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We were named after Ste. Louise de Marillac. A saint of the Catholic Church, Known for being close to St. Vincent de Paul and having founded the "Daughters of Charity."
In 1632, Louise made a spiritual retreat seeking inner guidance regarding her next step. Her intuition led her to understand that it was time to intensify her ministry with poor and needy persons, while still maintaining a deep spiritual life.
Louise, at age 42, drawn to focus on mission, communicated this aspiration to Monsieur Vincent. By the end of 1633, he too had received the guidance needed for them to bring the Daughters of Charity into existence.
Until 1964, the traditional religious habit included a large, starched cornett. In 17th-century France, the charitable care of the poor was completely unorganized.
The Ladies of Charity, founded by Vincent years earlier, provided some care and monetary resources, but this wasn’t enough.
For, though the wealthy Ladies of Charity had the funds to aid poor people, they did not have the time or temperament to live a life of service among the poor.
Vincent and Louise realized that the direct service of poor persons was not easy for the ladies of nobility or of the bourgeoisie. It was difficult to overcome the barriers of social class. These women took meals, distributed clothing and gave care and comfort. They visited the slums dressed in beautiful dresses next to people they considered to be peasants.
The practical work of nursing the poor in their own homes, caring for neglected children and dealing with often rough husbands and fathers, was best accomplished by women of similar social status to the principal sufferers. The aristocratic ladies were better suited to the equally necessary work of raising money and dealing with correspondence.
The need of organization in work for the poor suggested to de Paul the forming of a confraternity among the women of his parish in Châtillon-les-Dombes. It was so successful that it spread from the rural districts to Paris, where noble ladies often found it hard to give personal care to the needs of the poor. The majority sent their servants to minister to those in need, but often the work was considered unimportant. Vincent de Paul remedied this by referring young women who inquired about serving persons in need to go to Paris and devote themselves to this ministry under the direction of the Ladies of Charity. These young girls formed the nucleus of the Daughters of Charity.
Louise found the help she needed in young, humble country women who had the energy and the proper attitude to deal with people weighed down by destitution and suffering.
She began working with a group of them and saw a need for common life and formation. Consequently, she invited four of these country girls to live in her home in the Rue des Fosses‐Saint‐Victor and began training them to care for those in need. She also taught them how to deepen their spiritual life. "Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself, Louise explained.
This was the foundation of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, who received official approbation in 1655. At first the Company served the needs of the sick and poor in their homes. Louise's work with these young women developed into a system of pastoral care at theHôtel-Dieu, the oldest and largest hospital in Paris. Their work became well known and the Daughters were invited to Angers to take over management of the nursing services of the hospital there. This was the first ministry outside Paris for the fledgling community, so Louise herself made the arduous journey there in the company of three Sisters.
After completing negotiations with the city officials and the hospital managers, Louise instituted collaboration among the doctors, nurses and others to form a comprehensive team. This model was highly successful and is still in use today by the Daughters of Charity. Under the guidance of Louise de Marillac, the Daughters expanded their scope of service to include orphanages, institutions for the elderly and mentally ill, prisons, and the battlefield. This mobility was a major innovation in an era when consecrated women remained in the monastery.
The Daughters of Charity were unlike the established religious communities at that time. Up to this point, all religious women were behind cloister walls and performed a ministry of contemplative prayer. Their distinctive habit, a grey wool tunic with a large headdress or cornette of white linen, was the usual dress of Breton peasant women of the 17th century and later. In working with her sisters, Louise emphasized a balanced life, as Vincent de Paul had taught her. It was the integration of contemplation and activity that made Louise's work so successful.
She wrote near the end of her life, "Certainly it is the great secret of the spiritual life to abandon to God all that we love by abandoning ourselves to all that He wills. Louise led the Company of Daughters until her death. A present-day observer might surmise that Vincent de Paul was the heart of the Daughters of Charity, while Louise was the head. This isn’t quite true, for Louise had a big heart, too. However, this statement is made to give tribute to Louise’s strong intellect, organizational skills and her ability to get things accomplished. Louise was positive and exuberant in her energy, always urging her Sisters to do more and do it well.
But along with the activity, she also modeled love. Nearing her death, she wrote to her Sisters: “Take good care of the service of the poor. Above all, live together in great union and cordiality, loving one another in imitation of the union and life of our Lord. Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she might be your only Mother. After increasingly ill health, Louise de Marillac died on March 15, 1660, six months before the death of her dear friend and mentor, Vincent de Paul. She was 68 years of age. By the time of her death, the Daughters of Charity had more than 40 houses in France. Her Sisters have always been held in high repute and have made foundations in all parts of the world.