Saint Vincent Ferrer is one of the greatest saints of the Holy Catholic Church. Few saints have been more gifted in speech and none have performed as many miracles. In fact, it was often said that it was ‘a miracle’ if St. Vincent Ferrer did not perform a miracle!
St. Vincent was born in Valencia, Spain on January 23, 1350. However, even in utero he was performing miracles. His mother visited a blind woman she often helped. The lady placed her head on the mother’s womb to hear the baby’s heart beat and was instantly healed of her blindness. The entire city was quite animated at his birth and their town square argument over his name had to be settled by the local bishop who recommended he share the name of the city’s patron saint (St. Vincent of Zaragosa, a third century martyr). Before St. Vincent was three months old, Valencia was struck by a terrible famine. The infant spoke in a perfectly intelligible manner to his mother, informing her that all the townspeople needed to carry a venerated statue in procession about the city to end the famine. No sooner had the procession begun than rain began to fall and the famine was broken.
From his tenderest years, it was clear that God was calling St. Vincent to serve Him at His Altar. The boy was gifted with great intelligence and even more profound piety. He joined the Dominican Order and was soon teaching and preaching all over Spain. His fame spread far and wide on account of his erudition, preaching, and holiness. Pope Benedict XIII in turn called him to Avignon where he became the confessor for the papal court. At this time, Christendom was split between two rival popes (the Great Western Schism) and it was difficult for Christians to know who was the real pope. This sad division caused great problems in the Church as families, cities and kingdoms were split in their varying allegiance to St. Peter’s successor(s). Moreover, the Muslim threat was growing, heresy was on the rise, morals in the hierarchy and laity were lax, and a spirit of worldliness all gripped the Church in a death-like vice. God’s wrath then fell upon Europe in the form of the Black Plague (it is estimated that 75-200 million people died in just two years, from 1348-1350 at the peak of the plague). St. Vincent knew that the only way out of these many troubles was for the people to return to God and his great solicitude for the Church led him to exert every effort in ending the schism of two heads. Although St. Vincent believed Benedict XIII to be the rightful pope, he never stopped pleading with him to resign and give up his claims to the tiara in order to restore unity and stability in the Church.
At the age of forty, sorrow over the great division led the great Dominican to the brink of death. Yet as he lay sick in bed, entrusting his final breaths to God, he received a heavenly vision. Our Lord appeared to him with St. Francis and St. Dominic at His sides. Our Lord told St. Vincent that he was entrusting him with a great mission – to save His Bride from the imminent destruction of the world. St. Vincent recovered his full health and requested his leave from Pope Benedict XIII, who did not grant it for two more years. Yet he prevailed upon the Pope to give him full papal legate powers to preach all over Europe. Thus began the final and greatest period of St. Vincent’s life.
For twenty years, St. Vincent Ferrer carried out the apostolate of a itinerant missionary preacher. He cris-crossed Europe a dozen times, followed by a train of priests, brothers, nuns, penitents and pilgrims, that at times numbered over ten-thousand strong. Upon arriving in a village, the great procession would set up their camp and St. Vincent would begin to preach in the open squares. Only thus could all the hearers be accommodated. Daily Mass, hours of confession, preaching, and daily prayer consumed his days. Twice a day the “Bell of Miracles” was rung, once in the morning and once in the evening. Each time all the sick and infirm were brought to him and he would cure them all. It was not all unusual for St. Vincent to perform more than one hundred bona-fide miracles in a day.
St. Vincent also had great success in preaching to the Moors and Jews. Countless converts came into the Church and on one single day he converted more than five thousand Jews. His spiritual success was even more fruitful among Catholics. Hatreds, envies, wars and other divisions were all brought to an abrupt end under his guidance. Once he raised a woman from the dead so that she could testify to all present that he was indeed the Angel of the Apocalypse (cf. Apco 14:6), sent by God to call a world seeped in sin to repentance.
The Great Western Schism was finally ended in 1417 when all the world universally acknowledged Martin V as rightful pope. St. Vincent Ferrer died in Vannes, Brittany on April 5, 1419.