The Beginnings of the Confraternity of Charity for the Sick Poor
While Monsieur Vincent was still at Chatillon, as he was about to mount the pulpit one feastday, a lady of a noble house in the neighborhood 1 said a few words to him. She asked him to recommend to the charity of the parish a family whose children and servants had fallen sick on their farm about a half league from Chatillon. They needed help urgently. He felt obliged to speak about them in his sermon. In it he spoke of the duty we have to help the poor, especially the sick, and in particular this family which had been recommended to them.
God so blessed his words that after the service a large number of people visited the sick family, carrying bread, wine, some meat, and several other provisions. After vespers, he himself went with some of the people of the parish, unaware that others had already gone. He was astonished to meet a number on the road returning in large groups, and even some sleeping under the trees, since it was so warm. The Gospel text came to mind: “These are as lost sheep, with no shepherd to guide them.” 2
This undoubtedly shows that these people have great charity, but is it well organized? The poor sick family will be overwhelmed with so much in such a short time, most of which will spoil. Afterward they will be no better off than before.
The following days he met with several zealous and wealthy women of the parish to seek ways of establishing greater order in the way the sick poor of the moment and those who would call for help in the future could be helped. He found these women well disposed towards this project and was able to work out with them a plan for action. He drew up a few regulations which they promised to observe and which would encourage these virtuous women to give themselves to God through this practice of charity. Thus began the Confraternity of Charity for the corporal and spiritual help of the sick poor. They chose several officers from among their own number and met under Monsieur Vincent’s chairmanship every month to report on progress.
He himself said on several occasions that he was due no credit in the beginning of this good work. All was accomplished with no planning on his part and with little thought of what significant developments these small beginnings would become, by the grace of God. 3
The Confraternity of Charity which Monsieur Vincent began at Chatillon was the first, the mother confraternity, of a great many others he and his Congregation have since established in France, Italy, Lorraine, in Savoy, and elsewhere.
After Monsieur Vincent returned to the de Gondi house, as we have related in the previous chapter, his zeal would not leave him idle but led him to undertake many missions for the poor people in the countryside. Previously he had worked in the various territories belonging to Madame. He was now determined to extend his charity to all the other regions belonging to the de Gondi house. In keeping with this resolution, he gave a mission at Villepreux and the villages which depended on it. 4 He had the help of two clerical counselors of the Parlement of Paris, Fathers Berger and Gontiere, with Monsieur Cocqueret, doctor of theology of the college of Navarre, and several other clerics as well. 5 Here, on February 23, 1618, he established the Confraternity of Charity of the Sick Poor, under the authority of Cardinal de Retz, then bishop of Paris, who approved its rule. This was the second begun by Monsieur Vincent, and by God’s grace, it has continued, like the first, to this day. The third was established in the town of Joigny, and the fourth in Montmirail. 6 God blessed these beginnings to such an extent that the Confraternity began in more than thirty parishes in lands depending on the general of the galleys or on his wife.
- Mademoiselle de la Chassaigne.
- Matt 9:36
- CED IX:208-10, and 242-44.
- A small town located near Paris.
- Jean Coqueret was one of the most esteem and learned priests of the age. Together with the other theologians, Louis Bail and Nicolas Cornet, he took part in the conferences held at Saint Lazare to determine strategy in the struggle against Jansenism. CED III:318-32.
- See the rules for the confraternities in CED XIII:461-75.