Today is the feast day of Saint Louise de Marillac. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Louise was born the illegitimate daughter of Louis de Marillac. Louise never knew her mother passed away shortly after her birth. Her father graciously raised her, demonstrating great love for her, despite societal opinion. Due to family relations, Louise grew up interacting with members of the aristocracy, specifically the royal court of Queen Marie de Medicis, receiving a formal education and instruction in deportment. When her father remarried, Louise’s new stepmother refused to recognize her, and she was sent to be schooled at the royal monastery of Poissy. The education Louise received was among the finest available at the time, and she demonstrated a keen mind and intellect, especially in practical and organizational tasks. Her intellect was only surpassed by her dedication and commitment.
Although she wanted to be a nun, Louise’s spiritual director discouraged her, saying she had too much chronic ill health. She married Antoine le Gras, an official in Queen Marie de Medici’s service. Although Louise was a dutiful wife, it was a somewhat loveless marriage. When the Queen was banished, Antoine lost his job and was without income.
Louise put her energies into maintaining a household and being a mother with the same intensity that she had pursued her studies. When her husband fell ill and became bedridden, she spent her days nursing him, and tending to her beloved son, who had also developed medical issues. Through her caretaking, Louise came to love her husband very much, and after a period of year, when she was 32, was devastated by his death. Not knowing where else to turn, Louise looked to God who had been her comfort throughout her life.
Directed by the Lord to that “the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same,” Louise sought out a new spiritual director, Saint Vincent de Paul. Together, these two pious saints would lastingly change the world.
Louise saw here a task she found challenging. She and Vincent both felt that “country girls”, artless and egalitarian in spirit, would be more suited to working with the poor. She attracted, recruited and trained so many of these that they soon had several houses in Paris and in the provinces.
Since their work was to be where they were most needed, they could not become a religious congregation in the strict sense. So they simply lived in small communities and took annual vows of poverty. Louise knew the qualities needed for the exhausting work and Vincent helped their development through monthly conferences encouraging even the newest and shyest recruits to express how they saw their mission.
Saint Louise went on to build and develop over 40 houses of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, throughout Paris, and then extending throughout France. The sisters served the poor and sick, expanding into orphanages, mental institutions, homes for the elderly, prisons, and even battlefields. Saint Louise had such a talent for organization, she revolutionized the way in which religious interacted with hospital staff, creating integrated team approaches which cared for both the physical needs of the patient alongside the spiritual needs. This model continues to be used today.
Saint Louise continued her work and direction of her sisters until the day of her death at age 68. She said 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.” Her incorrupt body lies in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Rue du Bac, Paris. Her work continues today, as her order and those that came after it, continue their missions of service.
She was canonized by Pius XI in 1934.
Image: Retrato de Santa Luisa de Marillac, (5)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff