Saint of the Day – 15 March – St Louise de Marillac D.C. (1591-1660 body incorupt) Wife, Mother, Widow, Foundress, Apostle of Charity – Patron of disappointing children, loss of parents, people rejected by religious orders, sick people, social workers (proclaimed on 12 February 1960 by Pope John XXIII), Vincentian Service Corps, widows. With Saint Vincent de Paul, she founded the Daughters of Charity in 1642, receiving Vatican approval in 1655.
Louise was born and raised in Paris, during a time when great social strife had befallen the city. The gap between the rich and poor was ever increasing, with more and more families and children suffering without the basic necessities of living. At that time, nearly one in six citizens would die of poverty-related conditions or diseases. Louise felt drawn to change that, but her road to ministry would be a long one.
Born the illegitimate daughter of Louis de Marillac, Louise never knew her mother was passed away shortly after her birth. Her father graciously raised her, demonstrating great love for her, despite societal opinion. Due to family relations, Louise grew up interacting with members of the aristocracy, specifically the royal court of Queen Marie de Medicis, receiving a formal education and instruction in deportment. When her father remarried, Louise’s new stepmother refused to recognise her and she was sent to be schooled at the royal monastery of Poissy. The education Louise received was among the finest available at the time and she demonstrated a keen mind and intellect, especially in practical and organizational tasks. Her intellect was only surpassed by her dedication and commitment.
Upon her father’s death, when Louise was approximately 15 years old, she left the school and took up residence with an elderly religious, who inspired her to consider her own vocation. Louise, who had been quite frail and frequently sick throughout her childhood, applied to the Paris order of Capuchins but was denied entrance. Confused, and heartbroken, Louise was left without a plan for the next phase of her life. When her family arranged a marriage for her to Antoine Le Gras, a young man with an appointment to the royal court, Louise obeyed their wishes and was wed. The union produced one child, Michel, whom Louise came to love intensely. Louise put her energies into maintaining a household and being a mother with the same intensity that she had pursued her studies. When her husband fell ill and became bedridden, she spent her days nursing him and tending to her beloved son, who had also developed medical issues. Through her nursing, Louise came to love her husband very much and after a period of year, when she was 32, was devastated by his death. Not knowing where else to turn, Louise looked to God who had been her comfort throughout her life.
Directed by the Lord to that “the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same,” Louise sought out a new spiritual director, Saint Vincent de Paul. Together, these two pious saints would lastingly change the world.
Under his direction, Louise regulated her own life, creating a Rule of the World, which scheduled her service to others, prayer and contemplative time and management of household duties. Like with many things in her life, Louise required an outside direction to temper her zeal for service and prayer, lest she damage her own frail health. Louise began a ministry to the poor of Paris, taking four young poor women into her home and teaching them to serve those in need. These were the first sisters of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, founded when Louise was 44 years old. She instructed her new charges, “Love the poor and honour them as you would honor Christ Himself.” Saint Vincent, recognizing her intelligence, ability to get things done, organisation and zeal for service to the Lord encouraged and supported her Daughters of Charity and extension of his own service organisation the Confraternities of Charity. “Your convent,” Saint Vincent said to Louise, “will be the house of the sick; your cell, a hired room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital.”
Saint Louise went on to build and develop over 40 houses of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, throughout Paris and then extending throughout France. The sisters served the poor and sick, expanding into orphanages, mental institutions, homes for the elderly, prisons and even battlefields. Saint Louise had such a talent for organisation, she revolutionised the way in which religious interacted with hospital staff, creating integrated team approaches which cared for both the physical needs of the patient alongside the spiritual needs. This model continues to be used today.
Saint Louise continued her work and direction of her sisters until the day of her death at age 68. She said to her sisters, “Take good care of the service of the poor. Above all, live together in great union and cordiality, loving one another in imitation of the union and life of our Lord. Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she might be your only Mother.” Her incorrupt body lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Rue du Bac, Paris. Her work continues today, as her order and those that came after it, continue their missions of service.
After Louise’s death in 1660, one of Louise’s Daughters of Charity found her young granddaughter, tearfully praying at her grandmother’s tomb. When asked why she was crying, Louise’s granddaughter expressed concern that the Daughters of Charity would disappear, now that her grandmother was dead. The sister eloquently responded: “When all the poor in the world are no longer poor, when all the hungry are fed, and all the naked clothed, when the sick and the dying and the abandoned babies and the orphans and the outcast and the lonely and forsaken are all gathered in heaven, until that day, there will always be Daughters of Charity.”