Abelly: Book 2/Chapter 11/Section 01

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Help Given to Lorraine

We can say without exaggeration that we will see in this and in the following two sections a masterpiece of charity seldom equaled. In these pages we speak of the help given by Monsieur Vincent to an almost limitless number of persons reduced to the last extremity by the horrors of war. The pages of history tell us of many examples of the extreme misery caused by the scourges of war. They speak of the ruin and desolation of cities, provinces, and sometimes of entire monarchies. In none of these pages do we read that amid the terror and confusion of armies, and surrounded by the violence and plunder of the soldiers, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy were widely practiced. This was not in favor of a privileged few, but to entire peoples, and not for some days, but for a long succession of years. During these times charity triumphed in those very places where justice had no voice, legitimate authority was no longer recognized, and the laws and ordinances of the sovereigns were trampled under foot.

Indeed, we must insist that in all past ages nothing of the kind had never been seen. If something similar was done, historians have not recorded it, possibly because they would find it so hard to believe, or because they would think the written records of such events were exaggerated. What we have to recount here was so public and evident, and seen over several years by a large number of witnesses, that there is no fear these accounts will be received with hesitation. Should some incredulous persons contradict what we shall say, whole provinces would rise up against them in a parade of witnesses. They owe their lives and what they value more even than life itself, to the charitable help Monsieur Vincent gave them.

The one who conceived this help by the inspiration of God, who began it, continued and sustained it over many years, and who inspired so many others to participate in these undertakings with the same charitable spirit with which he was so filled, was no other than this same Vincent de Paul. God was pleased to enlighten, strengthen, and give him such an abundance of grace that he created a masterpiece of charity, exceeding all human industry and power.

We will begin this chapter by speaking of Lorraine, which first felt the effects of war, and which the violence of the scourge completely ruined. This province was formerly one of the most densely populated, the most fertile, and the most pleasant of all Europe. It had good rulers, and the people were faithful to them, with mutual esteem, so unlike what often happens with other countries. For many years it enjoyed peace, both inside and outside its borders, with all the blessings which flow from years of prosperity.

The abundance of worldly goods and pleasures is more apt to attach the hearts of man to earth than to raise them to heaven. Among the satisfactions and comforts of life only rarely would vices and sins occur which Providence would purge by way of the waters of tribulation. This began in 1635 with three scourges, if not at the same moment, at least one after the other, that is, plague, war, and famine. These came as a deluge, destroying everything almost, afflicting the entire province. A large number of inhabitants were stricken, and nearly all the survivors fled for their lives. Priests, nobles, and leading citizens escaped, seeking elsewhere the supports of life they could not find in their own homes. Desolation reached such a point that those who remained had to eat the half-rotten carrion of beasts to survive. They themselves became the prey of wild animals. From all sides starving wolves tore to pieces and devoured women and children, even in full daylight, and in the sight of everyone. Some of these poor creatures, grievously torn by the wolves, were carried half dead to the hospitals of the towns, where priests of the Mission tended them. The wolves were so hungry for human flesh they would come into the towns and villages. They entered houses whose doors chanced to be open. They would come into the larger cities at night through breaks in the walls, and carry off women and children, and whatever else they could find.

God is ever mindful of his mercy, even in this life in the midst of the most rigorous carrying out of his justice. Wishing to give some consolation and help to this sorely tried people, he raised up Monsieur Vincent. When he learned of the desolation of the province, he was deeply moved. He responded like another Moses in prayer: "Why, O Lord, has your anger risen against your people? Please let your vengeance cease." [1] Moved by a spirit of compassion and charity, he offered himself to the divine Majesty to do what he could to relieve and console these poor people, reduced to such extremity. Shortly after, divine Providence sent him someone with money to be used for this purpose. He immediately sent it to the priests of his Congregation in Tours, in Lorraine, and these charitable missionaries began at once to use the money to house, feed, and tend the sick poor collected from the streets. [2] He sent other priests and brothers from the house of Saint Lazare to help out in other cities in Lorraine, especially Metz, Verdun, Nancy, Bar-le-Duc, Pont-a-Mousson, Saint Michel, [3], Luneville, and others.

The following letter, dated December 1639, testifies to the help he gave to the poor of Tours:

Jean Midot, doctor in theology, archdeacon, canon and vicar general of Toul, the see being vacant, certifies and affirms that the priests of the Mission living in this city have continued with much edification and charity to help, clothe, feed, and doctor the poor for these past two years. They cared for the sick, sixty of whom they brought to their own house, and a hundred more in the suburbs. Second, they helped by their alms many other poor persons, ashamed of their condition but brought low by a great need, and who fled to this city. In the third place, they accepted into their home or brought to the Hospital of Charity many sick and wounded soldiers of the king, who were fed and cared for to the great edification of all people of good will. In testimony of which we have signed, and countersigned, and sealed.

The priests of the Mission who lived in Toul sent this certification to Monsieur Vincent, asking him to obtain similar statements from the other cities they had served. He answered: "It would have been better not to have asked this. It is enough that God knows what has been done, not to mention the poor themselves, without any need for more testimonials."

The same help was given in the city of Metz, where incredible poverty affected huge numbers of people. Sometimes four or five thousand gathered at the gates of the city, both men and women all ages. Often in the morning ten or twelve would have died during the night. Some of the older girls were tempted to sell themselves rather than starve. Several religious communities were on the verge of breaking their cloister to seek food. When Monsieur Vincent was alerted to these extreme needs he sent help to save the lives of some and the honor of others, in an effort to help all. The city magistrates wrote the following letter to Monsieur Vincent, in October [[1640//:

Monsieur, you have made us your debtors in coming to the aid of the extremely poor, discouraged and sick, and especially of the poor monasteries of religious of this city. We would be remiss in our duty if we did not thank you for the help you have given us. We can assure you that the alms you sent have been used exclusively for the needy poor, and especially the religious deprived of all human help. The first received nothing of their usual income because of the war, and the others received none of their usual alms, since conditions here are so bad. We must ask you, Monsieur, as we do most humbly, to continue the help you have been giving to each group. This will undoubtedly be most meritorious for those who contribute to this cause, and to you, Monsieur, who direct this effort with such prudence and efficacy, to the glory of God. [4]

The missionaries living in Verdun wrote to Monsieur Vincent:

In 1639, 1640, and 1641 we had sometimes five or six hundred poor persons to care for. At other times we had at least four hundred to whom we gave bread each day, and divided them into two groups, the younger and the older, so we could offer instruction with greater effect.

We gave soup and meat to some fifty or sixty sick poor each day, and some money to others, as the need arose. We helped about thirty poor who were ashamed to come with the others. Many peasants and farmers came asking for alms, and we gave them bread whenever they came. We clothed the naked, and gave shoes to those who needed them most.

One missionary wrote to Monsieur Vincent that he had been greatly edified and consoled at the admirable patience and unbelievable resignation he experienced among the sick and the dying. "Oh, Monsieur, how poverty has led many to paradise! Since coming to Lorraine, I have seen more than a thousand poor people die, and they all seemed perfectly ready. How many intercessors in heaven for their benefactors!" [5]

In Nancy, the following distributions were made to various categories of poor during these same years:

  1. Those in good health, four or five hundred, were given soup and bread each day. Instructions were given to prepare them to confess and communicate, usually once a month. In their charity, the missionaries housed some of these poor people in the same place they themselves lived.
  2. Besides, they kept in their own home some sick persons, whom they fed and nursed. Other sick were taken to the Hospital of Saint Joseph. Each one received linens and some money, but only after they had gone to confession and received communion. Usually thirty or forty other sick persons were kept here or there in the city, to whom they gave bread, soup, and meat each day.
  3. They helped two types of people in financial difficulties, about fifty of the middle class, to whom they gave a certain amount of bread each week. The other group numbered around thirty upper class people, either priests or laity, much in need, but ashamed of their poverty. They received some money each month, depending on their condition and need.
  4. They took particular care of many poor nursing mothers, to whom they gave money, bread, flour, and soup.
  5. They took care of the sick and wounded soldiers, paying the doctors and the cost of the medicines. They even had received some inexpensive private remedies which brought great relief to many of the sick.
  6. They gave linens and clothes to all the poor who needed them. When they gave shirts to them, they would take the soiled ones to have them washed, to be given in turn to others. This would sometimes amount to six or seven dozen at a time.

We are not able to cite the most touching letters Monsieur Vincent received from this desolated province on the extreme affliction of the people, or on the extraordinary help they had received, because most of the these letters have been lost. He sent them to various places, to influence the rich to contribute, or to show those who already had contributed what good use their money was being put to. The following letter is what a virtuous priest wrote to Monsieur Vincent on this matter:

After I saw the letter from Lorraine, which you sent to Monsieur N., and who then showed it to me, I must tell you I could not read it without tears. Sometimes I shed these tears in such abundance I could scarcely continue reading. I praise our good God for the paternal providence he has exercised towards his creatures, and I beg him to continue his graces to your priests, whom he uses in this holy work. I must tell you in closing how much I mourn the deaths of some of your charitable workers who have gone to heaven. They have helped so many others attain it also, while miserable me, I remain a useless beast, wandering over the earth. [6]

The first priests of the Mission who went to Pont-a-Mousson in May 1640, sent word to Monsieur Vincent they had helped four or five hundred poor people. These had suffered so much from their poverty that the missionaries had never before seen people so deserving compassion. Most were from the country, and were so emaciated and frail that some died as they ate.

The four pastors of the village had given them a list of the sick and the most miserable of the embarrassed poor. They had visited the sick, and found several in their last agony. Some religious sisters were in great need. In the regions surrounding the city wolves had been attacking people, and this frightened a number from coming to seek food, particularly the children of ten or twelve years of age. A good and charitable pastor offered to bring some relief to them, aided by the alms given by the missionaries.

There were usually around a hundred sick in this town, and fifty or sixty shy or embarrassed poor, besides the many other good people reduced to hunger. The missionaries helped all in the other localities, in the same way we have described. They distributed bed linens and clothing, particularly to the sick, and shoes and tools to those still able to work, to enable them to earn their bread by their own labor.

The missionaries daily distributed food to several hundred other poor refugees. To all they offered a sort of mission to dispose them to make a good general confession, which many did in a Christian manner.

The mayor, magistrates, police and city council of Pont-a-Mousson wrote to Monsieur Vincent in December 1640, to thank him for his help, and to beg him to continue his help:

The fear we have that shortly we will be deprived of the charity your goodness has bestowed on the poor of our city causes us to write to you, Monsieur, to ask you to please continue to help us as before, for our needs are as great as they have ever been. For the past two years the harvest has failed, and the animals have eaten our crops in the fields. The constant garrisoning of the troops has brought us all to begging. These motives, agonizing but true, should stir your tender heart, already so full of love and pity, to continue your kindness towards these five hundred poor. They would surely die quickly if your kindness to them would come to an end. Please do not allow this to happen, but give us the leftover crumbs from the other towns. You will not only be exercising charity towards the poor, but you will be snatching them from death and earning the eternal gratitude of the undersigned. [7]

Around the same time one of the priests of the Mission went to the town of Saint Mihiel, writing to Monsieur Vincent as follows:

Once I arrived here, I immediately began to distribute alms. I found a large number of poor, not all of whom I could help, for more than three hundred were in direst need, and three hundred more required assistance. Monsieur, I tell you the truth. More than a hundred seemed to be mere skeletons covered with skin and so frightful I would not have been able even to look at them if the Lord did not strengthen me. Their skin was like polished marble, and so shrunken that their dry teeth appeared in their open mouths. It was the most appalling thing I have ever seen. They looked for roots in the fields to cook and eat. I very much recommend the great misery of these poor people to the prayers of our Company. Some young women die from hunger, and I fear that some among them may fall into even great disaster than anything merely temporal. [8]

In another letter of March 1640, he wrote again:

At the last distribution of bread, we helped 1,132 poor, not counting the many sick, with food and medicine. They all pray for their benefactors with such a sense of thanksgiving that many cry from emotion. Some rich people react the same way. I do not believe that these people, for whom so many prayers are being offered to God, will die. The authorities of the town praise this charity, publicly admitting that many would have died without this help, and acknowledging the debt they owe to you. Just recently a poor man from Switzerland abjured his Lutheran heresy on his deathbed, and after receiving the sacraments, died a Christian death. [9]

In this same year, 1640, Monsieur Vincent sent one of the leading priests of the Congregation [10] to visit all the missionaries working at distributing alms in Lorraine. He was to suggest ways of carrying out this charity, and also to ascertain the regions of greatest need. He wrote to Monsieur Vincent from Saint Mihiel:

I must tell you, Monsieur, of the admirable things I have seen in this town which you would scarcely believe if you did not see them with your own eyes. Besides all the poor beggars, already mentioned, the greater number of inhabitants of the town, the nobles above all, endure such hunger as you can scarcely imagine. What is worse, they cannot bring themselves to ask for bread. Some do, but others prefer to die rather than beg. I have spoken myself to some of these people who could not refrain from weeping as they spoke of this situation.

Another unusual thing happened. A widow had nothing for herself or for her three children. When she saw herself threatened with starvation she skinned a snake, put it over the coals to be roasted, and ate it for want of anything else. Our confrere here heard of this, and brought something for her.

No horse dies in the town, no matter from what cause, without being grabbed and eaten. Not three or four days ago I saw a woman at the public distribution of bread. Her basket was filled with some of this tainted meat which she was trading off for bread with some of the other peasants.

A young woman was thinking of selling what was most precious to gain a bit of bread, and was looking for an opportunity to do so. God be blessed and thanked, she found none, and now is out of danger.

Another deplorable case concerns the priests. By God's mercy they all lead exemplary lives, but they suffer the same lot as the others, with no bread to eat. A pastor living a half league from here is reduced to pulling a plow, joining his parishioners in the traces in place of horses. Is it not deplorable, Monsieur, to see a priest and a pastor reduced to such a state? You do not have to go to Turkey to see priests condemned to hard labor. We see this at our very doors, brought about by the troubles of the times.

Our Lord is so good, Monsieur, it seems he has blessed Saint Mihiel with a spirit of devotion and patience. Amid their extreme lack of temporal things, the people seem avid for spiritual things. We see up to two thousand persons attending the catechism lessons, a lot for such a small town, where most larger houses are deserted. The poor are careful to attend and to receive the sacraments. The missionary here is greatly esteemed, for he teaches and cares for them. Those with a chance to speak to him consider themselves fortunate. He shows great charity and devotion to his work for all the people of the region. He was so overworked by the number of general confessions, and his lack of proper nourishment, that he has fallen sick.

I am amazed how with so little money coming from Paris he has been able to so much to so many. I see in this a manifestation of the goodness of God, who has multiplied his resources. He reminds me of what the Holy Scripture says of the manna in the desert: each family received the same amount, which turned out to suffice for all, regardless of the number being fed. I see here something similar, for our priests who have more poor people to help do not give any less and yet want for nothing. [11]

In 1643, the lieutenant, provost, council, and governor of the city wrote the following letter to Monsieur Vincent:

The governors and citizens of Saint Mihiel give you a thousand thanks for the care and help you have rendered by the alms and other helps you have given to the sick poor, and by helping to have a part of the garrison taken from the city. We ask you most humbly to continue your concern and your alms since this poor and desolate city has as great a need now as ever before.

By your care, a countless number have been saved who otherwise would have perished. If your help is curtailed or even stopped altogether, we must expect a large part of the inhabitants will die from hunger, or at least will leave to seek their living elsewhere. We need hardly mention the help you have given to enable the convents to survive, or the help given to so many good people, even some of the upper class, in their sickness and need. We cannot praise enough the efforts and care you have taken of us. We pray you most earnestly to continue these same helps for so many sick and needy, which undoubtedly will be a source of great merit and honor before God. [12]

The poor of Bar-le-Duc, eight hundred or so inhabitants and refugees, received help in both soul and body. This was a great help to the surrounding countryside and especially the city. Previously a large number of poor were to be found there. They slept on the streets, at the crossroads, and in the doors of the churches. Tradesmen were dying of hunger, of the cold, and of their illnesses and misery. One of the priests of the Mission wrote to Monsieur Vincent in February 1640 that at each distribution of bread he had to give clothes to twenty-five or thirty poor people, and then he added:

In a short time I have clothed, by actual count, two hundred sixty, but I cannot measure the spiritual good of general confessions and holy communion, in the space of the past month alone. I have counted more than eight hundred. This Lent I hope we will be able to do even more. We give the hospital a pistole and a half every month for the sick we send there. Since among them around eighty are sicker than the others, we give them soup, bread, and some meat. [13]

The visitor sent by Monsieur Vincent passed through Bar-le-Duc in July 1640. He sent this report:

First, every week our missionaries give some linens, especially shirts, to many poor. The missionaries collect the old ones to have them cleaned, so they can be given to others, or to be cut into bandages for the wounded or the ulcerous.

Second, they themselves take care of some persons suffering from a scalp disorder. There used to be about twenty-five, but only about twelve are now sick of this ailment. This disease is common throughout Lorraine, in all the other cities of the province. They are well taken care of, and an effective medicine had been found which our brothers have bought.

In the third place, our priests here spend a large amount to help peasants on the move. Our missionaries in Nancy, Toul, and other places often meet whole groups of peasants whom they help to reach France, since this town is a gateway to the kingdom. The priests give them food and some money for their journey. [14]

Of the two priests who worked in Bar-le-Duc, one died from his exertions, and the other became grievously sick. Father Roussel, the rector of Jesuit college where the priests stayed, wrote to Monsieur Vincent in 1640:

You have heard of the death of Monsieur de Montevit, whom you sent here. [15] He suffered much from his lengthy sickness, but I can truly say I have never seen such great patience and more resignation than I did with him. We never heard him say the least word that showed the least impatience. All his speech reflected a rare piety. His doctor said he had never treated a sick person more obedient and simple than this man. He received communion often during his illness, including the two times he received communion under the form of viaticum. His agony, which lasted eight days altogether, did not prevent him from receiving extreme unction with full awareness. He relaxed when he received this sacrament, but lost consciousness immediately after. Finally he died as I would wish to die, and as I ask of God.

The two chapters of the city joined the funeral procession, as did the Augustinian Fathers, but the greatest honor of his burial was the seven hundred poor who accompanied his body to the grave, each with a candle in his hand. Most of them wept as if they were burying their own father. The poor owed him this tribute, for he had contracted his illness in treating them, and in alleviating their sufferings. He was ever among them, and breathed no other air but the tainted air of this sickness. He heard confessions with such devotion, morning and afternoon, that I could never prevail upon him to take a day off. He was buried near the confessional where he caught his sickness, and where he gathered the beautiful bouquet of merits he now enjoys in heaven.

Two days before his death his companion fell sick with a high fever which put him in danger of death for eight days. He has recovered and is now well. His sickness came from overwork, and too much attention to the poor. On Christmas Eve he went twenty-four hours without eating or sleeping, leaving he confessional only to say mass. Your priests are docile and flexible in everything, except when it comes to taking advice about taking a bit of rest. They think their bodies are not flesh and blood, and that their whole life ought to be lived in a single year. The brother is a young man of exceptional piety. [16] He served the two sick priests with as great a patience and devotion as anyone could wish for. [17]

We will not speak of all the other villages, towns, and hamlets in Lorraine which received the same charitable help from Monsieur Vincent's missionaries. He could rightly be called, after God, the father of the poor, and the provider of this desolate province, for it would be too long and repetitious. We will cite only a letter from the authorities and members of the council of Luneville to Monsieur Vincent:

Monsieur, for the several years this city has been stricken with the plague, war, and famine, which have reduced it to the extremity in which it now is. In that time, we have received nothing but hardships from those from whom we expected to receive help, and cruelty from the soldiers, who have taken by force the little bit of grain we had. It seemed that heaven had only punishment reserved for us until your sons in our Lord arrived here with their alms. They greatly relieved the effects of the ills we suffered, and rekindled our hope in the mercy of God. Since our sins provoked his anger, we humbly kiss the hand which punishes us, and receive with sentiments of extraordinary thanksgiving the gifts of his divine goodness. We bless those instruments of his infinite mercy, and those who have helped us by their gracious charity, as well as those who contributed and those who distributed these alms. We bless you especially, Monsieur, whom we believe to be, after God, the principal author of the charity we have received. To say these alms will be well used in this poor place, where all have been brought low, is something your missionary can tell you better and with less bias than we can ourselves. He has seen our desolation. We acknowledge before God the eternal obligation we have incurred, by your having come to our aid in our sorry state. [18]

When the missionary who carried the alms to Lorraine returned to Paris, he reported to Monsieur Vincent and to the Ladies of Charity that a large number of noblewomen and others with no means of livelihood, nor relatives to help them, were greatly harassed by the officers of the garrison. This led Monsieur Vincent, who agreed with the Ladies of Charity, to instruct the missionary to bring to Paris all those women who wanted to come, to avoid the danger in which they were. When he announced this offer in the various towns he passed through, a large number came to take advantage of the opportunity. He had to choose those in greatest danger. He managed, over some time, to bring a hundred and sixty with him to Paris, all at his own expense. Several small children accompanied them. They were received at Saint Lazare, and placed in families as servants. Monsieur Vincent directed the young girls to the home of Mademoiselle le Gras. She made their presence known throughout the best families in Paris, so those who wanted chambermaids or servants might apply to her for their services. In this way they were placed in honorable positions, saved from the dangers to which, unhappily, they were exposed.

Besides those women and children, the missionaries in Lorraine arranged for several men and women to leave their region and find a new life in France. Most of these poor people came in droves to Paris, where they were welcomed and helped by Monsieur Vincent, both corporally and spiritually. To prepare them to make a good general confession and to live a Christian life he had them brought together in the town of La Chapelle, a half league from Paris, where he gave a mission in 1641. Other groups which came the following year were likewise given a mission, and both groups were helped to become established, and to find work in their trade. [19]

Among these refugees was a blood brother of a canon of Verdun. The canon had had to leave his cathedral church because it was unable to provide him with anything else but the bread of sorrow. Lately he had been forced to till the soil to have enough to live on, but the hard work and poor food had finally made him ill. He was no longer able to do anything, and would soon have died unless he received some help. He ended the letter he wrote to his brother with these words:

In truth, I do not know where to turn for help except to you, my brother, who have had the good fortune to fall into the hands of one of the saintliest and most charitable men of our unhappy times. By your intercession, I hope I may receive some help from Monsieur Vincent.

His hope was not misplaced, for the charitable father of the poor provided the help he needed in his extreme situation.

Among the many refugees in Paris were several nobles, and others of standing, even entire families. They were not accustomed to earning their living, and even less to asking for help, but they were to subsist without help. Monsieur Vincent undertook to help them, not with the alms destined for the poor of Lorraine which he sent faithfully to the thousands of poor still there, but by another organization which God inspired him to form. He gathered several lords and other people of substance living in Paris, whom he brought together once a month at Saint Lazare. He took up a collection, to which he also contributed, to amass a great enough sum to support these distressed nobles. Each month he distributed alms according the number and needs of the people in each family, and this continued for seven or eight years. We will say only a word in passing about this, for we have already spoken of this enough in Book One. [20]

Several other persons of all classes came from time to time to Paris from Lorraine of their own accord to seek help from Monsieur Vincent. He became known as the universal refuge of this poor region. Father Pierre Fournier, the rector of the Jesuit College in Nancy, said in a letter written in 1643:

Your charity is so great that everyone has recourse to you. You are regarded here as the asylum of the needy poor. This is why some have come to me, so that I could recommend them to you, and so that they too could experience your goodness. There are two here now whose virtue and character recommend them to your charitable favor. [21]

A missionary at Saint Mihiel came across fourteen Benedictine nuns who had come from Rambervilliers in the hope of re-establishing themselves. Because of the extreme famine, however, they were not able to do so. Upon the advice of Monsieur Vincent and the Ladies of Charity the missionary brought them to Paris for help. God permitted, in time, that they settled in the faubourg Saint Germain, where they have since remained. From that time on they spread abroad the good odor of their saintly lives, to the great edification, not only of the faubourg, but of the entire city of Paris. They later took the name of Religious of the Blessed Sacrament.

The distribution of bread, soup, and meat ended in Lorraine in 1643. Monsieur Vincent recalled most of the missionaries he had sent, since few sick persons remained, and the poor had received some relief from the oppression of the soldiers. The peasants were able once again to take up their ordinary work. The alms did not completely stop, but continued for five or six years for the help of the most unfortunate. Monsieur Vincent saw to it that these alms were distributed in most of the other towns of Lorraine, such as Chateau-Salins, Dieuze, Marsal, Moyen-Vic, Epinal, Remiremont, Mirecourt, Chatel sur Moselle, Stenay, and Rambervilliers. By this means large sums helped not only a great number of the bashful poor, the ruined middle class, and the noble families who, unable to liquidate their wealth, were in a deplorable state, but also all the religious communities of men and women. These funds were given yearly, depending on the needs of each house. Some received three or four hundred livres each quarter, and others five or six hundred, depending on the number of persons involved and their needs. The missionary assigned to distribute alms obtained a receipt from each house for the alms given. [22]

Besides these sums, more than four thousand bolts of cloth were bought in Paris and brought to these ruined cities for the benefit of the poor religious, both men and women, the poor nobility, and several other persons and even entire families covered only in rags. The queen herself was so touched by their pitiable sight that she sent the funeral tapestries and cloths after the death of the late king, and the Duchess d'Aiguillon did the same.

The religious houses were given entire bolts of cloth to enable the members to sew their own habits. Those who lacked them received veils and shoes. Usually around a hundred persons, men and women, boys and girls, were brought back from each trip into the provinces. We should remark that these distributions of money and clothes continued for nine or ten years. This happened not only in the towns of Lorraine, as we have already said, but upon orders of the queen and under Monsieur Vincent's direction, in several other devastated towns conquered by the king's armies. Among these were Arras, Bapaume, Hesdin, Landrecies, and Gravelines. The priest assigned to distribute alms went from one parish to another and from house to house. He was accompanied by the pastor or some other cleric assigned by him to help distribute these clothes and money according to the needs of each, so as not to be deceived about those most in need of help.

The sums distributed in the two regions of Lorraine and Artois came to one hundred fifty or sixty thousand livres, for the relief of the extreme poverty of twenty-five towns and surrounding areas, and of a great number of other smaller villages and hamlets. This undoubtedly was an effect of the infinite love of God with which the heart of Monsieur Vincent was so filled, especially in favor of the most afflicted of the people. It was shared by the late king and the queen, and by others of standing and virtue, and particularly by the Ladies of Charity of the city of Paris whom he had brought together for these great enterprises. All these persons were inflamed by the divine fire burning in the heart and words of this saintly priest, and provided him with the alms to be distributed under his care. He used his missionaries for this purpose, following in everything the suggestions made by these Ladies of Charity in their meetings, or the orders from the queen, so that all would be done in keeping with the intentions of the donors.

The fruits of these alms were, as we have seen:

  1. To preserve the life, and restore health to an almost infinite number of persons made listless and discouraged by hunger, cold, nakedness, and other miseries.
  2. The instruction of many, preparing them to receive worthily the sacraments and to lead a good life.
  3. Help to the dying to enable them to die well, in the grace of God.
  4. To rescue from a shameful lot a large number of young women reduced to extremity by their pitiable condition.
  5. To enable several religious communities to preserve their cloister, their vows, and their rules, and to continue the sacred liturgy in their houses, for without external help most would have been forced to wander among the people, seeking to preserve their lives with great danger to their conscience.

We learn this from several of their letters, but it would weary the reader to report all this in detail. What has already been said will suffice to give as much information as needed.

We will add only one additional extraordinary piece of information among several others which God permitted in the carrying of large sums of money in both Lorraine and Artois. This had to do with the brother [23] who made more than fifty trips, carrying up to twenty-five or thirty thousand livres of gold, never having it stolen, although he had to cross through areas frequented by many soldiers, and had to avoid many robbers. He even managed to escape several times while traveling in a group that was attacked. Traveling with others on another occasion, he fortunately, by a secret design of divine Providence, became separated from them, for they were immediately afterward robbed, while he suffered no such indignity. Several times also he would go through a wooded area filled with robbers or wandering soldiers. As soon as he heard them or saw them coming he threw into the bushes his wallet, which ordinarily he carried in a beggar's pouch, and then walked fearlessly right through them. Sometimes they searched him. When they found nothing, they allowed him to go on his way, but of course, as soon as they left, he would return to find the wallet he had tossed into the bushes.

One evening, meeting some robbers, they took him into the woods to frighten him. When they found nothing on him, they still held him for fifty pistoles ransom. He replied that if he had fifty livres he could not buy back even a Lorraine cow. He was let go.

On another encounter with some Croatians [24] in open country he had time only to slip off his beggar's pouch and to cover it with some weeds, leaving only a few sticks to mark the spot. He returned at night to find his money, but was able to locate it only the next morning. In sum, God gave him a cleverness, and favored him with a special protection, either to avoid the robbers, or to escape from them when he was taken. Even the queen was delighted to hear of his adventures, and several times had him recount his experiences and the simple stratagems he used in avoiding difficulties. For his part, he always attributed his good fortune to God's protection of him, and because of his faith and the prayers of Monsieur Vincent.


  1. Exod 32:11-12.
  2. Francis du Coudray and Philippe Ignace Boucher, missionaries stationed at Toul, gathered forty poor persons into their own, and the helped 150 outside of the city. Vincent feared that the missionaries would succumb under the weight of their labors both physically and financially. He wrote to them to preserve both themselves and their resources. De Coudray responded: "Monsieur, either send me help, recall me, or leave me to die among the poor." See CED I:553-55.
  3. Also spelled Saint Mihiel.
  4. CED II, 131-32.
  5. CED II:216.
  6. CED II:37.
  7. CED II:145.
  8. CED II:24.
  9. CED II:35.
  10. Jean Dehorgny
  11. CED II:58-59.
  12. CED II:369-70.
  13. CED II:21.
  14. CED II:59-60.
  15. Germain de Montevit, born at Cambernon, near Coutances. He was already a priest when he entered the Congregation at age twenty-six on April 19, 1638.
  16. David Levasseur.
  17. CED II:23-24.
  18. CED II:257-58.
  19. The people of Paris marveled at this charity and said: "Monsieur Vincent must be from Lorraine himself, since he does so much good for the poor people there." Yet his charity also extended to Paris, where each day the poor came to receive bread.
  20. Ch. 35.
  21. CED II:365.
  22. Brother Matthew Renard was almost always in charge of these distributions. More than fifty of these receipts dating from February 1647 still exist. Saint Vincent later praised the admirable devotion of this brother.
  23. Brother Matthew Renard. He was born at Brienne-le-Chateau in the diocese of Troyes. He gave his account of his work at the request of Saint Vincent's successor, Rene Almeras, in view of the hoped-for canonization of the founder. Brother Renard always attributed his own safety and the incredible success of his mission to the prayers and merits of Vincent de Paul. Brother Renard died at Saint Lazare, October 5, 1669.
  24. Members of the Croatian regiment in the French army.

This page:
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Eleven/Section One
Help Given to Lorraine

Index of
Abelly: Book Two/Chapter Eleven

Index of:
Abelly: Book Two