Earlier this year, I had the profound experience of traveling to France, specifically the cities of Paris and Avignon. This was my first time in the country, and in my quest to find places of historic Catholic significance, I discovered St. Vincent de Paul’s tomb along with St. Catherine Laboure’s incorrupt body, both of which were located in Paris.
Figure 1: Bones of St. Vincent de Paul encased in a wax figure of the saint. His heart is incorrupt and housed in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. Photo by Dana Edwards Szigeti.
I had heard of these saints before, but I wanted to learn more about their lives. I knew the Society of St. Vincent de Paul was dedicated to serving the poor and that our family had made local donations to this organization. For a retreat, I had visited the seminary in Florida (my home state) which is named after St. Vincent, but I didn’t know the history behind the saint.
Born into a poor French peasant family, St. Vincent was educated by Franciscans and entered the priesthood. Just five years after his ordination in 1600, St. Vincent was captured and sold as a slave in Tunis. During his imprisonment, he vowed to God that he would devote his life to serving the poor if he escaped. Two years later, he escaped and led a life of establishing hospitals for the poor, ministering to convicts, reforming the clergy during a time when there weren’t many priests in France, and instructing and preparing young men for the priesthood. “Go to the poor,” St. Vincent said. “You will find God.”
In discovering more about this industrious saint, I was struck by how many more saints he formed and inspired.
As St. Louise de Marillac’s spiritual guide, St. Vincent encouraged her to pursue charitable works. Together with St. Louise, St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity in 1633. Their religious institution was the first non-cloistered religious order of women devoted to active works of charity. St. Louise trained young women not only in the spiritual life but also in the corporal works of mercy.
Figure 2: Remains of St. Louise de Marillac encased in her wax figure at the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. Photo by Dana Edwards Szigeti.
The order established soup kitchens, organized hospitals for the needy, set up schools and homes for orphans, offered job training, taught young children, and even sought to improve prison conditions.
From the very beginning of the order’s founding, St. Louise dedicated it to the Blessed Mother.
In 1830, Our Lady appeared to St. Catherine Laboure, a member of the Daughters of Charity, and entrusted her with developing the Miraculous Medal.
Figure 3: Incorrupt body of St. Catherine Laboure pictured to the bottom left; the blue chair on the right is the one in which the Blessed Mother appeared to St. Catherine. Photo by Dana Edwards Szigeti.
In 1833, St. Vincent de Paul admirer Blessed Frederic Ozanam founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in France. And during the nineteenth century, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton founded a community of sisters in the United States who then joined the Daughters of Charity in France, becoming the first community of the Daughters of Charity in America.
As we celebrate St. Vincent de Paul’s feast day on September 27, let us consider how our actions inspire those around us like St. Vincent’s did for future saints to follow. Let us pray and listen to the Holy Spirit and see his movement in both our lives and the lives of others. How might the Holy Spirit be calling us to model the patron saint of charitable societies? How might we be called to encourage others around us to be saints?
“Grace strengthens you in order to sanctify you and sanctifies you so that you might encourage others in the way of salvation.” – St. Vincent de Paul, III; 258
Figure 4: Eucharistic adoration in the chapel at the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity. Photo by Dana Edwards Szigeti.
The past two months we have gotten to celebrate the feast days of many incredibly saints who can be role models for us throughout all the ups and downs of life. This September is no different. As we transition out of summer and enter into new routines in the midst of the continuing pandemic, we can turn to many of the saints this month who are known for their healing and ability to help others grow in their faith.
Saints Known for Physical Healing
Earlier this month on September 1st, we celebrated the feast of St. Giles. I had never heard of St. Giles until I read a blog post, from the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, about the 14 Holy Helpers. But the more I got to learn about St. Giles, the more his life inspired my own personal faith journey. Even though an injury crippled one of his legs, St. Giles was known for his miracle-working abilities for those who came to him. His mission as a miracle-worker was always centered on others, not himself. A similar selflessness was seen by two martyrs in the early Church, Sts. Cosmas and Damian, whose feast we will celebrate on September 26th. They both were doctors and did not accept payment for any of their services, recognizing the humanity in each person. They utilized their God-given skills to help anyone in need, which led them to become recognized as the patron saints of physicians. All three of these saints remind me that while this world is not our final destination, taking care of our earthly bodies remains very important. In whatever way we may need physical healing, God is eager to hear us and to help us physically as we continue to live out His mission here on Earth.
Saints Known for Spiritual Healing
Next week, we will celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. The Marian feast of Our Lady of Sorrows is special because it is about the spiritual turmoil Mary experienced during her life. This is why Our Lady of Sorrows is typically represented by seven daggers piercing her heart. For me, Our Lady of Sorrows is not just about praying for the intercession of Mary, but also placing our complete trust in the Lord, just like she did throughout the sorrows in her life. This trust was also central to St. Padre Pio’s ministry. He recognized the need for spiritual healing and committed to hearing Confessions, and he understood the significant act of faith it took to go to Confession. Through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows and St. Padre Pio, may we take time this month to trust God with spiritual healing in our lives.
Role Model Saints for Spiritual Growth
This month is bookended by two saints who are role models for integrating spiritual growth into the activities of their daily life: St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose feast was celebrated on September 5th, and St. Vincent de Paul, whose feast will be celebrated on September 27th. The interesting thing about these saints is that they both could have fallen into the categories of physical healing or spiritual healing. But for me, these well-known saints have been role models for integrating caring for other people with spiritual growth. It seems easy to get so focused on our work that we forget the deeper meaning behind it. Mother Teresa and St. Vincent de Paul worked to help those in need, and they saw Christ in everyone and in every task they did. While we may not be feeding the poor of Calcutta every day, we too can try to grow spiritually by seeing Christ in every aspect of our day.
As we continue throughout this month of September, let us ask for the saints’ intercession for healing and learn from their lives in order to grow closer to Christ.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in September, and each month, click here.
A few Sundays ago, our parish priest mentioned a phrase in his homily that stuck with me for several days. He said, “The most important person in the world is the one who is in front of you right now.” I think this is a phrase St. Vincent de Paul would live by if he were among us today.
St. Vincent de Paul is well known for his service to the lowliest members of society. He was a French Catholic priest who dedicated his priestly career to the community outreach and evangelization of the poor by founding the Congregation of the Mission. Through his example, St. Vincent de Paul teaches us to see Christ in the poor and suffering, helping us to live out Jesus’ calling, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
St. Vincent de Paul said, “The poor have much to teach you. You have much to learn from them.” As we speak and listen to the poor, we come to know God better and are humbled by the circumstances of others. By extending a helpful hand or lending an ear to the less fortunate, we show God’s love and acceptance of all. There are many ways we can demonstrate this love and acceptance. Consider one of the following:
This last point is an important one. Although we may not encounter the financially poor every day, we do face people daily who may be poor in their spirituality, relationships, knowledge, and other ways. By making an effort to lend a listening ear or helping hand to coworkers, friends, family, people in the grocery store, those walking to work or traveling on the subway in addition to the homeless begging on the streets, we can help to achieve the work of God on earth a little bit day by day.
I recently came across a picture quote that read, “It’s worth the trouble to become the person you were meant to be.” I was instantly reminded that God has an individual plan for me, just as he does for everyone else. God utilizes us to do his good work in our communities, striving to serve both those who lack financial resources or are poor or dejected in spirit. St. Vincent de Paul said to his priests, “Do the good that presents itself to be done…God lets us know he wants of us. We belong to him and not to ourselves. If he increases our work, he adds to our strength.” We must be open to the good work God wants to accomplish through us. To do this, we must continue our daily prayer, pay attention to opportunities where God is calling us to serve, and keep an optimistic heart.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!