St. Vincent Ferrer (1350-1419)

Vincent’s career of miracle working began early; prodigies attended his birth and baptism at Valencia, and, at the age of five, he cured a neighbor child of a serious illness. These gifts, and his natural beauty of person and character, made him the center of attention very early in life. Clearly, Vincent was marked for an unusual life.

He began his classical studies at the age of eight, his theological study at fourteen. Four years later, as all had expected, he entered the Dominican Order in his native city. So angelic was his appearance, and so holy his actions, that no other course seemed possible to him than to dedicate his life to God.

No sooner had he made his choice of a state in life than the devil attacked him with the most dreadful temptations. Even his parents pleaded with him to leave the convent and become a secular priest. By prayer and faith, especially prayer to Our Lady and his guardian angel, Vincent triumphed over his difficulties and finished his novitiate. He was ordained at Barcelona, in 1379.

Having made a particular study of Scripture and Hebrew, Vincent was well equipped to preach to the Jews. They were quite numerous in Spain then. During the years of his preaching, more than thirty thousand Jews and Moors were converted to Christianity. His numerous miracles, the strength and beauty of his voice, the purity and clarity of his doctrine, combined to make his preaching effective, based as it was on a firm foundation of prayer.

Two evils cried out for remedy in St. Vincent’s day: the moral laxity left by the great plague, and the scandal of the papal schism. In regard to the first, he preached tirelessly against the evils of the time, bringing thousands to a better life. That he espoused the cause of the wrong man in the papal disagreement is no argument against his own sanctity; at the time, and in the midst of such confusion, it was almost impossible to tell who was right and who was wrong. The memorable thing is that he labored, with all the arts he could command, to bring order out of a chaos which has never had an equal in the history of Christianity. He worked so intensely, in fact, that he fell mortally ill, and only a miraculous visit of Sts. Francis and Dominic cured him. On this occasion, he was bidden to rise and preach whenever and wherever he was needed.

The preaching of Vincent became a strange but marvelously effective process. He attracted to himself hundreds of people at one time, more than ten thousand who followed him from place to place in the garb of pilgrims. The priests of the company sang Mass daily, chanted the Office, and dispensed the sacraments to those converted by Vincent’s preaching. Men and women traveled in separate companies, chanting litanies and prayers as they went barefoot along the road from one city to another. They taught catechism where needed, founded hospitals, and revived a faith that had all but perished in the time of the plague. In this way, he went through Spain, Italy, and France. Legend has it that he also went to England.

The burden of his preaching was penance. Like another John the Baptist who was also likened to an angel, as St. Vincent is in popular art he went through the wilderness of sin, crying out to the people to make straight the paths of the Lord. Fearing the judgment, if for no other reason, sinners listened to his startling sermons, and the most obstinate were led by him to cast off sin and love God. He worked countless miracles, some of which are remembered today in the proverbs of the country. His book, Treatise on the Spiritual Life, is still of value to earnest souls.

He preached to St. Colette and her nuns, and it was she who told him that he would die in France. Too ill to return to Spain, he did, indeed, die in Brittany. The Breton fishermen still invoke his aid in storms. In Spain, he is also the patron of orphanages.

(Source : Dorcy, Marie Jean. St. Dominic’s Family. Tan Books and Publishers, 1983)