Lyons, France's second city in urban population (420,000), and its third after Marseilles, in area, has for centuries played a leading role in French life, including its ecclesiastical life. For example, its archbishop, styled the Primate of Gaul, enjoys precedence over all French bishops.
Vincent came here on various occasions. Two certain visits were in July and October 1617, concerning his acceptance and then his resignation of the parish of Châtillon-les-Dombes. He consulted the Oratorian superior. He certainly also passed through Lyons during one or more trips to Marseilles to visit the galleys.
A Vincentian house, however, did not exist in Lyons until after Vincent's death, altough he had planned to open one. The Congregation opened its Lyons foundation in 1668, and it remained until 1701. At approximately the same time as the opening of the house, the province of Lyons began. The Vincentians used the Lyons foundation as a residence for missionaries, a novitiate and scholasticate, as well as for the visitor (provincial superior) of Lyons. Many pre-Revolutionary confreres made their vows here, in particular, Blessed Francis Regis Clet, 18 March 1771. He may have celebrated his first Mass in the large chapel, but another tradition says it was at Valfleury. At the Revolution, of course, the Vincentians were expelled, and eventually the Brothers of the Christian Schools received the property. The property, once called the Pensionnat des Frères des Écoles Chrétiennes, keeps its original name on the exterior: Pensionnat des Lazaristes (24, montée St. Barthelémy). Presently, this has become part of the "Centre Scolaire aux Lazaristes," which name also appears on another part of the institution facing the cathedral (3, place Saint Jean). Regrettably, all references to Saint Vincent de Paul have been removed from the chapel.
One result of the arrival of the Vincentians was that the priests of the diocesan community of Saint Michael planned to join the Congregation of the Mission, 12 November 1669. The reason was that both groups were giving missions in the diocese, and it seemed better to unite in a common effort. Only one member, the founder, took vows as a Vincentian. His confreres, nevertheless, agreed to live as a group among the Vincentians and to follow their rules.
At the Revolution, various confreres were executed in Lyons. The city rose against the Convention in Paris and raised a self-defense force of some 20,000. Paris reacted and besieged the doomed city, which fell 9 October 1793. The Paris Committee of Public Safety decreed revenge against Lyons. One among the 2,000 citizen killed was Jean Baptist Nantas, the maternal uncle of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam.
Two Vincentians were also executed here in the aftermath. Louis Guinand, a professor at the Le Mans seminary, was guillotined on 16 January 1794, and Calude Leclerc, age 75, suffered the same fate on 24 February 1794. Other members of the house also suffered for their faith: Louis Verne, Antoine Imbert, Jean Antoine Martin, and André Chambovet. Another figure is the celebrated Antoine Adrien Lamourette (1724-1794). He had left the Congregation in 1785 and returned to his diocese. He took the constitutional oath and became the bishop of Rhône et Loire, that is, of Lyons, in 1791. As the deputy of Lyons, he gave a sensational address to the National Assembly (7 July 1792), in which he tried to reconcile its various factions who should have been united against foreign invaders. They agreed but quickly fell fack into factions. Their reconciliation was called a "Lamourette kiss,"that is, a hypocritical one. Unwittingly, the Congregation of the Mission has given a by-word to the French language. Lamourette protested against the September massacres, retracted his oath, suffered public humiliation in Lyons, and then was guillotined in Paris, 11 January 1794.
The cathedral of Lyons possessed the relic of the heart of Saint Vincent for 155 years. At the time of the Revolution, in 1792, some Vincentians and Daughters of Charity left Paris for Turin. Among their baggage was a collection of Vincent's correspondence, personal clothing and other relics. Hidden in a cavity in a very large volume of the lives of the saints was the reliquary of the saint's heart. The Vincentians in Turin kept this relic until 1805. At that date, Cardinal Joseph Fesch (1863-1839), Napoleon's uncle and archbishop of Lyons, demanded that this relic be returned to France. With great solemnity it was placed there that same year, and kept in the Saint Vincent de Paul chapel (now reserved for the Blessed Sacrament). In this chapel, a large painting by Charles Meynier (1768-1832) depicts Saint Vincent preaching to the Ladies of Charity on the care of the orphans. In 1953, Cardinal Gerlier returned the relic to the Daughters of Charity at the Rue du Bac, where it now remains. The original reliquary, however, is in the treasury of the cathedral.
After the Revolution, another Vincentian house began. Although used for some years, it was purchased only in 1873. Its main work was an apostolic school, but other works were carried on there as well. This continued until the universal expulsion of the congregations in 1903 (49, montée du Chemin Neuf). The Daughters of Chariity began their ministries with works of charity in 1670. Imprisoned and mistreated during the Revolution, the Sisters later returned and opened houses in many of the parishes of the city.
Another Vincentian figure in Lyons is Blessed Frédéric Ozanam (1813-1853). Although he was born in Milan, his family brought him back to their native place while he was still a child. He lived with his family on the third floor of an apartment building (5, rue Pizay). His parish church, Saint Pierre, is now a part of the Fine Arts Museum (Place das Terreaux). He received his early education at the Collège Royal, now the Lucée Ampère (Rue de la Bourse). In the church of Saint Bonaventure, (place des Cordeliers), at the age of seventeen, Ozanam consecrated his life to the service of God and others. He often wrote about the old chapel of Notre Dame dce Fourvière. Since the seventeenth century both the old and the new churches have been a place of pilgrimage and prayer, particularly during various epidemics. Ozanam's parents are buried at the cemetery of Layasse, just west of Fourvière. He married Marie Joséphine Amélie Soulacroix in the church of Saint Nizier, as a commemorativce plaque there recalls. He moved to Paris for study and work, and there foundedc with several others, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Daughters of Charity taught school in this parish in the nineteenth century.
A person of importance, and close to Ozanam, was Pauline Marie Jaricot (1799-1862). This lay woman founded the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, the Living Rosary and many others works. She was also a prime mover in the new Fourtière basilica. She lived between the top of Fourvière and Old Lyons below (42, montée Saint Barthelémy). A small chapel here was founded in 1839. She was bruied in the transept of Saint Nizier church. He cause for canonization has been introduced.