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“If you completely entrust everything to the guidance of Divine Providence and love the most holy will of God, this will contribute greatly to your peace of mind and heart. In fact, this is one of the most essential practices I know of for growth into holiness.”—Louise de Marillac

Who was Louise de Marillac?
A 17th Century native of France, Louise de Marillac knew the difficulties of Parisian life. Famine, disease and civil strife raged. Hundreds of children were abandoned at birth. Torture and other atrocities claimed countless lives. The division between rich and poor grew ever wider as more families joined the ranks of the latter. One seventh of the population died.

 

louise de marillac
Saint Louise de Marillac

Yet in spite of this cruel environment, or perhaps, because of it, a revival in religious activity took place. Wealthy women and men, impressed by the lives of the religious, were inspired to deepen their spirituality and commit themselves to personal accountability. Membership in cloistered communities swelled. But what of the poor, filthy, starving, sick, aged, and abandoned? Who would care for them?

It was Louise and Vincent de Paul who cared for them—alone at first—and later, with hundreds of women known as the Daughters of Charity.

Louise was born to wealthy parents in 1591. Sadness invaded her tiny life early when her mother died shortly after her birth. Her father died when she was only 13 years old. She spent her formative years at boarding schools studying Latin, philosophy and theology.

But when her father’s fortune diminished, she changed schools and her education shifted to practical matters such as cooking and housekeeping. Biographers describe her as a pensive, faith-filled, quiet girl, happy in her studies, yet marked by loneliness and sadness.

Feeling drawn to religious life
Prone to introspection and zealous piety, Louise was drawn to religious life. At 16 she privately vowed to join a community, but later, her attempts to join the Capuchin Nuns were thwarted when entrance alluded her. “God has other designs on you,” the nuns’ Superior told her. Still, Louise was devastated by the denial.

She then married a wealthy man and had a son. Free from financial worry, she devoted herself to her son’s care and the needs of the materially poor. Tirelessly she visited poor persons in their homes, bringing food and washing them. With respect, patience, and a warm smile, she instructed them in their daily tasks, taught them catechism and shared her love of God. This utter devotion to the less fortunate was her hallmark.

The death of her husband in 1625 brought still more sadness but from it the hand of Providence became evident shortly thereafter when Vincent de Paul, a simple and devoted priest, took over her spiritual direction. Once self-absorbed in sorrow, Louise grew to trust completely in the Providence of God.

Vincent was a champion for the needs of the downtrodden, indigent and unemployed. In his eyes, the poor were Jesus Christ and it took little time for him to realize Louise shared his vision. While Vincent founded the first confraternities of charity, which served the poor throughout France, he put Louise in charge of their management. Her example of hands-on service inspired hundreds of wealthy women to join her efforts contributing not only their finances but themselves, as workers. Due to her relentlessness in serving her “masters” as she affectionately called the less fortunate, charities sprang up all over France and continue to exist in similar form today.

Guiding others toward lives of service
Before long, Louise’s energies were thrust into training the numerous young girls who hoped to spend their lives in service to the poor. She taught them how to clean house, cook and sew. They also learned to give catechism lessons.

In time, the efforts of Vincent and Louise led to the establishment of the Daughters of Charity, a religious community of women who viewed the streets of Paris as their cloister and gave direct service to the poor.

At one point, Louise and the Daughters of Charity were in charge of 13 homes for orphans. In addition to her other monumental daily tasks, Louise visited each home every day. Despite more sickness and loss, she persevered, and with Vincent continued to organize programs for the poor, abandoned, sick and elderly.

The Daughters of Charity eventually ministered in almost all of Europe and in over 30 other countries around the globe.

After Louise’s death in 1660, her young granddaughter was found in tears, praying at her grandmother's tomb. She asked a Sister who happened upon her there if there would still be Daughters of Charity now that her grandmother was gone. In response the Sister told Louise’s namesake: “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.”

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