It is no coincidence that Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto marks our anniversary on September 27, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. Vincent, patron saint of charities, has served as a constant inspiration for Catholic Charities staff and our member agencies since our founding in 1913.
Born into a simple family in Pouy, France in 1581, Vincent proved to be a gifted student and was ordained in 1600. He founded the Congregation of the Missions – now known as the Vincentians – in 1625 and then the Daughters of Charity, a group designed to support Catholic women in their charitable work with various groups of people in need.
While today he is remembered for many things, including reforming the clergy, St. Vincent de Paul is best known for working with numerous vulnerable groups, including work in prisons and hospitals, with those suffering the effects of war and enslavement, and the poor on the streets of Paris. Today, those actions serve as inspiration for Catholic Charities and other Catholic agencies, as well as for the international lay association, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which bears his name.
As someone who is revered as a saint and whose name is associated with acts of charity, it may be surprising to learn that Vincent could sometimes be – well – grouchy. Cranky. Not the kind of behaviour that we traditionally associate with the canonized. In time, it is said, his temperament softened but it is, frankly, not only surprising but also reassuring that a man with very human characteristics could bring about such good in the world.
If St. Vincent was somewhat testy at times, it only serves to remind us that, though we are human, we are all called to sainthood – to recognize the face of Christ in others, responding with dignity, compassion and kindness to their needs, whether those needs are practical, emotional, or spiritual. We are not only capable of such acts, in spite of our failings and weaknesses, but we are called to do so, and serving our neighbours helps not only them but also helps us to learn about the world around us, putting us in touch with our potential for living full and rewarding lives.
St. Vincent de Paul is said to have taught, “Go to the poor: You will find God.” His simple, heartfelt instruction resonates with us. A quick read of news headlines reminds us of all the poverty in the world today, which can take many forms. At its most essential, it’s a lack of money to provide housing and food for people to care for themselves and their families, but it can also take many other shapes, with loneliness and spiritual emptiness being just two examples.
Today, Catholic Charities and our 21 member agencies serve many of our neighbours – for example, new parents, those who are new to Canada, people facing physical challenges, or the elderly–with a variety of services, support and advocacy. Each day is unique and requires an open mind and creative thinking to be able to respond productively because, after all, like St. Vincent de Paul, we are only human!
We are grateful to have such an inspiring patron for the daily work that takes place under the Catholic Charities umbrella, and we give thanks for the many agency employees and volunteers who are working so hard to make a difference. We also pray for all who access services associated with Catholic Charities, that they may find the help they need to lead healthy, happy lives.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!