The People Behind the Society of St Vincent de Paul ~ St Louise de Marillac
In this second article on key people influential to the formation of the St Vincent de Paul Society we are looking at the life of St Louise de Marillac. Although she was born 242 years before Frederic Ozanam founded the Society, her relationship with St Vincent, their charitable work together and her legacy, it can be argued, have been significant in shaping the events of 1833.
Louise de Marillac was born on 12 August, 1591, into a noble family, probably in Paris. Louise’s mother is unknown and her father was a widower at her birth. He remarried when she was 3 years old. At a young age she was sent to the care of the Dominicans at the royal monastery of Poissy where she was raised with other children. Her father died when she was 13 and her Uncle Michel became her Guardian. He worked in the court of Louis Xlll and rose to become “keeper of the seals” in 1629.
When she was 15 she wanted to become a religious sister in an austere order, the Capuchins. The Priest director of the convent would not accept her due to her delicate health. Louise was extremely disappointed but accepted the decision. Later, she obeyed her family who presented her to Antoine Legras, a simple squire who was a secretary to the Queen. They married when Louise was 22 and within a year she had given birth to a son she named Michel.
Antoine died in December, 1625 after 3 years of ill health. Widowed, lacking financial means, Louise had to move. Vincent de Paul lived near her new home and became her spiritual director. Neither one was very enthusiastic about meeting the other, there were such differences between them. They got to know one another and Vincent helped Louise realise her vocation. He proposed that she visit the “Confraternities of Charity” to encourage the Ladies in their service of the poor.
Louise came out of herself and became aware of the realities lived by poor people. She discovered the difficulties the Ladies had in serving, how they found it difficult to do menial tasks themselves. She helped direct his Ladies of Charity in their work of caring for the sick, the poor and the neglected.
Together on 29 November, 1633, they founded the Company of the Daughters of Charity, and thereafter the care and training of the Sisters became Louise’s life work. Vincent and Louise worked together as a team. Vincent provided the original vision of service of the poor, a vision shaped by the love of Jesus Christ.
However, it was Louise that helped transform that vision into reality, so that by the time of her death in Paris on 15 March, 1660, there were more than 40 Houses of the Daughters of Charity across France. Since then they have spread all over the world.
Louise was a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker and co-founder of the Daughters of Charity. She was an organiser, a radical thinker who lived her life intensely and enthusiastically. She herself knew suffering and through a life of deep faith she was able to find and treasure Jesus Christ in the broken spirits and bodies of the destitute people she served.
She was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1934. Saint Louise was declared Patroness of Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960. Her feast day is 15 March. She is also alleged to be one of the patron saint for disappointing children – ie all of us.