September 27 – Callistratus; Vincent de Paul

Callistratus (d. ca. 300) was a native of Carthage, descended in straight line from one of the soldiers who witnessed our Lord’s crucifixion and converted to faith in Christ. Callistratus followed in great-to-the-nth granddad’s footsteps, both in confession and profession.

It was Calli’s practice to stay up late to pray while his more pagan comrades were asleep. One night an insomniac pagan (the worst kind) heard him saying Jesus’ name, and reported it to the commander, who demanded that Callistratus sacrifice to idols—the usual story. (Those pagans were SO predictable!) Our saint was beaten, then dragged over sharp stones. (Not smooth stones, nooooo. It had to be sharp ones.) When that didn’t break his spirit, he was sewn up in a leather sack (no mere burlap or hemp for these guys) and tossed into the sea, but in a stroke of both good and bad fortune, he hit a jagged rock (ouch!) and the bag was ripped open (yay!). He was then escorted to the beach by dolphins, causing exactly 49 onlookers to express a desire to become Christians[1].

They were thrown in jail, where Callistratus catechized them, then thrown into a lake, where he baptized them. When their bonds broke, they waded ashore. Witnesses saw crowns coming down from heaven, and heard a voice encouraging them. 135 of these witnesses became Christians, and after the martyrs were finally slain by the sword (actually probably many swords), buried them. Still later they built a church in their honor.

Vincent de Paul (1581–1660) was born in Gascony, and you (probably) weren’t. His peasant father sold the family’s oxen to send him to school, and after studying humanities and theology, he turned 20 and was priestified. On the return leg of a trip to Marseilles (where he was inheriting something), he was seized by pirates, hauled off to Tunis, and sold as a slave. As providence would have it, his owner was an apostate Christian. Vincent reconverted him, and the two of them returned to Europe together. Either that or his master’s wife secretly freed all the family’s slaves. One of our sources must be right. Maybe.

Once back in Yurp[2] he worked a series of odd jobs (papal vice-legate, almoner, abbot, priest, curé, tutor), most notably founding missions for the poor, and seminaries for poorly-educated priest wannabes. This was during the Thirty Years’ War, and things in France just weren’t as tourist-friendly as one might have preferred. There was great poverty and misery, and Vincent was determined to work to alleviate it as much of it as he could. Eventually his work among the poor evolved into the Congregation of the Priests of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentians (for reasons left as an exercise to the reader), and the Daughters of Charity, Ladies of Charity, and Sisters of Charity (one or two of these might have already existed; my source is vague). The daughters/ladies/sisters, in addition to giving alms, worked in Vincent’s hospitals, tending the sick and running the gift shops.

Somewhere in there he was appointed as chaplain to the nation’s convict galley slaves, whose living conditions were horrible and whose hearts were bleak. Vincent and his followers ministered to their physical and spiritual needs. He also rescued orphans, street women, and every other class of destitute, poor, hapless, and unfortunate persons he could find. His work lives on in his orders, as well as in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a charitable organization founded by French university students in 1833. He is the patron saint of (among other things) hospitals and (of all things) Madagascar.

[1] Really. 49.
[2] Europe.