Louise de Marillac
Louise de Marillac was born out of wedlock on August 12, 1591 near Le Meux, France. She never knew her mother. Her father, Louis de Marillac, Lord of Ferrires, claimed her as his natural daughter but not his legal heir. And his new wife refused to accept Louise as part of their family. Louise grew up amid the affluent society of Paris, but without a stable home life. She was still cared for and received an excellent education at the royal monastery of Poissy near Paris, where her aunt was a Dominican nun. Although she wanted to enter the convent, when she was 22, her family convinced her that marriage was best and arranged for her to marry Antoine Le Gras. Around 1621, Antoine contracted a chronic illness,became bedridden and died. She vowed not to remarry when her husband died. In a vision, she received the insight that she would be guided to a new spiritual director whose face she was shown. When she happened to meet Vincent de Paul she recognized him as the priest from her vision.
St. Vincent de Paul formed a confraternity among the women of his parish in Châtillon-les-Dombes. It was so successful that it spread from the rural districts to Paris. They were unlike other established religious communities, because the women were out in public working with the poor. “Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself,” Louise explained. That was the foundation of the the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which received official approbation in 1655. In working with her sisters, Louise emphasized a balanced life, as St. Vincent de Paul had taught her. It was the integration of contemplation and activity that made Louise’s work so successful. She wrote near the end of her life, “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 Daughters of Charity until her death. Nearing her death, she wrote to her nuns: “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.” Louise de Marillac died six months before the death of her dear friend and mentor, Vincent de Paul. She was 68, and the Daughters of Charity had more than 40 houses in France.
Louise de Marillac was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and on March 11, 1934, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI. Her Feast Day is May 9 (changed from March 15 in 2016). She was declared Patroness of Christian Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960.
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