Vincent De Paul, a saint of the Roman Catholic church and founder of the congregation of sisters of charity, born at Pouy, Gascony, in 1576, died at St. Lazare, near Paris, Sept. 27, 1660. His father was a peasant, who put him when 12 years old to learn Latin of the Franciscan friars at Acqs (now Dax). He afterward became tutor in the family of a lawyer, who sent him in 1596 to the university of Toulouse, where he passed seven years, was ordained priest in 1600, and received in 1604 the degree of bachelor of divinity. In 1605, on a voyage from Marseilles to Narbonne, he was captured by Turkish pirates, carried to Tunis, and became finally the slave of a renegade from Nice. Through the influence of one of his wives, who had heard Vincent singing sacred songs at his labor, this man resolved to return to Christianity, and in June, 1607, fled from the country with his slave and reached France in a skiff. Vincent spent the succeeding year in Rome, whence Cardinal d'Ossat sent him to Paris on a secret errand to King Henry IV., and subsequently procured his nomination to the abbey of St. Leonard de Chaume in the diocese of Rochelle. About the same time he was appointed chaplain to the ex-queen Margaret of Valois. In 1613 he became tutor to the sons of Emmanuel de Gondi, count de Joigny, one of whom was afterward Cardinal de Retz. He also preached to the peasantry of his patron's estates, particularly on the necessity of confession; and the success of this work induced the countess to offer 16,000 livres to any religious community which should undertake to perform it among her tenantry every five years.
Being appointed chaplain to the galleys at Marseilles in 1622, Vincent devoted himself to the welfare of the convicts, and, after sensibly ameliorating their mental and bodily condition, went to Paris to extend his reforms to the prisons in which they were confined while waiting to be sent to the seaports. He fitted up a separate building for them, and when absent himself caused two priests who had joined in his charitable enterprise to live in the prison. He next appears at Macon, as the apostle of the multitudes of thieves and beggars for whom that city was then notorious. From 1622 till his death he was director of the nuns of the order of the Visitation in Paris. In 1624 the countess de Joigny revived the project of establishing stated missions among the poor, and with the cooperation of her husband and the arctibishop of Paris proposed to Vincent to undertake the establishment of a new order, which she promised to endow with 40,000 livres. Accordingly in 1625 Vincent, accompanied by two other priests, took up his residence in the college des oons en-fants, which had been given for the purpose by the archbishop, and founded the congregation of "Priests of the Mission," commonly called Lazarists from the priory of St. Lazarus which they acquired soon afterward.
The associates received royal letters patent in May, 1627, at which time they had increased to five, and were erected into a congregation by Pope Urban VIII. in 1632. (See Lazarists.) Vincent devoted himself also to the spiritual improvement of the clergy. He established religious exercises for candidates for orders, to which the archbishop of Paris afterward obliged all his ecclesiastics to apply themselves for ten days before ordination; he threw open his house to all who wished to spend a few days in prayer and meditation; and every week he held spiritual conferences, to which the clergy resorted in great numbers. With the assistance of Cardinal Richelieu, who used to consult him in making ecclesiastical appointments, he opened in 1642 an institution in which young priests or candidates for the priesthood might fit themselves for the labors of the ministry by two or three years spent in study and pious exercises. The result of these efforts answered his greatest expectations. Wherever he preached it had been his custom to establish "confraternities of charity," composed of women who took upon themselves to search out and relieve the distressed, but without forming themselves into a regular order.
In 1633 he determined to create a sisterhood which should pursue the same objects under- a sufficiently conventual organization to insure the permanence and most beneficial working of the enterprise; and accordingly he placed four young women who had volunteered their services under the charge of Mme. Le Gras, who had been several years employed under his direction in labors for the poor. Such was the origin of the " Sisters of Charity." Their rule was drawn up by degrees in the course of some years, and Vincent lived to see 28 houses of the order established in Paris, besides others in various parts of Europe. The reformation of the hospitals, the establishment of an asylum for foundlings, the instruction of idiots at his priory of St. Lazarus, and continual labors among the convicts, are the next events which we have to record in his history. During the famine which depopulated Lorraine in 1638-9 he collected and distributed upward of 2,000,000 livres among the sufferers. He attended Louis XIII. in his last illness, and was appointed by Anne of Austria one of the four members of the "council of conscience" to whom was committed the distribution of ecclesiastical preferments.
In the wars of the Fronde he incurred the groundless suspicion of being a favorer of Mazarin, and his convent of St. Lazarus was sacked by a mob. His last labors were the foundation of an asylum for aged artisans of both sexes, and a hospital for all the poor of Paris, which was opened in 1657, a royal edict obliging every beggar in the metropolis either to enter this institution or to work for his living. Between 4,000 and 5,000 chose the former alternative. Vincent was beatified by Benedict XIII. in 1729, and canonized by Clement XII. in 1737. - See Maynard, Saint Vincent de Paul (4 vols., Paris, 1860).
See Paxil, Vincent de.