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What was it about St. Vincent de Paul, anyway?


The Daily Catch - published on 09/27/16

Today is the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, whose name may be familiar to you (as it has been to me) mostly thanks to the little “St. Vincent de Paul Society” storefronts or church-affiliated buildings. Perhaps like me you haven’t thought much about those buildings, or this saint, beyond “oh, yes, that’s where the Church helps the local poor.”

And helping the local poor, and people who have fallen upon hard times in our community, is important, noble work. It is one part Mother Teresa telling us to “find your Calcutta” where we are, and one part action on the teaching of subsidiarity.

But there’s something else about St. Vincent de Paul and the Society that has arisen in his name; his holiness is demonstrated to us through the sort of people who work with that group.

People like Bl. Frederick Ozanam, the young scholar who never expected to found a Society for the care of the poor.

People like Josef Mayr-Nusser, considered the “Martyr of the First Commandment” — a soon-to-be-beatified Society member who was convicted and scheduled to be executed by the Nazis for refusing to swear allegiance to Hitler:

“I cannot take an oath to Hitler in the name of God. I cannot do it because my faith and conscience do not allow it.” […] In February of 1945 Josef was sentenced to death for treason and was ordered to Dachau to be shot. During the journey he came down with dysentery and died on the train. When his body was found he had a Bible and rosary with him. He was 34 years old.

People like Joe, from Florida:

“Well now,” Joe said looking straight at the mixed-race couple sitting before him. “I can see you have some heavy duty stuff going on. I hope we can help. So, what exactly is happening?” They could feel inside themselves that whoever this man was, it did not matter at all. You can just sense some things. They loosened up. Andre began to speak and tears quickly fell from Jessica’s eyes. “Look, man, we got two kids, six and eight years old, and we’re getting kicked out of our place at 11 a.m. if we don’t come up with $58.00, and we ain’t got a dime.” “Where are the kids now?” Joe asked. “With a neighbor … Look, we don’t care so much about us but the kids need a bed tonight, know what I mean?” “I do Andre, I do. And for what it’s worth, you guys need a bed too. Where you staying?”

People like, well, St. Vincent, himself:

Vincent de Paul never knew that 170 years after his death, an organization named after him would take up the mantle of helping the poor all over the world.

Doesn’t sound like a bad way to live, and now you and I both know what it is about St. Vincent. Happy feast day to all of our friends in the Vincentian Family, including members of the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentians), the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

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