SECTION THREE: Missions Given by the Priests of This Company in Several Hospitals and Other Places in Paris
Among all the possible services which the ecclesiastics might render, the missions were always thought of as the most useful and advantageous for the salvation of souls. Monsieur Vincent willingly accepted the offer of some among them to join priests of his Congregation, with his approval, to aid in the work of the missions. Consequently, several of them received his permission and went with the priests of his Congregation to help in their missions. What is more, their Company requested several of their number to give missions in other dioceses, with the permission and approval of the bishops. This happened principally in the larger cities where the priests of the Mission did not go. In their humility they preferred the poorer places in the country, as we have earlier shown. It pleased God to give such blessings to these missions that conversions were often seen that both astonished and edified all, and were marked by restitutions, reconciliations, and other extraordinary effects which followed.
Besides these missions given over the course of thirty years in many cities and regions of the kingdom, others no less fruitful were given in Paris itself.
Before the general hospital was turned over to the poor beggars from the streets of Paris, many of these were brought together to receive some alms, and to be taught how to prepare themselves for making a good general confession, and how to lead a more Christian life than in the past. The priests of the Company were particularly successful in their work with refugees from Lorraine living in Paris, as described in Book One.1
The soldiers of the King’s Guard were also brought together in appropriate places, with the approval of their captains, for a mission. At various times and places in the city, missions were given for the workers in the factories and shops. These produced good results for the masons and unskilled workers. They for the most part never attended the instructions or catechism lessons in the parishes, and lived their lives in neglect of things conducive to their salvation. So as not to take them away from their work, instructions and efforts to prepare them for their general confession were given during their rest periods.
The members of the Company gave missions in several hospitals of the city. They began in 1633 in the hospital of Quinze-Vingts,2 then in the hospital for the blind and their families, and for people of the neighborhood who wanted to attend. Several times they gave missions to the poor of the hospital de la Pitie, particularly in the Refuge, a prison for fallen women and girls, and much in need of spiritual help. Monsieur Vincent himself had a great compassion for these poor miserable women. He not only urged the priests of the Company to give missions to them from time to time, but often went himself on Sundays and feasts to administer the sacraments and preach the word of God to them, always with the permission and approval of the archbishop.
A mission was given also in the hospital des Petites-Maisons. Besides the mentally ill who could not be helped by the preaching, many poor families, together with some people of the neighborhood, took part. It was on this mission that “Duties of a Christian,” was drawn up and prepared on a single page in a succinct and familiar style, so that even the most untutored could read and understand. It pleased God to give it such a blessing that it was circulated quickly throughout France and elsewhere in the millions of copies, with unbelievable benefit to the poor and to other persons of whatever state.3
Several missions were given in the hospital of the galleys in the Tournelle, the place [in Paris] where these poor criminals were kept until they were sent off to the galleys. Just as their spiritual needs were extreme, so the instructions and other spiritual helps they received from these priests were of great profit.
These same priests gave spiritual help to the sick poor of the Hotel-Dieu of Paris, for one of their principles of their Company was to work for the spiritual good of the poor. Scarcely any could be found where they could be helped more than in this hospital, for the poor were there in large numbers. They first resolved to go there in a body to dispose the sick poor to make a good general confession. Then they appointed some of their number to visit each day to continue their charitable interest. Every Friday some of the priests would go to preach and conduct catechism lessons for the sick. Finally, with the advice and in cooperation with Monsieur Vincent, they gave an entire mission, in 1639, in keeping with the wishes of the superintendents of the hospital, the sick themselves, the officials and staff, and of the religious in service there, to whom the priests gave spiritual conferences three times a week.
The poor beggars of Paris had been confined to the General Hospital not only to put an end to begging and its attendant abuses, but also to see to the spiritual good of those confined and contribute to the salvation of their souls. The rector,4 himself a member of the Company, together with the administrators and directors appointed by the king, thought it useful from the beginning of this enterprise and even necessary to have missions given in all departments of the hospital. The priests of the Company worked at this with great zeal and much blessing. Since every day saw new poor brought to the hospital and others released, the missions were often repeated. Besides the help the priests of the Company gave during the year in all the parts of this hospital, they ordinarily went on Sundays and feasts to preach and hear confessions. On other occasions they were called by the successor to the original rector, likewise a member of their Company. As a result, scarcely a year passed that a mission was not given, according to the judgment of the rector about the needs of the poor people confined there.