St. Vincent became a priest with the expectation of enjoying the easy, affluent sort of life priests had in those days. That was his goal in some ways until he heard the deathbed confession of a dying servant. That encounter led him to realize the extremely great needs of the poor in France.
The servant’s Master had been persuaded by his wife to endow and support a group of missionary priests to serve the poor. The countess asked Vincent to lead the group, and although he declined at first, he later returned to lead a group now known as the Congregation of the Mission or the Vincentians. They took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability and devoted themselves to serving the poor in smaller towns and villages.
What makes St. Vincent particularly interesting to us at this time is that he also founded, along with St. Louise de Marillac, a parish-based society for the spiritual and physical relief of the poor and sick. This is known as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, and we are currently forming one here at St. Raphael. Vincent organized the rich women of Paris to collect funds for his missionary projects, founded several hospitals, collected relief funds for the victims of war and ransomed over 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa.
I think St. Vincent heard the words of the wisdom writer in today’s first reading: “Rejoice, O young man, while you are young and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart, the vision of your eyes…” In his youth, Vincent was converted from the cynical and even slothful ambitions of the clergy in those days, and turned instead to follow his true passion, bringing Christ to the needy and the downtrodden.