Last week, we would have celebrated the feastday of our parish patron, St. Vincent Ferrer. However, because of the great solemnity of Easter and Easter Week, the Octave [eight-day celebration] of Easter surpassed our patronal feast in importance. But let me bring to mind the stories connected with our parish patron, taken from our website’s history of that saint.
Vincent Ferrer was a famous Dominican missionary, born in Valencia, Spain, January 23, 1350, and died at Vannes in Brittany (France), April 5th, 1419. Educated at Valencia, and having completed his philosophy studies at the age of fourteen, he entered the Dominican Order in 1367, and was sent to Barcelona the following year for additional formation. Later, he taught philosophy at Lleida, Spain, before returning to the Dominican house. During his stay there, a great famine was prevalent. While preaching there one day, filled with compassion for the sufferers, he foretold the near approach of ships bearing wheat; his prediction was fulfilled. In 1377, he continued his studies at Toulouse, France. During this time, several cardinals withdrew their allegiance to the pope in Rome and proceeded to elect their own pope in Avignon, France. Thoroughly convinced of the legitimacy of the claims of the Avignon popes, Vincent was one of their strongest champions, for a time. At Valladolid, Spain, he converted a rabbi, who later became the well-known bishop, Paul of Burgos. At Salamanca, Queen Yolanda of Aragon chose him for her confessor. Soon after, “Pope” Benedict called him to his papal court at Avignon and appointed him confessor. He worked zealously among the people and steadfastly refused the honor of cardinal, which was offered to him. When France withdrew its support to the Avignon “pope” in September 1398, and the troops of Charles VI laid siege to the city, an attack of fever at this time brought Vincent to death’s door. But, with an apparition of Christ with St. Dominic and St. Francis, he was miraculously cured and was sent to preach penance and prepare men for the coming judgment.
For 20 years, he traversed western Europe, preaching. He was obliged to preach in squares and open places, such were the numbers that flocked to hear him. In 1401, he went to southeastern France and the Alpine region of France, where he converted many heretics. Then he penetrated into Lombardy. While preaching at Alessandria, he singled out, from among the hearers, a youth who was destined to evangelize Italy: Bernadine of Siena. Vincent was followed by an army of penitents drawn from every rank of society, who desired to remain under his guidance. Ever watchful of his disciples, never did he allow the breath of scandal touch this assemblage, which, at times, numbered 10,000. It would be difficult to understand how he could make himself understood by the many nationalities he evangelized, as he could speak only the language of Valencia. Many biographers hold that he was endowed with the gift of tongues.
In 1408, Vincent was at Genoa, consoling the plaque-stricken. A meeting had been arranged there between Pope Gregory XII and anti-Pope Benedict XIII, in the hope of putting an end to the schism of multiple popes. Vincent urged Benedict to have pity on the afflicted Church, but it was in vain; he returned to Spain, disappointed. It would be difficult to overestimate the influence which he exercised, and everywhere miracles marked his progress. Christians, Jews, and Muslims were all in great admiration of his preaching. From 1408 until 1416, he worked almost continuously to convert the Jewish people. Multitudes were won over by his preaching. Some estimated the number of Jews converted at 25,000. In the Kingdom of Granada, he converted thousands of Moors. Vincent was often called upon to aid his country in temporal affairs, too. Though one of the most resolute and faithful followers of Benedict XIII, it was not until 1416, when pressed by Ferdinand, King of Aragon, that he abandoned the Avignon “pope.” He declared to the vast throng gathered around his pulpit that, although he believed Benedict XII was the legitimate pope, he was placing his allegiance to the Pope in Rome, since Benedict would not resign to bring peace to the Church. King Ferdinand already withdrew his states from the obedience the “pope” of Avignon. This probably caused Vincent much sorrow, for he was deeply attached to Benedict. Nevertheless, it was thought that Vincent was the only person sufficiently admired to announce such a step to the Spanish populace. Continuing his apostolic journeys through France, he spent the last two years of his life there, where numerous consciences were reformed and instructed in the Christian way of life. His lifestyle was austere, the living expression of his teaching. The floor was his usual bed. Perpetually fasting, he arose at two in the morning to chant the Divine Office, celebrated daily Mass, then preached for three hours and frequently worked miracles. Worn out by his labors, he died in 1419, and was canonized by Pope Callistus III in 1455. His feast day is usually celebrated on April 5th.