Saint Vincent Ferrer

April 5: Saint Vincent Ferrer, Priest—Optional Memorial

Patron Saint of builders, plumbers, fishermen, and prisoners
Canonized by Pope Calixtus III in 1455
Liturgical Color: White (Purple if Lenten Weekday)

By study of Holy Scripture and by factual experience we know that when any great and heavy affliction is about to come on the world, often some warning sign is shown in the sky or in the upper air. And this happens by the mercy of God, so that people forewarned of impending tribulation by means of these signs, through prayer and good works, may obtain in the tribunal of mercy a reversal of the sentence passed against them by God the judge in the heavenly courts; or at least by penance and amendment of life, may prepare themselves against the impending affliction. ~Sermon of Saint Vincent on the Last Judgment

It can be said that today’s saint lived two sequential lives. The first forty-nine years of his life were, in many ways, a preparation for the final twenty years of his life. All sixty-nine years, however, were years of fervent study, prayer, zeal, and extraordinarily impactful preaching.

Vincent was the fourth child of noble parents born in Valencia, Spain. According to popular legend, Vincent’s father had a dream that his son would become famous throughout the whole world. This was miraculously confirmed when his mother was said not to have experienced any pains during his birth. Vincent was named after the Third Century Valencian saint, Vincent the Deacon, Protomartyr of Spain. At a young age, Vincent completed studies in philosophy and joined the Dominican friars when he was about eighteen. As a young Dominican, he spent the next several years teaching, writing, preaching, praying, fasting, and doing penance, and was very devoted to the poor. His study of the Sacred Scripture was so intense that it is said that for about three years he read nothing but Scripture, memorizing the entire Bible.

The first of the miracles that would later become commonplace in his ministry took place during a severe famine. Brother Vincent’s heart was so moved with compassion for the hungry people that he prophesied that two boats would arrive that evening at port, loaded with food. To the surprise of everyone, it happened as he said. Brother Vincent continued his studies, obtaining a Doctorate in Theology, and was ordained a Catholic priest around the age of twenty-eight.

Father Vincent was ordained during a period in the Church that is commonly referred to as the Western Schism, in which the Church found itself with two men claiming to be pope in 1378. Urban VI resided in Rome, and Clement VII resided in Avignon, France. At the time of the division, good and holy people disagreed on who the real pope should be. The future Saint Catherine of Sienna supported Urban VI in Rome, and the future Saint Vincent Ferrer supported Clement VII. This division raged on until 1417 when the matter was finally resolved by a Church council in Pisa. Though Father Vincent’s choice was named the antipope by that council, Father Vincent humbly embraced this resolution and convinced many people to do the same, helping to end the schism.

During the schism, in the year 1398, Father Vincent had an experience that would open the door for the second and most remarkable period of his priestly ministry. Father Vincent had become quite ill. On what seemed to be his deathbed, he had a vision of Christ, accompanied by Saints Dominc and Francis who exhorted him to go forth to preach penance, heal the sick, and prepare the faithful for the coming Judgment. Shortly after, Father Vincent recovered and then sought and received a special commission for this new mission from the Avignon pope. He set out on an extraordinary journey that lasted about twenty years, traveling on foot from town to town all across Europe, including England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, France, Switzerland, and Italy.

The twenty years of itinerant traveling and preaching that Father Vincent engaged in is a miracle in and of itself. Countless stories abound. During his preaching, many claim that Father Vincent had the charismatic gift of tongues. Although he spoke in his native language, everyone heard him in their own language. While he was an intellectual of the highest caliber, his style of preaching was new, more pastoral in nature, proclaiming the deep truths of the faith with a simple eloquence in which the people easily understood him. Prayer was always his immediate preparation for his sermons, while his study was the remote preparation that provided the content of his compelling messages. Among his most preached upon topics was the Final Judgment of Christ. This earned him the nickname “Angel of the Apocalypse.” Through that message, he instilled a holy fear of God and a desire for repentance among his listeners.

As Father Vincent traveled, it is said that hordes of people traveled with him, doing penance along the way. Some days he had as many as 300 followers, other days as many as 10,000. His “pulpit” was often a large field or public square, so that everyone who wanted to listen could do so.

Miracles also abounded. He raised the dead, healed the lame, cured illnesses, and did so with such regularity that people were mesmerized. As a result of his powerful sermons, backed up by miraculous signs, an estimated 25,000 Jews, 1000s of Muslims, and many pagans converted, while Catholics deepened and renewed their faith. 

Father Vincent’s reputation so preceded him that kings and nobles sought him out to come to their lands. He generously responded, over and over again. His love for the poor was also evident, and he inspired many powerful and wealthy people to practice generosity. Saint Vincent is considered the patron saint of builders due to his effectiveness in building up the Church.

Saint Vincent, you put prayer first in your life, and from that prayer became an exceptionally effective minister of the Gospel. God used you to convert countless thousands as you submitted yourself to His divine will with generosity and zeal. Please pray for me, that I may always seek God in prayer and allow my life of prayer to be the fuel for the ministry to which I am called. Saint Vincent Ferrer, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

 All Saints for Today

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