St. Vincent Ferrer, Priest and Preacher

On April 5th, Catholics around the world who follow the Roman Liturgical Calendar celebrate the life, death and gifts of St. Vincent Ferrer, Priest. He was born in Valencia, Spain in the year 1350 and joined the Dominican order in 1367. These were the followers of St. Dominic who also bear the letters O.P, for Order of Preachers. Dominic and his followers set Europe ablaze with their wonderful preaching of the Catholic Christian faith. They were also known as excellent theologian. Vincent lived up to the reputation which continues to this day.

Fr. Vincent received higher theological education in both Barcelona and Toulouse. He always wanted to perfect his already recognized gift for preaching the Gospel and calling men, women and children to conversion. It was a difficult time in the Catholic Church in Europe. Two different men claimed to be the successor of the Apostle Peter. One was seated in Rome and one in Avignon. This occurred between 1378 and 1409. As a result, the Church was being torn in a Schism.

In 1379 Vincent was asked by Cardinal Peter de Luna to join with him in ministry. He was a supporter of the man seated in Avignon. The Cardinal succeeded the one seated in Avignon. He took the name Benedict VIII and called Fr Vincent to come and serve as his confessor and confidante, which the young priest did. During this time, Vincent had a vision which led him to believe that Benedict’s claim to be a successor of the Apostle Peter was harming the Church. Upon request, he was given permission to leave and become a traveling preacher.

His powerful homilies led to revival of the Church in Spain and throughout all of Europe. Truly, this was a “Dominican”, a follower of the great preacher Dominic. Some reports indicate that even though Fr. Francis preached in Spanish, as he traveled people would hear the message in their own language.

Crowds would gather in droves as St. Vincent called them to repent and reform their lives with his fiery yet eloquent sermons. They repented of their sins and sought forgiveness. It was during these years that his extraordinary counsel as a confessor also bore great fruit throughout the Church of Europe.

The “great schism” continued. It weighed heavily on St. Vincent. A council of Constance was called and the Fathers of the Council demanded that Benedict resign his Papacy in order to promote the unity of the Church. He refused and the separation grew. By this time Fr Vincent was even more convinced that the claims and the actions of Benedict were not in accordance with the Lord’s plan.

Fr Vincent advised Ferdinand, the King of Aragon, a region in Spain, to withdraw his support of Benedict. He did so and it led to Benedict being deposed. Though the “great schism” ended, Vincent died three years later. It happened in 1419, while he was preaching a fiery homily in France during Holy Week. This great preacher of the Gospel died doing what he loved to do the most, bearing witness to Jesus Christ.

Here is a short excerpt from the treatise On the Spiritual Life by St. Vincent Ferrer, priest, taken from the Office of Readings on his Feast Day. St. Vincent trained others to preach and offer spiritual counsel:

 On the Spiritual Life by St. Vincent Ferrer, priest

“When you treat virtuous and sinful acts in your sermons and exhortations use simple language and sensible idioms. Give apt and precise examples whenever you can. Each sinner in your congregation should feel moved as though you were preaching to him alone.

“Your words should sound as though they were coming, not from a proud or angry soul, but from a charitable and loving heart. Your tone of voice should be that of a father who suffers with his sinful children, as though they were seriously ill or were lying in a huge pit; and he struggles to free them, raise them up, and cherish them like a mother, as one who is happy over their progress and the hope they have of heaven's glory.

“This way of preaching has proven profitable to congregations; for an abstract discourse on the virtues and vices hardly inspires those who listen.

“When hearing confession, you should always radiate the warmest charity. Whether you are gently encouraging the fainthearted or putting the fear of God into the hardhearted, the penitent should feel that you are motivated only by pure love. Therefore, speak in a pleasant, friendly way before you use words that will prod his conscience.

“Finally, if you truly want to help the soul of your neighbor, you should approach God first with all your heart. Ask him simply to fill you with charity, the greatest of all virtues; with it you can accomplish what you desire.”  


Bread on the Trail: St. Vincent Ferrer understood the power of the Gospel when it is proclaimed in the Spirit and without compromise. He dedicated himself to maintaining the unity of the Church even in the midst of great struggle. His example can motivate each one of us to live the Christian life more fully and not be afraid to proclaim it to others. It also invites us to do all that we can to promote the healing of the broken and divided Body of Christ.


Prayer: Father, may the example of St. Vincent Ferrer inspire men in our own day to forsake all to follow Jesus Christ as priests of His Church. Please Lord, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, raise up in our midst holy bishops, priests and deacons who are great preachers of the Gospel. Clergy who like St. Vincent are filled with the Holy Spirit, exercise spiritual gifts, and help to lead a revival of the faithful which ushers in a new missionary age.

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