Today we celebrate the 276th feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. But what does it mean to be canonized as a Catholic Saint, and how did Vincent become one?
Saints are recognized by the leadership of Catholic Church, and venerated for embodying the Catholic ideals of sanctity and holiness. In Vincent de Paul’s case, the Congregation of the Mission (the religious order he started in 1625) officially began the initial application for Vincent’s cause in 1697, thirty-seven years after his death in 1660.
The first step toward sainthood is called beatification, in which an individual is recognized to intercede on behalf of those who pray in his or her name. Those who have been beatified, the Blessed, became candidates for sainthood.
The Vatican began to review Vincent’s cause in earnest in 1709, with a review of documents pertaining Vincent’s life and faith, and in 1713 the cause was declared “valid” and could proceed.
The Vatican, as it does for every cause of sainthood, appointed a canon lawyer to argue against the canonization of an individual. This is the Devil’s Advocate, and for Vincent’s cause was Prospero Lambertini (later Pope Benedict XIV). He argued Vincent’s unworthiness by pointing out everything from Vincent’s friendship with a heretical Jansenist abbot, to Vincent’s having abandoned several of his parish appointments, to his knowledge of mixing medicines (considered alchemy, and thus diabolical). Despite these objections, the beatification process advanced. Vincent was beatified on August 21, 1729, at St. Peter’s in Rome.
Miracles are a very important part of the canonization process. Many supposed miracles attributed to Vincent’s intercession were scrutinized by the Vatican, with two eventually chosen as valid: a nun cured of ulcers, and a laywoman cured of paralysis. Though the Devil’s Advocate argued against the first, stating the nun in question was “too learned for a woman,” he lost his case. With the approval of these two miracles, the canonization process was complete; Vincent would become a saint of the Catholic Church.
On June 16, 1737, at a mass officiated by Pope Clement XII at St. John Lateran in Rome, Vincent was officially canonized. Fr. Luigi Mezzadri, C.M. writes about that day in his history of the Vincentians:
The procession, which began at six [a.m.], lasted more than three hours due to the enormous gathering of people. Twenty-six cardinals, bishops, patriarchs, and other clergy participated… During the ceremony, the pope was presented with two decorated and painted candles weighing sixty pounds each…two turtledoves, two golden loaves, two pigeons, and two barrels of wine, all donated by noblemen, cardinals, and friends of the Congregation.1
For more information on St. Vincent’s life and legacy, please visit the Vincentian Studies Collection Research Guide
, or drop by the DePaul University Library Special Collections and Archives Department
Mezzadri, Luigi, and Francesca Onnis. The Vincentians
. Volume 2, The Eighteenth Century to 1789
(New City Press: New York, 2000), 100.