March 14, 2017

Saint Louise de Marillac, "Love the Poor as You Would Love Christ Himself"

Saint Louise de Marillac
Paris in the early 1600’s was not the pleasant tourist attraction that it is today, and no one would become more conscious of this than Louise de Marillac. Disease and famine were common occurrences, wiping out nearly fourteen percent of the population; torture was often used against those accused of crimes, claiming many lives very cruelly and unnecessarily, and children by the hundreds were often abandoned at birth.

It was this world that Louise would eventually enter as a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, but she would not do so quite as soon as she had originally wanted. Though inspired to join a religious community at the age of 16, it was not until she was 33 that the one God intended her to work with would enter her life.

Born into wealth near Meux, France, in 1591, she suffered the first in a series of tragedies when her mother died while she was still a young child. Her father followed her mother in death when Louise was just 15. Although her education at the hands of Dominican nuns inspired her to pursue religious life, her confessor discouraged this and she married Antony LeGras in 1613, at the age of 22.

They subsequently had one son and, because her husband was an official in the French Queen’s service, Louise had the necessary time and financial freedom to dedicate to both her son and the local poor. So devoted was she to visiting the destitute in their homes, feeding, washing and instructing them, that she became known, even then, for her tireless compassion and concern for the less fortunate.

The next tragedy occurred in Louise’s life in 1625, when her husband, Antony, died, leaving her a young widow with a 12 year-old son. It was at about this time that she met the person God had intended her to work alongside, a priest as committed to the poor as she was — Father Vincent de Paul, would later be declared a saint. He became her confessor and spiritual director — with some reluctance, we should add — even though he was incredibly busy with what he called his “Confraternities of Charity,” ladies of the aristocracy who worked with him to alleviate the sufferings of the poor. It would be some time before Vincent and Louise realized that the other was indeed the answer to their mutual prayers.

As Father de Paul got to know Louise better, he came to appreciate not only her devotion, but her steadfastness to the work both of them were dedicated to. In 1633, Louise set up a training center in the home she rented, where she became the directress of those who sought a life helping the poor. This group of women would later become known as the Sisters of Charity (or Daughters of Charity, which Vincent preferred) of Saint Vincent de Paul. Although Louise took vows in 1634 and Vincent allowed four others to take the same vows in 1642, the order did not receive formal approval until 1655. Five years later, on March 15, 1660, Mother Louise de Marillac died, but she left behind more than 40 religious houses in France, in addition to hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions to serve the indigent. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934 and declared Patroness of Social Workers in 1960 by Pope John XXIII. Her feast day is observed March 15.

Louise had discovered that the answer to the sadness that had pervaded her early life was total devotion to the will of God. “If you completely entrust everything to the guidance of Divine Providence and love the most holy will of God,” she said, “this will contribute greatly to your peace of mind and heart. In fact,” she concluded, “this is one of the most essential practices I know of for growth into holiness.” Almighty God, Saint Louise devoted her life to serving the needs of the poverty-stricken. May we: "Love the poor and honor them as we would honor Christ Himself." Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever

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