Saint Louise de Marillac, patron of social workers and widows
Today’s saint is St. Louise de Marillac. Louise was born in Ferrières-en-Brie (near Meaux), Auvergne, France, on August 12, 1591. Born out of wedlock in Paris in 1581, Louise never knew who her mother was but was acknowledged and raised by her father, a member of the aristocracy. When her father married, Louise had a difficult time adjusting as was sent as a resident student to a Dominican convent where her aunt was a religious. This experience deepened her intellectual skills, as well as her desire to be a religious. When her father died and resources were limited, she lived in a boarding house where she had the opportunity to learn many basic domestic and organizational skills, as well as the secrets of herbal medicine.
When Louise was about sixteen years old, she developed a strong desire to enter the Capuchinesses. Her spiritual director discouraged her from entering the religious order, however, and her father having died, it became necessary to decide her vocation. Interpreting her director’s advice, she accepted the hand of Antoine Le Gras, a young secretary under Maria de’ Medici. The couple had a son and Louise devoted most of her time in her motherly duties.
While at prayer, Louise had a vision in which she saw herself serving the poor and living the vows of religion in community. She wrote this experinence down on parchment and carried it on her person as a reminder that despite her difficulties, God was guiding her life. In that vision a priest appeared to her, whom she later identified as Vincent de Paul, her future confidante and collaborator in ministry.
In 1619 she met St. Francis de Sales, who was then in Paris, and Mgr. Le Campus, Bishop of Belley, became her spiritual adviser. Troubled by the thought that she had rejected a call to the religious life, she vowed in 1623 not to remarry should her husband die before her.
As a young matron, Louise traveled and socialized among both the royalty and aristocracy of France, but she was equally comfortable with the poor, no matter their desperate situations. She held a leadership role in the Ladies of Charity, an organization of rich women dedicated to assisting the poor.
Her husband died on 21 December, 1625, after a long illness. In 1629, Vincent de Paul, who in 1625 had established the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), invited Louise to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France. These tasks were therapeutic for Louise and were influential in preparing her for her future work. She conducted site visits to assure the quality of the service being offered; reviewed financial accounts for stewardship reports; and encouraged the workers and volunteers to see Christ in those whom they served.
On November 29, 1633 Louise began to train young women to address the needs of the poor and to gain support from their life together. From this humble beginning, the community of Daughters of Charity emerged. Louise provided leadership and expert management to the evolving network of services she and Vincent inspired.
Louise, who died on March 15, 1660 just a few months before Vincent de Paul, was proclaimed a Saint of the Church in 1934. In 1960 Pope John XXIII proclaimed her the Patroness of all Social Workers. As a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker and religious foundress, she stands as a model to all women. She lives today in the 25,000 Daughters of Charity serving throughout the world, as well as in their many lay collaborators.
Patron: Disappointing children, widows, loss of parents, sick people, social workers, Vincentian Service Corps, people rejected by religious orders.