St. Vincent de Paul was born around 1580 to a large and poor farming family.(Gascony, France)
Observing young Vincent's quick intelligence, his father sent him to be educated by the Cordelier Brothers at Dax. When the boy had been at school for four years, a lawyer of the town engaged him as tutor to his children, thus enabling Vincent to go on with his studies without further expense to his parents. Vincent continued his education at the Spanish University of Saragossa, and then returned to France to attend the University of Toulouse Vincent de Paul was not the first, nor has he been the last, to work early and late in order to pay for his own education. Nevertheless, the fact that he did so is indicative, as it would be in any similar case, of initiative, courage and perseverance At the extraordinary age of 20, he was ordained a priest.
In 1605, on a voyage by sea from Marseilles to Narbonne, he fell into the hands of African pirates and was carried as a slave to Tunis. He was held captive about two years, until Divine Providence enabled him to escape. In fact, when he was sold as a slave, he was faced with a life-sentence, and this bleak prospect must have tormented him as the weeks and months went slowly by. There were thousands of Christian slaves in North Africa at the time. Most of them left their bones there and who was Vincent de Paul that he might expect a better fate? As he was being sold like an animal and passed from one master to another, each of whom had the power of life and death over him, his heart cannot have been very high. The sea was on one side and the desert on the other; he knew nobody and nobody knew him; he was lost. Letter: M. de Comet in Dax admits us to the real secret of his deliverance:
All the while, God wrought in me the belief that I should be delivered on account of the earnest prayers I offered to him and to the blessed Virgin Mary. I firmly believe that I owe my deliverance entirely to her intercession (1, 7).
After a brief visit to Rome he returned to France, and became tutor to a wealthy noble family. During that time he saw the terrible spiritual state of the peasantry of France. The dark night of his soul coincided more or less with Vincent’s first term in the de Gondi household (1613-1617), and his determination to devote himself to the poor explains sufficiently why he left the de
Gondis in order to become Parish Priest of Châtillon-les-Dombes in the diocese of Lyons.
He met St Francis de Sales in Paris.
St Francis de Sales was in Paris from November, 1618, to September,
In 1617, he began to preach missions. So many people came to hear him preach that priests from elsewhere were called to assist him in hearing confessions. He had come back from Châtillon more convinced than ever of the necessity of missions to the people of the countryside. He also realised that one man alone could accomplish comparatively little; it was necessary that some religious community should be found to undertake the work. He would allow no publicity to be given to the work of his spiritual sons or daughters because, as he said, the world’s way of doing business is not God’s way. One of the missionaries, back in Paris after having been through the siege of Limerick by the Cromwellians, asked if he might commit some of his experiences to paper; the answer he got from the saintly old man was: Leave it to God! Nor
In 1625, he laid the foundations of the Congregation of the Mission, later to be known as the Lazarists or Vincentians.
Charity was St. Vincent de Paul’s predominant virtue. He was a holy charismatic man able to procure funds and assistance from wealthy Parisian women. He used the gifts to assist the poor and destitute in the city.
Despite setbacks, disappointments and slanders, St. Vincent de Paul preserved serenity and evenness of mind, having no other desire than to glorify God in all things.