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Saint Louise de Marillac

Saint Louise de Marillac
  • Century: 16th & 17th Century
  • Patronage: Disappointing Children, Loss of Parents, People Rejected by Religious Orders, Sick People,
  • Feast Day: March 15th

Patronage – Disappointing Children, Loss of Parents, People Rejected by Religious Orders, Sick People, Social Workers, Widows, Vincentian Service Corps

St. Louise de Marillac was born August 12, 1591.  She was born out of wedlock in the Picardy region of France, and never knew her mother.  Louis de Marillac, Lord of Ferrires claimed her as his natural daughter, but not his legal heir.  He was a member of the prominent de Marillac family and was a widower.   Louise grew up amid the affluent society of Paris, but without a stable home life.  Her father married his new wife, Antoinette Le Camus, who refused to accept Louise as part of the family.  Nevertheless, Louise was cared for and received an excellent education at the Royal Monastery of Poissy, near Paris, where her aunt was a Dominican Nun.  

Louise was introduced to the arts and humanities as well as to a deep spiritual life.  She remained at Poissy until the age of twelve, when her father passed away.  She then went to live with a good devout lady, who taught her household management skills as well as the secrets to herbal medicine.  At the age of fifteen, Louise felt drawn to the Cloistered life, but was refused admission by the Capuchin Nuns in Paris.  She was devastated by this refusal, and by the age of 22, her family had her convinced that marriage was the best alternative.  Her uncle arranged a wedding for her to Antoine Le Gras, secretary to Queen Maria.  They were wed in 1617, and a year later had their only child Michel.  She grew to love her husband, and was a good mother to their son.  She was active in her parish, and lead the Ladies of Charity, an organization of wealthy women dedicated to helping persons oppressed by poverty and disease.  Her husband became bedridden in 1621 after a chronic illness.  Louise nursed and cared for him and their son.  She sought comfort from her spiritual director, St. Francis de Sales.  Louis entered into a deep spiritual practice, as a mystic.  The Incarnation of the Son of God became the center upon which Louise’s theology and spirituality rested.  She viewed the Incarnation as the moment in which men and women were saved.  

During civil unrest, her two uncles who held high rank within the government were imprisoned.  One was publicly executed and the other died in prison.  In 1625, her husband had wasted away and died, and Louise suffered from depression that overcame her.  She suffered with internal doubt and guilt at having not pursued the religious calling she had felt as a young woman, and she prayed for a resolution.  In 1623, at the age of thirty-two, she wrote, “On the Feast of Pentecost, during Holy Mass while I was praying in the Church, my mind was completely freed of all doubt.  I was advised that I should remain with my husband and 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.  I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things and that, believing there is a God, I should not doubt the rest”.  She vowed to never remarry should her husband die before her.  She was shown the face of a new spiritual director that she would receive.  She then met Vincent de Paul, and recognized him as that face she was shown.  

Three years after this experience, Antoine died.  She now focused intently on her spiritual development.  Being a woman of great energy, intelligence, determination and devotion, Louise wrote her own “Rule of Life in the World”, which detailed a structure for her day.  It included the Divine Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mass, Holy Communion, Mediation, Spiritual Reading, Fasting, Penance, Reciting the Rosary and special prayers.  She still found time to manage her house, entertain guests, and raise her thirteen-year-old son.  She became closer to Vincent de Paul.  

Vincent de Paul lived near her, and was reluctant to become her spiritual advisor.  He was also busy with his Confraternities of Charity.  They nursed the poor and looked after neglected children, a real need in their day.  His work needed more workers, and he needed someone who could teach and organize them.  Vincent invited Louise to get involved in his work with the poor.  She found great success in these endeavors, and in 1632 she made a spiritual retreat seeking inner guidance regarding her next step.  She intensified her ministry with the poor and needy, while still remaining in a deep spiritual life.  In 1633, with the help and guidance of Vincent, she created the Daughters of Charity.   In the 17th century, the charitable care of the poor was completely unorganized.  There was a real need for the Daughters of Charity.  

Louise found the help she needed in young, humble, country women who had the energy and the proper attitude to deal with people who were destitute and suffering.  The society ladies that helped Louise helped by raising funds.  She taught them all how to deepen their spiritual life, “Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself”.  The Daughters of Charity received official approbation in 1655.  The Daughters of Charity were unlike the established Religious Communities at the time; up to this point all Religious women were behind cloister walls and performed a ministry of contemplative prayer.  In working with her Sisters, Louise emphasized a balanced life, as Vincent de Paul had taught her.  It was the integration of contemplation and activity that made Louise’s work so successful.  She wrote, “Certainly it is the great secret of the spiritual life to abandon to God all that we love, by abandoning ourselves to all that He wills”.  

Louise led the Company of the Daughters of Charity until her death.  Observers believe that St. Vincent de Paul was the heart of the Daughters of Charity, while Louise was the head.  Near her death, she wrote 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”.  After increasingly ill health, Louise de Marillac died on March 15, 1660 – six months before the death of her friend and mentor, St. Vincent de Paul.  She was sixty-eight years of age.  At this time, the Daughters of Charity had more than forty houses in France.  

Practical Take Away

St. Louise de Marillac was born out of wedlock in the Picardy region of France.  Louis de Marillac, Lord of Ferrires claimed her as his natural daughter, yet not his legal heir.  She was educated in a Monastery, and was very spiritual.  She had desires to become a Cloistered Nun, but was refused.  She entered an arranged marriage, and was a good wife, having one son.  After illness took her husbands life, she met St. Vincent de Paul and they became good friends.  She assisted him with his work for the poor, and together they founded the Daughters of Charity.  Observers believe that St. Vincent de Paul was the heart of the Daughters of Charity, while Louise was the head.  The Daughters of Charity are in many countries to this day, still helping the poor.