I imagine that early in the morning of Sept. 27, 1660, the bells of Paris began to toll.
They probably began at St. Laurent, then perhaps St. Nicholas des Champs and St. Gervais; Notre Dame and Sainte Chappelle would pick up the sound and it would cross the Seine to St. Severin and St. Sulpice.
Even the bells on the height of Sacré Coeur could not remain silent. No one needed to ask why the bells were ringing.
The City knew: Vincent de Paul was dead. That is the way I imagine it.
One can envision the Queen Mother, Anne of Austria, pondering the passing of her friend and confidant of so many years. The King, Louis XIV, later to be known as the “Sun King,” might have remembered this cleric who ministered at the deathbed of his father.
Cardinal Mazarin, soon to follow Vincent to the throne of God, could have considered this man who was so often his adversary.
The priests of Paris might have recalled this worthy religious man who prepared them for ministry in seminaries and offered retreats for their spiritual growth.
The Sisters of the Visitation may have begun to pray for he who had become their guardian since the death of their own father, Francis de Sales.
The Ladies of Charity, the Daughters of Charity, the priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Mission would all mourn the passing of their founder and spiritual center.
But the poor of Paris and throughout France—the hungry, sick and orphaned; those who suffered from and continued to endure the pains of war; the ignorant, dying, abused and forgotten; those who felt the anguish of spiritual abandonment and lack of faith—yes, the poor of Paris—they might mourn in a particular and fearful way at the passing of Vincent.
Who would care for them? Who would speak out for their needs? Who would serve them with love and generosity? Who would continue his mission?
But the poor needn’t have worried. Even as the bells rung, the Ladies of Charity would have been thinking about the sick whom they would visit that day.
The Daughters of Charity would have preparing the meals and lessons for the orphans who had come under their care.
The priests and brothers of the Congregation would have continued their plans for preaching and serving the needy both spiritually and physically.
These worthy women and men would have known that this would have been the most ardent hope and desire of Vincent: “Keep your eyes on the mission which is not about me/us but our ‘lords and masters,’ the poor.”
This week, September 20-27, we celebrate Founder’s Week at St. John’s.
We remember Vincent de Paul and his 400 years of concern for the poor which is so descriptive of our identity as a Catholic and Vincentian University.
There is a page in this issue of the Torch which highlights many of the SJU events of these days, from worship to conferences to poetry.
We can try to be part of some of them.
As we hear the bells of St. Thomas More Church in these days, let us allow them to remind us of the very good man who followed Christ with charity and compassion.