The little ship docked in Tunis. Vincent de Paul's Muslim captors hustled him ashore. They marched him, along with a number of other Christian-born captives, through the streets for all to see, then brought them back to the wharf to auction him off to the highest bidder.
Just hours before, Vincent had been free. But as he sailed along the southern coast of France, from Marseille to Narbonne, three ships of Barbary pirates attacked. When the Christians refused to surrender, the pirates loosed a deadly hail of arrows against them. Several died. Vincent was wounded. The pirates boarded, slapped chains on the survivors and sailed for Africa.
The hand of God must have been with Vincent. Not only did he survive his wounds, but he fell into the control of a kindly Muslim. This elderly man offered to make Vincent his heir. The catch was, Vincent had to convert to Islam. Vincent refused. After the death of the old man, Vincent was sold to a former Christian who had converted to Islam. Vincent's life and songs so impressed one of this man's wives that she rebuked her husband for abandoning his faith. The result was, the man returned to the beliefs of his childhood. He then fled from Africa, taking Vincent with him, but leaving his three wives behind.
Back in France, Vincent worked at various tasks. He impressed the Countess of Joigny, whose husband was general of the galleys of France. The countess persuaded Vincent to preach to her tenants. The result was that so many people came seeking repentance, Vincent had to enlist other priests to assist him in hearing their confessions.
Vincent moved on to Chatillon-les-Dombes where he repaired a ruined church and led another revival. This time, local aristocrats were among those who repented.
With a sizable sum of money from the Countess of Joigny, Vincent founded the Lazarists, a group of priests dedicated to teaching the catechism, peacemaking, charitable works and preaching, especially among country folk. Today there are Lazarists all over the world.
But in the United States, Vincent de Paul is best known for resale shops which bear his name. Preaching and teaching did not satisfy him. He sought more ways to help the poor and sick. Under his inspiration, many charities arose. These included the Sisters of Charity, who tended the sick; and the Ladies of Charity, who collected funds for the poor. He opened a home for men broken by the hard labor of rowing galleys.
Remembering his own years as a slave, Vincent raised sufficient funds to ransom 1,200 Christians who lived as slaves in North Africa.
Although he was naturally a hot-tempered man, the Spirit of God so worked in Vincent, that he could remain calm in the face of any setback. This master of charity died calmly, sitting in his chair, on this day, September 27,1660. Less than a hundred years later, Pope Clement XII named him a saint. In 1885, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him the patron of all charitable societies, which is why you see charity thrift shops named for him in American cities.
During his life, Vincent urged that Francis de Sales, the charitable Bishop of Geneva, be officially declared a saint by the Roman Church authorities. He had the highest regard for him. "Oh! How good must God be," he wrote, "since the Bishop of Geneva is so kind!"
- Butler, Alban. Lives of the Saints Various editions.
- Vann, Joseph.Lives of the Saints with Excerpts from their Writings John J. Crawley & Co., New York, 1954.
- "Vincent de Paul." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- "Vincent de Paul." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Various internet articles.
Last updated June, 2007