It is said that behind every great man is a great woman and this is certainly obvious as one learns the story of Saint Louise de Marillac. Born on August 12, 1591 near the small town of Meux in the southwest of France, Louise had lost both her parents by the age of fifteen. Discouraged by her confessor from becoming a nun, she was married and had one son but soon became the longtime caregiver to her beloved husband until his death. Although she had wise council from two notable men – one a bishop and the other later declared a Saint (Francis de Sales), Louise’s vision of her spiritual path came from an “inner illumination.” In this way she understood that “she was to undertake a great work under the guidance of another person she had not yet met.” That person was St. Vincent de Paul. Vincent, busy with his “Confraternities of Charity” – aristocratic ladies who were helping him serve the poor and neglected children – was reluctant to become Louise’s confessor, but he soon realized that she, of the peasant class herself, could not only meet the poor as an equal but also was gifted in teaching and organizing helpers of their own class.
What stands out in the biography of Louise in “Saint of the Day” at http://www.franciscanmedia.org is what Teilhard de Chardin saw as the slow work of God. The long illness of her husband, the only periodic availability of counselors, the long time it took for Vincent DePaul to realize that she was the answer to his prayers and Vincent’s slowness in allowing the organization of what became the Daughters of Charity into a religious congregation all reads as a testament to the faith and trust and patience of this remarkable woman. Louise spent her life helping wherever needed and in her later years traveled throughout France, establishing her community members in hospitals, orphanages and other institutions. Louise died on March 15, 1660, and was finally named a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1934.
It has been my privilege to know and work with many of the Daughters of St. Louise de Marillac and I celebrate them today as a collective example of what one woman can accomplish and how her followers can change the world of needy people around the globe.