Although few letters are extant from St. Vincent de Paul to St. Jane de Chantal, he was her spiritual director after St. Francis de Sales entered eternity. The following letter shows the confidence St. Vincent placed in St. Jane as he shared much about his new congregation. St. Vincent de Paul remains very honored in the Order of the Visitation. We will remember his Feast this coming September 27th in a special way in our Monasteries.
TO SAINT JANE FRANCES, IN ANNECY
Troyes, July 14, 1639
Most dear and most worthy Mother,
The grace of Our Lord be with you forever!
Having come to this city of Troyes with the Commander de Sillery to visit the little family we have here in this diocese, I saw,in the letter he received from you, the answer you gave him concerning his proposal for an endowment fund for two men from our Little Company to work among the poor country people in your diocese. Now, I shall tell you, most worthy Mother, that I received with inexpressible consolation the Commander’s proposal to me concerning that foundation. It will give us the means of working in the diocese of the saints and it is under the protection and direction of our worthy Mother. Therefore, we have reason to hope that Our Lord will bless the holy intentions of the good Commander and the humble labors of His Missionaries.
And because you wish to know what constitutes our humble way of life, I shall tell you then, most worthy Mother, that our Little Company is established to go from village to village at its own expense, preaching, catechizing, and having the poor people make general confessions of their entire past life. We try to settle the disagreements we find among them and do all we can to see that the sick poor are assisted corporally and spiritually by the Confraternity of the Charity, composed of women, which we setup in the places where we give the mission and which desire it.
To this work, which is our principal one, and in order to perform it better, the Providence of God has added that of taking into our houses ten days before ordination those who are to take orders.We feed and support them and during that time teach the practical Theology, the ceremonies of the Church, and how to make and practice mental prayer according to the method of our blessed Father, the Bishop of Geneva. We do this for those who belong to the diocese in which we are established.
We live in the spirit of the servants of the Gospel with regard to the bishops. When they tell us: “Go there,” we go; “Come here,” we come; “Do that,” we do it; and that is how we act in what concerns the functions mentioned above. As for the internal discipline of the Company, that depends on a superior general.Most of us have made the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and a fourth to devote ourselves all our life to the assistance of the poor common people. We are seeking to have them approved by His Holiness3 and are asking permission to make a fifth vow, that of obedience to the bishops in whose dioceses we are established, in what concerns the aforesaid functions.
We practice poverty and obedience and try to live in a religious manner, even though we are not religious. We get up at fouro’clock in the morning and take half an hour to get dressed and make our bed. We make an hour of mental prayer together in the church and recite Prime, Terce, Sext, and None together. We then celebrate our Masses, each in his own place. When that is done,everyone retires to his room to study. At ten-thirty, we make a particular examen on the virtue we are trying to acquire. We then go to the refectory where we have dinner with individual portions and reading at table. After that, we go to adore the Blessed Sacrament together and say the Angelus Domini Nuntiavit Mariae, etc.Next we have an hour of recreation together, after which everyone returns to his room until two o’clock when we recite Vespers and Compline together. We then return to our rooms to study until fiveo’clock, at which time Matins and Lauds are recited together.Another particular examen is made at that time. We have supper next and then spend an hour in recreation. When that is over, we go to the church to make the general examen, say evening prayers,and read the points for the next morning’s prayer. After that, we retire to our rooms and go to bed at nine o’clock.
When we are on mission in the country, we do the same, except that we go to the church at six o’clock in the morning to celebrate Holy Mass and to hear confessions after the sermon which a man f rom the Company has just given following the Holy Mass he has said beforehand. We hear confessions until eleven o’clock, then go to eat dinner and return to the church at two o’clock to hear confessions there until five o’clock. Following that, one man teaches catechism and the others go off to say Matins and Lauds so as to have supper at six o’clock.
It is our maxim not to preach, catechize, or hear confessions in cities where there is a bishopric and not to leave a village until all the people have been instructed in the matters necessary for salvation and until everyone has made his general confession. We go to few places where there is anyone left who fails to do so. When we have finished in one village, we go to another where we do the same thing. We work from around the feast of All Saints until that of Saint John; we leave the months of July, August, September,and a part of October to the people so that they can take care of the harvest and the vintage. And when we have worked twenty days or thereabouts, we rest for a week or so and then go back to work.It is not possible to continue such labor for a longer time without that respite and without a day off each week.We have our days of solitude every year. We hold chapter every Friday morning, during which each one accuses himself of his failings, receives a penance from the Superior, and is obliged to carry it out. Two priests and two brothers ask the Company for the charity of being warned of their failings and, after them others doso, each in turn. In the evening of the same day we have a conference on our rules and the practice of the virtues. Everyone there shares the thoughts Our Lord gave him in prayer on the topic being discussed.
We never go out without permission and always two by two.Upon returning, everyone goes to see the Superior and gives him an account of what he has done. We neither write nor receive letters unless the Superior has seen and approved them. Everyone is obliged to agree to having his faults charitably reported to his Superior and to try to accept from and give to others the admonitions needed. Silence is observed from evening until the end of dinner the next day and from after the morning recreation until the one in the evening.We spend two years in the seminary, that is, in the novitiate.The training there is rather strict, by the mercy of God, so that fora number of reasons the seminarians do not communicate with the priests without permission.
The said Congregation is approved by His Holiness and established in the city and in the Faubourg of Saint-Denis in Paris, and in the dioceses of Poitiers, Lugon, Toul, Agen, and Troyes.
There you have our humble way of life, most dear and most worthy Mother. Please do us the charity, for the love of Our Lord,of telling us your reactions to it. You may be assured, dear Mother, that I shall accept them as coming from God, from Whose love I request this charity of you. . . . I shall not say anything to you about your dear daughters in Paris except that I think they are advancing more and more in the love of their Divine Savior. I have a great pardon to ask of you because I have not visited them for a long time. The Sisters here also have a good reputation and live fervently, and certainly with good reason. You could not believe, dear Mother, how greatly the spirit of Our Lord is evident in both the Mother and the deposee,or how well the rest of the house is doing, considering the difficulties it has had in the past.
Well now, dear Mother, permit me to ask if your unparalleled goodness still reserves for me the happiness of enjoying the place it gave me in your dear and most lovable heart? Certainly, I choose to hope so, even though my miseries render me most unworthy o f In the name of God, dear [Mother],please continue to grant me that favor. Trusting that you will, I am your most humble and most obedient servant.
Vincent De Paul