:60-61; CCD:XI:2-4.
  27. The presenter, Father Barquín, states: I have not transcribed the event in its totality and I have changed the ordering of the paragraphs. I believe this provides us with a clearer and more precise understanding. [Translator’s Note: I have maintained those changes in the English].
  28. Abelly, op.cit., I:61-62.
  29. Avelly, op.cit., I:62
  30. Coste, op.cit., I:70-71.
  31. Coste, op.cit., I:70.
  32. J.M. Sánchez Mallo, “Presentación” [Introduction] in Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural, [Vincent de Paul and the evangelization of the country area], Fifth Vincentian Studies Week, September 6-11, 1976, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 9.
  33. J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, “La sociedad rural en la vocación de San Vicente de Paíl” [The rural society and its impact on the vocation of Saint Vincent de Paul] in Fifth Vincentian Studies Week, September 6-11, 1976, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 13-73
  34. Cf., Ibid., p. 45-48.
  35. Cf., Ibid., p. 49-50.
  36. Cf., Ibid., p. 45; see also, J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 215.
  37. Cf., J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 215.
  38. Cf. J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, “La sociedad rural en la vocación de San Vicente de Paúl” [The rural society and its impact on the vocation of Saint Vincent de Paul], p. 46; J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 215-216.
  39. A. Dodin, “la mission de Folleville: histoire et actualite”, Mission et Charité, 26-27 (1967), p. 107; cited by J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 215.
  40. Cf., Ibid., p. 47-48.
  41. J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 218; see also CCD:III:204, 258; XII:221.
  42. Cf., J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres de su tiempo, [Vincent de Paul and the poor of his era], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1977, p. 218.
  43. J.M. Ibáñez Burgos, Vicente de Paúl, realismo y encarnación [Vincent de Paul, realism and incarnation], Sígueme, Salamanca, 1982, 99. 274-275.
  44. Cf., J.P. Renouard, A. Sylvestre, J. Morin, R. Chalimeau and J. Dugrip, “La experiencia espiritual del Señor Vicente y la nuestra” [Vincent de Paul’s spiritual experience and ours] in Vicente de Paúl y la evangelización rural [Vincent de Paul and the evangelization of the country area] (September 6-11), CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1977, p. 125-168.
  45. Ibid., p. 141.
  46. Ibid., p. 141-143, the reference is long but they are interesting observations
  47. Ibid., p. 143; see also, CCD:I:24-26; IV:129; XI:25-26.
  48. Roman, op.cit., p. 113-116.
  49. Ibid., p. 114.
  50. Ibid., p. 114-116; see also, J.M. Román, “Congregación de la Misión”, Diccionario de espiritualidad vicenciana, CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1995, p. 88.
  51. Ibid., p. 116.
  52. Cf., I. Zedde, “Evangelización” [Evangelization], Diccionario de espiritualidad vicenciana [Dictionary of Vincentian Spirituality], CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 1996, p. 233-242.
  53. Ibid., p. 235.
  54. Ibid.
  55. Ibid., p. 236.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Cf., M.A. Sagastagoitia, Vicente de Paúl y la Misión [Vincent de Paul and the Mission], CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2006.
  58. Cf., Ibid., pp. 25-30.
  59. Ibid., p. 25; the author refers to J. Morín, “Historia de una mirada sobre el pobre” [History of a glance at the poor] in Various Authors, En tiempos de San Vicente de Paúl … y hoy [In the times of Saint Vincent de Paul … and today], CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, volume I, p. 387.
  60. Ibid., p. 28.
  61. Cf., Ibid., p. 29.
  62. Cf., Ibid., p. 28-30.
  63. Ibid., p. 30; as he himself points out, these ideas follow those made by José María Román, “El año 1617 en la biografía de San Vicente de Paúl”, [The year 1617 in the life of Saint Vincent de Paul], Vincentiana (1984), p. 443-456.
  64. B. Kock, “Felleville, 1617: Histoire, mythe ou relecture?” Bulletin des Lazaristes de France, 107 (1997), p. 16-26. Father José Sánchez Mallo sent me this article in French while I was preparing this presentation. It was sent by e-mail and then translated into Spanish by Father Victor Landeras. My comments are based on that translation. When I refer to that work I will do so in the following manner: B. Kock, Folleville, 1617: historia, mito o relectura? Private document, 2007, pp. 1-15 [I will cite the page numbers according to the translation].
  65. Koch, op.cit., p. 1.
  66. Ibid.; see also, Abelly, op.cit., I:60-62.
  67. Ibid.
  68. Ibid.
  69. Ibid..
  70. Ibid. Cf., L. Abelly, op.cit., p. 56; specifically Abelly writes: When Monsieur or Madame would go with their children to their holdings in Joigny, Montmirail, Villepreux, or elsewhere, his singular pleasure was to use his free time in providing religious instruction for the peasants. He would preach to the people, give exhortations, or administer the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of penance, with the bishop’s approval and with the agreement of the local pastors.
  71. Ibid.
  72. The response of the vicar General was immediate, so immediate that the request and the response have the same date. The granting of faculties reads: I have such great assurance of your competence, prudence, capability and other merits that I most willingly grant you what you ask. May God give you the grace to acquit yourself worthily of it, as I trust you shall. In token of the above, I have signed this note for you on the twentieth of June, 1616.
  73. Cf., J.M. Román, op.cit., p. 108; in 1600 Marguerite de Silly, a woman from Folleville, married Philippe Emmanuel de Gondi, General of the Galleys, Marquis of the Golden Isles, Count de Joigny and Baron of Montmirail, Dampierre and Villepreux. Because she married a member of the de Gondi family, she is known to us as Madame de Gondi and that is how we have referred to her in this presentation.
  74. Cf., Koch, op.cit., p. 2.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid., p.3.
  77. Ibid., p.2.
  78. Ibid.
  79. Ibid., p. 3.
  80. Ibid.
  81. Ibid.; In French the text reads: Mais il ne dira rien de Folleville … et jamais non plus ensuite.
  82. Ibid.; cf., H. De Coste, Les éloges et les Vies des rynes, des princesses et des dames illustres en piété, etc., volumen II, p. 399-400.
  83. Ibid., p.4.
  84. Ibid.
  85. Ibid.
  86. Ibid.
  87. Ibid.
  88. Ibid.
  89. Ibid., p. 4.
  90. Ibid.
  91. Ibid.,
  92. Ibid., p.5
  93. Cf., Ibid., p. 5-6
  94. Abelly, op.cit. I:59-62; CCD:XI:2-4.
  95. Koch, op.cit., p. 6.



Translated by: Charles T. Plock, CM