St. Vincent is renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity, and dedicating his life to serving the poor.
He was born in France to a poor family in Pouy, Landes, Gascony, Franc. He showed his intellectual gifts from a young age, studying theology from around age 15. He received ordination as a priest in the year 1600.
In 1605, on his way back from Marseille, he was taken captive by pirates, who brought him to Tunis and sold him into slavery. After converting his owner to Christianity, St. Vincent escaped in 1607.
He continued his studies in Rome until 1609 when he was sent back to France on a mission for Henry IV of France; he served as chaplain to Marguerite de Valois. For a while he was parish priest at Clichy but from 1612 he began to serve the Gondi, an illustrious French family. He was confessor and spiritual director to Madame de Gondi, and he began giving preaching missions to the peasants on the estate with her aid.
Moved with compassion for the poor, St. Vincent began undertaking missions and founding institutions to help them both materially and spiritually. In 1622, St. Vicent was appointed chaplain to the galleys, and in this capacity he gave missions for the galley-slaves.
In 1625 de Paul founded the Congregation of the Mission, a society of missionary priests commonly known as the Vincentians or Lazarists. In 1633, with the assistance of St Louise de Marillac he founded the Daughters of Charity the first congregation of religious women whose consecrated life involved an extensive apostolate among the poor, the sick, and prisoners.
Under St. Louise’s direction, the order collected donations which St. Vincent distributed widely among the needy. These contributions went toward homes for abandoned children, a hospice for the elderly, and an immense complex where 40,000 poor people were given lodging and work. St. Vincent was involved in various ways with all of these works, as well as with efforts to help refugees and to free those sold into slavery.
St. Vincent de Paul died on Sept. 27, 1660. Pope Clement XII canonized him in 1737. In 1835, the French scholar Blessed Frederic Ozanam took him as the inspiration and namesake for the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, a lay Catholic organization working for the relief of the poor.