Vincentian Paris

From VincentWiki

The city of Paris with its surrounding villages was the center of Vincent de Paul's life from about 1610 to his death in 1660.

Since his involvement with the city was so rich and varied, the material in this section fails into three major sections, reflecting the three major parts of the city: Left Bank, the Islands, and the Right Bank.

Within each section, the materials are divided by arrondissements, the present-day urban arrangement of Paris districts. The numbering of the arrondissements begins at the center of the city, on the island, Ile de la Cite', and generally spirals away in a clockwise direction.

The city is further divided into smaller traditional neighborhoods, mentioned here only in passing. At the end are some notes on suburban locations.

Left Bank


Motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission

(New Saint Lazare) (95, rue de Sevres, Paris 6)

As far as is known, Saint Vincent de Paul was never in the present motherhouse of the Congregation of the Mission. He may have seen it, inasmuch as he worked in the area. This present large house has sometimes been called the new Saint Lazare. It replaced the former Saint Lazare, closed after the infamous sack that took place during the night and early morning of 13 July 1789, the eve of the taking of the Bastille. During this disaster, the Superior General, Jean Félix Cayla de la Garde (1788-1800), fled for his life by climbing over the garden wall. He later hid out in France, and then took refuge in the Palatinate (a region in modern Germany), and later in Rome, where he died. The revolutionary government then abolished all religious congregations in France, declared their vows null, and seized their properties.

A decree from Napoleon, dated 24 May 1804, re-established the Congregation of the Mission. Dominique Hanon (1757-1816), the French Vicar General from 1807 to his death, had much to suffer, since Napoleon suppressed the Congregation anew on 26 September 1809. Hanon was imprisoned from May 1811 until 13 April 1814. The Congregation re-established 3 February 1816, had to wait until the election of Charles Verbert (1752-1819) as vicar general to get a house from the government of Louis XVIII.

As compensation for the loss of the original Saint Lazare, the Vincentians took possession of the former Hotel (or city residence) of the Duke of Lorges. The state had acquired this house for the Congregation's use from the hospital across the street, which gained it at the Revolution. The Congregation became lodgers (the government owned the property, the Congregation had use of it), and the house opened on 9 November 1817.

At the time, the house, 95, rue de Sevres, included: (1) a three-story main house, with courtyard and garden; (2) a two-story section looking out on Rue de Sevres joined to the main house by two side buildings, one story each, used as stables, storehouse, and hay barn; (3) a one-story wing situated where the present refectory is located. The community moved in as best it could into cramped quarters. Jean-Baptiste Étienne (1801-1874), a seminarian at the time, recalled: "It was the stable of Bethlehem." The oldest part of the building dates from 1685-1688.

On 17 August 1826, the vicar general, Charles Boujard (1752-1831), laid the cornerstone of the chapel. Previously, there had been only a tiny and unsuitable oratory. To build the chapel, the Congregation acquired wing of the old Hotel de Lorges and half of the adjoining house were demolished to make way for the chapel. Then, during the generalate of Pierre de Wailly (1827-]828), construction on the chapel continued, and the archbishop of Paris, Hyacinthe de Quelen, blessed it on 1 November 1827. The chapel itself followed the designs of the seminary at Amiens. Little by little, the community acquired important properties. In 1835 it acquired numbers 92, 94, and 96, rue de Cherche-Midi, located at the back of the present property, and in 1875, number 90.

Above the chapel were built the rooms in Corridor Saint Matthieu and the dormitory for the Novitiate. Father Etienne, then superior general, undertook the construction of the present refectory, the prayer hall, a large number of rooms in Corridor Saint Marc, and an oratory for the novices. Always careful about the beauty of the chapel, he had the main altar built, with its two staircases leading up to the casket of Saint Vincent. Then, in 1857, because of the needs of the ever-increasing community, he bought the property at 97, rue de Sevres, and built another wing on that land. Next, in 1864, he constructed the right-hand wing of the main entry courtyard, and side aisles for the chapel now grown too small. At that same time, the facade of the central building was rebuilt, and a bell tower added, to announce the Congregation to its neighbors. The last section bought was 93, rue de Sevres built by the zealous superior general as lodgings for retreatants and Vincentians passing through. In forty years, this new Saint Lazare had become again a "place of resurrection,” as Saint Vincent described the original Saint Lazare to his confreres. (Conference 9)

On the occasion of Father Etienne's jubilee, Eugene Vicart, his first assistant general for many years, could say, with some triumphalism: "We love to look on you as our second founder, and if this title is ever questioned, if one day the Company forgets what it owes you, may the stones themselves cry out and accuse us of ingratitude.

The house contains many souvenirs of Vincent de Paul. The most noteworthy, of course, is the silver reliquary containing his remains, and placed over the main altar in a solemn ceremony in 1830. His body is not incorrupt. Although the skeleton has been hidden or transferred several times because of wars, revolutions, and religious celebrations (the latest in 1960), it has been preserved. Wax covers the face and hands. The crucifix in his hands is the one he used when assisting King Louis XIII on his deathbed. This precious souvenir passed down through the royal family, and then to the Archdiocese of Paris. At the time of the translation of the relics in 1830, the then archbishop of Paris and his canons gave it to the Congregation to be used as it is today.

Other items of great importance are the tombs of Saint Jean Gabriel Perboyre (1802-1840), canonized in 1996; Blessed Francis Regis Clet (1748-1820), like Perboyre a martyr in China; led his and Jean Baptiste Etienne, superior general from 1843 to 1874. The extraordinary cult of personality attached to the latter confreres to move his body from the Montparnasse cemetery to a tomb in the center of the chapel, surrounded by the remains of the founder and two martyrs, as well as by his confreres at prayer. The remains of the two martyrs were transferred for safekeeping to the Vincentian house in Liege, Belgium, from 1907 to 1919, thus avoiding complications arising from the anti-clerical laws then in force in France and the first World War.

A major side chapel is dedicated to the Passion of Jesus. Built in the time of Father Etienne, it commemorates two similar devotions: the "Scapular of the Passion of Our Lord and of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary" (the Red Scapular), and the Archconfraternity of the Holy Agony of Our Lord. The first developed through the experiences of Sister Appoline Andriveau (1833-1895), a Daughter of Charity. The second was popularized through the adjoining property, 5 July 1826. Next the left devotion of a Vincentian, Antoine Nicolle (1817-1890). Shrines to honor the suffering of Jesus in the Garden of Olives are characteristic of many older Vincentian churches.

The tribune of the chapel, reached from inside the building, features some side altars and confessionals, but the main items of interest are the eight large canvases painted by Brother François Charbonnier (1787-1873). He was a trained artist at the time of his entry into the Congregation, having studied at the studio of the painter Ingres. His paintings are displayed in several other places in the building. The small organ, built by the renowned Cavaille-Coll, was completed in 1864, and is a registered historical object. Power used to be supplied by manual pumping, but the instrument is now electrified.

The Salle des Reliques (Musee Vincentien), displays many items used by Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and the saints and some of the blesseds and other members of the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity. Most noteworthy is a miniature painting of Saint Vincent, one of the very few authentic likenesses of him painted during his life. Another original, or perhaps an early copy, is found in the sacristy of the main chapel. It is the first in a series of portraits of the superiors general which Brother Charbonnier painted.

The long narrow building at the back of the property began as the Seminary of Saint Vincent de Paul, in 1899. Its first superior was Fernand Portal (1855-1926). He had entered the Vincentians in Paris, hoping to go to China as a missionary. During his studies, his health deteriorated, so after his ordination in 1880, his career turned to seminary teaching. He met Charles Lindley Wood, Lord Halifax (1839-1934), an Anglican, on the island of Madeira where both had gone for their health. They worked to increase contact and understanding between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, and pursued the historical issues separating them. Portal had to suspend his work, but his interests continued. He made this seminary a center for contacts among Catholics, Anglicans and Protestants. He was silenced by Rome in 1908 and left his post. His interests continued and he and Halifax planned ecumenical dialogues on a more official level. With Rome's permission, Cardinal Mercier of Malines, Belgium, sponsored these "Malines Conversations" from 1921 to 1925. Both Portal and the cardinal died in 1926, and such conversations were put on hold until the era of Vatican II. The seminary buildings are divided between provincial offices and a hotel. (88, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris 6)

Original Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity

(1 801-1815) (II, rue du Vieux Colombier, Paris 6)

This motherhouse of the Daughters in the parish of Saint Sulpice had since 1680 heen a parish orphanage for girls. The motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity, previously located across the street from Saint Lazare, was confiscated at the time of the Revolution, and soon became inhabitable. From 1797 to 1801, "Citizeness" Deleau, the mother general, found a small lodging where she gathered together a few postulants and other sisters. In 1797, while living in that narrow street, she was able to buy back the coffin and remains of Louise de Marillac, which she then hid in the basement of a house not far from the pre-Revolutionary motherhouse. After the official ecclesiastical recognition of the remains, she brought them to those temporary quarters. (15, rue des Macons Sorbonne, now Rue Chairipolliort. Paris 6) Later, in 1801, the state gave the Daughters of Charity in recompense a new establishment on rue du Vieux Colombier.

Some dates in its history:

  • 1801: The statue of Our Lady of the Missions, hidden with a family near the old motherhouse, is brought here and erected in the garden.
  • 1802: Body of Louise de Marillac is transferred here, 4 March. Rosalie Rendu enters, 25 May.
  • 1804: Pope Pius VII, exiled by Napoleon, visits the house, 23 December, the same day he visited the church of Saint Sulpice.
  • 1805: The Sisters are permitted to begin wearing the habit again. On this occasion, CardinalFesch, the uncle of Napoleon, celebrates mass here, attended by Napoleon's mother.
  • 1806: François Brunet (1731-1806), vicar general of the Congregation (there was no superior general at the time), retires and dies. He entrusts the body of Vincent de Paul to the sisters, 18 July.
  • 1807: The French government assigns this house to the Congregation of the Mission as its motherhouse. (Napoleon suppressed the congregation for a second time, however, 26 September 1809, and it was re-established only 3 February 1816.)
  • 1809: The remains of Louise de Marillac are brought to the house.

1813: The decree giving the sisters their present house on the Rue du Bac is signed; construction begins on a chapel and main building.

  • 1815: On 25 March, Napoleon signs the act officially granting the sisters the Hotel de Chatillon, their present motherhouse. The chapel is finished and the sisters move in, bringing with them the remains of Saints Vincent and Louise.

The building is now a firehouse. Inside is an old courtyard (visible from a side street) with a curious staircase.

Not far away lived Dominique Hanon, at the time the vicar general of the Congregation in France. He was arrested there suddenly on 29 October 1809 as a result of the decree of Napoleon suppressing the Congregation for the second time. Hanon was then imprisoned, and regained his liberty only in 1814. (25, rue du Cherche-Midi, Paris 6)

Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity

(140, rue du Bac, Paris 7


The present motherhouse is located on the Rue du Bac. This street was laid out in 1563 and took its name from the ferry (bac) which brought stones quarried on the left bank to be moved across the river to build the Tuileries Palace, now destroyed.

When the former motherhouse, on rue de Vieux Colombier, grew too cramped for the Daughters of Charity and had been given to the Congregation of the Mission, the state chose the former Hotel de la Valliere (later called Hotel de Chatillon) to replace it.

The earliest buildings (now thc refectory and offices above) had been built after 1681 by the marquis de Lassay on property formerly belonging to the Hospital of the Incurables. The duke of la Valliere acquired the property in 1766, and moved its main entrance from rue de Sevres to rue du Bac. His daughter, the Duchess of Chatillon, inherited it, but the state seized it at the Revolution. Since 1815 it has become the nucleus of the Daughters of Charity. The chapel was blessed on 6 August 1816.

The remains of Louise de Marillac had been transferred on 29 June 1815, and were placed in the floor of the new chapel in 1824. The novice sister, Catherine Labouré (1806-1876), had visionary experiences here (1830). As a result, the chapel was enlarged (1849,1930), and has become world famous as a pilgrimage center to Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. Other buildings were added in the 19th century. Another novice sister, Justine Bisqueyburu (18l7-l903), experienced visions during her novitiate here. These led eventually to the devotion of the Green Scapular honoring the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She had these visions in front of the altar where the medieval statue, Our Lady of the Missions, was placed.

In the main chapel are kept the bodies of Louise de Marillac and Catherine Labouré, as well as the heart of Saint Vincent enclosed in a reliquary above the right side altar. The previous reliquary, made at the initiative of the Duchess of Aiguillon, one of his most important benefactors, has been removed because of its fragile state. The body of Saint Vincent was kept in this chapel from 1815 until its solemn transfer ("Translation"), via the cathedral, to the Vincentian motherhouse, 25 April 1830. His body, however, was secretly returned to the motherhouse and kept hidden in a cellar during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. It was then secretly placed under the protection of the American embassy, which declared it the property of an American Daughter of Charity. She kept it from April to July 1871, but then restored it again to its rightful place. His body last traveled in 1960, visiting Notre Dame Cathedral once again, to mark the tercentenary of his death.

There are several special features of this chapel:

(1) The fresco over the main altar, recalling the first vision of Catherine Labouré, 18-19 July 1830; below is the text: "Come to the foot of this altar where graces will be showered on to all." (2) The statue, Virgo Potens, coming from the visions of 27 September. The Blessed Virgin holds a globe surmounted by a small cross. Inside the globe are kept the names of the provinces of the Company. Below lies the body of Saint Catherine Labouré clothed in the [habit]] used by the Daughters of Charity until 1964. Her remains were brought here in 1933. Her hands have been removed, replaced by wax models. Her face, also in wax, depicts her as a young woman. (3) The main altar, with another large statue of Mary based on the Bouchardon statue predating the medal. It was used as the model for the medal, on the orders of the archbishop of Paris. Above is the text: "0 Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you. (4) The body of Saint Louise de Marillac lies exposed in a glass coffin over a side altar. Above the altar is a mosaic demonstrating the saint's devotion to the Holy Spirit and the Passion of Christ. The text in gold letters is her spiritual testament to the Daughters of Charity: "Take good care of the service of the poor. Above all, live together in great union and cordiality, loving one another in imitation of the union and life of Our Lord. Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she may be your only Mother." Her body is not incorrupt; her face and hands are modeled in wax to give a life-like appearance. A stone inscription in the center aisle marks where her body had been interred until its last transfer. (5) Nearby is a plaque commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II, 31 May 1980, after the renovation of the chapel. (6) On both sides of the sanctuary are circular stone medallions recalling the martyrdom of Daughters of Charity at Cambrai and Angers during the French Revolution.

Within the large property are other buildings which served at one point in the 19th century as the seminary (novitiate, built 1843-1845) for as many as 600 sisters at a time. The Superioress General and her council live here. Part of the property has been given to the city of Paris for a park, entered from Rue de Babylone. It is named in honor of Catherine Labouré.

In 1879 it became known that the Daughters of Charity were not the property owners, but had received the grounds from the State. In the anti-religious spirit of the time, some wanted to expel them. The case dragged on until the end of the century, when the Sisters were left finally in possession of the property.

Church of Saint Etienne du Mont

(Place Sainte Genevieve, Paris 5)

Many historic events are gathered around Sainte Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. She was born about 420 in Nanterre became a consecrated virgin and, at the death of her parents, lived on the hill that now bears her name. The people attributed the safety of the city to her prayers during a siege by Attila in 451. She died about 496.

The abbey of Sainte Genevieve was located on the Sainte Genevieve Hill in Paris. This abbey, dating from the 6th century, was founded under King Clovis. He wished to be buried here with his queen and near Genevieve, who had been his friend and advisor. An abbey not of monks but of canons regular, it was demolished at various times, but some remaining parts have been incorporated into a school, the Lycee Henry IV. The most visible element is its imposing tower. The contents of its ancient library were transferred to the nearby Sainte Genevieve Library.

The church of Saint Etienne du Mont was built for abbey servants and for others living in the area, and was independent of the abbey. The current building and bell tower were begun in 1492, but were consecrated only in 1626 by Sean Francois de Gondi. The style is "Flamboyant" Gothic, very rich in its decoration, and already old fashioned when completed. It also includes many Renaissance elements, mainly its decoration. The hanging keystones are noteworthy. The facade is very beautiful, unique in Paris.

The church was restored in 1862 after the madness of the Revolution. Next to the church, which served university students in particular, was a cemetery, but the remains have been moved to the Paris catacombs. Inside the church are buried some important figures, particularly Cardinal de Ia Rochefoucauld (whom Vincent assisted on his deathbed in the abbey itself), the philosopher-scientist-theologian Blaise Pascal, and the dramatist Jean Racine. During his enforced exile Pius VII made one of his visits here for mass on 10 January 1805.

The church contains several elements of interest:

(1) The reliquary of Sainte Genevieve. Her relics were often removed from the church to be carried in procession around the city, particularly in time of plague or war, such as in 1652 during the civil war known as the Fronde. The stained glass windows recount some of this history. Her remains were destroyed in the Revolution.

(2) The altar screen, called jube, a name taken from the Latin liturgical formula: Jube, Doimine, benedicere (Give, Lord, a blessing). In early times, the scripture lessons were read from the lube', and sermons were preached from it. Pulpits systematically replaced jubes in the 16th and 17th centuries. This altar screen was finished in 1545, and it is the only jube' remaining in Paris, and one of the few in France.

(3) The woodwork, particularly the organ case, dating from 1630, and the pulpit, dating from 1650.

(4) The memorials to the founders of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul in the Saint Vincent chapel. The Society was founded in this parish (as noted below, although the first regular meeting was held in the parish of Saint Sulpice). The painting of Saint Vincent is said to be by Simon Francois.

(5) Another painting, that of the nine choirs of angels, came from the former chapel of the original Saint Lazare. Louis Abelly (1604-1 691), Vincent's first biographer, commissioned it in 1679, and it conforms with his theological writing on the subject. Abelly himself was buried in the Holy Angels chapel at Saint Lazare.

(6) In the first stained glass window of the former cloister, reached from the behind the main altar, is depicted a famous legend with serious anti-Semitic overtones. In 1290, a woman is supposed to have been accused of having received Communion at the church of Saint Merry, and then selling the host to a Jew, Jonathan. He then pierced it with a knife, nailed it to his hearth, pierced it with a lance, and boiled it. Each time the host began to bleed, and an image of the crucified Savior appeared over it. The woman returned the host to the bishop, and who kept it in a reliquary at another church in Paris. It disappeared after the Revolution. Jonathan was supposedly burned at the stake. The other windows in this old cloister date from the 16th and 17th centuries, and continue the rich theological symbolism of the middle ages. The windows are the finest in Paris after those of the Sainte Chapelle.

Both Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac lived near here for some ten years, and certainly came here to pray, as did Francis de Sales during his student days in this area of the University of Paris, called the Latin Quarter. A Confraternity of Charity existed here from an early date (late 1636 or early 1637), and the Daughters of Charity worked for it beginning about 1640. Saint Vincent called Sainte Genevieve a model for the Daughters, inasmuch as both she and they were good country girls. (Conference 13, 25 January 1643)

The monks of the adjacent Saint Genevieve abbey did not favor Vincent's being at Saint Lazare. In 1658 one of the monks let it slip to a Vincentian relative of his that the monastery would wait until Vincent's death to try to get hold of the Saint Lazare property. Vincent felt some anxiety about securing his title to it. (Letter 2650) At the same period he related in a conference that two monks were killed in a conflict with the public authorities, who had tried to gain entrance to put an end to some disorders. Vincent drew the conclusion that if the monks had kept religious silence and not become involved with secular affairs, their scandalous deaths would never have occurred. (Conference 190)

In the great square in front of the former abbey and the present church stood the College de Montaigu. Such luminaries as Ignatius Loyola, John Calvin and Desiderius Erasmus studied here. Today, in its place, stands the Pantheon. Louis XV had decided to build the Pantheon to replace the dilapidated church of Saint Etienne du Mont as a votive offering for his recovery to health. He secured the land, raised the flinds, and began to build in 1755. It was not finished at his death in 1780, but was completed at the beginning of the Revolution. The National Assembly decided to turn it into a mausoleum for French persons noteworthy for their talents, virtues and services to the nation. The term Pantheon ("of all the gods" in Greek) echoes a similar building in Rome. (8 place de Pantheon, Paris 5)

Napoleon had the Pantheon changed back into a church, but it was switched back again to its present usage - not a church but a mausoleum. In its crypt are buried a few heroes, such as: Francois Marie oltaire, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Jean Jaure's, Pierre and Marie Curie and Andre' Malraux. Its dome, one of several in Paris, dominates the skyline. Interior decoration features paintings of French heroes. Among these is pictured Vincent de Paul.

The road leading up to the Pantheon, Rue Soufflot, between Boulevard Saint Michel and Rue Saint Jacques, marks the site of an ancient Roman forum. This complex contained a temple, public spaces and shops. It was first discovered in the 19th century; more work was done in 1971. Nothing can be seen of it above ground, however.

Although it is difficult to be precise, two homes of Louise de Marillac were located nearby. Probably after her husband's death she moved to Rue Saint Victor (1626-1631, now at 43, rue du Cardinal Lemoine), and then to Rue de Versailles (1632-1636), in the parish of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet. It was here (now 21, rue du Monge) that she brought together the four or five young village girls for the first time on 29 November 1633--thus founding the Daughters of Charity. This parish has the honor of having the first house of the Daughters of Charity. It is clear that Marguerite Naseau, the first Daughter of Charity, served in the parish of Saint Etienne du Mont.

Ile-de-la-Cite, Ile-Saint-Louis


Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris

(Notre Dame de Paris), Hotel Dieu

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris stands on the site of a Gallo-Roman temple and two earlier Christian churches. The main facade was completed in 1250, but was heavily restored in the 19th century to repair the ravages of time and revolutionaries. A dark side chapel is dedicated to Saint Vincent (a marble statue depicts him holding a cross and book, not the infants characteristic of most French statues), and the monuments, in the back of the apse, to the Gondi family, four of whose members were bishops and archbishops of Paris in the days of Saint Vincent: Pierre (1533-1616), his nephew Henri (1572-1622), Henri's brother Jean Prancois (1584-1654) and Sean Francois's nephew Jean Francois Paul (1613-1679). Both Henri and Jean Francois Paul were cardinals, called the Cardinals of Retz, after a place in southern Brittany erected as a duchy-peerage in 1581.

Of Vincentian interest is that Saint Vincent visited here often between 1636 and 1658. One reason was because of the hospital, the Hotel Dieu, situated until 1878 to the south of the cathedral, where today there is an open space, and also across the river on the left bank. Its two sections were joined by two small bridges. (The present hospital, built 1867-1877 and also called the Hotel Dieu, is situated to the north of the cathedral.) The hospital is among the oldest in Europe, being founded by Saint Louis Ix, king of France. foundations can be seen in the archaeological exposition under. the cathedral square.

A second reason for Vincent's presence was that the Ladies of Charity of the Hotel Dieu used to assemble at the cathedral. Here they would attend mass and receive communion from the hands of Vincent de Paul, notably on the day of the election of officers. He did this since he oversaw in some inanner their voluntary service of the sick. This group of Ladies of Charity differed from others, who were parish-based, since the members specialized in only one work, that of care of the sick at this hospital. The members, most of noble families, gradually extended their interests to other kinds of specialized assistance which, because of their wealth and influence, they could assume. During the Fronde, a series of civil wars, he used to assemble the Ladies and celebrate mass for them here once a month. From 1634, the Ladies of Charity, and from 1634 or 1635, the Daughters of Charity, also worked here.

A third reason was that in July 1637 Vincent, one of its members of the Company of the Blessed Sacrament had ?emarked on the "large number of bad priests who were celebrating mass with great lack of propriety," especially at Notre Dame. Vincent eventually agreed to the confinement of these "vagabond and beggar priests" at Saint Lazare for a year, during which time they undoubtedly learned how to improve as priests.

Convent of the Visitation

(17, rue Saint Antoine, Paris 4)


The first monastery of the Visitation, founded by Saint Francis de Sales, began in 1621 in a small house on Rue du Petit Musc. It was enlarged in 1628, and opened on to the rue Saint Antoine, a street laid out by the ancient Romans. Its chapel, the only remaining building, was built between 1632 and 1634. It is one of the early buildings in French Baroque style designed by the famed architect Francois Mansart, and is the only intact building of his in Paris. During the construction, in 1633, Vincent arranged that certain priests who had recently made the ordination exercises give a mission to the workers. Their success led in some way to the foundation of the Tuesday Conferences.

Saint Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641) lived at this convent during her stay in Paris. As ecclesiastical superior of the Visitation convent in Paris, Vincent de Paul often came here to give conferences, preside at meetings, etc., from 1622 until his resignation, 18 March 1660, shortly before his death. He gave canonical testimony here (17 April 1628) concerning the cause of beatification of Francis de Sales. As their "spiritual father," as he said (Letter 2054) he sometimes refused permission to princesses to visit the nuns, an indication of his care for their spiritual well-being. King Louis XIII, however, had the right to visit, and did so often, as did his queen, Anne of Austria. Vincent also received regular financial reports, but generally left the fiscal management of the monastery to others.

At the convent school, many prominent girls attended, such as the nieces of Cardinal Mazarin. Their prank emptying their ink wells into the holy water fonts in the chapel is still recalled. Many noteworthy persons were buried here, including the brother bf Jane Frances, Andre' Fremiot, archbishop of Bourges. In 1737, at the time of Vincent's canonization, the first side chapel at the right of the entry was dedicated in his honor. The convent remained until 1790. A Protestant church since 1802, it has been nearly stripped of its former adornment. Its exterior remains virtually unchanged, however, and clearly points to its former use, with the AM monogram (Ave Maria) on the doors, and a heart pierced with arrows above the main door.

On the rue du Petit-Musc, on the west side of the convent, lived Noel Bruilart de SilIery (1577-1641). This wealthy knight and former Keeper of the Seals gradually gave up his former life, and under the direction of Vincent de Paul, began to live a charitable life, and was ordained a priest. A commander of the Knights of Malta, he was involved in many religious enterprises, among which was the building of the present chapel of the Visitation. He gave large gifts to the Congregation of the Mission, and was instrumental in the foundation of the house at Troycs. Saint Vincent assisted at his deathbed, and presided at his funeral in the Visitation chapel. Vincent recalled the commander's extraordinary meekness in a conference to his confreres: He had an ertreme affiction for the virtue of meekness on account of an incident he witnessed when he was counsel to the parlement He saw two of his brother lawyers fall to words and insults; and, seeing that their countenance was deformed, pale and frightful, he made this reflection: What! those whom Isaw with the faces of men I now behold transformed into beasts! They snarl, they foam, they treat each other like brutes! (Conference 202)

Church of Saint Lawrence

(68, boulevard Magenta, and 119, rue du Faubourg Saint Martin, Paris 10)

In 583, Gregory of Tours mentioned this church, begun as a chapel. This monastic church was near an old Roman road, now the Rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. An earlier church was taken down to be replaced by the present one, whose choir was dedicated in 1429. Only the old tower remains from the 12th century church. The 15th century monastery and parish church has been enlarged and reconstructed several times. During the revolutionary period, it was used as a Temple of Reason (1789), then a Temple of Old Age (1798). It was restored to the Catholic Church in 1802. The monastic enclosure was removed when the Boulevard Magenta was put through in the 19th century, and its neo-úGothic facade dates only from 1865.

This was the parish church of Vincent do Paul from 1632 to 1660, and of Louise de Marillac from 1641 to 1660. Although she had requested burial at Saint Lazare, Louise was buried in the chapel of the Visitation in this church, where she came to pray and to make her Easter Communion with the other sisters. Her remains were here for 95 years, until 1755, when her body was transferred to the motherhouse. Marking the spot is the simple wooden cross with the words Spes Unica, ["(Hail, 0 Cross, our) Only Hope"], the monument she requested in her will.

Several modem paintings and stained glass windows show Saint Vincent blessing Saint Louise and the first Daughters of Charity, and Saint Vincent performing works of mercy (galley convicts, slaves in Algiers, etc.) are modem. A small plaque also reads: "1660. Saint Vincent de Paul, founder of the priests of the Mission and of the Sisters of Charity, often visited the Church of Saint Lawrence, his parish church." On one of his many visits to Parisian churches during his enforced stay, Pius VII came to Saint Lawrence in 1804.

Nicholas de Lestocq (d. 1661), pastor of Saint Lawrence from 1627 to 1661, came with Adrien Le Bon (1577?-1651), the prior of Saint Lazare, to offer the property of Saint Lazare to Monsieur Vincent. After repeated and lengthy discussion and discernment, they succeeded. Since Vincent do Paul was ill and confined to his room, Lestocq assisted Louise on her deathbed and celebrated her funeral. He also would send confessors from the parish to the Daughters' motherhouse. A later pastor, Nicholas Gobillon (1626-1706), venerated Louise de Marillac, and wrote her first biography. To the right of the church is a small park, the Square Saint Laurent, which marks the site of part of the old parish cemetery. Many of the earliest Daughters of Charity were buried either here or near the chapel were Louise herself was interred. Their remains were removed and placed in the catacombs of Paris. Their removal was occasioned by public health concerns all through the city in the late 18th and early l9th centuries.

During the sack of Saint Lazare, revolutionaries burst into its house chapel. Finding a reliquary of Saint Vincent, four of them brought it reverently to Saint Lawrence for safekeeping. They returned to the task at hand--looting and pillaging.


Clichy is a suburb west of Paris, now part of the new diocese of Nanterre. "Garenne" is an old term referring to a restricted forest area which in feudal times was located here. Vincent de Paul was the resident pastor of the parish dedicated at that time to the Holy Savior and Saint Medard. The parish, located on the plain of the Seine river, was much larger in his day than today, reaching, for example, into the Batignolles district, now a part of Paris north of Montmartre. Clichy itself was mentioned in the 7th century, and in the saint's day the Catholic inhabitants numbered about 600, mainly poor devout peasants. He served here as pastor from 2 May 1612 (living, however, in Paris at least until December) to 1613. He succeeded Francois Bourgoing (1585-1662), who left to become one of the first French Oratorians. Vincent was nominated for Clichy through the support of Pierre de Berulle, founder of the Oratory in France. Bourgoing went to Lyons, and assisted the archbishop in his visitation of Chatillon in 1614. Vincent oversaw the reconstruction of the church building, an undertaking lasting until 1630.

Vincent also learned something from the good people of Clichy, as he related to his confreres in 1659: I will confess, to my shame, that when I found myself in my parish, I did not know how to set about chanting the Office. I listened with admiration to peasants intoning the Psalms, and not missing a single note Hereupon I said to myself: “you who are their spiritual father are ignorant of all that!” l was deeply distressed (Conference 213)

Vincent left Clichy in 1613 to become tutor and chaplain of the Gondi family in Paris. From that date, he followed the custom of the time and continued as nominal pastor until 1626, after the foundation of the Congregation of the Mission. During those thirteen years, he often returned to his parish preach and administer the sacraments, as was his right. He also received financial reports and a little income from his vicar, since he was still pastor. Even afterwards, he had a mission given here (1642) and paid other visits. It should be recalled that Vincent retained the pastorate of Clichy while he was pastor of Chatillon-lesú-Dombes.

The present parish church, the parish of Saint Vincent de Paul, adjoins the old church which the saint knew. The apse of the old church joins the left aisle of the modem church. The parish is now in a "missionary" situation, since many of the people in the area are either not practicing Catholics or are not Christians. (99, boulevard Jean-Jaures)

In or near the old church the following are noteworthy:

(1) The baptismal font at which the saint presided at baptisms; it bears the date 1612, and was certainly commissioned by him for the parish. (2) The pulpit is regarded as the one where he preached. (3) A crucifix which is said to have belonged to him is preserved at the left of the main altar in an alcove. (4) A statue of the saint in white marble, a work of the noted sculptor Alexandre Falguiere (1831-1900). (5) A plaque with the names of the founders of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, who came to the parish church to dedicate their work to the saint on 20 July 1834. (6) An old tree (now dead) in the garden, supposedly planted by the saint. (7) A mural painting of the saint in front of the church, to the left of the entry. The stained glass in the old church was destroyed in a hail storm on 11 July 1823. (8) A reliquary which used to contain bone from the saint's right arm. It has been stolen.

The new church, too, has interesting features:

(I) The stained glass windows, some of which depict scenes from his life not pictured elsewhere, such as his help during the 1652 flood of the Seine. It was particularly severe at Gennevilliers1 down river from Clichy. The depiction, however, is more symbolic than real, since Vincent did not actually come in a boat to distribute food in person. He sent his confreres instead. Another window depicts the first meeting of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac at the chateau of Clichy. This is a pious invention. (2) The modern picture of the saint, depicted as seated. His large charitable hands are a main feature of this canvas. (3) A modern statue of the saint, outside facing the street.

Of Vincent's parochial residence, it is said that noting remains since it had a different axis from the present one. In it, however, Vincent gathered some young clerics around him to help them in their formation. Among those was young Antoine Portail (1590-1660), about 20 years old, and destined to be the saint's earliest follower and pioneer member of the Congregation of the Mission. Vincent once rescued his young companion from the attacks of a violent character whose release from jail in Clichy Vincent had just arranged.

Vincent recalled his time in Clichy in a conference given to the Daughters of Charity (Conference 55, 27 July 1653): I was once a country parish priest. (Poor parish priest.) I had such good people who were so obedient in carrying out all that l asked them to do that when I told them that they should go to Confession on the first Sunday ofihe month, they never failed to go. They came to me and went to Confession and I saw from day to day how it profited these souls. This afforded me so much consolation and I was so happy about it that I used to say to myself "How happy you are to have such good people! " And I used to add: I think that the Pope himself is not as happy as a parish priest in the midst of such kind hearted fold." And one day His Eminence Cardinal de Retz asked me: "Well, Father, how are you?" I said to him: 'tram so happy, my lord, that l cannot express it.,, "Why?" "It is because I have such good people, so obedient to all that I tell them that I think to myself that neither the Holy Father nor you, My Lord, are as happy I as I am."

External Links

Vincentian Paris