What is Vincentian spirituality?
For St. Vincent de Paul, Jesus Christ is above all the Savior, the Son of the Father, sent to evangelize the poor. The scriptures from Luke and Matthew’s gospel spoke directly to Vincent’s heart:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” (Lk 4:18-19)
And the King will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Mt 25:40)
Of course, Jesus Christ is the center of all Christian spirituality. But for St. Vincent de Paul, he allowed himself—just like Jesus—to be called to a very deep compassion for the suffering and misery of the poor and he discerned in their needs a call to embody the Gospel. As Vincentians, we live in conformity with Jesus when we minister to the poor. St. Vincent saw the poor as Jesus saw them: with respect for them as persons and with loving compassion for their sufferings. This vision of Christ in the poor is what Vincent shared with those who followed him in the mission.
What is the Vincentian Family?
The Vincentian Family (Congregation of the Mission, Daughters of Charity, Ladies of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul Society, International Association of Charity, and others) is a collaborative organization of charity groups either founded by St. Vincent, founded to respond to St. Vincent’s charism, or founded by Vincentians. These groups seek to form a “circle of solidarity” with those who are marginalized in society.
What is the charism of the Congregation of the Mission?
A charism is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to a person or to a community for the good of others; it is an eschatological word that is Spirit-based. The Vincentians seek to follow the charism of St. Vincent de Paul (and of Christ himself) which is to bring the gospel to those who are poor. We do this in many ways such as ministering in poor parishes, offering educational programs for the laity, teaching and modeling the charism of Vincent in a university and seminary, and leading parish missions in poor areas.
Does the Congregation of the Mission have both priests and brothers?
Yes. Some of the members of the Congregation are priests and some are brothers. We have one member who is a permanent deacon. Brothers and priests are equal members of the Congregation and are involved in various works. Brothers and priests take vows and live a community life. Members of the “Vincentian Fathers and Brothers” come together in community (they live a “common life”) to be supported and enriched to serve in various ministries. They call each other “confreres” (which translates as “brothers” or “colleagues”).
Is the Congregation of the Mission a World-Wide Community?
Yes. There are approximately 400 Vincentian priests and brothers in the U.S. We have 49 provinces throughout the world and we are present in 86 different countries with a total membership over 4000.
How long does it take to be a Vincentian priest?
Typically 7 years after college. This usually would include a pre-theology basic formation program, a one-year internal seminary (novitiate), a 1-year internship and 4-year theology program. Typically some philosophy is needed before a candidate can enter the theology program.
How long does it take to be a Vincentian brother?
This depends upon the kind of work that the brother would be engaged in. He would typically participate in a pre-theology basic formation program and a one-year internal seminary (novitiate) just like the priests. If the brother is going to teach, he might need to work on a degree or teaching credential. If he is going to be involved in a trade (such as teacher, carpentry, farm work, technology or electrician) he would go to the proper trade school.
Is the Congregation of the Mission a Religious Order?
Technically, no. The Congregation of the Mission (popularly known as “the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers”) belongs to that group of vowed men and women in the Catholic Church called a Society of the Apostolic Life. We are technically not a Religious Order. The canonical difference is that members of Religious Orders take “public” vows. The vows that the members of the Congregation of the Mission take are “private” vows. However, the way the Vincentians live out their vows is generally similar to many Religious orders. The historical reason Vincentians take “private” vows is that St. Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, would not have been able to establish a new religious order in 17th century France. Since this opposition existed, St. Vincent found a way to establish a Congregation that was not a Religious Order.
Do the Vincentians take vows?
Yes. Vincentians commit themselves to evangelize the poor for the whole of their lives. To help fulfill this call, Vincentians embrace the three vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. They also take a fourth vow of stability. The purpose of the vows is to call each member to an ever-deepening fidelity, to ongoing renewal, to placing themselves more and more in the hands of the Lord as evangelizers and servants of the poor.
What do the four vows mean?
Chastity: takes the form of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Chastity imitates Christ in his limitless love for everyone. It is seen as a gift given to us by the personal and infinite goodness of God. In the same way that Christ loves his people, the Church, so we seek to love all whom we serve in ministry. We seek support in living celibate lives by forming an intimate union with Christ, by living together as brothers, and by developing a heart-felt love for those we serve in our various works/apostolates. As a Vincentian, we live a life of celibate love in following Jesus, the evangelizer of the poor. Underlying this option is the conviction that this vocation promises freedom and joy and self-realization in service of others.
Poverty: helps members of the Congregation depend upon God in all things and it frees a confrere for the mission. Also, our desire to evangelize the poor will be more effective. Vincentians commit themselves to a simple life style so that we might not appear showy. Vincentians strive not to accumulate goods for their own sake as a statement against materialism. All income that comes to a confrere by way of his membership in the Congregation (stipends, salaries, etc.) is given to the Congregation. Individual confreres can retain an inheritance and gifts and can invest these funds. These funds belong to the individual confrere but can only be used for his personal use with the permission of the superior of the house. The needs of the poor, personal and communal commitments, pastoral responsibilities, and the Vincentian tradition are some of the criteria that guide a Vincentian’s discernment concerning poverty. The vow of poverty challenges each confrere to find ways to use his funds to pursue our missionary vocation and the vow frees him from concerns about everyday financial matters.
Obedience: focuses our will on doing the will of God the Father. We are obligated to obey the pope, the local bishop, the superior general, the provincial, and local leadership. This is not blind obedience but being open to God’s desire for us.
Stability: focuses on faithfulness or fidelity. Wishing to follow Christ evangelizing the poor, a confrere vows to spend his whole life in the Congregation fulfilling its purpose and performing the works assigned to him by his superiors according to the Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation. This vow is a personal response to Jesus to accept the call to bring the gospel to the poor.
Do the Vincentian priests and brothers wear a habit?
Priests and brothers typically wear what the local clergy wear: a black clerical shirt, especially when we are functioning as a priest or brother such as working around the parish or university, teaching classes or for the celebration of Mass.
How do I know if I am called to be a Vincentian priest or brother?
Are you someone who has a history or desire to help others, especially those who are poor or lonely or isolated? Are you a person of compassion? Do you have a deep desire and ability to be of service to others? Do you have a history of having close relationships with others? Are you someone who can become vulnerable and trusting in relationships? Can you live in community with others who are like-minded in their service to the poor? Are you able to learn from your mistakes and are you capable of changing your mind (be flexible) because an insight or personal experience has challenged you to grow beyond your preconceived notions? Are you a person of prayer, who has a relationship with Christ and who spends time fostering your relationship with Christ? Do you love the Church, the People of God and are you willing to consider living a vowed life serving Christ and his Church for the rest of your life? Does the idea of being a priest or brother keep coming to mind? If so, these are the signs of having a vocation to be a Vincentian priest or brother.
Should I have a spiritual director to help me discern a vocation?
Yes. Absolutely yes. We can help you find a Vincentian priest or brother or Daughter of Charity that you are comfortable sharing your spiritual journey with, someone that you feel comfortable welcoming into your discernment process. If you cannot find a Vincentian, find a member of a religious order, either a priest or sister/nun.
How do I Know if I am Called by God?
Calls from God are recognized in different ways, such as a sense of interior longing, a personal relationship with Christ, an attraction or desire to be of service to others in and through the Church. Often it comes as a suggestion or personal invitation by someone you respect. This call is far more than a career choice. It begins by hearing God call you, like the call of Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:4-10). Hearing this call is followed by a period of discernment.
What is discernment, and how do Vincentians understand it?
Discernment is a process whereby the individual, sensing a call to priesthood or brotherhood, takes concrete steps to see if he is being called by God to serve the Church as a Vincentian priest or brother. It is about listening to what God wants for you in your life. When an individual wants to pursue this call, he contacts the Vocation Director. The inquirer is typically invited to visit our community houses in order to get to know Vincentians and see the various works that they are engaged in. He is also given literature about the life and spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul and encouraged to read and discuss it with the Vocation Director. The inquirer is strongly urged to get a Spiritual Director to journey with him in his discernment; usually the Director is a Vincentian priest, brother or Daughter of Charity that you visit on a regular basis, usually monthly. During this time the inquirer should be attending Eucharist on a regular basis, have a regular prayer life, and should be engaged in some kind of volunteer work/ministry with the poor.
When does discernment become a more formalized process?
After a period of getting to know each other, the inquirer is invited to make a discernment retreat. If he feels inclined to enter more fully into the preparation process, he petitions to become a Candidate. This involves making a formal application, doing a life history, letters of recommendation, etc. He agrees to intensify his prayer life by reading scripture and attending Eucharist on a regular, even daily basis. He also grows in awareness of the charism of St. Vincent de Paul and how Vincentians today live out this charism.
Can discernment include a possible residency with Vincentians?
Typically inquirers will visit community houses for short periods of time for prayer, a meal, and some time for personal sharing. There may be an opportunity to live in a discernment house with like-minded inquirers, guided by a Vincentian priest in residence or to regularly visit a Vincentian house to get to know the confreres better.