SAINT LOUISE DE MARILLAC.
the Daughters of Charity
Patroness of All Christian Social Workers.
By Sister Teresa Rowe, Daughter of Charity.
Australian CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY No. 1351a (1960).
LOUISE DE MARILLAC,
Co-Foundress with Saint Vincent de Paul
of the Daughters of Charity, 1591-1660.
Although Saint Louise de Marillac was canonized in 1934, there are but few people in Australia who know anything about her.
This short work will be an attempt to condense a life, which, for the frail and delicate woman she was, abounded amazingly in good works.
Pope Pius XII compared her work in the world with that of Saint Teresa in the cloister.
Pope Pius XI stressed the miracle of her life, the
miracle of her works, and the miracle of her posterity; while Pope Saint Pius
X, when proclaiming the heroicity of her virtues,
announced; ― “We have found the valiant woman of France.”
In the eyes of the world she was simply a young widow with wretched health and a troublesome boy; yet, under the guidance of Saint Vincent de Paul, she inaugurated a thing hitherto unheard of in the Church of God ― the doing of works of charity in the world, by women, who, though not Religious, aimed at the full perfection of the Religious life.
BORN IN PARIS.
When the fortunes of France were at their lowest
ebb, and the horrors of Civil War made life unbearable for rich and poor alike,
Louise de Marillac was born in Paris, on 12 August 1591, out of wedlock.
Monsieur de Marillac worshipped his tiny daughter and tried to be both father and mother to her; but, when she was only four, he married again and little Louise soon found that her stepmother, a widow with three children of her own, had no room in her heart for the motherless babe.
Reluctantly Monsieur de Marillac sent his little daughter to a high-class Dominican boarding school at Poissy, where she was loved and understood and where she received an education rarely given to girls at that time. Besides literature and painting, she studied Latin and philosophy and read the Holy Scriptures.
Louise was happy at Poissy. She loved the peace and quiet of Convent life. She loved the nuns who mothered her; and so she was loath to leave, when, at the age of twelve, her father withdrew her and placed her in a less expensive school in Paris.
Even then, there was to be no home life for her.
In her new school, she learned domestic science and housecraft. As her father wished her to keep up her Latin, painting and philosophy, she saw much more of him, for he superintended these extras.
Still it was not home and, although she found the simple life she now led more congenial, she often felt very lonely and unwanted.
Fortunately, she loved God too much to doubt His Goodness. Her loneliness drew her closer to Him and she developed a tender devotion to the Passion of Our Lord.
When her father died, two years later, her sensitive
heart was crushed. He was all she had and she had lost him. Her stepmother
And, although in his will, Louis de Marillac wrote: ― “My daughter Louise has been my greatest consolation in life; she was given to me by God to comfort my soul in my many afflictions,” he merely settled a life-income on her and named his brother, Michel, her guardian. The de Marillac family estates were inherited by her little half-sister, Innocente.
LONGED FOR CONVENT.
For Louise, at sixteen years of age, the world held
little or no attraction. Her guardian, Uncle Michel, with whom she lived after
leaving school, was a most unworldly man, and his example and guidance
influenced her considerably, seconding her already ardent piety and her craving
for a life of penance and discipline.
She soon grew to love him for his goodness and his charity to the poor and he became her first spiritual guide. She longed to enter the Convent of Capuchin nuns and made a vow to do so when she would be of age; but her delicate health made this impossible. She was heart-broken when her Confessor released her from her promise, but he consoled her by saying: ― “God has other designs on you.”
Uncle Michel sympathized with Louise and wisely counselled her to think of something else. To get married was the only other thing a girl of the seventeenth century could do and Louise felt no attraction for it. Meantime she busied herself with the poor of her district, and with her favourite hobbies, painting and reading. She noticed that her cousins and friends, one by one, selected for themselves either the cloister or marriage. If they chose the cloister, then its doors closed behind them, because there were no un-cloistered active orders in those days. Many married ladies of her acquaintance were living in the world without being of it; so, finally she took her uncle’s advice and married Antoine le Gras, the Queen’s secretary, on 5 February 1613. She was then twenty-two.
In the designs of Providence, she was destined to be a model for Catholic wives and mothers.
Her husband’s position entitled them to share in the festivities of the Court, but, though Louise acquitted herself of her duty and appeared at Court when custom required it, her heart was not in it.
At home with her husband, she was very happy. Antoine was about ten years older than Louise, completely devoted to her and sympathetic with regard to her work among the poor. Mademoiselle le Gras, as Louis was now called, always recalled the anniversary of her wedding with gratitude.
Towards the end of the year, Michel Junior, was born. Louise’s cup of happiness was full. All the pent-up love of her motherly heart was showered on this mite. What she had missed in her own infancy she was determined to give him – full measure and flowing over – even at the risk of spoiling him. Years later Saint Vincent de Paul gently scolded her for this: ― “I never knew a mother who was so much a mother as you. Stop worrying about your boy. God loves him better than you do, He will take care of him.”
Even then, divine Providence intervened to save young Michel, by causing him to share his mother’s love with others. In 1617, Louise’s widowed aunt Valence died. She had been little Michel’s godmother. On her death-bed, she begged Louise to mother her seven children. Louise’s small family suddenly became a large household; but so well did she manage it that the poor were by no means neglected and her servants often gossiped in the kitchen about the marvellous way she served them. How self-sacrificing she was, regardless of fatigue, inconvenience and even dirt!
“BY THE WAY OF THE CROSS.”
Sorrow pressed hard upon joy in Louise’s life. ― “God made known to me from my earliest years that it was His Will that I should go to Him by the way of the Cross,” was her own summary of her life.
Loneliness in childhood, the grief of her father’s
death, and her disappointment in her vocation were followed by a few happy
years of married life.
Then came one of her greatest sufferings – a gnawing doubt which undermined her health and happiness. Had she done wrong in getting married? Had she failed God? Ought she to leave her husband and try again to fulfil her vow of entering a Convent? Her uncle tried to allay her scruples, then introduced her to Saint Francis de Sales, who gave her some consolation. However, in twelve months, he was dead, but not without having asked his friend, Monsignor Camus, Bishop of Belley, who was Louise’s cousin, to take over the direction of her soul. He had known her for years and understood her needs. He taught her to turn aside from thinking of her faults and fix her mind on Jesus Christ. He encouraged her work among the poor, as it made her forget herself, and he allowed her to make a vow not to re-marry if her husband died before her. After that, she had peace for three weeks. It was only a truce. Her temptations returned with new force and she was inclined to doubt even the immortality of her soul. She prayed in her anguish to Saint Francis de Sales, confident that he would help her, and he did. On Pentecost Sunday, 4 June, she was at Mass, utterly miserable, when suddenly her mind was enlightened and all her doubts disappeared. She was made to understand that a time would come when she would take vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. She saw herself in a place with others attending to the poor: but she could not understand how this could be a Convent because there was so much coming and going.
Then came another cross. Antoine le Gras’s health had failed. He was attacked with an incurable disease. Louise hid her spiritual trials from her husband and nursed him devotedly for more than two years. Resigned and conscious to the end, he died on 21 December 1625.
Immediately the “dark night of the soul” descended upon poor Louise. Was her husband’s death a punishment for her infidelity in the matter of her vow? Was God angry with her? Bishop Camus was away from Paris. She was desolate!
Another cross that weighed upon Louise constantly was her son, Michel. He was spoilt and she knew that she was responsible. He was now thirteen and getting nowhere with his studies because of his laziness and utter lack of ambition.
NEW SPIRITUAL DIRECTOR.
Fortunately, there was someone at hand to guide, enlighten and console her. Monsignor Camus, perhaps it was, who arranged for Vincent de Paul, a humble priest in Paris, to direct her. He established the Congregation of the Mission in 1625 and Louise had heard a lot about him. She had probably met him while visiting her poor, and she was interested in him, but she felt some repugnance in accepting him as director. Nevertheless, she acquiesced and never regretted it.
After unburdening her soul to Monsieur Vincent, she
begged him to enlighten her as to her future. What did God want her to do next?
He invited her to join other pious widows in making, mending and painting
vestments for the parish church – to continue her work among the poor and, so
as to be freer for this, to send her son away to a boarding school.
She drew up for herself a rule of life — a strict Order of the Day and submitted it to her Director.
To rise at five o’clock, to hear Mass daily and to receive Holy Communion as often as permitted, to make mental prayer morning and evening, say the Office of Our Lady and the Rosary, make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and have set times for reading sacred Scripture, examinations of conscience, meals and recreation and labour.
He had to modify her tendency to excessive
mortification and suggested that, instead of austerities for which her frail
constitution was unfit, she could restrain her too great tenderness for her
son. ― “In nothing else are you so eminently feminine,” he told her.
Louise made two retreats of eight days each in the year. Saint Vincent bade her pray for guidance for both of them, and for four years kept her waiting in this new and strange novitiate until God manifested His Will in her regard.
SERVICE OF POOR.
Honouring the hidden life of the Son of God during
these years, Louise occupied herself making clothes for the poor. She helped
ecclesiastical students from abroad who needed clothing, books, Mass outfits or
travelling expenses, and she trained young girls sent to her occasionally by Saint
Vincent. Remembering Our Lord’s words: ― “Whatsoever you do to the least
of Mine, that you do unto Me,” she looked upon the poor as her lords and
masters and served them as she would serve the Lord of Charity Himself. Our
Lady was her model in all things. Carefully she prepared for and celebrated her
feasts; especially the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption.
Saint Vincent visited her or wrote when missions kept him out of Paris, and all the while prayed that God would solve the mystery of her vocation. When he was absent for any length of time she worried and wrote to Monsignor Camus, who made light of her distress and reminded her mischievously that Monsieur Vincent could not be expected to abandon his other duties for her sake. And his duties were legion.
When he was parish priest of Chatillon in 1617, he had erected the first Confraternity of Charity. So successful was the venture that in a short time, the organization was recognized by Church and State; and in 1629, there were about 130 branches in country districts and small towns. There were set rules for the members, who dedicated themselves to the service of the needy and took turns in attending to the sick. To keep them up to the mark, Saint Vincent or one of his priests visited them from time to time and sometimes found that certain members had fallen away from their first fervour.
Saint Vincent realized that for the women members, a lady organizer with a spiritual outlook was needed. Who could fill this role? Who indeed but Louise de Marillac with her common sense, tact and easy flow of language.
SOCIAL SERVICE WORK.
Having explained the organization to her and supplied her with letters of introduction, he sent her off in high spirits, little dreaming that the SOCIAL SERVICE WORK begun that day would one day spread over the entire world.
Travelling by open stage-coach, she visited the churches at each stopping-place, to confide to the Lord of Charity, as she loved to call Him, the work she had come to do for Him. Then she looked for lodgings and took whatever was offered.
She held meetings of the Confraternities, examined their organizations, visited the sick in each town or village according to instructions, and then returned to Saint Vincent with her report. For the next four years, we find her setting off in summer and autumn, sometimes penetrating far into the country. She was appalled by the wretched condition of the peasants, and more so by their utter ignorance of God. What mattered it, if, to reach them, she travelled in springless carts, on horseback, or struggled many miles on foot? They were suffering members of the Mystical Body of our crucified Lord, and she loved them. From time to time, her health gave way and she had to rest, but as soon as she was allowed up, she was off again.
To the members of the Charities in each town and village she gave simple instructions on their duties and responsibilities, taught them home nursing, and what precautions to take against contagion. Her simple eloquence attracted the men who sometimes concealed themselves in the meeting room to listen to her.
APPRECIATED AND WELCOMED.
She compiled a little Catechism and gathered the children around her wherever she went. To find good school mistresses was a great anxiety. She endeavoured to leave one in every town, and here her lady friends helped her considerably. Besides visiting and encouraging the Confraternities already functioning, Louise erected many more. In some places, she met with opposition, but generally she was appreciated and welcomed.
At Beauvais, in 1633, her visit ended in a public manifestation of gratitude. The Bishop, priests and people gathered to see her off. When she was leaving, a small boy fell under the wheels of the clumsy vehicle in which she was travelling and was thought to be dead. Louise sprang out of the carriage and, kneeling beside the seemingly lifeless little body, prayed so fervently that, to everyone’s astonishment, he arose perfectly uninjured.
Before five years were up the Court and every parish
of importance had its Confraternity of Charity. Abuses crept in sometimes. A
few of the Ladies of Charity got their maids to prepare the food and then sent
them to the poor sick instead of serving them personally.
Saint Vincent strongly disapproved: ― “They hadn’t the touch — these paid servants.”
Then came an epidemic of plague. Many Ladies of Charity were forbidden, by their husbands or by their parents, to run the risk of contagion. In fact, those who could, fled from Paris, while Louise calmly continued her charitable works and visited even the plague-stricken.
To fill the gaps left by the frightened Ladies of Charity, Vincent and Louise decided to invite some of the good country girls they had met in the villages, who, without wishing to be nuns, would willingly give themselves to God to serve Him in the poor. More than a dozen came eagerly. Louise gave them a hurried course of instructions, placed them in hired rooms under the care of the Lady President of each parish Confraternity and hoped for the best. She got it!
Although some proved unsuitable and were sent home, others were excellent and soon Saint Vincent was in admiration at their devotedness.
To give just one example: Marguerite Nasseau, who
had taught herself to read while minding her sheep and then braved the ridicule
of her elders by teaching other girls; who had skimped her own meagre fare to
save money enough to help penniless young students to follow their vocation.
She came to Saint Vincent and offered her services to nurse the sick. ― “Everyone
loved her because there was nothing in her that was not lovable,” he said.
After serving satisfactorily in three different parishes, she caught the plague from a poor woman whom she brought to her little room and put into her own bed. Then she walked to the hospital, where Louise found her, dying — the first DAUGHTER OF CHARITY.
BIRTH OF COMMUNITY.
Scattered as they were in different parishes of Paris, with very little experience, and left to their own resources except for orders received from the Lady of Charity placed over each, these young peasant girls could never persevere if something were not done to stabilize the venture. Louise de Marillac was quick to realize this and offered to receive a certain number into her house and to educate and train them for the service of the poor.
Saint Vincent, too, judged it necessary to unite these girls in a Community under the guidance of a superior — and here was one at hand of consummate prudence, exemplary piety and of an ardent and indefatigable zeal.
The Community of the Daughters of Charity dates its birth from 29 November 1633 when Saint Louise welcomed the first four, whose names, unfortunately, are unknown to us.
To suit them, she changed somewhat her Order of the Day. There was to be no Office, but half an hour’s mental prayer morning and evening, examinations of conscience, periods of recollection and acts of the Presence of God, vocal prayers in common, daily Mass in the parish church, frequent Holy Communion, and the Rosary said privately.
She joined them at meals, recreation and housework;
she instructed them in all phases of their life and took them with her to visit
the homes of the sick.
Saint Vincent watched and approved. He was most devoted to the interests of the “Little Company”, and came at least once a fortnight to give them encouragement and instruction. After the second of these Conferences, notes were taken, at first by Saint Louise’ herself and later by one or other of the Sisters capable of doing so.
With Saint Vincent’s permission, Louise made a vow on 25 March 1634 to consecrate herself to the service of the poor, at the same time renewing her vow of Chastity. By this time, there were twelve girls under instruction.
From the start, Saint Vincent insisted, in his humility, that God alone could be truly called the Founder of the Community. He never thought of it, neither did Mademoiselle. She, in her turn, realized that she had at last found her true vocation — a religious life, hitherto quite unforeseen, living in Community, yet working in the midst of the world, with much “coming and going” in succouring the poor, the ignorant and the afflicted.
For fear of the Sisters being considered nuns, which would mean enclosure and no more service of the poor in their own homes, all terminology associated with the cloister was avoided. Instead of Convent it was to be HOUSE; instead of Reverend Mother, SISTER SERVANT. The Novitiate was to be the SEMINARY; and the Mistress of’ Novices, SISTER DIRECTRESS.
The little Sisters were not to wear a veil like nuns; the simple grey costume and white head-dress of the peasant women of the time suited nicely and was made uniform.
Until his death in 1660, Saint Vincent continued the Conferences. If he happened to be out of Paris, his faithful friend and first disciple, Father Portail, supplied for him, but this was rare.
As for Louise, she was there always, by her example giving herself to the formation of these young Sisters, whom she dearly loved, with a spiritual energy that was almost miraculous.
TEACHING AND SERVICE.
When she was satisfied, after some months, that they
understood all that such a vocation required, two or three were sent to live in
the town, near the little schoolroom where they taught peasant children and
shepherdesses. Often they had only a hired room for lodging and, after hearing
Mass in the parish church, they sallied forth to school or to serve the poor in
their homes. After school, there were household chores — sewing, mending,
washing and chopping firewood. Some made preserves for the poor, others
attended to the doctor’s orders for the next day’s round of visits. Those who
were illiterate were given extra time to learn how to read. Louise insisted on
daily study, saying: ― “You must prepare yourselves in every way to
become better Servants of the Poor. We are all they have and nothing is too
good for our lords and masters.”
Their religious formation went on constantly. Every fortnight they gathered either in Louise’s house or in Saint Lazare, for Monsieur Vincent’s Conferences, and their numbers steadily increased.
Louise de Marillac, with other Ladies of Charity, visited the Hotel-Dieu, an immense hospital where there were almost 3000 patients; not that they had so many beds, for we are told there were sometimes six in a bed! It is difficult nowadays, to imagine a hospital in such dire straits as to have insufficient sheets for changing.
Soon four Sisters were regularly at work there, and
the work was colossal, for so many other essentials were lacking too: besides
corporal assistance, the Ladies of Charity instructed the patients and prepared
them for the Sacraments.
During this first year nearly 800 infidels, heretics, and even Turks, were reconciled to God. Louise was so devoted to this work that Saint Vincent had to restrain her zeal.
By 1636, it was necessary to move to a larger house, which was found in La Chapelle, a northern suburb of Paris. This became the Mother House. A few visiting Sisters were left to carry on their work in the city house.
Hardly were they installed in their country house, enjoying the pure fresh air, than war threatened. They were on the direct route of the invading and defending armies. Thousands of refugees poured into the village. Louise found herself and her Sisters in a dangerous position, but she held her ground, trusting in the protection of God, and took in a number of girls who were among the refugees. To help them materially and to protect them were not sufficient for her zeal; she arranged for one of the Missionaries to give them a retreat before they left.
PLIGHT OF FOUNDLINGS.
The foundlings next attracted her attention. She heard of poor unfortunate abandoned babies deserted in the streets of Paris — 300 or 400 a year, and her motherly heart went out to them. She went to see “La Couche”, a house to which these waifs were taken. It was kept by a woman with two servants who treated the children so badly that most of them died un-baptized. The survivors were sold to any beggar for a few pence, who maimed them to excite compassion. . . . Louise was heartbroken and immediately begged Saint Vincent to let her take as many as she could accommodate. The Sisters of La Chapelle received them gladly, and we hear of a sister sitting up all night with a baby in each arm because all the cots were full.
Their numbers increased so rapidly during the war that a foundling hospital was opened and run by the Sisters in Paris for some, while others were boarded out with foster-mothers.
Providing for these little ones was, for years, one
of Saint Louise’s greatest difficulties. As they grew up, she also had to
educate them. To meet the growing demand for teachers, she sent some of the
Sisters to the Ursuline Nuns, who initiated them into their method of teaching.
The Ladies of Charity were of great assistance to Saint Louise. In fact, she could not have done without them a fraction of what she did.
DEATH OF MADAME GOUSSAULT.
Her charitable enterprises required enormous sums of money. This was contributed almost entirely by the good Ladies of Charity, who also devoted themselves whole-heartedly to her works. Foundations were made on their country estates and financed by them. Madame Goussault was a wonderful example to the others, always ready to help either in visiting the Hotel-Dieu and the prisons or in the care of the foundlings. Her premature death in 1639 was a sore trial to Louise, who had relied so much on her. It was some consolation to know that to Saint Vincent she said, the day before she died: ― “All night I have seen the Daughters of Charity before the Throne of God. Ah, how greatly they will be multiplied; what good they will do and what happiness will be theirs.”
Some of the Ladies of Charity expressed a wish to make a spiritual retreat under Louise’s direction. At Saint Vincent’s suggestion she readily complied, all the more so as this gave her an opportunity to make them some return.
Saint Louise never neglected what she deemed her first duty, the training of the Sisters who now formed a numerous Community. They were taught to have “no cell but a hired room, no cloister but the streets of the city or the wards of a hospital, no enclosure but obedience, no grating but the fear of God, and no veil but holy modesty.” But at the same time they were to equal cloistered religious in all the virtues of the religious life, adding thereto a great love for and absolute devotedness to the poor. The secret of her success in training her young girls was that “she gave them daily heroic example of every precept she explained.”
NURSING THE PLAGUE-STRICKEN.
Madame Goussault’s dying wish was to see the Sisters take over and run the Hospital of Angers, her native town, for which she left a large sum of money. This was the first long-distance foundation. Seventy-five miles from Paris was a considerable journey in those days, partly by coach and partly by canal-boat. Louise picked her Sisters carefully and decided to accompany them. She also made an effort to discard her widow’s weeds and adopt the head-dress worn by her companions, but she caught cold and had to revert to her black veil. It was a disappointment to her and she humbly thought that she was unworthy of it. The journey to Angers took fourteen days and, when they arrived, Louise was seriously ill. Nevertheless, she attended to all the business of the Foundation and established the Association of the Ladies of Charity. The plague was raging, but the Sisters fearlessly nursed the plague-stricken and God preserved them from contagion.
Six years later the administrators of another large hospital asked for Sisters to assume charge. This was in Nantes, farther off than Angers. Again, Louise installed her Sisters personally. Before long, difficulties crowded in from all sides, and several times the Sisters’ Council in Paris was on the point of withdrawing them. Eventually their patience and charity won, though it took several years.
RULES ARE WRITTEN.
In 1642, there were nearly one hundred members in the little Company. Some of the Sisters begged Saint Vincent to allow them to make vows. After much deliberation he consented that they make vows of Poverty, Chastity, Obedience and the Service of the Poor, which would became, and remain, annual, although each one’s intention must be to renew them every year until death.
Those so privileged pronounced their first Holy Vows on the Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March, and Louise renewed hers at the same time.
She kept reminding Saint Vincent that so far the
Sisters had no written rule. Her Order of the Day and little regulations, but
above all her example had sufficed. Being overwhelmed with problems of his own
at the time, he put her off; but early in 1645 he was frightened into action
when Louise collapsed and her life was despaired of. Eventually she recovered
and then he became dangerously ill, even unconscious for several days. As soon
as he was able, he asked Louise to draw up Rules for the future guidance of the
Community. This she did with such wisdom and foresight that he had very few
alterations to make, and these Rules have stood the test of time and are still
faithfully observed by thousands of Daughters of Charity in all parts of the
In the Conferences that followed, Saint Vincent explained these Rules minutely and loved to repeat: ― “Keep your Rules and your Rules will keep you.”
It was now five years since Louise had transferred her Seminary and Secretariat to a larger house near the parish church of Saint Laurent. Saint Vincent was nearer. The Ladies of Charity held their meetings there, and Retreats for the Sisters and for the Laity were there conducted. Louise was the life and soul of the house. In spite of her continual infirmities, and sometimes overpowering anxieties, she was constantly cheerful, and would laugh heartily at recreation with the Sisters. When death snatched one of them from her, she wept bitterly, so much did she love them.
Louise’s humility was her outstanding virtue. She did the meanest work of the house and never allowed anything new to be bought for her. Secondhand clothing she considered quite good enough.
Her spirit of obedience made her seek advice from Saint Vincent on every point and obey him implicitly.
The secrets of her interior life are revealed in her
instructions given so regularly to the Daughters. These were taken down by her
secretary verbatim, and we have them today as inspiring as the day she spoke.
Full of common sense and forthrightness, one feels that she has had personal
experience of the crosses and snares for which she sought to prepare them.
Her devotion to the Sacred Heart was remarkable. She lived before Saint Margaret Mary, who was born in 1647; yet a large picture painted by her represents the Lord of Charity standing in the attitude we are now so accustomed to see on pictures of the apparition to Saint Margaret, which occurred many years later. Her second characteristic devotion was to the Immaculate Conception; in which she firmly believed long before it was declared an article of faith. To her Guardian Angel she was most devout; and always saluted the angels of the inhabitants of the towns and villages she passed through on her journeys; and she recommended the Sisters to pray to the good angels of those whom they strove to instruct or convert.
Her devotion to the Sacred Passion and to the Blessed Sacrament sustained her all through life amid innumerable trials, sorrows and sufferings of body and soul. These devotions are now incorporated into the spiritual exercises of the Daughters of Charity.
GOD’S WATCHFUL CARE.
Louise had great confidence in Divine Providence. She told the Sisters that if they were not already called Daughters of Charity, they might well be called Daughters of Providence — so often had the good God shown His watchful care of them.
In 1644, she narrowly escaped death from a falling ceiling in the Community room, when a joist broke, immediately after she had left it.
On another occasion, a Sister was climbing the stairs of a tenement house with food for a sick woman, when the house collapsed, killing thirty-six people; the corner of the landing on which she stood was the only part left intact. After carefully lowering her soup-pot at the end of a rope, she jumped from the window into blankets held out to catch her and then went on her way to the poor with her basket still on her arm!
When Saint Vincent pleaded the cause of his beloved galley slaves, the condemned criminals, Louise sent Sisters to nurse them, with detailed instructions, warning them of the risks they ran, on account of the evil character of these poor men. ― “Be like the sun whose rays fall on the dung-heap without suffering any ill effects from it.”
A large dilapidated castle, “Bicetre”, was placed at her disposal by the Ladies of Charity in 1647. The foundlings were housed there and a wine-press and bakery were started, but civil war broke out. As in 1636, the Sisters and children were in danger and, two years later, all had to return to Paris.
These foundlings caused Louise more worry than enough. The number of children to be fed, housed and clothed was out of all proportion to the funds collected for them.
Between 1638 and 1643, 1,200 infants had been cared for and they kept coming at an average of one a day. The Sisters at the Foundling Hospital reduced their own fare to one meal a day. So much else was there to worry about, that the Ladies of Charity’s enthusiasm for them flagged and Louise tearfully told Saint Vincent that she feared they would have to give up the care of these little ones.
Saint Vincent called a meeting and made his famous appeal: ― “. . . Ladies, if you continue to support these little ones, they will live. If you abandon them, they will die. Pronounce sentence. Their life and death are in your hands. What is your verdict?”
Of course, the Ladies of Charity promised to continue, and even sold their jewellery to raise funds; but with the outbreak of war, many of the Ladies of Charity fled to the country, and the fortunes of the few remaining were so reduced that they were unable to redeem their promises. Louise was left alone to shoulder the burden of hundreds of little hungry children. Debts mounted. Credit was refused. The little ones were dying of hunger and poor Louise felt personally responsible for their deaths. To make matters worse, Saint Vincent was away for five or six months, but he answered her sad little letters, reminding her of the confidence she owed God. The work was His. He would see it through. And so He did, through His worthy instrument, Saint Vincent, who, on his return, managed to procure food, paid all debts, and averted the dreaded disaster within a few months.
There came a sip of happiness to Louise in 1650. Her wayward son, now thirty-seven years of age, who found it so hard to settle down anywhere or at any job, met and married Gabrielle le Clerc, an excellent young lady, under whose influence he became steady and reliable. They had one daughter, Louise, who was a great joy to her grandmother.
Three days after his marriage, France was again plunged into a senseless war of tragic suffering. Country districts were laid waste by the marching and counter-marching of troops. The horrors perpetrated by bandits admitted into the Queen’s army were unimaginable.
Louise was deluged with appeals for help; Sisters
were wanted everywhere. Famine was widespread. Sorrowfully she saw four Sisters
depart for the battlefield at the Queen’s request, to nurse the wounded. Three
of them died. Soon there was “fighting in the very capital”. Soldiers lay dead
at the door of the Mother House, while the Sisters inside fasted and prayed for
Prayer succeeded where all political efforts failed. The Archbishop appealed for prayer and penance, and peace came with the return of the young King Louis XIV at the end of 1652.
At the same time, Poland was at war with Sweden. The
Queen of Poland, who had been a Lady of Charity in Paris, asked for Sisters to
nurse the wounded soldiers in her adopted country. Three were sent in 1652 and
more in 1657. Two died of plague and Louise was asked for reinforcements. In
all, she sent twenty Sisters to Poland, envying them their opportunities for
As a result of the war, and long before it was over, begging in the streets of Paris became a menace. There were about 100,000 professional beggars. Many edicts had been issued against them, and the weapon of force had been resorted to, but all in vain.
In 1656, King Louis XIV erected a general hospital, which before long housed 6,000 mendicants, all learning a trade. Street begging was again forbidden by law. It was remarkable how many maimed and blind beggars were cured overnight and either came willingly to learn a trade or disappeared into the country. A Paris merchant donated 100,000 livres for work, which was to be administered by Saint Vincent, Saint Louise and the Daughters.
CARE OF LUNATICS.
In the year of 1653, the Holy Name of Jesus Hospice was founded for the sick and aged of the capital.
Two years later, this valiant woman, now worn out with age and infirmities, welcomed yet another major appointment, the care of lunatics in an asylum which had been rather badly managed. Saint Vincent inspired the Sisters with such an exalted idea of the grace God bestowed on them by giving them this charitable work that they all longed to devote themselves to it in spite of its special difficulties.
In 1658, the River Seine overflowed its banks — Paris was inundated. Louise harboured 800 refugees in the Mother House and fed 1,500 poor at the door each day. Saint Vincent organized a huge emporium of food, clothing and furniture, and medical supplies, while several Sisters helped the priests and brothers who were sent to relieve distress, in the country districts.
And so, these last years of Louis’s life were no less fruitful in good works than the preceding ones, and like them, bore the stamp of the Cross. Trials of all kinds came her way — ill health, disappointments, losses, but with them all came ever-increasing sanctity. Her will was anchored to the Will of God and, consequently, she enjoyed that peace which Our Lord promised ― “no man can take from you.”
A fall, which injured one arm permanently in 1659, aggravated her sufferings and necessitated a Sister secretary. From her sick room she sent Sisters to Calais to nurse the wounded and others attacked by plague. Two died and twenty volunteered to replace them.
PREPARES FOR END.
During these last years of her life, Louise had an Assistant, to whom she left most of the administration of the Mother House. No longer able to cope with it all, she spent more time in prayer and preparation for the end, which she felt was drawing near. The prayers and sacrifices of their Mother certainly obtained extraordinary graces for her children.
Her last foundation was that of Narbonne in 1659,
where the Archbishop asked for three teaching Sisters.
Louise was no longer able to assist at daily Mass and was suffering intensely. Twelve years before, Saint Vincent had written of her to Father Portail in Rome: ― “I regard Mademoiselle as naturally dead for the last ten years . . . only God knows the strength of her soul.”
January and February were anxious months for her Daughters. Their Mother lay between life and death. On 4 February, the Last Sacraments were administered; but she rallied sufficiently to put all her affairs in order. On the 14th news of the death of Father Portail saddened her. He had been the Sisters’ Spiritual Director for eighteen years.
Early in March, her fever returned and gangrene declared itself in her injured shoulder. She was in danger and on the 12th, she again received the Last Sacraments. Three days of increasing pain followed, but her patience was uncompromising. ― “It is just,” she whispered, “that where sin has abounded, suffering should also abound.”
Saint Vincent, now over eighty, was practically an
invalid. His ulcerated leg made it impossible for him to walk any distance. He
was quite unable to assist her.
She asked for a few written words of encouragement, but, knowing her detachment, he sent an oral message instead: ― “You are going before me, Mademoiselle, but I hope to see you soon in heaven.”
At eleven o’clock on the 15th, feeling that her last hour had come, she spoke her dying words to the sobbing Sisters who surrounded her bed: ― “Take great care of the poor, . . . live together in great union and cordiality . . . pray much to the Blessed Virgin, she is your only Mother.”
At noon, her beautiful soul passed peacefully to God.
It was Monday of Passion Week, 15 March 1660.
She left 350 Daughters of Charity in seventy foundations in France and Poland.
SAINT VINCENT’S WORDS.
A few weeks after her death, Saint Vincent, somewhat improved in health, held a Conference with her Daughters. After listening to them tell of her virtues and her tender devotion to the poor, he said: ― “Address yourselves with confidence to your Mother in heaven. She can help you more now and she will, provided you are faithful to God.”
Fourteen years before, when sending her a draft copy
of the memorandum of the establishment of the Daughters, which he intended to
send to the Archbishop of Paris, he wrote: ― “I have omitted many things
I might have said about yourself. Let us leave it to Our Lord to say it to the
whole world one day, and let us hide ourselves in the meantime.”
Surely, that day has come and Our Lord is calling the attention of the whole world to Saint LOUISE DE MARILLAC in this great century.
Her Cause was not introduced until 1895.
In 1911, Pope Saint Pius X declared her Venerable.
In 1920, Pope Benedict XV beatified her.
In 1934, Pope Pius XI canonized her.
In 1954, her statue was erected in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome.
And now, 14 March 1960, Pope John XXIII declared her to be the PATRONESS OF ALL CHRISTIAN SOCIAL WORKERS.
Did she not inaugurate, more than 300 years ago, just those works which now claim the time and zeal of our modern Social Workers?
― “Mothers, Fathers, Catholic Youth, Religious and lay Teachers and Nurses, and members of every branch of Social Work, Saint Louise de Marillac is your MODEL. Look to her for inspiration. Put your efforts under her guidance and protection, and pray that your work may resemble hers, especially in this – that in all she did for the needy and oppressed she sought only the GLORY OF GOD and the SALVATION OF SOULS.”
The Daughters of Charity in Australia.
The Vice-Province of the Daughters of Charity in Australia forms a branch of the British Province, which was founded from the Mother House, Paris, in 1855.
From the Central House, Mill Hill, London, came the pioneers of the Australian Branch in 1926.
Others came in after years — in all, the British Province sent thirty Sisters to the Vice-Province.
The first four Australians who applied for admission to the Community of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac, were obliged to go overseas for their training; but, in 1937, a temporary Seminary was opened in Mayfield, which was transferred in 1939 to the newly-built Central House in Eastwood (Marsfield in Sydney).
Since then, approximately one hundred Australians have completed their twelve months’ training here, after six months’ postulancy, and have been sent out to one or other of the eighteen houses.
(Thanks to Saint Paul's School for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, Kew, Victoria.)