The Life of Vincent de Paul (Abelly): Book I, Chapter XXXI bis

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

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Author: Louis Abelly · Translator: William Quinn. · Year of first publication: 1664.
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Note: This chapter was intended for inclusion by Abelly, but was published only in 1841 after it was recovered from the Sulpician archives.

Monsieur Vincent’s Collaboration with Father Olier in Various Pious Works

Great servants of God, animated by the same spirit, should be fittingly associated with each other and help each other in their charitable enterprises. Such was the case with Monsieur Vincent and the late Father Olier, a great servant of God, whose memory is held in benediction, and who was endowed by God with a truly apostolic spirit. 1

Monsieur Vincent had a special appreciation and respect for the person and the sanctity of Father Olier. The feeling was mutual, for in his turn Father Olier looked upon Monsieur Vincent as his spiritual father and would often say to his seminarians that “Monsieur Vincent is our father.” Monsieur Olier often showed his esteem for the virtues he practiced and on occasion would quote Monsieur Vincent’s maxims as a stimulus for their own life of virtue. We learn this from those fortunate enough to have been under Monsieur Olier’s charge. He was among the first to come to the ordination retreats, which prepared ordinands for the reception of holy orders, as we have already pointed out. From these exercises he drew his inspiration for the true priestly spirit which was so characteristic of him. He was among the first of those, in the exercise of this spirit, to attend the spiritual conferences held every week at Saint Lazare under the personal direction of Monsieur Vincent. Later, he joined some priests of the Congregation of the Mission in the giving of missions. In January 1635 he worked on a mission at Crecy, and in the following year, during the Lenten season, he volunteered to help in the mission given in the hospital of the faubourg Saint Victor.

Seeing at first hand the benefits of these missions for the conversion and sanctification of souls, he wished to bring them to the parishes that depended upon his abbey of Pebrac in Auvergne. He was able to do so after Lent of that same year. Two priests of the Congregation of the Mission helped him, and several other devoted priests who joined him in this work. This first mission was given at Saint Ilpise. It was reported to the clergy conference at Saint Lazare by an edifying letter in which Monsieur Olier speaks of the success of the mission and of his own thoughts about the efficacy of this particular form of religious devotion. For the edification of our readers, we will give this letter in detail in Book Two of this Life. 2

This worthy priest, following the success of the missions, obtained the authorization of the bishop of Saint Flour 3 for a mission to the priests of the diocese. It would be given in his abbey of Pebrac, along with ordination retreats such as were conducted at Paris. He wrote again in October of that same year to the priests of the clergy conference at Saint Lazare in Paris. He sought their help in what he considered to be the reformation of an entire diocese. In February 1637 he wrote again, after a fourth mission, when about to begin an important fifth one in La Motte, near the city of Brioude. He spoke in this letter of what had already been accomplished by the priests of the city of Le Puy, whom he had put in contact with the clergy conference of Saint Lazare in Paris.

About this same time, Monsieur Olier was well aware from his own experience how greatly the missions helped the welfare of the people, and he realized the need for working to reform the clergy. He decided to give himself to this task. He agreed to accept the charge of a parish in Paris to give the example of what a well-organized parish, a devoted pastor, and a committed clergy could contribute to the welfare of the people. He discussed this with Monsieur de Fresque, the pastor of Saint Sulpice, and was able later to establish a community of priests which proved to be most successful, as all are now aware. In a short time the parish became the admiration and the talk of all Paris, so great was the change brought about. This did not happen without serious troubles raised by the enemy of all humanity, to the extent that upon a misunderstanding having arisen between the former and the present pastor, some neighbors of the faubourg Saint Germain took up arms to dislodge Monsieur Olier and his priests from the parish.

During these troubles, Monsieur Vincent, always so devoted to the good priest, did all he could to defend and support him by his prayers to God, by his advice, and by his influence at court. It should be remarked that Monsieur Vincent himself was blamed by some as causing the troubles because the people called the community of priests at Saint Sulpice “missionaries” although they were not so. This happened possibly because Monsieur Vincent was thought of as their superior. Some short while before he had sent some priests from the clergy conference of Saint Lazare to the faubourg Saint Germain for a mission, and this led to the confusion.

One day in the Council of Ecclesiastical Affairs of the kingdom, when the subject of this disturbance came up for discussion, Monsieur Vincent was blamed for all the troubles. Rather than defend himself by stating, as was true, that the priests of Saint Sulpice did not belong to his Congregation and had no allegiance to him whatsoever, as he did on many other occasions when their good deeds were praised, he said not a single word in his own defense or to disabuse his accusers. On the contrary, in humility, and to express his esteem for Monsieur Olier and his priests, he took their side completely. He defended their interests more energetically than he would have defended his own. When they were blamed and condemned, he became their apologist, speaking of all the good they did and the happy results of their zeal. To preserve their reputation he endangered his own, allowing his own Congregation to be blamed, in an effort to protect Monsieur Olier and his priests and to enable them to live in peace and tranquility.

This stance of Monsieur Vincent ran so contrary to human prudence that it astonished some of his friends. When they asked why he acted so, he replied that he thought all Christians would have done the same. In acting as he did he felt he was simply following the maxims of the Gospel. His esteem for the virtue of Monsieur Olier gave him this opinion. He looked upon Monsieur Olier’s work, not simply as an isolated good deed, but as a public service demanding the support of all persons of good will.

Some time later, Monsieur Olier expanded the field of his zeal to encompass the founding of a seminary which served then, and up to our own time, to train clerics of all classes of society for the benefit of the Church in whatever part of the kingdom they later served. They brought, to the great advantage of the Church, the graces and blessings which they had drawn from that sacred spot. 4

Because of Monsieur Olier’s contributions of which we have spoken, and the great virtues with which God had endowed him, Monsieur Vincent looked upon him as a saint. 5 He did not hesitate to speak everywhere of this conviction. When it pleased God to recall this great servant to himself, Monsieur Vincent attended him at his last illness and death. 6 He was among the many who grieved over the great loss to the Church in the person of this saintly priest. In his remaining years Monsieur Vincent continued to serve the priests of Olier’s community. He would meet with them, together with some others of great reputation, to find ways of perpetuating the excellent work begun so worthily by Monsieur Olier. 7

  1. Jean Jacques Olier, 1608-1657, was one of the main restorers of ecclesiastical discipline in the seventeenth century. He was ordained in 1633, and then worked on the missions, often with the priests of Saint Lazare, whom he edified by his zeal and humility. He continued to seek advice from Saint Vincent. Vincent assisted at his death, and consoled Olier’s community afterwards. For his words on that occasion, see CED XIII:166-67.
  2. Ch. 1, sect. 2, part 3.
  3. Charles de Noailles, bishop 1610-1646.
  4. Here too Saint Vincent was able to help Monsieur Olier. This can be seen by the praise that he gave of Saint Sulpice to a priest and a pious woman desirous of helping their seminary. See Book III, ch. 11, sect. 5.
  5. CED VIII:330.
  6. CED VI:275.
  7. Saint Vincent presided at the assembly of April 13, 1657, called to select a successor to Olier. He was authorized for this by Henri de Bourbon, bishop of Metz and abbot of Saint Germain, the ecclesiastical superior of the community of Saint Sulpice. Vincent signed the official notarized record of the proceedings.

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