Up until I was at least into my thirties, I had no idea there was a saint with my name, or maybe I have her name. I'm pretty sure my parents called me Louise just because they liked the name, but when I discovered St Louise de Marillac, I basically adopted her, or maybe she adopted me, it's hard to say.
St Louise's Feast Day is the Ides of March. She was a widow, and mother of one son. She is a patron saint of social workers, and that was special to me, because most of my father's working life was as a social worker. Also, when I was in my twenties I used to work part time as a social worker. I have just discovered that the nuns she was taught by, from a very young age, were Dominican sisters. They taught me too, along with the Salesian brothers and priests. I like seeing these connections.
With St Vincent de Paul, she founded the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.
The Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (Latin: Societas Filiarum Caritatis a S. Vincentio de Paulo), called in English the Daughters of Charity or Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul is a Society of Apostolic Life for women within the Catholic Church. Its members make annual vows throughout their life, which leaves them always free to leave, without need of ecclesiastical permission. They were founded in 1633 and are devoted to serving Jesus Christ in persons who are poor through corporal and spiritual works of mercy. They have been popularly known in France as "the Grey Sisters" from the color of their traditional religious habit, which was originally grey, then bluish grey.
St Louise was born out of wedlock on August 12, 1591 in Le Meux, Oise, France. Her mother is unknown and her father Louis de Marillac was a widower. He acknowledged her as his natural daughter, and was apparently very fond of her, considering her to be a great consolation. From a young age, she was educated by the Dominican sisters at the royal monastery of Poissy near Paris, and was given an excellent education. Her aunt was a nun there.
When she was about 12, her father died, and she then lived with a good, devout spinster, who taught her how to manage a household, and about herbal medicine. At the age of 15 she applied to enter the convent with the Capuchin nuns in Paris, but was rejected. We don't know why, but it may have been due to her poor health. Her spiritual adviser told her that God had other plans for her, and as we will see, that proved to be the case.
Her uncle, Michel de Marillac, was a major figure in the court of Queen Marie de' Medici and he
. . . arranged for her to marry Antoine Le Gras, secretary to Queen Marie. Antoine was an ambitious young man who seemed destined for great accomplishments. Louise and Antoine were wed in the fashionable Church of St. Gervaise on February 5, 1613. In October, the couple had their only child, Michel.
She was a good wife and mother and was also active in her parish. She had a leading role with the Ladies of Charity, which was a group of wealthy women dedicated to helping the poor and sick.
St Louise seems to have been a mystic, and had a regular spiritual life. It seems that she may have had some spiritual direction from St Francis de Sales. When her son was about 12, her husband died, after being ill for a couple of years, during which time she developed depression. At about the time of Antoine's death, she met St Vincent de Paul, and corresponded with him. She continued to bring up her son, and eventually St Vincent became her spiritual adviser, and helped her to obtain “greater balance in a life of moderation, peace and calm.” St Louise had often struggled with various anxieties.
Now that Michel had grown up, she could consider her next step. It seemed that God was calling her to work more intensely for the poor and when she told St Vincent, he had received guidance to form the religious organisation of women, which would come to be known as the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul.
I have a small, 50 page book about her life. The thing which struck me quite forcibly the first time I read it was that St Louise had a charism of administration, which sounds about as dull as ditchwater, but is actually fascinating. She had real charity for people, as you'd expect in a saint, but although this was a personal thing, her charism of administration meant that the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul could work together very effectively as a group of women in service of the poor. This meant that her work could continue well after her death and was therefore not dependent upon her personal powers. She did what she had to do, and did it so well that the work continued after her. The supernatural life adds so much to human organisation and resources. It's never enough to simply throw money at a problem. The human element, infused with Divine love, must never be overlooked.
St Louise died on March 15, 1660 (aged 68) in Paris, France, after 26 years of this work.
Writings, Patronage, and Veneration
A list of her writings can be found here.
In addition to being a patron saint of social workers, she is also (according to Wikipedia) a patroness of disappointing children, loss of parents, people rejected by religious orders, sick people, social workers, Vincentian Service Corps, widows .
St Louise de Marillac was canonised in 1934 by Pope Pius XI.
Her remains are enshrined in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity at 140 rue du Bac, Paris. She is mistakenly referred to as an incorrupt saint; the body enshrined in the chapel is actually a wax effigy, containing her bones. (Wikipedia)
St Louise, pray for us.
Louise LaMotte is a friend from Light on Dark Water. Since she lived in Australia at the time we met online, I never thought we would meet in person. I was wrong. She has written here about St. Mary of the Cross, Pope St. Pius X, Fr. Jacques Hamel, Our Lady Undoer of Knots and St. Damien of Molokai.
If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.