Monsieur Vincent Appointed Pastor of Clichy Where he Serves as a Good Shepherd
Although Monsieur Vincent had resolved to devote himself completely to God and his service in the clerical state, false accusations served only as a goad for further progress. The good use he made of them drew down upon him new graces to help him still more to fulfill his good resolution. He realized that living among lay people, as he was obliged to do upon first coming to Paris, was not conducive to carrying out his God-given desire for the life of a clergyman. His reputation for virtue gave him an entree to the fathers of the Oratory, who kindly received him into their house. He had no intention of joining the community, as he himself later said. He wanted only to shut off social engagements and give himself a better opportunity to discern and follow God’s designs for him. He was well aware that we are all blind in our own affairs. He knew, too, that the best way to know God’s will is to have a visible guardian angel to lead us, that is, a wise and virtuous spiritual director to serve as a guide. As a result, he decided to choose such a person for himself. He selected the person who led this saintly community of the Oratory with such wisdom and blessings, Father de Berulle, 1 whose memory as we have already shown is held in the highest veneration. Monsieur Vincent opened his heart to him. This quickly made his guide, one of the most enlightened men of the century, see him as one destined by God for great deeds. He reportedly told Monsieur Vincent at that time that God would use him for a great service to the Church by establishing a new religious community of priests. They would have God’s blessing upon them and produce much fruit. 2
Monsieur Vincent remained around two years in this retreat, until Father Bourgoing, 3 pastor of Clichy, decided to resign his charge and enter the Congregation of the Oratory. 4 As it turned out, he later was to become the superior general of this community. Father de Berulle prevailed upon Monsieur Vincent to accept the care of the parish and begin his active work in the Lord’s vineyard. By a spirit of obedience Monsieur Vincent accepted this post. 5 He was pleased to take on the humble position of pastor of a simple country place in preference to some of the more honorable opportunities available to him. Some two or three years earlier, the king, upon recommendation of Cardinal d’Ossat, 6 had offered him the abbey of Saint Leonard de Chaume in the diocese of Maillezais, now La Rochelle. 7 In addition, Queen Marguerite had heard of his reputation for holiness and took him as her ordinary chaplain and added him to her official family. This humble servant of God preferred to renounce these honors. He chose rather, in imitation of the prophet, to live humbly in the house of the Lord than to dwell in the tents of sinners. 8
Once he had taken possession of his parish of Clichy 9 as pastor of the flock the Providence of God had confided to his care, he resolved to fulfill faithfully and carefully all the duties of this office. He strove to follow the norms of the sacred canons and in particular the directions of the last general council. As a good shepherd he made it his first care to know his flock, then to provide good pasturage for their souls, turning to God by prayer and sacrifice for the graces they needed. He broke the bread of truth for them by his sermons and his religious instruction. He led them to the fountain of grace by offering the sacraments and in every way possible offered them his help and consolation. This charitable pastor was ever occupied in advancing the welfare of his flock. He would visit the sick, console the sorrowing, help the poor, reconcile enemies, preserve peace and harmony in families, recall the lax to their duty, encourage the good, and in sum make himself all to all to gain all to Jesus Christ. Above all else his own example and his life of virtue was a constant sermon. This had such an effect that not only the people of Clichy but even some people from Paris with houses in the area respected him and regarded him as a saint. The neighboring pastors also developed an esteem and sense of confidence in him. They sought out his company to hear from him how best to fulfill their own functions and to carry out their duty as pastors. 10
On one occasion he had to absent himself briefly from Clichy for some other duty. His assistant wrote to give an account of the parish, and then added, among other things, “The pastors of the neighboring areas anxiously desire your return. The people are equally anxious to have you come back. Hurry then, to take the lead of the flock you have set on the right path, for all await your presence.”
A doctor of the University of Paris, a religious of a celebrated order who occasionally preached at Clichy, gave this testimony.
I rejoice that at the beginning of this happy institution of the Mission, I often heard the confession in the little town of Clichy of the one chosen by God to begin that small spring which has since watered the garden of the Church. It has turned into a flood, a thousand times more fruitful than the mighty Nile in this spiritual Egypt. While he laid the foundations of such a great, holy, and sanctifying work, I offered to preach to these good people of Clichy, whose pastor he was. I found them living like angels, so much so that I felt as though I was attempting to bring a candle to the sun.
The praise of this doctor for the flock shows the vigilance and zeal of their pastor and his care for their instruction and their formation in the virtues and other practices of a truly Christian life.
At the beginning of his tenure as pastor he found the church itself in poor condition and the vestments and sacred ornaments unsuitable for divine service. He carried out a plan for restoration. 11 It was completed, it must be said, not at his own expense or even at the expense of the parishioners. He himself was poor and gave all his assets to those in need, and the people were not too well off either. Some of his friends in Paris helped him. They were glad to help him carry out his plans.
He saw to the establishment of the Confraternity of the Rosary in the parish as well, so that by the time he left he had rebuilt and refurbished the church, leaving it in a very good condition. 12 Besides, he left it purely and simply, without taking anything for himself, in the hands of a worthy successor, Monsieur [Jean] Souillard. 13 Among his other parochial duties, the new pastor instructed several young clerics sent to him by Monsieur Vincent and prepared them to be faithful servants of the Church.
- Pierre de Berulle, 1575-1629, founder of the Oratory of France, and later named a cardinal by Pope Urban VIII. Despite his early support of Saint Vincent, he tried to prevent the approval of the Congregation of the Mission by the Roman Curia.
- This testimony was given by De la Tour, the sixth general of the Oratory, in his letter to Clement XI supporting the canonization of Vincent de Paul.
- Francois Bourgoing, third superior general of the Oratory of France.
- The foundation of the Oratory took place after Bourgoing’s resignation.
- May 2, 1612. CED XIII:17-18.
- Arnauld d’Ossat, who had negotiated the reconciliation of Henry IV with the Holy See.
- Saint Vincent held this abbey from June 10, 1610 to November 4, 1616. CED XIII:8-13.
- Ps 84:11.
- Then a little parish located outside the city gates of Paris. CED XIII:41-43.
- For the saint’s testimony as to the happiness of his stay at Clichy, see CED IX:646.
- This section of the church still stands.
- This confraternity required its members to give alms, and the saint’s experience of this could well have influenced his foundation of the Confraternity of Charity in Chatillon.
- Monsieur Vincent did not give up the parish completely for another nine years, in 1626, all the time receiving a pension from his successor. The record of the pastoral visitation by the archbishop, dated October 9, 1624, lists Master Vincent Pol [sic] as pastor. (See Annales CM 94 (1929):729-30.)