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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Louise De Marillac

March 10, 2015 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Every soul possesses dignity. “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2258).
St. Louise de Marillac, who devoted her life to serving the sick and the poor, was born out of wedlock.
In 1591, Louise was born near Meux, France. Little is known about her mother since she died when Louise was still very young. Rather than disowning the young girl, her father, Louis de Marillac, provided for her livelihood and education. He taught her for a while before placing her with the royal monastery in Poissy.
Her father came from the noble family of Marillac, some of whom were members of Queen Marie de Medici’s court. Hence, Louise was raised among the aristocracy of France. Louis died when Louise was only 15, leading her to appeal to the Capuchins for entrance.
Because of her frail health, however, her petition was refused. After several years, she agreed to marry Antony Le Gras, another nobleman. Although her marriage started out happy, her husband soon fell ill with a lingering illness. As his conditioned worsened, Louise fell into a deep depression.
In 1619, when St. Francis de Sales was in Paris, Louise met him. He gave her good counsel regarding her spiritual life at that time.
Shortly before her husband died, Louise still struggled with feelings of guilt and depression. Then, during a Pentecost Mass, Louise received a spiritual illumination which dispelled her depression — her dark night of the soul.
“On the Feast of Pentecost during Holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was completely freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and 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.”
Thus encouraged, she stood by her husband until he died in 1625. Soon Louise made a vow never to marry again, but to serve God alone, convinced that God had great plans for her. Since her husband had died, Louise’s finances shrunk quickly. She sold their home and moved to a smaller dwelling — one which was very near to St. Vincent de Sales, who had been appointed superior of the Visitation Monastery by St. Francis de Sales. She had already placed herself under St. Vincent’s direction, probably early in 1625.
Determined to focus her energies on becoming a better servant of God, she wrote a rule of life for herself. This rule of life gave structure to her daily activities. It included reciting the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, meditation, spiritual reading, fasting, prayer, penance, recitation of the Holy Rosary, in addition to other special prayers.
She soon realized that maintaining a household, as well as caring for her 13-year-old son, and trying to observe her rule of life had become overwhelming. She needed some spiritual direction. Louise went to St. Vincent for advice.
St. Vincent soon agreed to give her the help she requested. It was not long before he recognized that Louise was the person who could help him organize and expand his Confraternities of Charity. Together with St. Vincent de Paul, Louise began the work of educating and helping the peasant girls of France.
Up until this time, around 1629, most of the women working for the Confraternities of Charity were well-to-do women with families of their own. Hence, though they could provide some time to assist in educating and training young disadvantaged girls, they could not do so on a consistent basis.
St. Vincent found a willing servant in Louise. Not only was she widowed, but she was clearly intelligent, hardworking, humble, courageous, and — though feeble in health — she was a woman of persevering endurance. Louise went to visit the “Charity” of Montmirail, a mission which supported the educating and nursing of poor children.
Despite her poor health, Louise immediately worked to replicate the work done at Montmirail. She established many similar missions not only in the alleys of Paris, but around the countryside of France as well.
These women, unlike the cloistered nuns of the time, spent much time walking in public and looking for children in need. The great need required many more servants. As stated previously, the women of high society did not have the time, so Louise and St. Vincent found ready and willing workers among the peasant girls.
However, these girls needed educating and training, formation and discipline to establish the missions. In 1633, Louise set up the Rue des Fossés-Saint-Victor with four other girls. They met with so much success that more houses of formation and service sprung up rapidly, necessitating the establishment of rules of life to ensure not only stability, but also consistency.
In 1634 Vincent gave Louise permission to write a rule for the Daughters of Charity as they came to be known. With these rules, St. Vincent advised the women: “Your convent will be the house of the sick; your cell, a hired room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital; your enclosure, obedience.”
It was not until 20 years later that the Daughters of Charity received formal approval from the Vatican. Some of the Daughters had taken over hospitals that had been falling into neglect, as well as nursing the plague victims without hesitation.
Two things concerned Louise: the recognition and favors she received for the work she was doing and the spiritual welfare of her son. She remained humble, giving all credit for the success of the work to God’s grace. Her son married, bringing his wife and child to Louise’s deathbed.
On March 15, 1660, Louise died after telling her fellow sisters in Christ that they must “love the poor, honor them as you would honor Christ Himself.” She was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934.
Dear St. Louise de Marillac, not only by your life, but by your work you have shown us the dignity of every human soul. Pray for us that we will have the grace to see Christ in those who are in need in our families, in our communities, and in the world. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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