Vincent’s Infancy: Fifteen Years in a Rural Area

Francisco Javier Fernández ChentoVincent de PaulLeave a Comment

Author: Rafael Villarroya, C.M. · Translator: Charles T. Plock, C.M.. · Source: Vincentian Online Library.
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1. Vincent, son of plowmen and farmers

I was saying with consolation, a few days ago when I was preaching in a community, that I am the son of a poor farmer; and in another gathering, that I have looked after pigs (CCD:I:206).

Alas! Monsieur, how you embarrass the son of a poor plowman, who tended sheep and pigs and is still in ignorance and vice, by asking for his views! (CCD:II:5).

I am a poor plowman and a swineherd… (CCD:II:193).

To speak truly of me, you would have to say that I am a farmer’s son, who tended swine and cows, and add that this is nothing compared to my ignorance and malice (CCD:IV:219).

Another time he [Vincent] was met by a woman at the door as he bade farewell to some noble visitors. She begged an alms, and said she had been formerly the servant of Madame his mother. Monsieur Vincent replied, in the presence of his guests, “My good woman, you mistake me for someone else. My mother never had a servant, but was a servant herself, being the wife, and I the son, of a peasant (Abelly:III:186 [English edition]).

In that part of the country from which I came, my dear Sisters, the people live on a little grain millet which is cooked in a pot; at meal times, it is poured out into a dish, and the family gather round it for their repast and then go back to work (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.77).

Have you ever seen any people more full of confidence in God than good country folk? They sow their seed and then wait till God blesses them with the harvest; and if God permits a poor harvest, they do not cease from having confidence that He will provide them with food for the whole year (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p. 81).

It is among those poor people that true religion and a living faith are preserved…. poor vine-dressers who labor for us, who expect us to pray for them, while they wear themselves out to feed us (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, Repetition of Prayer, July 24, 1655, p.198).

2. Vincent, pastor of pigs, sheep and cows

He [Vincent] was born of a poor farm worker and his first calling was to tend his father’s livestock (CCC:VIII:159).

I blush with shame…. Seeing to what extent you, Excellency, have humbled yourself before a poor swineherd by birth (CCD:VIII:383).

If I were not a priest, I should still perhaps be tending swine as I once used to do (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity, On Serving the Sick, November 25, 1659, p.1233).

A beggar, a swineherd, riding in a carriage, oh! What a scandal! (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Detachment from the Goods of this World, June 8, 1658, p.430).

We should clearly see how we deserve to be punished and despised, we especially who are guilty of them, and especially myself, miserable swineherd (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Charity, May 30, 1659, p.589).

And I, poor swineherd as I am, will begin first, but not in the pulpit, because I cannot climb into it, but at a conference, where I shall deal with some point of the rule, or some other subject (Conferences of Vincent de Paul to the Missionaries, On Moral Theology, Preaching, Catechizing and the Administration of the Sacraments, August 5, 1659, p.671).

I know it very well [the Castle of Montgaillard near Saint-Sever about 50 kilometers from Pouy] for I often took care of the animals there and brought them to this place (Collet:II:195 [I believe this reference is to the Spanish edition though I am not sure, was unable to find this quote in the English edition and I honestly believe it is not correct since the whole work is made up of five books, all of which comprise 326 pages and page 195 would be somewhere in the third book]).

3. Vincent, brother to the country farmers

I will speak to you all the more willingly of good country girls, because I know that from experience and indeed by nature, for I am the son of a poor tiller of the soil and I lived in the country until I was fifteen years old (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.75).

Poor country girls and swineherds, like myself, should never presume on their own strength (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On the Vocation of a Daughter of Charity, July 5, 1640, p.13).

Sisters, we come from poor country people, you and I. I am the son of a tiller of the soil; I was fed as country people are fed…. Let us remember our station in life, and we shall see that we have good reason to thank God (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Serving the Sick, November 11, 1657, p.931)

There is no greater obedience than that of true village girls. They come home from their work to have a meager repast, tired out and fatigued, wet through and dirty, and they are barely at home when, if weather is suitable for work or if their father and mother tell them to go back to it, they do so at once, without pausing on account of their weariness or mud-stains and without thinking of how they are treated (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On Imitating the Conduct of Country Girls, January 25, 1643, p.83).

4. Other Testimonies and Memories

Abelly: Vincent had a tender heart for the sufferings of his neighbor…. Whenever his father sent him to the mill to collect flour, and he met a poor person along the way…. He would open the sack and give the poor man handfuls of flour…. And his father, a good man, would not object to this…. When he was about twelve or thirteen years old, he saved some thirty sous from different jobs. At the time, and in the country district where money was scarce, this was regarded as no small sum. However, upon meeting a poor destitute person along the road, he felt moved with compassion and gave away every bit of his small treasure (I:37 [English edition]).

Collet: His [Vincent’s] bread, even his clothing, was not his own when some unfortunate being stood in need of them (p.10 [English edition]).

Maynard: As a child Vincent built a little chapel of oak, with one side open. He liked to put flowers at the foot of a statue that he placed in this chapel. From a very early age, indeed from the time he left his mother’s arms, he went to this chapel to pray (I:17 [French edition]).

Louis de Paul in 1706 said: I have heard it said that when Vincent was a small boy and caring for his father’s flock, he shared his food and clothing with the poor.

James de la Caule said in 1706: My mother, who is now deceased, spoke of Vincent and said that when he was caring for the flock, he often shared his food with the poor.

Pierre of Pasquau Darose said in 1706: The elders of Vincent’s parish spoke of him giving food to the poor and sharing his clothing with them.

5. Vincent, son of a Gascon, Landes and Antiguan family, born at the end of the XVI Century

Vincent was the third son of the De Paul family. He grew up tending the garden of his mother — caring for the cabbage, beans, garlic and pumpkin as well as the hemp and the flax. He also watched over the corn and gathered the eggs.

As his arms and legs grew, he went with his father into the fields and at first chased the birds away from the newly planted seeds.

As he grew, he was given more responsibility and did errands in the village, brought the grain to the mill and took charge of the animals with his stilts, his sheepskin jacket, his hat and his large staff.

His brothers also grew. In fact everyone grew but the farm seemed to become smaller. In Ranquine there were many laborers but never enough land. Jean and Bertrande had observed Vincent’s growth and noted his liveliness and intelligence.

Not every member of the family toiled the land. Entienne, the Prior of Poymartet worked with books and was able to help his family economically.

Thus a plan was undertaken and it was decided that Vincent should study. Dax was about six kilometers away and the 60 liveres for his room would have to come from the work of his parents and brothers (see: I.M. Berce, La Vie. L’Aquitaine).

6. Notes

If one wishes to understand Vincent’s vocation, then one must always return to Ranquine. From his parent’s plan, Vincent developed his own plan, but Vincent’s plan was transformed into God’s plan. Vincent would return to Ranquine to repay the investment his family made in him, but he returned not with the longed for and hoped for ecclesiastical benefice, but rather with God’s benefice.

If we want to understand his realist attitude, his distrust of appearances (CCD:VI:543-544; OC:X:649; Translator’s Note: Document #210, Regulations for a Combined Charity is not in volume XIIIa or XIIIb so I cite the reference as it appears in the Spanish text), his affective balance (CCD:III:168-169; CCD:IV:339, 348-349), his understanding of work (CCD:VI:50-52; Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, On the Love of Work, November 28,1649, p.431-443; Conferences to the Missionaries, Repetition of Prayer, July 24, 1655, p.198-199), his respect for authority and social classes (Conferences to the Daughters of Charity, To Four Sisters who were sent to Sedan, July 23, 1654, p. 634; On Obedience, December 2, 1657, p.967-968; An Instruction for Four Sisters who were sent to Metz, August 26, 1658, 1122-1123), his Gascon irony (CCD:II:454-455, 610-611; III:448-449, V:199-200; Conferences to the Missionaries, On Poverty, August 13, 16655 p.233-234, On the End of the Congregation of the Mission, December 6, 1658, 611-612), then we must always return to his origins in Ranquine.

If we want to understand his relationship with God, his way of speaking about Divine Providence, his remembering certain Biblical passages, his prudence, his patience, etc., it is necessary to study all of this from the perspective of one who grew up in the French countryside during the late XVI and early XVII Centuries.

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