Origin of the Brothers of S. Vincent de Paul (now called Religious of S. Vincent de Paul)

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoReligious of Saint Vincent de PaulLeave a Comment

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The Congregation of the Brothers of St Vincent de Paul was begun in 1845 by a few simple laymen, whom a great love for works of piety and mercy had drawn together, and into whose minds, one thought simultaneously entered, that these different works sprung up in our days through charity in order to allure and gain souls (popular institutions, patronages, circles, conferences, pious reunions) appear to be really according to the views of the divine wisdom, but because these lack, as a general rule, free and disengaged agents to sustain them they would soon become powerless, if God did not raise up souls severed from every earthly tie, to apply themselves solely to develop and strengthen them.

This conviction fortified by prayer and meditations often repeated before the relics of the great apostle of charity, St Vincent de Paul, forced them to unbosom themselves to the Bishop who then governed the diocese of Paris, Mgr Affre, of venerable memory.

This prelate received them with kindness, declared that their project was surely inspired by God, and authorized them to put the same into execution, offering them for the purpose a home in the house of the Carmelites, where the Superior ecclesiastical School occupied only a small space.

Deeply touched by this encouragement but distrusting themselves on account of their means and their small number, they preferred to take their domicile in a humble house of the Patronage of Apprentices, rented recently by the Society of St Vincent de Paul.

(The first members were Clément Myionnet, Jean-Léon Le Prevost, Maurice Maignen. Louis Pailler came a little later, all members of the lay Society of S. Vincent de Paul).

In their first moments, in the very beginning of their existence they had received from God a precious benediction in the person of Mgr Angebault, bishop of Angers, Dean of the Bishops of France, who being diocesan and spiritual of one of the first branches of the rising institute (Myionnet) became a valuable counselor, we may venture to say, the first father of the little family. His support, his great experience, his most amiable condescension, directed it and assured its progress, without interruption till 1870.

This venerable Bishop benignly came to Paris to consecrate the first foundation stones. He obtained permission from the Superior General of St-Lazarus, to unveil the shrine of St Vincent de Paul, he offered the holy Sacrifice and communicated the first Brothers of St Vincent de Paul.

They were three in number, one of them, M. Le Prevost ordained priest afterwards, remained from that time head of the family, the two others are still at the head of the two oldest houses founded by the Congregation.

In the court of this year the three new brothers, discovering that their residence in the midst of active work, attracting a  constant concourse of children and persons of every class, would not leave them any liberty for pious exercises withdrew to a small house which was providentially offered them at Grenelle, near Paris

There without abandoning the work to which they gave their daily attention they were able morning and evening to initiate themselves in that recollection and regularity the want of which they so greatly felt.

Afterwards when  two new members had joined them, Mgr Sibour, successor of Mgr Affre authorized them to erect a chapel and granted them the invaluable favor to preserve therein the most holy Sacrement.

From that instant they felt sure of success and regarded themselves as founded. They became more convinced of it from the fact that at that time the first priest of the Community was sent to them by God (the Servant of God, Henry Planchat, the cause of which is being studied in Rome as a presumed martyr)

After 1851 the institute was so numerous as to enable them to take a large house at Paris and establish an Orphanage to which they admitted for a very moderate pension boys of the working class who had been deprived of father and mother. This establisment, since greatly enlarged, has been transferred through a local purchase by the Congregation to Vaugirard and in the prescints the Mother House is now situated.

About this time Mgr Sibour (of his own accord) appointed M. Dedoue, Vicar General and his private Secretary as counsellor and protector of the Congregation for the Diocese.

This venerable Prelate encouraged from time to time during two or three years the efforts of the small Congregation enlightening it with his advice, presiding at times over its Solennities, especially when vows were to be made.

After some time when called to the Canony, and having on account of his health ceased to partecipate in the diocesan administration, his visits necessarily ceased. No successor was given him near the Institute as the council as the Archbishop judged as far as appearances went that the Congregation was now sufficiently well constituted so as to be able to pursue steadily its course.

The relations subsisting between the diocesan administration and the Congregation never ceased to be stamped with the most paternal kindness on the one side, and the most sincere deference on the other.

His Eminence Cardinal Morlot in particular proved himself an illustrious benefactor to the Congregation. On several occasions he gave his most cordial approbation to the Congregation and its works. From his own funds he  contributed considerable sums for the erection of a chapel attached to one of the houses of the Institute and often gave public testimony of his affectionate and sincere interest. The same kindness exhibited by the bishops of Amiens, Arras, Metz and Versailles, encouraged at this time the humble efforts of the Congregation in the province where they founded successively eight establishments for the evangelization of the working classes. In the meantime our Brothers were established wardens over the French military Circles at Rome. And the Archbishop Vincenzo Tizzani, Chief Almoner of the Pontifical Army, loaded them with tokens of kindness.

Such were the encouragements of these venerable prelates together with the Archbishop of Paris and the bishop of Angers, that the reverend Father Le Prevost, Superior General, determined in 1869 to go to Rome and submit to the Sovereign Pontiff the plan of the Institute and its Constitutions. He had the consolation of hearing Pius IX heartily bless the little family and of obtaining for it a first decree of approbation.

The tempest of France-German war and the invasion of Rome in 1870 dispersed a portion of the little flock, but did not destroy it. In less than 18 months four of our Senior brothers succumbed to the fatigues of the Apostleship and as if our Good God wished to add to our sorrows, he sent us a new trial, which was at the same time a supreme consolation. Father Henry Planchat was seized as a hostage by the revolutionists of Paris and shed his blood in the massacre of Haxo street in the cause of Religion.

In the meantime Providence was strengthening the Congregation in order to establish a small community of our brothers at Tournai in Belgium.

Then peace was restored to France; there was an opportunity of reconstituting at Chaville (Seine et Oise) the preparatory novitiate and at Paris adjoining the Mother house, the novitiate and scholasticate.

These two works, thanks to the paternal assistance of the Society of Jesus, who during two years lent one of its houses to our small family, were soon able to make a happy and solid development.

Whilst interiorly God fertilized in humility and poverty these germs of consoling prosperity, exteriorly he made use of the institute to begin two important works in favor of the working classes,” the Union of the Catholic workmen Classes association” and the work of “the Catholic Circles of Working Men”. The promotion to the See of Paris of Mgr Guibert, the friend of Mgr Angebault, was a signal favor for the little Congregation whose object he had approved during his 25 previous years and whose founder he had highly praised. His paternal testimony and that of 16 other Bishops of France encouraged us to solicit for the institute the solemn approbation of the Sovereign Pontiff in 1874.

His Holiness Pius IX replied to this humble prayer by a decree, accompanied by several other favors.

In a short time the hand of the Holy Father was raised again to bless not the small army, but its well beloved Chief who was dying. This amiable and modest founder, this tender father who in the foundation of the institute had been to his first companions the man of God. The Reverend Father John Leo Le Prevost expired 30th October 1874, surrounded by his spiritual family, after a life of 72 years during which time he had realized in humility the word which he left as a moto: “Omnibus omnia factus sum ut omnes facerem salvos” (I have become all things to all, to save all).

Foundations out of France

  • Belgium (1871 – 1969)
  • England (1880 – 1882)
  • Ireland (1882 – 1895)
  • Canada (1884 –        )
  • Italy (1893 –        )
  • Burkina Faso (1957 –        )
  • Brazil (1958 –        )
  • Ivory Coast (1968………)
  • R.D. Congo (1985 –        )

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