You've probably noticed the latest addition to our church with the completion of the shrine to St. Vincent de Paul. Thanks to the generosity of our parishioners, we have completed the triptych, a 3-panel wood carving that depicts the saint in various scenes from his life. A complete explanation of the work can be read further down the page. St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us!
The central panel of the St. Vincent Triptych depicts the saint with several figures representing the various groups of people to whom he ministered. St. Vincent stands in the center with his cloak spread over the other figures; in church art, this symbolizes the extension of a saint’s protection to those others. Here, it shows St. Vincent’s role as model, minster, and intercessor to the groups represented by the figures depicted. One of these is a poor man, representing the galley slaves to whom St. Vincent de Paul ministered to early in his priesthood, as well as the many poor whom he served later in life. A woman of means is also depicted, calling to mind the many wealthy women who were attracted to the ministry of St. Vincent and followed him in caring for the poor and needy. Two children are also shown, calling to mind not only St. Vincent’s care for the material needs of poor children, but also his work for their instruction in the Faith. These many figures, rich and poor, young and old, are all under St. Vincent’s mantle, showing that every person, no matter what their condition or state in life, are called to follow his example, which in turn reflects the living out of the Gospel message of Jesus Christ.
The wings of the triptych show various scenes from the life and ministry of St. Vincent. The image in the top left-hand corner shows a scene in which he ministers towards the slaves who were condemned to row in the galleys in the French Royal Navy, a task to which he was especially devoted in the years 1622-1625, and continuing for several years thereafter. The difficulty of their sentence caused many of the slaves to lose hope in life and in God, making St. Vincent’s task of preaching the love of Christ to them that much more difficult. The chains around the slaves’ hands and feet represent not only the physical chains of their imprisonment, but also the spiritual chains that bind anyone who has made themselves a prisoner of sin. The inscription says Caritate refovit corda peccato callosa, “By love, he rekindled hearts hardened by sin.” Through caring for the material and spiritual needs of the slaves, represented by the cup of water he offers and the cross he holds, St. Vincent gradually opened their eyes and hearts to realize the love that God had for them.
Below this is an image of St. Vincent with St. Louise de Marillac. Beginning in 1617, St. Vincent began to organize the women who sought to help him into a group called the Ladies of Charity (Dames de la Charité), which acquired a more formal foundation as the Sisters of Charity in 1633. St. Louise, who was a member of the minor nobility, had experienced great difficulty in her early life. After being born out of wedlock in 1591, she grew up the care of various relatives, marrying in 1613. She was a devoted wife and mother, and found a route for spiritual growth through her participation in the works of charity of St. Vincent de Paul. After her husband died in 1625, she devoted herself even more to this work, while continuing to care for her only child, Michael, who had been born with special needs. In 1642 she took vows as a religious sister completely dedicated to the work of caring for the poor, continuing in this life until 1660, when she passed from this life just a few months before St. Vincent himself did. The inscription of this image is Concilio duxit Sanctam Ludovicam in viam sanctificationis, “By counsel, he led St. Louise in the way of holiness,” remembering the important guidance that St. Vincent gave to her through his spiritual guidance and example. The order that they founded together would later include St. Catherine Laboure, who instituted the devotion to the Miraculous Medal, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born saint from the United States.
On the right wing, the top panel shows St. Vincent in the confessional. In 1617, St. Vincent began undertaking missions to the poor villages of the countryside to strengthen and enliven the faith of the people who lived there. This part of his work would later be formalized with the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission in 1625, under the auspices of which he continued this ministry until his death. Besides preaching, an important aspect of these missions was the offering of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, by which those who been moved by the mission could turn to the mercy of God and receive His forgiveness. The inscription reflects this, reading Misericordia reconciliavit peccatores Patri, “By mercy, he reconciled sinners to the Father.” It was St. Vincent’s great love for God and God’s people that drove him in his efforts to renew and strengthen the relationship between God and believers. This line is based the Easter sequence, the second stanza of which reads, Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores, “The innocent Christ reconciles sinners to the Father.” In his ministry as a priest, St. Vincent continued the redemptive work of Christ that is realized in the sacraments. Whenever we are absolved from our sins, the work of spiritual regeneration is accomplished within us, which will be fully realized when we are reborn to eternal life, the hope of which we see foreshadowed in Christ’s Resurrection.
The lower right panel shows St. Vincent with the founder of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Bl. Frederic Ozanam. Bl. Frederic was born in 1813, and after a time of questioning in his youth, entered adulthood sincerely devoted to the Catholic faith. Under the influence of Bl. Rosalie Rendu, a Sister of Charity, he founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1833 to care for the needs of the poor. This movement has spread since then, with chapters of the St. Vincent de Paul Society existing throughout the world. The inscription Exemplo instruet curam pauperum, “By example he teaches care for the poor,” refers to how the example of St. Vincent inspired Bl. Frederic to undertake his mission to the poor, and likewise should inspire us to do the same. The image is based on the traditional icon of the Prophet Elijah ascending to Heaven while leaving his mantle to the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 2:11-13). In a spiritual sense, St. Vincent likewise leaves his “mantle” to Bl. Frederic, as well as to all of us who are called to carry on the mission and legacy of St. Vincent in our own times.
|The Donor Plaque, located to the right of the shrine|