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Toulouse is more than 2,000 years old. Originally founded by Celts, Toulouse was occupied by the Romans in 118 BC. the Gallo-Roman city was a center for the making and distribution of wine. The ancient city contained 25,000 inhabitants and had a theatre for 6,500 people. Today Toulouse has around 400,000 inhabitants.

The first bishop, Saint Sernin (Saturninus), died about 250, during the Decian persecution. A university existed in the city from its early centuries. The Visgoths conquered the city in 413 and made it their capital. The Franks conquered them in turn. Clovis, their first king, entered the city in 508. Charlemagne (Charles the Great) organized a dukedom at Toulouse, making it the base for his conquest of the north of Spain. He also founded the basilica of Saint Sernin, which Pope Urban II consecrated in 1096. The cathedral and its treasury are well worth a visit. Because of its importance, it is certain that the young theology student, Vincent de Paul, visited here to pray, and perhaps to celebrate Mass during the four years he lived here after his ordination.

Toulouse was also a center of planning for the First Crusade, to free Christian holy places in Palestine, as well as a center of Catharism, a heretical movement. Saint Dominic founded his order, the Order of Preachers, at the beginning of the thirteenth century and made Toulouse his headquarters. Toulouse had been relatively independent up to the end of the thirteenth century, but through marriage alliances it became French. In this period the Dominicans built their dramatic church to receive the relics of Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). Although he did not teach at Toulouse, Thomas' Dominican confreres sought to have his remains transferred to their main church. The Franciscans, too, built a church and convent, but only a few relics remain.

Unlike the majority of aspiring priests in his time, who studied privately, Vincent was able to do his theological studies at the University of Toulouse, probably between 1597 and 1605. It is difficult to be certain about the exact dates. He lived at Collège de Foix at least for the majority of his time. The name of the college (i.e., a residence) comes from Cardinal Pierre de Foix, who had it built and endowed between 1453 and 1457. This building still exists and is one of the finest and rarest examples of the local architecture of the fifteenth century. Fortunately, its appearance has not changed much since Vincent's day. It consists of a central court surrounded by a cloister, and especially by a rectangular building, the donjon. This section contained a renowned library, of which the vaulted ceiling alone remains in the present chapel. There were student rooms above. The original chapel at the side of the college was taken down in 1850. In his time, it received some 25 students of civil and canon law and theology, together with professors. The name of his college lives on the Rue du Collège de Foix. Today the Collège de Foix is the motherhouse of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Compassion, founded by Maurice Garrigou (1766-1852). This priest, known as the "Vincent de Paul of Toulouse," secured this property for his new congregation in 1817.

Pierre Coste recounts how disturbed the University of Toulouse was in Vincent's time. Thousands of students from many countries attended lectures there, and it is no wonder that troubles broke out. Not fortunate enough to secure a scholarship, Vincent had at least enough money to enable him to begin his studies. His father's will, dated 7 February 1598, asks that the family help Vincent continue them. He may also have spent some time at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, since it was not uncommon for students to travel and pick up information from famous lecturers when and where they could. It is likely that Vincent began his studies in Zaragoza and continued them in Toulouse.

Vincent was ordainted in 1600, in the midst of his studies, and expected to become a pastor shorty after. Since 1600 was a Holy Year, he also traveled to Rome, perhaps to ensure his appointment to the parish of Tilh. During that visit, he saw Pope Clement VIII, an event he recalled for the Daughters of Charity later in his life: I have seen a pope, it was Clement VIII, a very holy man, so holy indeed that even heretics used to say: Pope Clemente is a saint. He was so touched by God and had the gift of tears in such abundance that when he went up what is called the Holy Stairs, he bathed it in his tears (Conference 30). Toward the end of his time in Toulouse, Vincent took in students at Buzet. After about seven years of philosophical and theological studies, he received his degree of bachelor in theology, receiving the title of maître It is possible that he taught theology briefly at Toulouse, something his degree allowed. Other adventures then occurred in the life of this young priest.

Members of the Congregation of the Mission gave missions in the diocese of Toulouse beginning in 1632. However, the community was established in the city only from 1707, likewise to give missions. Funds for a house in Toulouse had been received at Saint Lazare in Paris in 1632, and Vincent looked for the opportunity to open a house from that time until his death. In 1752 the diocesan seminary was given to the care of the Vincentians. With the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1762, the seminary of the Mission was transferred to their former novitiate and house of continuing formation for their members. It lasted until the revolutionary period and closed in 1792. At that point it became a military installation, the Caserne de la Mission. Today it is a school, the Lycée P. Fermat, facing the Jacobins. Among the many Jesuits who made their novitiate here was Saint Jean François Regis (1595-1640), a missionary in Canada and namesake of the Vincentian martyr Francis Regis Clet.

The first Daughters of Charity came to Toulouse in 1789 to work in the Hôtel Dieu Saint Jacques. This splendid complex still stands next to the Pont Neuf, to which they returned in 1800. The Sisters also had several other houses here and continue their works. Vincentians returned in 1892, and the city is now the headquarters for the Vincentian province of Toulouse.

The first American Vincenians were the guests of the seminary toward the end of January 1816. They then moved on to Bordeaux, from where they embarked for the United States. This seminary has become the university library (Rue de Taur).

Category: Vincentian History]]