Challenges for Catholic educators – Lessons from Louise

by | Feb 28, 2012 | Vincentian Family

Sister María Teresa Barbero Echavarría, DC concludes her study “Saint Louise de Marillac and Education” with the challenges of Vincentian Educators in the present and the future.


Louise de Marillac, a courageous, bold and enterprising woman, has become that “buried treasure” that today shines brightly in our midst. Throughout this week her life has been presented to us as a light that illuminates our mission as Vincentians that that enables us, like Louise, to go forth sowing seeds of hope, love and tenderness in the hearts of those men and women who are poor.

Her outstanding human and spiritual stature allowed her to open new paths in the society of seventeenth century France where women were expected to dedicate themselves to caring for the home or living a cloistered life behind convent walls. One of the qualities that best describes Louise’s personality is her vocation as a teacher and an educator. Louise engaged in this ministry at different times in her life. We see Louise educating her son, Michel; we also see her teaching young girls in the villages and the suburbs of Paris and as well as forming and educating the first Daughters of Charity. As Louise embraced the many poor people she encountered during her travels, the task that seemed most appropriate for her and that cried out for her creative talent was that of teaching. She was the founder of the small schools of the Confraternities that were established in seventeenth century France and that opened the door for a type of education that was geared toward the integral education of children.


Challenges of a Vincentian Educator

In light of what we have presented with regard to Louise’s ministry as an educator, we are now able to list the following principles or characteristics of Vincentian educators:

• Vincentian educators ought to live out their ministry as a vocation; they ought to experience themselves as called by God to collaborate in the plan of salvation with regard to their students. They ought to see themselves as God’s instruments and allow themselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

• Aware of the grandeur of their mission they should live their life with simplicity, enthusiasm and joy; they should place their best selves at the service of their students. Each day they should recommit themselves to selfless love and generous service.

• Their primary objective should be the integral formation of the human person and therefore they should place importance on the communication of the Good News of the gospel. Their lives should be transparent and they should clothe themselves in the human and spiritual values that they desire to communicate to others.

• They ought to work in teams and collaborate with one another; they should be united in their methodology and criteria and should give life to the ideals of the Vincentian Family.

• They will show a special concern for those young men and women who are fragile, timid or in some way challenged and/or living in a difficult situation. With open eyes and hearts they will extend themselves to those who are most forgotten and neglected. They will attempt to communicate this same concern to their students and thus stir up in these young men and women an attitude of solidarity for those most in need.

• They should be engaged in a process of on-going formation in order to be able to offer their student a quality education that responds to the present day needs.

• Vincentian educators should collaborate in the formation of new educators so that the torch of the Vincentian charism can be passed on to a future generation.

The present and the future

After more than three centuries this small seed that was planted by Louise de Marillac has grown into a fruitful tree that has been extended throughout the world. Her teachings have a permanent value and are most relevant today. In light of the rapid changes that are taking place in our society, changes that perplex and cause us to feel insecure and anxious as we face an uncertain future, the life and teaching of Louise help us to confront the present and future reality calmly, courageously, and boldly.

Education will always be one of the primary ministries of the Daughters of Charity. The Sisters, however, will have to open new paths in those places where the urgent needs of the time call them to serve. Society evolves, needs change and therefore the service of the Daughters must respond to these new challenges.

As we look toward the future, two objectives ought to guide our efforts:

• The search for and the acceptance of those who are most forgotten. Our educational centers should always be open to the new forms of poverty and our presence as educators should be open to confront the present needs.

• Faith education is one of the urgent demands of our present society. The greatest poverty is ignorance concerning Jesus Christ. Children and young people need to be formed in the area of values … thus religious formation is very important.

Today the society that surrounds us is devoid of God. Our educational centers provide us with a platform to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ not only to children and young men and women but also to parents, professors and those persons who in some way collaborate in our educational ministry.

This is our mission: to be educators of charity who sow hope, joy, peace, and faith.

Let us take up the torch that Louise has handed on to us … Let us allow ourselves to be illuminated by her light and let us faithfully pass on this inheritance to the children and young men and women that God has entrusted to us.

Sowing seeds

I conclude this presentation with a simple story dedicated to those teachers/educators who today, more than ever before, find it difficult to see how the seeds that they have planted will grow and produce fruit, who find it difficult to see how the hope that they deposited in the hearts of young men and women who fill their classrooms … how this hope will become a reality. This simple story is also dedicated to the parents of the young people because as parents they are the primary educators of their children.

Once there was a man who every day rode the bus to work. One stop after he got on the bus, an elderly woman also got on the bus and she would sit beside a window. She opened a bag and during her journey she would throw something out the window. She always followed the same routine and so one day, the man, who was intrigued by her action, asked her what she was throwing out the window. The elderly woman responded: “these are seeds!” “What kind of seeds?” the man asked. “Flower seeds … you see as I look around the ground is so barren.” “But the seeds fall on the asphalt and the birds also eat the seeds … do you really believe the seeds will take root?” “Yes, I do, but they will need time to grow. I do what I can. The rains will come” … and the elderly woman continued her routine. Some months later as the man was looking out the window of the bus, he saw flowers along the roadside … colorful and beautiful flowers. The man remembered the elderly woman and asked the bus driver about her, but the chauffeur told him that she had died. The man returned to his seat and looking at the view thought: the flowers have taken root and grown and the roadside is beautiful, but that woman never saw the fruit of her work. What good was her work? Suddenly, he noticed a young girl pointing out the window and telling her father, “Look, papa, how beautiful … look at the flowers!” It is said that from that day forward the man rode the bus with a bag of seeds.

Vincentian educators, following in the footsteps of Louise de Marillac live out their mission as educators with enthusiasm, passion and joy … they continue to sow seeds of hope, seeds of eternity … other will reap the fruits of their work and rejoice in these fruits … it was precisely in this way that Louise de Marillac lived out her vocation as an educator.

(This article first appeared in Santa Luisa de Marillac, ayer y hoy, XXXIV Semana de Estudios Vicencianos, [Saint Vincent de Paul, Yesterday and Today, XXXIV Vincentian Studies Week], Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2010). Translated with permission of  Ceme.


[1] Calvet, Luisa de Marillac, CEME,

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM


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