St Vincent Pallotti was a bubbly personality who endeared himself to the people of Rome in the nineteenth century. He had the gift of being able to inspire others to become active apostles for Christ.
Patrick Duffy tells his story.
Youth and priesthood
The son of a Roman grocer, Vincent wasn’t at first the best of students, but when he decided to become a priest at the age of fifteen, his studies improved and after his ordination in 1818 he obtained two doctorates – one in philosophy and one in theology. For ten years he taught at Sapienza College, Rome, and then worked as a parish priest.
At first he was the target of some dirty tricks from his fellow clergy, but his patience soon won over these same people to become his faithful co-workers and admirers.
“A pious union of the Catholic Apostolate”
Filled with enthusiasm for the apostolate, Vincent formed a “pious union (later a society) of the Catholic Apostolate” which included both clergy and lay people. The fact that he used the term “apostolate” to include lay people offended some bishops at that time; they held it should be reserved to bishops as successors of the apostles.
As a priest, Vincent practised exorcism and had the gift of prophecy. He also was noted for his charity and fidelity in the confessional and his repeated habit of giving away his clothes to the poor. He also gathered a group of religious women to look after girls orphaned in the cholera outbreak of 1837.
Vincent was very interested in England and had many English, Irish and American friends. He sent one of his most trusted priests to minister to the Italians in London. A close friend of Cardinal Wiseman, Vincent urged him to open a College in England for foreign missions, which Wiseman’s successor Cardinal Herbert Vaughan put into effect when he founded the St Joseph’s Missionary Society at Mill Hill in 1866.
Friend of Pope Pius IX
Vincent was also close to Pope Pius IX and when the latter was forced to flee from the Papal States in 1848, Vincent took refuge in the Irish College in Rome, from where he campaigned by letters for the Pope’s restoration.
By the time this happened the following year, Vincent had pleurisy and died at the age of fifty-five on 22 January 1850.
His society – now often called “The Pallottines” – later flourished in Italy, Brazil, Australia, and the USA. In the US it has specialised in care for the immigrants and, like their founder, also promotes ecumenical contacts with Eastern Orthodox Christians. Vincent was canonised in 1963. Bishop Séamus Freeman of Ossory is a member of the Pallottines, the Society of Catholic Apostolate, and served a term as their Superior General in Rome.