FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
For St. Vincent de Paul, Jesus Christ is, above all, the Savior and the Son of the Father, sent to evangelize the poor. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew 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” (Luke 4:18-19).
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” (Matthew 25:40).
Jesus Christ is the center of all Christian spirituality, but St. Vincent de Paul responded – just like Jesus – with deep compassion for the suffering and misery of the poor. Vincent discerned in their needs a call to embody the Gospel.
As Vincentians, we live in conformity with Jesus Christ in our ministry to the poor. St. Vincent saw the poor as Jesus saw them, by upholding the respect due to them as persons. Like our founder, present-day Vincentians seek to share Christ’s loving compassion with those in need.
We do have both priests and brothers who share in the Vincentian mission and live out their particular vocations in loving service to the poor. Both take vows and live in community where they receive support to carry out their ministry. Because they are equal in their dedication to the mission, these men are known as “confreres,” which means “brothers” or “colleagues.” In addition to priests and brothers, we have a permanent deacon whose life and ministry enriches the Vincentian community and those we serve.
There are approximately 300 Vincentian priests and brothers in the United States and about 4,000 members worldwide. We have 46 provinces throughout the world and serve in 86 countries.
Typically, formation takes seven years after the candidate has completed college. This training includes a pre-theology formation program, one year of internal seminary (novitiate), a one-year internship and a four-year theology program. Some philosophy classes are required before a man can enter the theology program.
The amount of time needed to become a brother depends on the nature of his future ministry. Like the candidates for the priesthood, he would participate in the pre-theology program and a one-year internal seminary (novitiate). If he plans to teach, he may work on an advanced degree or additional teaching certification. If he hopes to learn a trade, such as carpentry, agriculture or technology, he would attend the proper trade school.
The Congregation of the Mission belongs to a group of vowed men and women called a Society of the Apostolic Life. For this reason, we are not officially a religious order.
While members of religious orders take public vows, members of the Congregation of the Mission take private vows. The way the Vincentians live out their vows, however, is similar to many religious orders.
Due to the circumstances in 17th–century France, St. Vincent de Paul was not able to establish a new religious order. For this reason, he founded the Congregation of the Mission, which is one of several communities now called a Society of the Apostolic Life. Since then, his Little Company has worked tirelessly in service to the least of God’s people.
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 that were 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.
Vincentians dedicate their lives to the evangelization of the poor for the whole of their lives. In order to fulfill their call, Vincentians take the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. These four vows call the priests, brothers and deacons to an ever-deepening fidelity to their vocation and continually invite them to place themselves in the hands of the Lord as evangelizers and servants of the poor.
Chastity represents a selfless response to Christ’s example of limitless love for all people. As Christ loves his people – the Church – so we seek to love all whom we serve in ministry. Celibacy frees us to form an intimate union with Christ by living together as brothers and serving those in need. We develop a heartfelt love for the people we encounter in our ministries and apostolates. Holy chastity offers us radical freedom, joy and selflessness in service of others.
Poverty encourages us to depend entirely upon God’s grace in all things; it frees us to engage fully in the mission. Vincentians commit themselves to a simple lifestyle in order not to appear showy. We do not accumulate goods, as a statement against materialism.
All income that comes to a confrere by way of his membership in the Congregation (stipends and salaries, for example) is given to the Congregation. Individual confreres can retain an inheritance and gifts. When making decisions regarding the vow of poverty, we first consider the needs of the poor, personal and communal commitments, and pastoral responsibilities. The vow of poverty calls each confrere to find ways to use his funds to pursue his missionary vocation and frees him from concerns about worldly goods.
Obedience allows us to focus entirely on following the will of God the Father. We obey the pope, the local bishop, the superior general and the provincial. We do not follow blindly, but rather open ourselves to God’s loving desire for each of us.
Stability enables confreres to spend their lives performing the works assigned to them by their superiors according to the Constitutions and Statutes of the Congregation. This vow is a radical, loving response to Christ’s call to bring the Gospel to the poor.
Vincentian priests and brothers adopt the dress of the local clergy – usually a black clerical shirt. The Roman collar identifies us as men of God and proves especially important when working around the parish, serving in soup kitchens, leading retreats, teaching classes or celebrating Mass.
Do you desire to help others, especially those who are poor, lonely or abandoned?
Have you volunteered at a soup kitchen, homeless shelter or other service to the poor?
Are you a person of compassion? Do you have a deep desire to serve others?
Do you have close relationships with others? Are you willing to be vulnerable and trusting in relationships?
Can you live in community with others who are like-minded in their service to the poor?
Do you learn from your mistakes? Are you able to change your mind because of a new insight or personal experience? Are you willing to grow beyond your preconceived notions of people?
Are you a person of prayer who spends time fostering your relationship with Christ? Do you love the Church, the People of God?
Are you willing to consider dedicating your life in service to Christ and His Church?
If you answered yes to several of these questions, you may have a vocation to the Vincentian priesthood or brotherhood. Contact Fr. Jim Osendorf, C.M., for more information and further guidance.
We recommend that you find a spiritual director who can help with your discernment. Reach out to a Vincentian priest or brother with whom you can share your spiritual journey. Make sure you feel comfortable talking openly and honestly with that person. Remember, he has been through this process before and may have some helpful insights as you respond to God’s call.
We all hear God’s call in different ways. Some of us have a sense of interior longing. Others focus on their relationship with Christ. Still others feel a strong desire to serve others. Often, the first thought of a religious vocation comes with a personal invitation from someone you respect.
Your call is much more than a career choice. A vocation to the religious life begins by hearing God’s call. Like Samuel, who responded, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” the Lord may be asking you to give your life in loving service as a Vincentian. Listen, then respond with your whole heart.
Discernment is a process whereby a person comes to hear God’s call and responds by courageously following His will. When a man first senses a call to the priesthood or brotherhood, he should take steps to see if he is being called by God to serve the Church as a Vincentian.
Discernment takes time. For support and guidance during this process, please contact the Vincentian vocation director, who can answer your questions. We invite you to visit our community houses so you can get to know the Vincentian priests and brothers and better understand our ministry.
We can provide literature about the life and spirituality of St. Vincent de Paul. We also encourage you to meet regularly with a spiritual director. During this time, it is helpful to participate in the Eucharist frequently, spend time in quiet prayer and reflection, and engage in volunteer work or ministry with the poor.
After you get to know the Vincentian mission, you can make a discernment retreat. If you feel called to enter more fully into the preparation process, you can petition to become a candidate.
First, you complete a formal application and write a brief life history. Next, you provide several letters of recommendation, complete a psychological evaluation, obtain several doctor reports and enter more fully into Vincentian life. At this point, you agree to intensify your prayer life by reading scripture and attending Eucharist on a daily basis. During this time, we encourage you to grow in awareness of the charism of St. Vincent de Paul and the mission of present-day Vincentians.
Inquirers can visit community houses for short periods of time for prayer, meals and fellowship. You may also live in a discernment house with like-minded inquirers under the guidance of a Vincentian priest. Alternatively, you may regularly visit a Vincentian house to get to know the confreres better.
All of these options provide great opportunities to discern your vocation, learn more about the Vincentian mission and get to know the confreres. Contact Fr. Jim Osendorf, C.M., to learn more about becoming a priest or brother for the Congregation of the Mission.