FOLLEVILLE AND CHÂTILLON: Origin of the Two Terms: Charity – Mission

Rolando Gutiérrez, CM, Vice-Province of Costa Rica

Moment of Understanding

The charism of the Vincentians is based on two pillars that gave rise to it in 1617 and that 400 years later remain the two sides of its banner: mission and charity.

At the beginning of January, Madame de Gondi, to whom the lands of Folleville belonged, was accompanied by her children’s tutor on a visit to her domains. While there, Vincent de Paul was called to assist an elderly peasant who was on his deathbed in the village of Gannes, about 13 kilometers from the Folleville Château.

The room bore an appearance of death from the sick man’s face, but a new charism’s life was being born in Vincent’s heart as he realized the spiritual abandonment of poor country people. Vincent’s soul no longer experienced the same tranquility with which he arrived on those lands. A few days later, the First Sermon of the Mission, issued from this need:

That took place in the month of January 1617, and, on the twenty-fifth, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, that lady asked me to preach a sermon in the church of Folleville to urge the people to make a general confession, which I did, pointing out to them its importance and usefulness. Then I taught them how to make it properly; and God had such regard for the confidence and good faith of that lady – for the large number and enormity of my sins would have hindered the success of this act – that He blessed what I said; and those good people were so moved by God that they all came to make their general confession … That was the first sermon of the Mission and the success God gave it on the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, and He certainly had a plan in mind on that day” (CCD XI, 3-4).

We know well what would happen in the succeeding months. Vincent fled from the de Gondi house, in which he had lived since 1613, because now so much comfort bothered him. He arrived at the abandoned Parish of Châtillon-les-Dombes to which he was appointed pastor on 29 July and took possession on 1 August.

This was the second scenario, which completed what had been born months before in Folleville.

On one of the new pastor’s first Sundays, we suppose it to have been 20 August, shortly before Mass began, once again a woman, Mlle. de la Chassaigne, told Vincent of the poverty and abandonment of a sick family. In the homily, the natural gifts of the saint and the grace of God moved hearts to the point that abundant charity did not make the family wait. However, the people’s response was not very satisfactory for the parish priest, because it lacked organization.

Thus, on 23 August 1617, the first Confraternity of Charity was born with two very clear aims: to assist (the sick poor) body and soul: the body by nourishing it and tending to its ailments; the soul by preparing those who seem to be tending toward death to die well, and preparing those who will recover to live a good life (CCD XIIIB, 3).

The following 43 years of Saint Vincent de Paul’s life will be marked by those two events, Folleville, the beginning of the Mission, and Châtillon, the start of organized Charity. Two different scenarios, but with a common need: poverty; the same heart of a shepherd who allowed himself to be questioned by his sheep, Margarita de Silly and Mlle. de la Chassaigne; the same response that overcomes selfishness and comfort to dedicate himself to the service of the poor.

Therefore, 1617 represents the year of inventive love, charity that can no longer remain idle, but is carried out in the mystique of action; the ever-creative mission of one who has passed through Folleville and Châtillon and can no longer continue to live calmly among his selfish comforts.

Moment of Contemplation:

From what we have read and from what we already know, let us pause to contemplate the scenes of Folleville and Châtillon:

  1. What is the most striking of these events for me?
  2. What moment confronts me more in my commitment as a Vincentian? What arouses in my heart the need that Saint Vincent saw and how does it coincide with our strangers today?

It is recommended that you read a chapter of some biography or from Saint Vincent’s writings CCD XI, 2-4 and/or CCD XIIIA, 49-57.

Moment of Meditation:

Examining my journey within the Vincentian Family, I calmly try to identify, and then share in a group:

  1. The need that one day brought me to be part of this charism: Who was my “dying patient” or my “poor-sick family”? What was my “Folleville” or my “Châtillon”?
  2. What means question me again and again to remain committed to the work of mission-charity: Who is my Margarita de Silly, or my Mlle. de la Chassaigne
  3. What is my response-commitment to the poor? Am I able to overcome selfishness and comfort or do I settle for wearing a simple title of “Vincentian” without action?

Moment of Commitment:

We are celebrating 400 years since the events of Folleville and Châtillon not only as a festive memory, but also as a source of renewal. That is why, in this second Vincentian Lectio, we propose the exercise of making a commitment tree on which we can place the fruits of our commitment each month. On that occasion, everyone will share what he/she has meditated in order to draft a community commitment. Perhaps we could ask the group: How do we make 2017 the year of inventive charity as it was in 1617?


Lord, Merciful Father,
who raised up in Saint Vincent de Paul
a great concern for the evangelization of the poor,
instill your Spirit in the hearts of his followers.
Today, as we listen to the cry of your abandoned children,
may we look forward to your help “as one who runs to put out a fire.”
Rekindle in us the flame of the charism
that, for 400 years, inspired our missionary life.
We ask this of you through your Son,
“the Evangelizer of the poor,”  Jesus Christ our Lord.