Vincent de Paul was born in 1581, in a remote village in France when France was plunged in abject misery. The nation was torn apart by religious and civil strife, with many of its people living in poverty and destitution.
Vincent was born into a poor family, but he showed piety and intellectual ability as a boy. By hard work and sacrifice he achieved the priesthood and a degree in theology at the unusually young age of twenty.
At the beginning of his priesthood he did not have any great ambitions. He became chaplain to Queen Margaret of Valois and was also an abbot in a small abbey. On a visit to Paris, he met Cardinal Berulle, founder of the French Oratorians. It was through Cardinal Berulle's influence that Vincent began to see his priesthood in a new light. He became tutor to a wealthy family, and gradually became aware of the terrible spiritual state of the peasants of France. he then quit his comfortable chaplaincy and became a pastor.
Returning to Paris, Vincent became an itinerant pastor. Throughout his life, Vincent was to pursue the same policy; his heart was with the poor, and with the alleviation of their sufferings. In order to achieve this, he saw that he must have help and protection of the rich and powerful, and this he was not slow to seek.
In the midst of his work, St Vincent de Paul became friends with St Frances de Sales and St Jeanne de Chantal, and was chaplain to the Visitation nuns in Paris. When Janseniesm (the heresy of predestination) arose in France, Vincent became its most vigorous opponent and was largely responsible for its defeat.
At this time, he knew a number of priests interested in working among the poor country people. In 1626, he gathered them into a religious congregation, the Congregation of the Mission. In 1632, the priory of Saint-Lazare, given to the Congregation, became its chief house. Thus, the Fathers of the Mission are sometimes called Lazarists, but sometimes called Vincentians, after their founder. They were trained and sent by Vincent into neglected country districts of France, but before his death were established in other countries too.
In 1633, with the help of St Louise Marillac, he founded the Daughters of Charity, dedicated to work among the poor. Twenty-five years later, in 1658, he completed the rules for his congregations. With the death of St Louise Marillac in 1660, he realized that his work was over. He died on September 27, 1660, and his body lies at the motherhouse of his congregation in Paris.
Few saints have ever been so loved as he; few have so perfectly filled their whole lives with Christ's own love for all mankind, with Christ's compassion for the multitude.