SAINTS

MARCH 15: ST. LOUISE DE MARILLAC

(1581-1660)

Louise was born in Paris in 1581, never having known her mother; she was raised by her father, a member of the aristocracy.

When her father married, Louise had a difficult time adjusting and was placed in the royal Monastery of Poissy and educated by the Dominican Sisters. There, she learned art, music and literature but was removed by her family upon the death of her father when she was 12. 

She was then sent to live in a boarding house, where she had the opportunity to learn many basic domestic and organizational skills. This experience rounded out her classical, upper-class education and prepared her well for her future service.

On Feb. 5, 1613, Louise married Antoine Le Gras, secretary to the queen of France, and they had a son Michel in October of that year. Louise traveled and socialized among 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 wealthy women dedicated to assisting the poor. Louise had a vision, however, in which she saw herself serving the poor and living the vows of religion in community. In that vision, a priest appeared to her, whom she later identified as Vincent de Paul, her future confidante and collaborator in ministry.

After her husband’s death in 1625, Vincent invited Louise to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France. These tasks were therapeutic for Louise and formative for her future work and that of the Vincentian family. Through her own work and her work with Vincent, St. Louise gained a deep knowledge of the needs of the poor, developed her own management skills and identified effective structures for service.

Deeply concerned with the poverty and suffering in which they were surrounded, St. Louise de Marillac and her mentor, St. Vincent de Paul, founded the Daughters of Charity in 1633 in Paris, France. Together, they brought a group of 12 young women who shared their dedication of helping the poor and the sick. The newly formed Daughters of Charity established soup kitchens, organized community hospitals, set up schools and homes for orphans, offered job training, and improved prison conditions.

Louise died on March 15, 1660, just a few months before Vincent.

She was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920, and on March 11, 1934, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI. In 1960, Pope John XXIII proclaimed her the Patroness of all Social Workers.

Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: Louise de Marillac: The First Daughter of Charity. (2020, March 30). St. John’s University. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/news/2020-03-30/louise-de-marillac-first-daughter-charity