Louise de Marillac and the Marginalized

From VincentWiki

by: Sister Carmen Rodríguez, DC

(This article first appeared in Santa Luisa de Marillac, ayer y hoy, XXXIV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, [Saint Vincent de Paul, Yesterday and Today, XXXIV Vincentian Studies Week], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2010, p.253-299).


Yesterday and today are the result of specific societies that have developed and become diversified in accord with the rhythm of social, economic, political and religious systems.

To situate previous communities and groups of persons in their historical era while attempting to come to know these groups supposes that we are willing to accompany those individuals and understand their environment … in this case in means that we are willing to take the time to know and understand our protagonist: Louise de Marillac.

In fact in order to know and situate Louise de Marillac in the context in which she lived, that is, the social, political and religious situation of the seventeenth century, supposes that we attempt to understand or, at the very least, that we attempt to discover what motivated this woman to engage in service on behalf of the poor.

As we attempt to understand Louise’s fundamental option, that which gave meaning to her life, we must journey step by step with her because it is only in this manner that we can discover how her ministry with the marginalized was shaped and formed.

There have been many studies in this area and much information has been made available to us about Louise’s manner of acting and thinking. Some interesting studies on infancy during the seventeenth century help us discover and describe the person of Louise de Marillac. This present study was done in a very simple way and here we attempt to present an approximation of how a person lived during a previous era and what their lifestyle might suggest to us today. This theme is very broad because it involves Louise’s whole life … therefore I want to focus this reflection on three questions: [1] some sociological insights, that is, the world that surrounded Louise and how that influenced her (some reflections on her childhood and youth and how various experiences led her to make a decision on behalf of the poor and how Louise experienced certain demographical and social events), [2] Louise radical and profound spirituality, that is, an examination of how her spiritual experiences and her deep faith conviction led her to opt for the poor) [3] to reflect on the ways in which she motivated and accompanied the first Daughters of Charity and how that process has enabled service on behalf of the poor to remain a reality up to the present day.

Some sociological insights

What was Louise’s world like and how did that world influence her?

Louise’s experience of childhood and youth … the influence of these experiences on her decision to serve the poor

Socializing influences

History has preserved much information about the life of the nobles, but little information about their customs. Therefore in order to understand some aspects with regard to infancy during that era let us draw closer to Louise.

For many centuries infancy was a stage in life that was not viewed as being important. It was only in the seventeenth century that people began to view this stage as being marked with specific characteristics and needs … thus the concept of infancy is rather new.

If we want to examine the concept of infancy throughout history we will find little information. In the classical world (Greece and Rome) schools were established for the children of free citizens and the state recognized that children had certain rights and duties. At the same time, however, slavery was very real and children of lower class parents lived in very painful situations and this was especially true of girls.

In the Middle Ages children were seen as property that belong to the father of the family and he was able to utilize them as if they were some type of merchandise. The stage of infancy was very short because children had to work at a very early age and life itself was very difficult: hunger, epidemics.

In the modern era (the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) the first organized schools appeared but these schools were attended only by children whose parents were well-situated in society. During this period infancy had important connotations that influenced the culture and the formation of boys and girls. In the same way formation and learning took on different connotations according to the different eras. With regard to boys and girls in France, there were some important aspects that enable us to know and to situate the infant population … situate contemporaries of Louise de Marillac.

The data speaks for itself

Demographic statistics from the seventeenth century are incomplete and unreliable. Even though it is supposed that every pastor recorded the death of new-born children yet most of the children who were born and abandoned were not recorded anywhere.

Roland Mousnier [1] has shown that prior to 1667 there was no systematic manner of recording this information. Therefore French historians have devised other ways of dealing with this problem of determining the demographic characteristics of the seventeenth century. These characteristics, together with cultural standards, can be evaluated as one considers the relative importance of the variables that influenced the survival of children.

Two authors should be noted here because of their outstanding studies on infancy: Philippe Aries and Lloyd de Mause. The first author is noted for the historical discovery of the history of infancy while the other author gave a scientific foundation to the above study.

Philippe Aries [2] developed a history of the evolution of the various mental attitudes in the family as well as in children. His study moved from one society in which the child lived as an adult among other adults to a society in which the family is seen as a unit, thus privatizing infancy and segregating it through various educational systems which involve authoritarian and disciplinarian regimens.

Lloyd de Mause [3] did not accept the hypothesis of the initial “happiness” of infancy and in a positive sense referred to infancy as a stage of gradual transformation of the relationship between the adult and the child. The author characterized this transformation with the following evolution (or phases): [1] infanticide [2] abandonment [3] ambivalence [4] intrusion [5] socialization [6] help.

These stages define the different ways in which a child might be treated even though today violence continues to be the reaction that guides the behavior of many people.

On the other hand there are several themes that studies of infancy are interested in. Child abandonment is one of the principle concerns. Near the Episcopal residences and convents, hospices were established for abandoned children. This was not something new but was initiated many centuries before. Many believed that these places in reality served as agencies for infanticide because they were seen as legalizing the abandonment of children.

Another important theme is gender … the males have always been viewed as being very important because they were the future workers and therefore females were placed on a secondary level. This theme of gender was not dealt with in ancient times but was gradually introduced into society and was seen as one of the great social inequalities that had to be confronted.

A brief aside: the French Catholic reform in relation to Louise’s infancy

The French Catholic Reform movement, which in the seventeenth century was greatly concerned about the salvation of all people, including women and children, … demanded the supervision of midwives. It also called upon the Church to watch over the behavior of parents with regard to children who were not wanted, as well as with regard to children who were in a weakened condition as a result of other causes.

The coercive power of the law favored the security of the new born. These changes in the law had the effect of reducing the infanticide of illegitimate children … this reality seems to be confirmed by the rapid increase in the number of children who were abandoned throughout the seventeenth century (especially in Paris and other urban centers).

The religious Renaissance proclaimed the virtues of the holy family and a morality based on gender equality. Thus in Paris we see another innovation which revealed the influence of this ethic of equality that was set forth by Christian reformers: previously orphanages had been established for boys only; now, however, there were orphanages for girls.

In Paris during times of crisis the number of abandoned children increased. For centuries the abandonment of children was seen as cruel and embarrassing, but nonetheless, an established reality. Rome: with regard to the criteria concerning children there were two ways of appraising them: when a child was born, he/she was placed on the floor and only if the father took the child and lifted him/her up … only then did the child become a member of the family. If the father did not pick up the child, this child was not taken into the family and often died. The child could, however, be taken by another individual. If the child died, said act was considered an abortion. Also the children of salves were continually abandoned because no one knew what to do with them.

The role of the family during the era of Louise de Marillac

Even though we cannot spend much time on this point, it is important to know the role of the family during the seventeenth century.

Society is stable but not static; therefore in the institution of the family we most often find diverse attitudes. The family is the skeleton of society which throughout history is maintained in one form or another.

The family has been one of the principle agents of socialization even though this has not always been determined by the same models … the family has undergone continual change and some of these changes are very important.

Among the middle class and the nobles these characteristics were adapted according to their situation. They had as educators of their children the members of the religious orders whose objective was to form children into modest, courteous, well-spoken and studious boys/girls. The girls in Port Royal were taught from the age of four to follow a schedule in which one’s awareness was directed entirely to the service of God. From the time one awoke in the morning all the rules were observed because of their relationship to this objective [4].

The popular classes did not have any resources to form their children and therefore the children were only formed in Christian doctrine and manual work … this was the formation that was given to vagrants and abandoned children who were seen as “rascals” who always had to be watched and who were suspected of everything.

Our reflection thus raises a question: within the context of the possibilities for infants during the seventeenth century, was not Louise a privileged woman?

In this context Louise de Marillac was born

Louise de Marillac is born into this social context on August 12, 1591 and will develop and grow within the same context.

The information that has been preserved does not clearly identify her parents. It seems to be somewhat certain that she was the illegitimate child of some member of the Marillac family. At a very early age and in accord with the customs of that era, Louise was brought to the Dominican Monastery at Poissy where she was educated.

In Poissy

Jeanne de Gondi was prioress and among the other prestigious religious women residing there was Louise’s aunt, Catherine-Louise de Marillac. It was not uncommon at that time for noble families to select a convent as a place of formation for their children (the classes of society clearly differentiated the infants from the young boys and these from the “rascals” and pointed out the type of education that each group should be given).

Established in the fourteenth century, Poissy was the famous monastery in France. There Louise received an outstanding spiritual and intellectual formation: she learned Latin, philosophy and art. Above all she also learned to know, to love and to pray to God.

Louise remained at Poissy until July 1604. Her father had died and no one accepted the responsibility to pay her expenses. Louise was thirteen years old. Her first biographer states that her father removed her from this monastery and settled her in Paris, in the hands of a capable and virtuous woman so that she might learn to do those things suitable to her position [5].

During the time that Louise lived in the pensión (1604-1613)

Louise continued to develop her spirit while at the same time she confronted the realities of life. At the very young age of seventeen, she was introduced to the spiritual life. She read The Sinners Guide (Louis of Granada), Introduction to the Devout Life (Francis de Sales), Brief Discourse (Pierre de Bérulle). She tells us that she liked to listen to the Jesuit and Capuchin preachers and that each day she prayed for an hour (she had a facility for meditation). Her human formation was completed at the pension where she learned the practical chores of housekeeping. Reading Louise’s writings we are able to see that she was a mystic, a woman with great theological understanding. Louise lived at the pension until she was twenty-one, a short time before her marriage.

Louise de Marillac marries

During the seventeenth century marriage between members of the upper class was most often the result of some previous arrangement. Louise’s uncle and tutor, Michel de Marillac, opted for a young bourgeois named Antoine le Gras. He was the secretary of the Queen Mother and Regent, Marie de Madici. Louise found happiness and acceptance at the side of her husband and the birth of her son, Michel Antoine, filled her with joy. As occurs with every mother, Michel became the object of Louise’s care and worries, the object of her sufferings and concerns. Louise and Antoine had a good relationship and we can conclude that they were quite content.

Influence of all of this on Louise

Louise, like all people, experienced the process of socialization, the process that influences the relationship between one person and another and between one person and the society that surrounds them. As part of this process Louise accepted the behavioral norms and attempted to adapt them to her situation.

This process occurred not only during the distinct stages of her life but also when her situation changed, that is, when a change in social status or work occurred.

She participated in the culture that was being transmitted to her and this culture molded her and enabled her to adapt to the conditions of a specific society.

With regard to behavior she developed those qualities and potentialities that were necessary for her to be able to participate in society.

The situations of poverty which she knew and that she would confront throughout her ministry are clear indications of her belonging to a society, indications that he grew and developed as a child and as an adolescent in the midst of this society.

The education that was proper to that era and to the social class that Louise was a member of also indicates that there was nothing unusual about her formation.

We can also state that the personality that Louise developed was intimately related with those two aspects that are shared by all human beings: innate and acquired characteristics. In other words here we refer to those traits that were acquired genetically and those that were developed as a result of the environment that surrounded her.

Inherited characteristics and acquired characteristics from the environment … or inherited characteristics and education has limits and possibilities within the process of socialization. The ancient salmantica wisdom expressed this very well: quod natura non date, salmantica non praestat, that is, what nature does not provide, Salamanca also does not give.

When referring to influences we are not speaking about determined influences, but conditional influences. In other words, the individual is conditioned in the process of socialization as a result of the inheritance received, but said persons are not determined in such a way that they cannot create their own destiny. This clarifying note gives form to Louise’s personality, especially in light of the fact that she is so often accused of possessing attitudes that reflect anxiety, insecurity, etc.

Louise was born into a very specific physical environment and geographical location. She was conditioned by her environment and this reality should make us cautious but show not prevent us from affirm the fact that from a very early age Louise love the poor. She was aware of what was happening in Paris and the surrounding area. Her sensitivity made her acutely aware of the many difficulties that the peasants and the beggars and the infirm encountered. Her own experience enabled her to understand the situation of the children who were abandoned.

The reality of being born into a culture and socialized within the same culture made Louise receptive to the traditions, the local institutions, the values and the customs that surrounded her from the time of her birth.

Culture was one of the the factors that most influenced Louise’s life and without much effort we can see that same culture presents us with a clear image of a woman who possessed so many values that she was able to offer a solution to many and varied problems, to many and varied situations (illness, formation, prayer, organization).

As part of the process of socialization the family that today is the socializing agent par excellence cannot be said to have had the same influence during the seventeenth century. Even though Louise was separated from her family and therefore did not receive the human affection and care of a mother, we cannot state that within the social-historical context of the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries such a situation was unusual.

At the beginning of the new century a different concept of family began to take hold and therefore it is correct to say that Louise did not participate in this new form of living as a family.

An interesting aspect is discovered in the affirmation that character is inherited and therefore innate. In other words, the complex set of congenital dispositions that form and constitute one’s mental framework is genetic. Thus we are talking about a way of being but in the case of Louise de Marillac and the situation of her ancestors, we find reason to call into question such an affirmation. It is obvious that some of the constitutive elements of character (emotions, actions and resonance) were not present in Louise to a high degree.

Marginalized from her family and with little influence on her family, Louise grew intellectually … her intellect was formed in relation to her environment and her social position. Thus the stimulation that she received was like an invitation to develop her mental abilities and thus she learned now to resolve almost any problem.

It is clear that that here we discover the outlines of a perspective in which the desire to commit herself to Jesus Christ and serve the poor can be perceived. In the following section we will see that this twofold desire arose from the context in which Louise lived.

The demographic and social events during seventeenth century France

Louise learned the cultural models of society; she internalized all of this and made them rules for her life. Thus we have emphasized the religious situation of France while recognizing that she participated in the social, political, economic. and religious aspects of society.

As we situate Louise in the context where she developed her life we begin to see that many of the events that were happening around her were not foreign to her.

Louise was aware of the manner in which society was constituted for she herself was part of that stratified society in which each class of people had different authority … there was a difference between those who prayed (ecclesiastics) and those who fought (military) and those who worked (peasants) [6]. Society seemed to give importance to two classes: the ecclesiastics and the military.

Her situation in the beginning did not allow Louise to become aware of the plight to the peasants but since they constituted the majority of those persons living in poverty, they could not remain unnoticed for very long.

From the letters that she wrote to the Daughters who were to minister to the sick-poor, it seems most probable that Louise was very aware of the vulnerability of those persons who were mixed together with others in society … but it must be remembered that there were distinctions even among the poor [7].

The poor were those who usually had a very low standard of life and every day faced the possibility of not being able to obtain those things that were needed to live. Beggars asked for alms in order to survive. Vagabonds were viewed as inhuman and ruthless. The marginalized were those persons whom others did not want to recognize as having any relationship to them … they were not worthy of trust. Since they had no one’s trust they were forced to live on the margins of society.

Louise’s starting point was certainly the fact that the assassination of Concini did not bring about any change. The financial disorder continued with the Duke of Luynes. The head of finances. who exercises those responsibilities between Jeannin and Marillac continued the same budget policies [8]. This made Louise ask questions about herself and she began to wonder if she had exploited or acted unjustly toward those who were oppressed and poor.

It seems certain that Louise was very aware of the economic situation created during the regency of Marie de Medici and the reign of Louis XIII, as well the role that the cardinals played in all of this (here we refer to Cardinal Richelieu and Mazarin, both of whom counseled the King). It seems that the cardinals wanted to eliminate the abuses that the people had to endure, yet in both cases the result was equally deceiving and the extreme misery of the people continued.

The classes that existed in the rural area (Church, God, and King) did not disappear as a result of the public outcry of the era.

The peasants had to give over some and (at times) all of their harvest to the superior classes. This situation was quite real and Louise saw this as she organized and visited the Confraternities.

The bourgeois were also sub-divided into classes according to the amount of property and land that was accumulated … in almost all cases those goods were acquired through deception, theft and treachery.

We can imagine that in a similar way this situation occurred in Louise’s own family.

Through experience Louise knew the different forms of nobility: the court nobles, the rural nobles, the parliamentarians, the administrators … in the future she would find herself negotiating with some of these individuals as she attempted to establish different institutions to benefit those who were poor. In seems that she was quite aware of how and with whom certain matters had to be discussed.

The nobles had material goods and money and therefore were treated with respect … and as still happens today, these individuals took advantage of their situation and position as members of the dominant and privileged class. Louise’s contemporaries were envious of the nobles (Louise was able to view her situation as a child in relation to the great number of children who were being abandoned).

As a clear and insightful person Louise was influenced by the fact that the majority of the ecclesiastical offices belonged to the nobles … their titles predisposed them and enabled them to obtain certain benefits, especially ecclesiastical benefits. Even though everything had to be submitted to the king for approval, it was also a reality that the favor of the king could be bought. Louis was very concerned about the situation of the church and the clergy

The sixteenth century had been a time of religious upheaval. The wars of religion had left France in a very complex yet deplorable situation.

Even though some juridical agreements established guidelines with regard to moral criteria (the Concordat of Bolonia), nevertheless the Church had to submit herself to the criteria of the King. Thus the episcopacy was occupied by men involved in military, diplomatic and financial affairs … these same individuals were far removed from the pastoral problems of their people.

As we see in her letters, Louise was aware of the situation of the parishes, especially the rural parishes … these local churches were, for the most part, administered by priests whose primary concern was financial. At the same time there were many ignorant and mediocre priests [9].

At that time it was rather easy to become a member of a religious Congregation (male or female). Among women religious there was always the question of a dowry and what would happen to the dowry if said individual left the community. Louise, however, felt that it was very important to clearly discern and inquire about the existence of a true vocation in those women seeking entrance into the community. Thus, from the very beginning of the Company, Louise accompanied the women in the process of vocational discernment.

In every age there are individuals who get to the very heart of the situation and thus in their lives they express in a radical manner the gospel values. These persons attempt to rise above a difficult religious situation and invite others to change their lives … a change which they themselves have achieved in many areas of their life.

Spirituality was fashionable and there was an attempt to live a spiritual life in one way or another. In Paris the communities of women received the support and collaboration of such individuals as Madame Acarie, Bérulle … Louise was very aware of the situation of religious communities and the works that they engaged in. This is revealed when she spoke to the Daughters of Charity about the Ursulines and pointed out that those women dedicated their lives to the education of the girls of the noble and bourgeois class. Louise also spoke about the diversity of ministry and the many different places where people were attempting to live a renewed spirituality.

Different situations of poverty developed before Louise’s eyes and this would influence her decision to minister in certain places.

Louise did not hold herself above all of this. Indeed, from the time that she was thirteen she experience much of this in her own flesh, that is, she experienced a change in her social status, and work … she engaged in any task that was necessary in order to move forward (cleaning, cooking, organizing) … yet we must be ever mindful of the role that women, throughout the centuries, have exercised in the social sphere.

It can be said that Louise lived in a very humble and simple manner but was also very aware of everything that was happening around her.

The culture that she acquired during those early years, the situation that was created as a result of her marriage, the situation of the French people and their questions with regard to faith and total surrender to God … all of these realities caused Louise to raise questions about other options.

The spirituality that Louise developed and practiced indicates that this was a constant throughout her life and said spirituality led her to form certain attitudes that were in reality a part of all those who were living a life of faith.

Despite the fact that she was a woman, Louise was very aware of the religious situation in France: she knew the individuals promoting different movements, the Protestant Reform and Calvinism; she knew the difference between the abstract school of spirituality and the school of modern devotion. Louise was also aware of the spiritual evolution that was taking part in the land of her birth … Louise understood, studied, prayed and served … but she developed her own personal spirituality.

During the seventeenth century there were four different way of expressing one’s spirituality … each one of these being a reflection of distinct aspects of spirituality. These different forms were directed and coordinated by some priest who invited people to follow a very specific spiritual path. There was nothing unusual about this and in fact such accompaniment was seen as quite normal given the complex and disorderly situation that existed in France. These group concretized and expressed their spirituality in the following ways.

§. Groups that followed Jesus in a simple manner: today this form would be called “popular religion” … people manifested their faith through prayer, processions and other devotions to Jesus, Mary and the saints.

§. A more select group of people sought to live the gospel message and gathered together in “spiritual circles”. The members read and discussed the Renato-Flemanco writings that had been translated in the Carthusian monastery of Saint Barbara that was located in Colonia. In Paris there were two circles, one in Saint Honoré and the other at the house of Madame Acarie.

§. There was another group of believers who developed the spirituality of modern devotion with a clear emphasis on devout humanism.

§. Another group identified union with Christ as consisting of a bond of charity (this was in response to the misery in which so many people found themselves in Paris and the surrounding area).

Each group had its own director and Louise, at different times, participated in one or another of these groups.

For Louise the word spirituality implied a movement toward God. God was the origin of everything she is. As a result of her formation it was quite natural that she should look for ways to unite the love of God with the love of neighbor.

We can conclude this section by stating once again that Louise’s sensitivity with regard to serving the poor took root in her and was continually developed with the passing of each day … Louise’s personal experience and the demographical and social situation of the place where she lived led to those first insights into the consequences of following Jesus and serving the poor.

Profound and radical spirituality

Louise’s interior spiritual experience led her to make a commitment to serve the poor.

Profound faith convictions led Louise to serve the poor

How did this option of Louise become a reality … an option that she experienced in the depths of her being; an option to serve the poor … again, how did this option reveal itself in a specific moment and how was this option lived out in later years.

This option arose from a desire and a concern to follow God and to follow Jesus Christ … and thus a desire and a concern to continue the mission that Jesus began when he was on earth.

From the time of her youth Louise wanted to become a religious. It seems that she did not consider the Ursulines (a recently established community of religious women) even though she knew this Congregation very well since her step-sisters had entered that Community. She was not attracted to the Carmelites, an order of religious women that was established in France by Mademoiselle Acarie (a friend and collaborator) … and established in France with the assistance of Michel de Marillac, Louise’s uncle. Louise was attracted by the lifestyle of the Capuchins … she felt challenged by them and wanted to follow in their path.

Louise spoke with the Capuchin Provincial, P?re Honoré de Champigny, and received a resounding rejection: you cannot be a religious because God has other plans for you [10].

This response unsettled Louise and she became profoundly concerned about this answer … she would continually reflect on the meaning of the Provincial’s words.

Following the tradition of the era, Louise’s family proposed marriage. Thus on February 6, 1613, in the church of Saint-Gervais, Louise married Antoine Le Gras, thirty-two years old and the secretary of the Queen Mother and Regent, Marie de Medici. Louise was twenty-two.

Louise began to form more relationships with an ever expanding group of distinguished persons and the birth of a son, Michel Antoine (October 19, 1613), brought great happiness to both spouses.

The Le Gras family was Christian and had permission to read the Bible in French … they were concerned about the needs of those persons who were poor. Louise belonged to several pious Confraternities and in accord with her possibilities attended to a series of different situations that she became aware of.

Like any other family, some events are going to be the cause of great concern

• Michel Antoine, her son, seemed to be very weak.

• The sudden death of the youthful Marquis d’Attichy and three years later the death of his wife … they left behind them an estate that was in a precarious condition and seven children. The Le Gras family took on the responsibility of caring for the young children and Antoine became more concerned about the affairs of his nephews and nieces than that of his own child.

•The assassination of Maréchal Concini and the banishment of the Queen to Blois with the result that Louise’s husband was no longer employed … then the illness of her husband (an illness that continued for four years) … all of these events gave Louise much cause for concern.

• On December 21, 1625 Antoine Le Gras died. Louise De Marillac truly loved him and was profoundly afflicted by this loss.

Brother Ducourneau [11] has left us a note which was written by a maidservant of Louise … this servant reflected on Louise’s lifestyle during those years: She was a very pious and devout in serving the poor. She brought them confections and sweetmeats, biscuits and other good things. She combed their hair, she cleansed their sores and vermin; she sewed them in their shrouds. She would leave her company to climb a hill [the Montagne Ste. Genvi?ve], despite rain or hail, to help some poor man who shivered with cold. She pretended to eat at table but actually fasted. At night after her husband was asleep, she would get up to shut herself in her oratory and made use of the hairshirt and the discipline.

Total surrender to God through Jesus Christ: to know him, to love him, to follow him and to serve him

Louise de Marillac decided to give herself completely to God and to serve the poor. She did not know when nor how nor where she would be able to serve the poor but she experienced the grace of having been called by God to minister in this way (around 1622).

In her writing we find an outline of the process that Louise followed as she surrendered herself to Jesus Christ: On the Feast of Saint Sebastian, Martyr, I felt a strong desire to give myself to God to fulfill his holy will for the remainder of my life. I offered to him the inspiration which he had given me to seal this desire by vow once I had obtained permission. For the rest of the day, I meditated on the mercy of God to his creatures as seen in all the good accomplished by his saints. Their deeds appeared even greater to me when I reflected upon my personal experience of the weakness of human nature. The following Saturday, I begged God earnestly to make known what his goodness desired of me. On Sunday, the awareness of my infidelities to God so filled me with confusion that I was prepared not to receive Holy Communion without first going to confession. I was particularly ashamed of the fact that, on a day on which I was to receive Holy Communion, I had failed so miserably in recollection and had resisted the inspiration to mortify myself two or three times. I had stifled the very idea of mortification by blocking it completely from my mind. The only thing that prevented me from abstaining from Holy Communion was the reminder that I had been forbidden to do so. All day, I suffered from great interior trials … As I meditated on the gospel of the sower, I realized that there was no good soil in me. Therefore I desired to sow, in the heart of Jesus, all the actions of my heart and soul in order that they may grow by sharing in his merits. Henceforth, I shall exist only through him and in him since he has willed to lower himself to assume human nature (SWLM:692-693 [A.15b]).

In the year 1623, on the Feast of Saint Monica, God gave me the grace to make a vow of widowhood should he call my husband to himself. On the following Feast of the Ascension, I was very disturbed because of the doubt I had as to whether I should leave my husband, as I greatly wanted to do, in order to make good my first vow and to have greater liberty to serve God and my neighbor. I also doubted my capacity to break the attachment I had for my director which might prevent me from accepting another, during his long absence, as I feared I might be obliged to do … On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a 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 then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom he seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change. My third doubt was removed by the inner assurance 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. I have always believed that I received this grace from the Blessed Bishop of Geneva because, before his death, I had greatly desired to communicate these trials to him and because since that time, I have had great devotion to him and have received many graces through him. On that occasion, I had a reason for believing this to be so, although I cannot now remember it (SWLM:1-2 [A.1]).

Louise de Marillac was inspired by the actions of Jesus Christ: the proclamation of the Good News to the poor and serving those persons who were marginalized by society … it was this that motivated Louise to serve the poor.

Louise wanted to give life to her deep and profound love for Jesus Christ. After the death of her husband she felt she was able to initiate what God desired of her.

Without any hesitation or doubt Louise had a great love for Jesus Christ. She was also deeply influence by the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola … her conviction to follow Jesus Christ was an option that guided her life.

Her relationship with her new spiritual director, Vincent de Paul, whom she came to know through Jean Pierre Camus, became a source of concern and anxiety.

In her writings Louise expressed the seriousness of her commitment and her profound union with Jesus Christ: I, the undersigned, in the presence of the eternal God, having considered that, on the day of my holy Baptism, I was vowed and dedicated to my God to be his daughter and that, notwithstanding, I have repeatedly offended him by acting contrary to his holy will; having considered, also, the great mercy, love and gentleness with which this kind God has always preserved in me the desire to serve Jesus Christ despite my almost continual culpable resistance to his graces which, throughout my negligent and ungrateful life, he has lavished upon me, unworthy and frail creature that I am . . .

Finally, entering into myself, I detest with all my heart the iniquities of my past life which render mc guilty of high treason against the Divine Majesty and of the death of Jesus Christ; because of this, I am more deserving of damnation than Lucifer. However, trusting in the infinite mercy of my God, I implore, with all my heart, pardon and entire absolution both for the sins which I have confessed and for those that I cannot recall. I ask pardon particularly for the contempt I have shown for his goodness by abusing the sacraments. I sincerely repent of all these sins, once again, relying on the merit of the death of the Savior of my soul as on the only foundation of my hope. In virtue of this, I affirm and renew the sacred profession made to God for me at my Baptism. I irrevocably resolve to love and serve him with greater fidelity and to give myself entirely to him. To this end, I also renew my vow of widowhood and my resolution to practice the most holy virtues of humility, obedience, poverty, suffering and charity in order to honor these same virtues in Jesus Christ who, in his love, has often called me to imitate him.

Promising never again to offend God by any part of my being and to abandon myself entirely to the designs of Divine Providence• and to the accomplishment of his will in me, I sacrifice and dedicate myself to God and to the fulfillment of his holy will which I choose as my supreme consolation.

If, on account of my usual weakness, I should fail to keep these holy resolutions, which I beg God, in His goodness, not to permit, I implore the Holy Spirit, from this very moment, to grant me the grace of immediate conversion because I never wish to remain for an instant in a state whicb is displeasing to God. This is my irrevocable intention which I confirm in the presence of my God, of the Blessed Virgin, of my guardian angel and of all the saints, here before the Church Militant which accepts this consecration in the person of my spiritual director. Since this spiritual father takes the place of God for me on earth, I entreat him, by his charitable guidance, to help me to be faithful to my resolutions and to the accomplishment of the holy will of God by my obedience to him in this matter.

O my God, deign to confirm my consecration and my holy resolutions and to accept them as a fragrant offering! Since you inspired me to present these gifts to you, grant me the grace of perfecting them. You are my God and my all. I recognize you as such and adore you, the one true God in three persons, now and forever. May your love and that of Jesus Crucified be eternally exalted! Louise de Marillac (SWLM:693-694 [A.3]).

Louise’s “Rule of Life in the World” clarified her spiritual situation and her commitment to Jesus Christ. Christ became the center toward which everything else moved … the focus which caused everything to move forward … the one who enlightened everything.

Louise, together with Vincent de Paul and guided by him, dedicated herself to Jesus Christ and then began to see everything in light of Christ and in everything was inspired by Christ.

Besides the encouragement that Louise received from Vincent, she was also strengthened by the very nature of the work that God wanted her to do (a work that she was not even aware of), a work that she was being led toward for many years of her life.

Her life and experience strengthened her during her time of suffering, a suffering that was not sterile but rather originated in the cross and then, as a result of solidarity with the suffering of other human beings, this same suffering returned to the cross. As observed in her spiritual writings, Louise had a great devotion to the Holy Spirit. She entered into God’s saving plan, a plan that was revealed to her in the gospels. It was the Holy Spirit that guided her in her spiritual discernment.

Slowly this great love that Louise had for Christ became manifest in an effective love for the poor. She ministered with Vincent de Paul who animated, encouraged and requested her collaboration.

From the beginning the poor give meaning to Louise’s life; everything … her concerns, her renunciations, her health and her eternal life … moved toward Jesus Christ.

Servant of the marginalized: abandoned children

• Children abandoned in the streets, plazas and at church doors were gathered up by different individuals (even though this was supposed to be controlled) who sold them to beggars. The beggars, hoping to arouse feelings of greater compassion, utilized these children in asking for alms. These children were given medication to prevent them from crying. The children who were gathered up by public officials were placed in institutions where almost none of them survived. This was a trafficking of children for money.

In 1638 Louise organized the Ladies of Charity to work with the children. This work was very difficult in the beginning … they began to care for a few children and had few resources. Louise was concerned about the situation of the children: she wanted to provide them with lodging and personalized attention. Louise would not allow the children to leave the house alone and therefore they had to be accompanied by trustworthy individuals; the number of children who were abandoned increased and this situation created more difficulties in providing for them. The children who were dying were baptized and buried and those who lived were made into useful citizens.

Louise was also involved in drawing up contracts for the wet nurses and the nannies … she wanted women who would be attentive to the children and whose reputation could not be questioned. She obtained funds for this ministry especially during difficult times. Once, when the funds that were promised did not materialize, Louise appealed to the Chancellor.

Louise was able to put things in order and did not give in to the pressures that arouse from different sources. She did not like the Castle of Bicetre because it was dirty and distant (thus making it difficult to travel to) … it was in bad condition and not at all suitable to lodge the children and the Sisters who were to care for the children. She suggested different place where the children could be lodged and when problems arose, offered solutions.

The spiritual human and professional formation of the first Daughters of Charity who cared for the children was insightful, basic and instilled confidence in those women who knew almost nothing about child care.

Read the Rules that Louise wrote for the Sisters who cared for the children … it is clear that Louise understood the details of this ministry and therefore she was moved to a greater sensitivity and boldness and truthfulness.

These attitudes motivated the first Daughters of Charity and helped them to understand that Jesus Christ was present in those children who, through no fault of their own, were cast aside as children of sin.

Servant of the marginalized: the galley slaves

• The seamen needed laborers (these were seen as an extension of his profession) … the galley slaves were viewed as being a class lower than the beggars … they were made up of murders, robbers, beggars, vagabonds, those unable to pay taxes to the government, and deserters. These individuals, who were poorly clothed, were sheltered in dungeons that were dirty and had no light. They had to endure whippings and never knew for how long they would be detained.

Beginning in 1632, Louise, responding to Vincent’s request, began to visit the galley slaves in Tournelle and did this with other members of the parish. But in 1640 she collaborated with Vincent de Paul who was now the chaplain of the galley salves (having been appointed to this position by M. de Gondi) and began to send some of the Daughters to minister to the galley slaves.

Louise chose those women who were more mature (because this ministry was very difficult) and prepared them to serve the poor in this ministry. She drew up a budget for this ministry and bought items that the Sisters would need in their ministry. She taught the Sisters how to engage in this ministry without using intermediaries. She told the Sisters that they should cook at home and not at the prison because their home provided better hygienic conditions. After the food was prepared it could then be brought to the galley slaves.

Louise understood the behavior of those poor men and was therefore aware of the dangers that the Daughters would have to confront. It was for this reason that she asked the Ladies of Charity to accompany the Sisters when they were serving meals to the prisoners.

Among the advice that Louise gave to the Sisters we find the following: The Sisters must never reproach them nor speak rudely to them. Moreover, the galley slaves should be treated with great compassion, as much for their spiritual state as for their most pitiful corporal state (SWLM:741 [A.91]).

Servant of the marginalized: those persons who are hospitalized

• Lack of material and spiritual care. At times there were six patients in the same bed. Every class of person was admitted: beggars, the poor, the infirm. Official notification concerning the creation of better conditions was never carried out.

This marked the beginning of ministry at the Hotel Dieu, a general hospital and a famous center in France. In 1634 the situation at the Hotel/Hospital was deplorable. Vincent wrote a letter to Louise and told her: We need you and your Daughters. Louise accompanied the Ladies of Charity and thus affirmed the initiative of Madame de Gossoult and at the same time responded to Vincent’s request.

At the hospital the food was poor, hygiene was deficient and personal care almost non-existent (there were almost nine hundred patients and each bed had six people. A short time thereafter Louise encouraged first the Daughters of Charity, formed them and organized them and gave them a Rule to guide them in their ministry.

1639, the Hospital at Angers (a city located 308 kilometers from Paris) … this hospital was founded by Henry II in 1160 and was in a lamentable state, so much so that the people who lived in this city did not want to be admitted into this hospital and if someone did have to be admitted (because there was no other solution) said patient brought his/her own clothing.

From the beginning Louise accompanied the Daughters to this hospital and after a long and difficult journey drew up a contract with the administrators. In said contract it was stipulated that the Sisters would be able to work with a certain security and comfort, that they would be able to live their lives in accord with their Rule and would be cared for spiritually (this aspect was negotiated with the Abbé de Vaux). The contract was signed in 1641 and this gave an official character to this ministry. The letters that Louise wrote to the Sisters reveal a close relationship between her and the Sisters and also reveal Louise’s professionalism in caring for the sick (very exact in the details).

1646, the Hospital at Nantes (this city was located at a distance of 397 kilometers from Paris) involved travel by boat and over land … a long journey. The Sisters were welcomed into the city with great jubilee (SWLM:172 [L.159]). As she did in other hospitals, Louise organized, formed and accompanied the Daughters as they engaged in this service to the poor with much tenderness, charity and care.

Servant of the marginalized: the infirm

• Various kinds of fever, the plague, hunger, venereal diseases, lack of medicine, lack of hospitals and pharmacies, loneliness at home, a feeling of death.

From the beginning the Sisters engaged in a very human and precious ministry, that of caring for the infirm in their homes (SWLM:227 [L.126]; 230 [L.200]). The students of the Sisters also assisted in this ministry. Louise was concerned about the many things that were lacking in this area and equally concerned for the professional preparation of the Sisters and for the way in which they would carry out this service on behalf of those who were poor.

In Liancourt, the Daughters prepared medicines and twice a week visited the infirm in the town or villages.

In Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Richelieu the Sisters cared for the infirm in their homes. In Hennebont the Daughters also visited, listened to and cared for the infirm. All of these women were encouraged, guided and professionally formed by Louise de Marillac.

Servant of the marginalized: schools

• Pluralism and confusion of ideas. Children and young women and men, especially those living in the villages, lacked education. Most children and young people were illiterate (example, Marguerite Nasseau). Some families were better situated financially but most people were poor … children lacked religious and cultural formation.

As Louise visited the Confraternities of Charity and the parishes she discovered that education was most important and the lack of education increased poverty. Louise focused on the education of girls and whenever she had an opportunity instructed the young girls in the villages. She looked for ways to form adults in the different villages so that they could in turn educate the children. Louise was very concerned about formation and asked the Sisters to be very faithful with regard to their religious instruction. For this purpose she wrote a catechism (it was difficult to differentiate catechetical instruction from general instruction that was carried out in the schools). Formation in the schools was impregnated with religion and catechetical instruction was given twice a week. Catechesis was not spoken about in the seventeenth century but rather people referred to the catechism and instruction in the catechism. Louise sought permission from the Rector of Notre-Dame in order to educate the poor.

Letter 48: Request presented to the Rector of Notre-Dame de Paris (May 1641): Louise de Marillac, widow of Monsieur Le Gras, secretary to the Queen, Mother of the King, very humbly supplicates Monsieur des Roches, Rector of Notre-Dame de Paris, informing him that the sight of the great number of poor in the Saint-Denis district leads her to desire to take charge of their instruction. Should these poor little girls remain steeped in ignorance, it is to be feared that this same ignorance will be harmful to them and render them incapable of cooperating with the grace of God for their salvation. Should you agree, for the glory of God, Monsieur, to give the above-mentioned suppliant the permission required in such cases, thereby allowing the poor the liberty of sending their children free of charge to schools where they would be unhindered by the rich, who do not want those who teach their children to accept and keep poor children so freely, these souls, redeemed by the blood of the Son of God, would be obliged to pray for you, Monsieur, in time and in eternity.

Response of the rector: Michelle Masle, Councilor to the King for both Councils of State and private matters, Prior and Lord des Roches de Saint-Paul, Rector and Canon of the great metropolitan church of Paris, to our beloved Demoiselle Le Gras, residing in the parish of Saint-Laurent of Paris, greetings in Our Lord. In consequence of our position as Rector of the above-named church of Paris, we are charged with the licensing and administration of the elementary schools operating within this city and in its suburbs and environs. After our own inquiries, the report of your Pastor and the testimony of other trustworthy persons who have knowledge of your life, morals and practice of the Catholic religion, you have been found worthy to operate schools. Therefore, we grant you the necessary license and permit you to operate a school. This you shall do in the Saint-Lazare area of the Saint-Denis district on the condition that you teach poor girls only and do not accept others; that you educate them in good morals, grammar and other pious and honest subjects. You shall do all this after first swearing that you will faithfully and diligently operate these schools in keeping with our statutes and decrees. The present authorization shall be valid until our next synod. Given in Paris under our seal and that of Master Jean Le Vasseur, Apostolic Notary, our ordinary scribe and secretary, in the year of Our Lord sixteen hundred forty-one, on the twenty-ninth day of the month o f May. On the order of my Lord, the Lord Rector, Le Vasseur (SWL:50-51 [L.41]).

Servant of the marginalized: beggars

• People who were mobile and were found on the streets, in the plazas and at the front door of the churches. People who pretended to be blind and wounded and at night became a hidden population. These delinquents moved about the streets of Paris at every hour of the day. They were a public menace and Parliament had issued decrees against them. They were allowed to ask for alms and food was distributed to these individuals.

After the government edict of 1611, beggars and vagabonds were often admitted and locked up in the General Hospital. From the letters that Louise wrote to Vincent it is also clear that the Confraternities often cared for these individuals (SWLM:9 [L.4]). The Confraternities gave them special attention because Louise saw them as destitute in all things (SWLM:833 [A.100]).

Servant of the marginalized: the victims of war

• These were victims of the war that was carried on in Lorraine … Swiss and fanatical Lutherans vented their anger and savagery on the Catholic population. Crops and towns were burned because the people of this area were seen as traitors … therefore they were continually persecuted. As the houses and lands were sacked, money and food was taken. If people hid their food and/or money they were burned to death in their homes.

Servant of the marginalized: refugees and peasants

• Soldiers moved through Champagne and Picardy and the homes and fields in that area were devastated. The peasants were ruined and the children fed themselves with the flesh of their parents (Abelly). Many of the inhabitants of these cities died as a result of the calamity, misery and illness that afflicted this region.

In 1650 Louise allowed the Sisters to minister in areas that had been devastated by the war. In a letter that was written by the city officials of Rethel to Vincent they narrated the events that had occurred there: the manner in which the soldiers had sacked and destroyed everything, raped the women and assassinated the inhabitants. More than 1500 persons had not yet been buried.

In 1653 Queen Anne of Austria requested the presence of the Daughters in Saint-Menehould. In those difficult places Louise requested the Daughters not to repeat the conversations that they would hear in those places: I hope that your gratitude will place you in the disposition necessary to receive the graces you need to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion, in imitation of Our Lord who acted this way with the most unfortunate (SWLM:434 [L.383].

In 1654 the Sisters were sent to Sedan; in 1656 to the Hospital in Fere where they cared for the many wounded soldiers who were members of the French army; in 1658 the Daughters were sent to minister in Montmédy and in 1658 to Calais at the time of the battle of Dunes (there two Sisters died as a result of the plague and Louise was profoundly affected by their death).

Servant of the marginalized: home visits

• The members of the various Confraternities visited people in their homes. Generally the homes were very poor, small huts covered with grass or reeds … there were no windows or lighting. The women brought food and medicine, helped in caring for those who were infirm and also helped in cleaning the house.

Servant of the marginalized: the elderly and mentally infirm

• The elderly were left alone in their homes while other family members tended the fields. The infirm were left unattended and uncared for in their homes. They often lacked the means to pay taxes and faced the possibility of imprisonment.

In 1654 the hospice Nom-de-Jésus began to operate. An individual had cooperated in this work by providing material resources. In this shelter many miracles and wonders were brought about: beggars and the elderly were brought here in a state of great deterioration and would leave to initiate or continue their work. The women sewed or mended and the men spun thread and were engaged in weaving.

Together with Vincent de Paul, Louise continued to make real her desire to care for those who were destitute of everything and in this way she continued the evangelizing mission of Jesus Christ that he began when he lived on earth.

Accompany and motivate in the past in order to continue the work in the present

The human, spiritual and professional encouragement that Louise gave to the first Daughters of Charity, an encouragement that was given to them by her on-going accompaniment of the Sisters, made service of the poor a reality … a reality that has continued to the present time.

We must remember that during the seventeenth century women were unable to decide any matter. Yet Louise realized that the group of people who were being initiated into ministry with the poor … this group had to be expanded and organized and so she spoke with Vincent de Paul. Vincent was very evasive in his response: As for the rest, I beg you, once and for all, not to give it a thought until Our Lord makes it evident that He wishes it, and at present He is giving indications to the contrary (CCD:I:111).

It was not long before Vincent was convinced of Louise’s request and at the end of his spiritual retreat in 1633 he wrote to Louise: I think your good angel did what you told me in the letter you wrote me. Four or five days ago, he communicated with mine concerning the Charity of your young women. It is true; he prompted me to recall it often and I gave that good work serious thought. We shall talk about it, God willing, on Friday or Saturday, if you do not write to me sooner (CCD:I:216)

On November 29, 1633 Louise welcome some young women into her house and there they began to live together in community. In the beginning there were no structures and they followed the Rule that had been established for the members of the Confraternities: a group of lay people who gathered together to promote a devotional or charitable work. Louise and Vincent gave the group broad aims: the Company is a group of persons who have a common objective and the members will be characterized by living together in community.

In the seventeenth century these same aims could be applied to members of a social society, a confraternity or an institute. Legally (juridically) this was something different from the established order: the Company was not a recognized or religious group that was structured and its members did not live in a monastery (which was the common way in which women lived out their religious life). It was from this time forward that Louise facilitated, preserved and encouraged the women, the future Daughters of Charity, to engage in service on behalf of the poor. The small group of women began to grow and their ministry slowly expanded and spread.

Louise continually accompanied the Daughters and the members of the Confraternities. In the beginning her accompaniment was a way of encouraging the women to keep alive their option to serve the poor.

Louise accompanied those who helped other believers as they journeyed through life and as a result of this journey became free human beings. As Louise accompanied these individuals she was very aware of their need for an integral formation, physiological, psychological, spiritual, relational … we can also affirm that Louise was very aware of the need to accompany the Sisters in their professional development.

Important aspects: Process in selecting the first Daughters of Charity

Were all the individuals who desired to enter the Company motivated to serve the poor as their vocation? It seems that this was not so even though the women did not need a dowry (Louise realized the difficult situation of the peasant and therefore provided the women with food and lodging). In a short period of time Louise became aware of the fact that the women had different motivations and so she began a process of discernment and established criteria and norms.

Yesterday three fine girls from Argenteuil came to offer their services for the Charity at the suggestion of the priest to whom I had someone mention it … I did not send them to you because it was too late when they arrived but, according to what they told me, they will come to see you on Friday (CCD:I:233).

As for that good young woman from Argenteuil who is melancholy, I think you are right in raising objections to taking her, for it is a strange disposition, that of melancholy. I think you have enough young women for some time and that you should train them well to read and sew so that they can work in the country (CCD:I:239).

As for that good young woman you mentioned to me yesterday, please keep her if you think she has good judgment. That entering and leaving religious life indicates some instability; you will have to be careful about that. If there is reason to admit her in order to look into her vocation for a little while longer, please discuss the matter with Madame Goussault (CCD:I:305).

Letter 128: Should we accept the two girls who are seeking admission, especially the one being presented by Madame Henriette? If so, when? --- Whenever you think it appropriate.

Letter 105: I do not know what to tell you about the persons you mentioned who have expressed a desire to enter our Company except that I have considerable misgivings about the intentions of candidates coming from that area. We must consider only those who are very suitable for the Company both with regard to their physical health and their mental stability. Make further inquiries about them and then write to us about what you have learned. Likewise, if at all possible, they should not be over 30 and be recommended by persons, who, if they can be found, have known them since birth (SWLM:116 [L.105]).

Important aspects: accompaniment in their basic physical needs

Louise was very concerned to provide the Sisters with their basic need and helped the women to provide for themselves. She wanted the Sisters to be careful about their health and told them that they should always bring with them something to eat in case they found themselves far from home. Louise letters reveals the very warm human relationship that Louise had with each of the Sisters in this regard … her letters that were written during the time of the plague highlight this concern as she requested the Sisters to be careful about their health.

Important aspects: accompaniment in their psycho-social activities

Louise facilitated the development of social relationships, relationships of friendship, among the Sisters. She helped the Sisters to become mutually supportive of one another and to become integrated into the larger community. Louise shared their concerns and informed them about the situation of their families … she facilitated and supported the Sisters in strengthening their relationship with their family.

Letter 112: To my very dear Sister Barbe: With all my heart I beg God to be your consolation as your wait to learn what he has decided for your relative (SWLM:85 [L.112]).

Letter 64: To my dear Sister Jeanne Lepintre: My very dear Sister, I was very happy to receive your two recent letters, as was Monsieur Vincent to whom I showed one of them … P.S. I do not know if your uncle has written to you. He told me that your father and stepmother are well but that their affairs are going badly. I believe that their mill has been destroyed once again. I asked Sister Turgis to go herself to see them so as to get first-hand news and to find out if they are in need. Do not worry about them. Entrust them to God. I will let you know what I learn, and we will take care of it. May you find peace in the desire to accomplish the most holy will of God and to work for your own perfection (SWLM:77, 78 [L.64])..

Letter 142: To my very dear Sisters Barbe and Marie: Monsieur Vincent has seen your letters. He does not approve of the title “Reverend Mother”. Oh my dear Sisters, we are not the one who should be using such terms! This is why I urge you to speak more simply (SWLM:111 [L.143]).

Letter 146: To Sister Jeanne Lepintre: P.S. I greet all our dear sisters as a group and individually, and I embrace them with all my heart. I wrote to Sister Hellot, Sister Jeanne Delacroix and another one, Sister Tourneton, and I complained to Sister Anne for not writing to me. I am sure that Sister Louise would like to write to us. A few words in her own hand would console me. Little Sister Anne can add a line to it. Sister Marguerite from Vienne ... Oh I will disown her if she too does not write to me! Today I wished for a nice quarter of a melon for her community. Did Sister Anne receive the gravel that Sister Francoise' sent her for her pigeons?(SWLM160 [L.149]).

Letter 144: To our very dear Sisters: … I believe Sister Marguerite' has returned from Angers. I would ask you, Sister Jeanne, after she has rested, to have her make a retreat with someone else wishing to make one. Sister Jeanne Foure shall be sent to the Foundling Hospital as a nurse along with Sister Jeanne-Baptiste, and you shall give one of the two sisters who are with Sister Antoinette to Sister Vicente, if she wishes one and feels the Ladies will not be annoyed by the frequent changes. It is only because she cannot read, and this is a difficulty for her. If she can make do until our return, fine. In that case give this sister to Sister Phénix at Saint-Nicholas. I truly wish that Sister Rose would wait until we return before making a retreat because she is a bit scrupulous and must receive guidance entirely different from the others (SWLM:154 [L.144]).

Accompaniment in their rational-spiritual development

Louise de Marillac helped the Sisters to face the truth, to live a full life, to know how to call things as they are, to not judge by appearance, to not offer unwarranted criticism, to seek spiritual and moral values above all else, to discover how and why the desire to serve the poor has to be sustained by God, to come to a greater self-knowledge, that is, to become aware of one’s desires, motivations, the changes that one must achieve, one’s true vocation, and the desire to serve the poor faithfully and in a radical manner.

Louise did not ask about the efficacy of her labor in terms of financial and human profitability. Louise spent her life in direct service of the poor and in accompanying the Daughters of Charity so that they would never abandon said service. Despite the complexity of their ministry and the difficulties they might encounter, Louise encouraged the Sisters to remain faithful to their commitment. Read some of her letters [12].

Accompaniment in their professional undertakings

Louise was concerned about every level of the Sisters’ formation and this influenced the way in which she accompanied the Sisters. This explains the emphasis she placed on explaining professional techniques, teaching them to read and to write, instructing them on the catechism, teaching them methods of prayer, teaching them how to serve God by serving Jesus Christ who is present in the poor. All of this served to motivate the Sisters in their ministry, instill them with greater self-confidence and revealed God’s great love for them.

Letter 128: If the foundlings and their nurses are to come here, should I tell Madame Lote that we need her room? She has not used it for nearly a month because we have not put any shutters on the windows. ---That is a good idea. (SWLM:72 [L.128]).

Letter 344: To the Sisters sent to Serqueux: My very dear Sisters, God be blessed for the grace which he has given you in taking care of you during your journey. I assure you that we truly sympathize with you although many envy the service which you give to God. If Beauvais is not too far out of your way, it would be wise to go and speak to that good man at the church and learn that recipe which you shall prepare. Remember that fistulas are not always malignant, and when they are, they may be caused by other things (SWLM:139 [L.344]).

Letter 27: To Sister Elisabeth Martin. My very dear Sister, with all my heart I share in your suffering, and I lovingly praise God for the courage which his goodness is giving to you. 1 think that if you stopped all medication and drank a lot of pure water you would feel better. Be at peace concerning the question about which you spoke to me. Renew your good desires and believe that in the eyes of God the deed is already accomplished. I recommend myself to your prayers and to those of all our sisters. I am, my very dear Sister, your very loving sister and servant (SWLM:31 [L.27])

Despite everything, always accompanied

The personal relationship between Louise and the Daughters of Charity made it easier for the Sisters to grow in their chosen vocation of serving the poor since as they served the poor, they also served Jesus Christ. Louise was able to show the Sisters that their sense of belonging to the Company could be lived out in all the places where they ministered.

Some examples of this accompaniment

Through her correspondence Louise engaged in dialogue with all the Sisters. She also spoke with them individually in order to attend to their expectation and needs, always taking into consideration the different rhythms of their development.

She helped the Sisters draw up a schedule that would allow them to dedicate time to the different activities that they were responsible for.

She valued and affirmed each of the Sisters and was appreciative of their various ministries as professionals who were serving the poor and as individuals who were members of the Company and a local community.

She informed the Sisters about the changes that Vincent and the members of the Confraternities suggested as way to better serve the poor.

She personally cared for the Sisters who had difficulties in learning, Sisters who did not know how to read or write … she encouraged these women to learn in order to serve the poor in a more effective manner.

She suggested that some Sisters care for other Sisters so that friendships could be formed and so that relationships and warmth might become a reality.

Louise was very specific with regard to the ministry that was to be done in each place: in the hospital, with the orphans, the galley slaves … Louise pointed out how the ministry with the poor should be carried out and informed the Sisters about those matters that had been decided by the administrators of the different institutions.

She organized meetings in their houses or in some other place so that the Sisters could continue their formation or pray together or dialogue and thus deepen their faith and the bonds of friendship.

She reviewed the service in which the Sisters were engaged, modified the criteria that guided their ministry, analyzed situations that were not functioning well … in other words, she evaluated the services that the Sisters were providing.

Louise was wholly committed to the Company, that is, to the poor and to the Daughters … she made herself available to them and never set aside things for herself.


The reading of Louise’s writings and an awareness of the events that surrounded her life are indications that her life was not easy. Her ever-present courage, which was the fruit of her faith in Jesus Christ and her desire to continue his mission on earth … this courage kept alive the call to serve all the poor whom she encountered during her journey through life.

She placed all her human, spiritual and professional gifts at the disposition of the poor and the Daughters.

Equable --- communicative, intelligent in her correspondence,, sincere, understanding in judging others and scrupulous in judging herself.

Through her writings we discover that Louise learned to strip away everything that was not useful in serving the poor … said service constituted her goal in life.

Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, in collaboration with one another, made actual that which had always been their desire: to continue on earth that which Jesus Christ had begun.

One could say that the feelings of suffering that Louise experienced in the depths of her heart were simply the result of her growth in following Jesus Christ. To experience sorrow for her sins, to suffer with Jesus Christ and to see the world and its pain from the perspective of the cross was a grace that Louise received as a result of her great love.

To speak about Louise’s personality and her weak constitution is somewhat risky especially when we call to mind the situation of transportation at that time, the number and frequency of her visits to the Confraternities in the rural areas, her visits to the Confraternities in the city, the numerous times that she accompanied the Sisters who were often ministering in very precarious situation and her direct service on behalf of the poor.

This simple presentation of the life of Louise de Marillac and the marginalized is a new invitation to continue to know her through the different biographies that have been written and especially through her own writings.

Thanks to God, our time is now … a time to approach once again the bold and liberating creativity of Louise de Marillac. To continue the work of Louise implies that we are willing to draw near to the light who is Jesus Christ, willing to live our faith, and willing to continue to make every effort so that our service on behalf of the poor is always a reality.


[1] Roland Mousnier, Etudes sur la population de France au XVIIe si?cle, Le dix – septi?me sicle XVI (1952), pp. 527-530.

[2] Philippe Ariés, a French historian, was born in Blois on July 21, 1914. His book, El niño y la vida familiar en el Antiguo Regimen (The child and family life during the time of the Ancient Regime); the Spanish version was published by Editorial Taurus, Madrid, 1987.

[3] Lloyd de Mause was born on September 19, 1931 and is a North American social thinker who is known for his work in the area of psychohistory. His work, Historia de la infancia, (The History of Infancy) was published by Alianza Universidad in 1982.

[4] Lloyd de Mause, Historia de la Infancia (History of Infancy), Alianza Editorial, 1982, pp. 312ff.

[5] Gobillon, Nicolás, Vida de la Señorita Le Gras, (The Life of Mademoiselle Le Gras), CEME, Salamanca, 1991, p. 37.

[6] Ibáñez, José María, Vicente de Paúl y los pobres du su tiempo, Sígueme, p. 34.

[7] Ibid., pp. 95-96.

[8] Ibid., p. 54.

[9] Ibid., p. 43.

[10] Nicholás Gobillon, op.cit., p. 39.

[11] Recueil 6, n. 1066b.

[12] SWLM:71 [L.128]; 74 [L.102]; 75 [L.441]; 81 [L.547]; 91 [L.132b]; 113 [L.104b]; 129 [L.121]; 157 [L.144].

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM