St. Vincent De Paul: A Saint for Garment Justice

Pope Francis invites us to be a poor church for the poor, to build community, to become a church on the margins. To do this, we need help from the saints, both as intercessors and as examples.

Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Vincent De Paul (24 April 1581 – 27 September 1660), a French priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor. Renowned for his compassion, humility, and generosity and known as the “Great Apostle of Charity,” he was canonized in 1737.

Vincent’s life was full of dramatic moments. At 24 years old, Vincent was taken captive by Barbary pirates and spent two years in bondage as a slave. As a young priest, rising quickly among the ranks of the clergy, he abandoned the path for advancement when he experienced a call to serve the poor, a call that changed his life.

A tireless apostle, St. Vincent de Paul founded an order of priests, the Congregation of the Missions, to work with peasants in villages. Called the Vincentians, today there are almost 4,000 members of this religious order. Vincent also assisted Saint Louise de Marillac in founding the Daughters of Charity, an order of women religious who served the poor in the world, rather than living a cloistered life. As well, his exampled is imitated by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul and its many councils in parishes around the world and in numerous thrift stores that bear his name.

The spirituality of St. Vincent De Paul concretely connects faith to action:

So then, if there are any among us who think that they are in the Congregation of the Mission to preach the Gospel to the poor but not to comfort them, to supply their spiritual but not their temporal wants, I reply that we ought to assist them and have them assisted in every way, by ourselves and by others, if we wish to hear those consoling 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 visited me.’ To do this is to preach the Gospel by words and by works, it is to do so most perfectly and it is also what Our Lord did and what those who represent Him on earth, in office and in character, such as priests, should do. –St. Vincent de Paul (Conferences to the CM’s, Conference 195, p. 608.)

At an event accompanying the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pope Francis said, “The world stands in need of concrete signs of solidarity, especially as it is faced with the temptation to indifference.” The saints for garment justice whom we highlight, including St. Vincent De Paul, are those “concrete signs of solidarity.” They give witness to paths that overcome “the temptation to indifference.”

Prayer from the Missal
O God, who for the relief of the poor
and the formation of the clergy
endowed the Priest Saint Vincent de Paul
with apostolic virtues,
grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit,
we may love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.