St. Vincent was a very young priest in 1605, and he was travelling on a ship off the coast of France, when the ship was attacked by a band of pirates. They were Muslims from north Africa, and they captured St. Vincent and carried him off to Tunis, where he was sold into slavery. He lived as a slave for about two years, but then he managed to escape. Having gained his freedom, he went immediately to Rome to give thanks to God, and he then returned to France. Once again he became a tutor for the children of a wealthy family, and it was during that time that he had an important experience which changed the direction of his life.
There was a poor servant in the household who was dying. St. Vincent went to him to hear his last confession and to prepare him for death, and as he visited him, St. Vincent realized that the poor and those who worked in service to others really hadn’t been receiving very much spiritual care. When he brought this to the attention of his employers, they urged him to do what he thought best to remedy the situation. He began to a great ministry to the poor, preaching missions so they could know the Gospel, and he founded a religious community for men and also another for women, whose purpose was to serve the poor.
St. Vincent’s work was recognized throughout the Church, and although many wanted to honor him, he himself remained completely humble, continuing his work for the poor. He became known as the Apostle of Charity, continuing his work, until he died at the age of eighty. His work continues through the communities of priests and sisters which he established, and also through the Church’s Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which encourages laypeople to join in the work of alleviating the needs of the poor.
O God, who didst strengthen blessed Vincent de Paul with apostolic power for preaching the Gospel to the poor, and for promoting worthiness in the clergy: grant, we beseech thee; that we who reverence his pious deeds may also be taught by the example of his virtues; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.