Repurposing has become a popular term. It does have a certain je ne sais quoi that “reusing for a different purpose” or “wearing a hand-me-down” does not. I am currently repurposing a twenty-year-old barn coat that was once my sister’s. Yes, repurposing certainly has a more chic sound. And that is a definite plus, as anything that encourages sharing and frugality deserves to be encouraged. Why do I bring this up today? Well, when I think of chic repurposing, I think of my favorite chic store—the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store—and the saint whose name it bears, St. Vincent de Paul.
Born in the late sixteenth century into a French farm family of very limited means, Vincent was an exceptionally bright student. He was able to further his education by working as a tutor. By the age of twenty-four, he had been ordained a priest and within four years had a doctorate in theology. It was not long after receiving this degree that Vincent’s life was upended while on a short sea trip. The ship on which he was sailing was overtaken by pirates. Those who survived the initial attack were held captive and taken to Africa to be sold into slavery. Sold once, then sold again to a kindhearted Muslim, Vincent prayed for his faith to remain strong as the owner who had grown fond of him tried to convert him. When this owner died, Vincent was sold to a man who had once been Christian. It was one of this owner’s Muslim wives who, touched by Vincent’s strong faith, convinced her husband to return to France and repent. It was then that Vincent, too, made his return to France.
It was not until Vincent was close to fifty years old that he became director of a religious house. Given the priory of St. Lazare, the Fathers of the Mission came to be known as Vincentians. The lay and clergy members of the order took vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. Within Vincent’s lifetime, he saw twenty-five communities of this order (which is now spread throughout the world) established in Europe.