The dark cloud of the ongoing clerical abuse scandal in the Church hangs heavy over all the Catholic faithful. We try to absorb the awful news and hold the pain of abuse victims in our hearts and prayers. We also share the pain of our brother priests who have lived good, selfless lives, never violating the trust of those they serve.
In the midst of this painful time, the feast of St. Vincent de Paul comes as a moment of remembrance and relief. Remembrance: we recall that most of the clergy in Vincent’s day were woefully uneducated, self-serving and corrupt. Relief: we can find hope in knowing that Vincent found a way to make a difference and to change the system for the better.
In his book, Mr. Vincent, (DePaul International, Inc., 2015), J. Patrick Murphy, CM, writes:
“In 1625, Vincent founded the Congregation of the Mission. To serve the poor he had to engage the church and parishes. To engage the church he first had to reform the ignorant and corrupt clergy.
When he approached the clergy for help he found that they were not literate, chaste or sober. One bishop described his clergy:
…the large and unaccountable number of ignorant and corrupt priests who make up my clergy and who are unable, either through word or example, to mend their ways. I am horrified when I think that in my diocese there are nearly seven thousand drunken or lewd priests who ascend the altar every day and who have no vocation. [quoted in St. Vincent’s writings]
Vincent began in earnest to serve the poor by reforming the clergy.”
Mr. Vincent, a crisp, compelling and timely book tells – in just 19 pages – who Vincent de Paul was, how much he accomplished and how much we can learn from him to make a difference in this world. Murphy packs solid wisdom about life, leadership and service into memorable nuggets in his section on “Life Lessons from Vincent de Paul.” They offer great conversation starters and learning resources for boards, committees, community and parish groups. A few excerpts:
Vincent spent his life to the age of 36 looking for himself, for God, & for a steady income so he could retire in style. He found his personal mission to the poor.
Lesson: Sometimes what you find is better than what you look for.
France was at war through all of Vincent’s life except for the last few months. Beheading for religious dissidents was common. The clergy were incompetent, corrupt or both.
Lesson: Don’t let the environment get you down; you can make a difference anyway.
In Louise de Marillac Vincent found the perfect partner to build his business model and bring about change that shocked the world. Louise, like Vincent, was imperfect and troubled but together they were inspirational.
Lesson: Imperfect people are all we have; accept them where they are and work with them.
O God, who for the relief of the poor and the formation of the clergy endowed the priest St. Vincent de Paul with apostolic virtues, grant, we pray, that, afire with that same spirit, we may love what he loved and put into practice what he taught.
—Regina Bechtle, SC
The book, Mr. Vincent, can be downloaded at
Sr. Regina, a retreat leader, speaker, writer and spiritual director, serves as Charism Resource Director for the Sisters of Charity of New York. She gives presentations to lay and religious groups about St. Elizabeth Seton and our Vincentian-Charity heritage of spirituality.