Who Was St. Vincent?

Sojourn Midtown now gathers in a century-old cathedral known for the majority of its life as the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. Largely because of its long association with Shelby Park, Smoketown, and the surrounding neighborhoods, we have chosen to keep calling the building “St. Vincent’s.” However, our frequent use of the name brings to mind a question we would be wise to ask: who was this namesake of our new cathedral?

Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was a Roman Catholic clergyman in France in the seventeenth century. After a flourishing academic career during which he was ordained a priest, Vincent was captured by pirates by a short time and sold as a slave, but he was able to convert his master to Christianity and was freed and eventually returned to France. After serving as priest in notable parish and as a personal tutor and chaplain to an aristocratic family in Paris, Vincent used his associations to establish missions and charities for the poor. Soon, other learned Paris clergy followed his example.

Vincent was able to establish several missionary and charitable organizations in his lifetime. The Congregation of Priests of the Mission was established to evangelize those in rural communities. He helped found the Daughters of Charity as a women’s religious order to provide help for the poor and those in need, and organizations such as the Brothers of Charity, Sisters of Charity, and local charities named after Vincent such as Louisville’s own Society of St. Vincent de Paul were established to continue his legacy of serving the poor in the name of Christ. Both the Catholic and Anglican traditions celebrate Vincent’s legacy and hold a special feast day to remember him on the day of his death, September 27th.

As he was a Roman Catholic, there are important theological matters on which we would disagree with Vincent de Paul. Our  church comes from a very different Christian tradition, Protestantism, which was distinguishing itself from the Catholic Church during his lifetime. However, where we would agree with Vincent is this: scripture clearly commands us to be caretakers of each other as if serving Christ. Jesus himself tells us of his words to the righteous at the end of time: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40). The letter of James likewise tells us, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). May we, like Vincent de Paul, seek to live out our faith in a tangible way, caring for those in need in the spirit of serving Christ.

References:

“St. Vincent de Paul” at The Catholic Encyclopedia (www.newadvent.org)

“Vincent de Paul” at Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org)

Cover Image: Vincent de Paul by Simon François de Tours (1606-1671)