The first window on the right near the side door depicts the patron saint of our parish and the Diocese of Richmond, St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660). The third of six children of a peasant family, he must have showed some talent because he entered the priesthood and obtained a B.A. in theology. Vincent lived during and in the aftermath of the civil war between Catholics and Protestants in France. Religious violence breeds cynicism and indifference, and the Church was in a bad way. Vincent began by reflecting this atmosphere; for the first eight years after his ordination, he spent his time exploiting his position for his own benefit. Then he underwent a seven-year spiritual crisis from which he emerged completely transformed into a devoted seeker of God. His particular vocation: to serve the physical and spiritual needs of the poor.
Assigned as chaplain to the eminent Gondis family, he immediately extended his ministry to the many peasants on their vast estates. After 1619 he became chaplain of the galley fleet where he worked to alleviate the lot of the galley slaves. After 1625, the Vincentian Fathers (Congregation of the Mission) were organized to minister to the rural poor and to operate seminaries. About this time Vincent began to attack the heresy known as Jansenism, a kind of Catholic puritanism which holds that God only really wants to save some, and not all, of us and which denies the intrinsic goodness of God’s natural creation including our bodies. Vincent’s efforts were a prime cause of its defeat (though some of its bad effects continue to linger in some corners of the Church).
Vincent found his greatest collaborator in St. Louise de Marillac (1591-1660). Widowed in 1625, she became a supporter of Vincent’s work and in 1633, they founded the Daughters of Charity whose “convent is the sick-room, their chapel the parish church, their convent the city streets.” Intelligent and diligent, though not physically strong, her tireless labors resulted in over 40 houses being established in France where the poor and sick were tended, abandoned and orphaned children were cared for, and hundreds of women were provided shelter.
Louise’s death in 1660 deeply saddened Vincent and he passed away later that same year. By that time, members of the foundations which they had established could be found not only all over France but spread from Poland to Madagascar. Today, they are found throughout the world.
Our window shows St. Vincent dressed as the ordinary priest that he was, tenderly holding an abandoned baby while he presents an older orphan to Louise. She opens her arms to receive him while he extends his to embrace her. The architecture and the setting suggest rural France. The color of the leaves on the tree, the barren ground and the bare bush between Vincent and Louise indicate that it is autumn (The season of harvest. The artist could have been thinking of Christ’s words: “The harvest is rich but the laborers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers to his harvest.” [Luke 10: 2]). As usual, the color of the sky is beautifully depicted and a few clouds drift by.
The medallion at the top shows a scoop and a shepherd’s staff, the first indicating Vincent’s care for people’s earthly needs, the second the care of their souls. This is not only a good indicator of the kind of ministry which we conduct in our parish, but is a welcome corrective to those who think religion should restrict itself to serving the soul only and not the body (Jansenism again). This view is as unsacramental as it is unlike Christ who fed the hungry crowds and healed the sick. And the scoop comes first. It is difficult to preach the Gospel to those who are hungry; the growling of their stomaches tends to drown out the preacher’s voice.
The window presents an interesting problem of dating. It is dedicated to the Pastor of St. Vincent, Fr. D. F. Coleman who died in 1932. Louise was canonized in 1934, but she has no halo in our picture. Therefore, the window had to be created between those two dates.
After reading about the prodigious labors of St. Vincent it comes as something of a shock to learn that he was a man of quite ordinary intelligence and quite ordinary talents. But by opening himself to the abundant graces which God offers to us all (and which we often tap into too little) he extracted the most extraordinary results from quite ordinary abilities. The motivating force of this amazing man’s life is summed up in the quote from St. Paul which appears in Latin on the scroll in the medallion at the bottom of the window: “Caritas Christi urget nos”–“The love of Christ impels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14)