It was a great joy to Peter and Mary Pallotti (but no great surprise) when Vincent told them of his desire to become a priest. At the age of sixteen he wanted to join the Capuchins. He told his confessor of his wish, but was dissuaded by him from his choice. The priest considered that Vincent was not strong enough to stand up to the austerity of that order. The boy immediately acquiesced in his confessor’s decision, but still retained his ardent desire for the priesthood. With his father’s permission, he made a retreat in the Mission House of Monte Citorio. Then he entered the Roman College, beginning the long course of study in preparation for the priesthood.
Vincent was an outstanding student. He gained distinctions in all subjects, for example, Greek, Law, History and Languages, and took his degree in both Philosophy and Theology. As in earlier years, so also here he had nothing to say about his success. Vincent was ordained a priest on 16th May, 1818, in the Lateran Basilica. It must have been an added joy to him that it took place in Mary’s own month. The following morning he celebrated his first Mass —it was the Feast of the Blessed Trinity. Now that he was equipped with the powers of the priesthood, his love for Christ was quickly to expand into an untiring apostolate. On the eve of his ordination he wrote a sentence that was to be the ideal and inspiration of his priestly life: “Lord, let me die or love Thee infinitely!”
The Young Priest
In those days a young secular priest would usually have to wait some considerable time before there came a vacancy for an assistant in a parish. Instead of waiting he might take up a position in the administration of the Papal States; for at this time all the main administrative positions were entrusted to priests. Or a third possibility was —and this is what Fr. Vincent chose to do—to remain living at home and undertake any apostolic work approved of by his superiors.
So the young priest came to be chaplain to a boys’ club, and also spiritual director to a student confraternity. Be forelong he was called to assist at a retreat house for young men, and soon after at a second retreat house as well. At night he was often to be found at a home for old and destitute men, which was also a night shelter for men off the streets. Together with a layman he set about establishing night schools for working boys where they could learn reading and writing, as well as the elements of their Faith. (Don Bosco, the founder of the Salesians, was to do the same thing at Turin). For working girls he set up homes and hostels. There existed in Rome a large number of guilds for the various trades, but many of them no longer possessed any real vitality. Fr. Vincent endeavoured to get some of them going again, fully aware of the need among working men and the possibilities inherent in the guilds. He began with the shoe makers’ guild; these had a little church of their own near the Ponte Rotti. He went around to visit the shoemakers personally in their shops. Having got to know them it was not long before he had them making a retreat with him. It can be seen how readily the young priest was able to combine idealism and a very down-to-earth appreciation of everyday needs. “The priest,” he said, must seek to be all things to all the people. Not only must he promote their spiritual good but their material welfare also, for the people expect the support and advice of the priest in all fields of action. He must use his moral ascendency to render the lives of the people more tolerable and more in conformity with human dignity. The poor and oppressed look instinctively to him against the violence and injustice of the powerful ones of this earth, and the people must not be disappointed. Moreover, experience shows that men will not observe conscientiously the Divine Law if they cannot satisfy the necessities of life. The person who is obliged to fight a losing battle against human misery loses his sense of orientation and finds it increasingly difficult to believe in the goodness of God. And then he will easily be deceived by the demagogues and allow himself to join the ranks of those unfortunates who live and die without Faith.” How faithful this young priest to the mind of the later Popes on the social problem.
By Fr. John Hennessy, S.A.C.: St. Vincent Pallotti – Apostle of Rome, Pioneer of Catholic Action