Saint Of The Month

Saint Louise De Marillac, Widow, Co-foundress of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity (A.D. 1660)

Louise was born in 1591. She married Antony Le Gras, a man who seemed destined for a distinguished career. A son was born to them, and her twelve years of married life were happy except that before very long her husband fell ill of a lingering sickness in which she nursed him most devotedly.

Not long before the death of her husband, Louise made a vow not to marry again but to devote herself wholly to the service of God. He died in 1625, but before this she had already made the acquaintance of 'M. Vincent', as the holy priest known to us know as St. Vincent de Paul was then called, and he, though showing reluctance at first, consented eventually to act as her confessor. Only after some five years personal association with Mlle Le Gras did M. Vincent, who was ever patient to abide God's own good time, send this devoted soul in May 1629 to make what we might call a visitation of the 'Charity' of Montmirail he had founded. This was the precursor of many similar missions, and in spite of much bad health, of which St. Vincent himself was by no means inconsiderate, his deputy, with all her reckless self-sacrifice did not succumb. Quietly, however, and very gradually, as activities multiplied, in the by-ways of Paris as well as in the country, the need of robust helpers made itself felt.

Hence it came about that in 1633 a sort of training centre or noviceship was established in what was then known as the Rue des Fossé-Saint-Victor. This was the unfashionable dwelling Mlle Le Gras had rented for herself after her husband's death, and she now gave hospitality to the first candidates who were accept for the service of the sick and poor.

These with Louise as their directress formed the grain of mustard seed which has grown into the world-wide organization known as the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1642 St. Vincent allowed four of the company to take annual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and it was not until 1655 that Cardinal de Retz, Archbishop of Paris, despatched from Rome the formal approbation of the company and placed them directly under the direction of St. Vincent's own congregation of priests.

The good works of the Daughters of Charity had multiplied apace. The patterns of the great Paris hospital of the Hôtel-Dieu had passed in large measure under their care, the brutal treatment of an abandoned child had lead St. Vincent to organize a home for foundlings, and despite the illiteracy of many of their own recruits the associates had found themselves compelled to undertake the teaching of children. In all these developments Mlle Le Gras had borne the heaviest part of the burden.

As we may learn from her letters to St. Vincent and others, two things only troubled her; the one was the respect and veneration with which she found her visits welcomed, the other was her anxiety for the spiritual welfare of her son Michael. With all her occupations she never forgot him. He came with his wife and child to visit his mother on her deathbed and she blessed them tenderly.

St. Louise de Marillac died on March 15, 1660, and St. Vincent followed her only six months later. She was canonized in 1934.

From Butler's Lives of the Saints

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