Vincent was born on 24 April 1581 in the village of Pouy in Gascony, France, one of six children of peasant farmers. At an early age, he showed a talent for reading and writing but during his childhood, he worked as a herder of his family’s livestock. When he was 15, his father sent him to seminary, managing to pay for it by selling the family’s oxen.
For two years, Vincent received his education at a college in Dax, France adjoining a monastery of the Friars Minor where he and others resided. In 1597, he began his studies in the Faculty of Theology at the University of Toulouse.
He was ordained on 23 September 1600 at the age of nineteen in Château-l’Évêque, near Périgueux. This was against the regulations established by the Council of Trent which required a minimum age of 24 years for ordination, so when he was appointed parish priest in Tilh, the appointment was opposed to in the Court of Rome. Rather than respond, Vincent resigned from the position and continued his studies. On 12 October 1604 he received his Bachelor of Theology from the University of Toulouse. Later he received a Licentiate in Canon Law from the University of Paris.
In 1605, Vincent sailed from Marseilles and on his way back from Castres, where he had gone to sell some property he had received in an inheritance from a wealthy patron, he was captured by North African pirates, who took him to Tunis. Vincent was auctioned off as a slave and spent two years in bondage.
Vincent eventually escaped returning to France and then to Rome where he continued his studies until 1609. In 1612 he was sent as parish priest to the Church of Saint-Medard in Clichy, Paris. He served as chaplain and tutor to the Gondi family in Paris and while ministering to the peasants on the Gondi estates, Vincent relaised that he should direct his efforts to the poor.
In 1617, Vincent contacted the Daughters of Charity and they introduced him to poor families in need of food and comfort. He organised the wealthy women of Paris to collect funds for missionary projects, founded hospitals, gathered funds for the victims of war and to ransom 1,200 galley slaves from North Africa.
In 1622 Vincent was appointed chaplain to the galleys. After working for some time in Paris among imprisoned galley-slaves, he returned to be the superior of what is now known as the Congregation of the Mission, or the “Vincentians” (in France known as “Lazaristes”). These priests, with vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability, were to devote themselves entirely to the people in smaller towns and villages.
Vincent was zealous in conducting retreats for clergy at a time when there was great laxity, abuse, and ignorance among them. He was a pioneer in clerical training and was instrumental in establishing seminaries. He spent twenty-eight years serving as the spiritual director of the Convent of St. Mary of Angels.
Vincent died in Paris on 27 September 1660 aged 79 and was canonized in 1737.