Almost 400 years ago (1617) St. Vincent de Paul pioneered in facilitating and organizing women for ministry. That the International Association of Charities or AIC (1617) has more than 250,000 “volunteers” 52 countries is a tribute not only to his vision but his organizational genius. It is the oldest functioning organization of women in ministry. How many other organizations get to celebrate 400 years of service? No wonder the Ladies of Charity in the USA and other AIC groups around the world have already started preparing to celebrate the anniversary in 2017.
The following document from the Vincentian Encyclopedia provides the letter of formal foundation followed by the “Rules” which put this organization on such a firm foundation.
In the near future the series “Saturday Study Hall” will present some insights into Vincent’s organizational genius as illustrated in this document.
- 1 FOUNDATION OF THE CHARITY IN CHATlLLON-LES-DOMBES
- 2 Charity Of Women (Châtillon-les-Dombes)
- 2.1 Patron and Purpose of the Work
- 2.2 Members of the confraternity
- 2.3 Offices
- 2.4 Admission of the sick and how to assist and feed them
- 2.5 Spiritual Assistance and Funerals
- 2.6 Meetings: their purpose and the order to be followed during them
- 2.7 Administration of temporal goods and rendering of accounts
- 2.8 Elections and leaving office
- 2.9 Common Rules
- 2.10 Personal Devotions
- 2.11 Approval of the Confraternity
- 3 Erection of the Confraternity
- 4 MODIFICATION OF THE REGULATIONS FOR THE OFFICE OF TREASURER
FOUNDATION OF THE CHARITY IN CHATILLON-LES-DOMBES
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
On this day, August 23, 1617, the Ladies named below have charitably joined forces to take their turn to assist the sick poor of the town of Châtillon, having decided unanimously that, for an entire day only, each will be responsible for all those whom they have decided together to be in need of their help. To do so, they propose two aims, namely, to assist body and soul: the body by nourishing it and tending to its ailments; the soul by preparing those who seem to be tending toward death to die well, and preparing those who will recover to live a good life.
And because, when the Mother of God has been invoked and taken as patroness in important matters, everything can only go well and accrue to the glory of Jesus her Son, the Ladies take her for patroness and protector of the work, most humbly entreating her to take special care of it, as they also entreat Saint Martin and Saint Andrew, true examples of charity and patrons of Châtillon.
Starting tomorrow, the feast of Saint Bartholomew, they will begin, with God’s help, to function in this good work in the order in which they are listed here: First, the chatelaine on her day; Mlle. de Brie on hers; Mme. Philiberte, wife of M. des Hugonieres; Benoite, daughter of M. Ennemond Prost; Mme. Denise Beynier, wife of M. Claude Bouchonr; One of the daughters of Mme. Perra; Mme. Colette; And, lastly, Mlle. de la Chassaigne.
After her the chatelaine will do the same service on another day, and the others will take their turns successively, according to the above order, unless one of them is unable for some justifiable reason to carry out this ministry on her day. In that case, she will notify the person next in line — or have her notified — that she will be unable to take her turn, so that she can replace her on that day in caring for those who are poor. If that Lady can do so, she should not refuse because, in so doing, she will be freed of the responsibility for the following day, which she would have had according to the above order.
They should daily ask our good Jesus to kindly maintain this order and to shower with His divine blessings all those men and women who will work with their hands or contribute from their resources for its support. He will undoubtedly do so, since He Himself is the one who assures us by His own mouth that, on the great, awesome Day of Judgment, those who assist persons who are poor will hear that gentle, pleasing voice of His saying: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world,” and, on the contrary, those who have taken no care of them will be rejected by Him with those other harsh, appalling words: “Out of my sight, you condemned, go into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
To the Father the Judge, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Charity Of Women (Châtillon-les-Dombes)
Since charity toward the neighbor is an infallible sign of the true children of God, and since one of its principal acts is to visit and bring food to the sick poor, some devout young women and virtuous inhabitants of the town of Châtillon-les-Dombes, in the Lyons diocese, wishing to obtain from God the mercy of being His true daughters, have decided among themselves to assist spiritually and corporally the people of their town who have sometimes suffered a great deal, more through a lack of organized assistance than from lack of charitable persons.
Because, however, it is to be feared that this good work, once begun, might die out in a short time if they do not have some union and spiritual bond among themselves to maintain it, they have arranged to form an association that can be set up as a confraternity with the regulations that follow. All of this is, nevertheless, subject to the good pleasure of their most honored Prelate the Archbishop, to whom this work is entirely subject.
The confraternity will be called Confraternity of Charity, in imitation of the Charity Hospital in Rome, and the persons of which it will be mainly composed will be called Servants of the Poor or of the Charity.
Patron and Purpose of the Work
Since, in all confraternities, the holy custom of the Church is to propose a patron, and since the works gain their value and dignity from the purpose for which they are performed, the Servants of the Poor will take for patron Our Lord Jesus and for its aim the accomplishment of His very ardent desire that Christians should practice among themselves the works of charity and mercy. This desire He makes clear to us in His own words: “Be merciful as my Father is merciful,” and in these words: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat … I was sick and you visited me … for what you have done to the least of those, you did to me.”
Members of the confraternity
The confraternity will be composed of women: widows, wives and unmarried women, whose piety and virtue are known and whose perseverance can be counted on. Nevertheless, the wives and unmarried women must have the permission of their husbands or parents and not otherwise. In addition, to avoid the confusion that comes from too large a number, it should be limited to twenty, until further orders.
And because there is reason to hope that there will be foundations made in aid of the confraternity, and that it is not appropriate for women to handle them on their own, the Servants of the Poor will elect as their Procurator some pious, devout priest or an inhabitant of the town who is virtuous, devoted to the good of persons who are poor, and not too caught up in temporal affairs. He will be considered a member of the confraternity and will participate in the indulgences granted to it, will come to the meetings, and, like the Servants, will have a voice in decisions regarding matters proposed during the time he is in office as Procurator, and no longer.
In addition, the confraternity will choose two respectable, devout poor women, who will be called Nurses of the Sick Poor because their duty will be to watch over those who are alone and cannot move about and to serve them according to the instructions the Prioress will give them. They will pay them decently according to their work; consequently, they, too, will be considered members of the confraternity, will participate in the indulgences, and will come to the meetings but will not have a deliberative vote there.
One of the Servants of the Poor will be given the status of Prioress of the confraternity. So that everything may proceed in an orderly fashion, the others will love and respect her as their mother and obey her in whatever concerns the property and service of those who are poor, all for the love of Our Lord Jesus, who became obedient unto death, even to the death of the Cross. It will be her duty to do her utmost to see that all the poor persons are fed and assisted in accordance with this organization; to admit into the care of the confraternity, during the period between meetings, those sick persons who are truly poor and to discharge those who are better. All this, however, will be done with the advice of her two Assistants, or of one of them. She can, nevertheless, without asking them, instruct the Treasurer to give what she thinks is necessary to do those things that cannot be postponed until the next meeting. When she admits any patients, she will notify immediately the Servant whose turn it is to be on duty that day.
For the counsel and ordinary assistance of the Prioress, two of the most humble and most discreet members of the Company will be given her to attend to the public good of those who are poor and the management of the confraternity.
One of her Assistants will be named Subprioress and Treasurer of the confraternity; it will be her duty to carry out the functions of the Prioress in her absence, to take in the money and give receipts for it, take care of the linen and other furnishings, buy and store the provisions needed for the assistance of poor persons, give the Servants each day whatever they need for the food of those who are poor, see that their linen is laundered, carry out the instructions of the Prioress, and keep a book in which she will write down whatever she receives and uses.
It will be the duty of the Procurator to manage and negotiate business involving funds for the temporal affairs of the confraternity, with the advice and direction of the Pastor, the Prioress, the Treasurer, and the other Assistant; to explain at each meeting held for this purpose the state of the affairs he is managing; to keep a book in which he will record the decisions that will be made during it; to ask, on behalf of the confraternity, the Lord of the town of Châtillon, one of the Syndics, and the hospital Administrator to be present for the rendering of accounts of the confraternity. It will also be his duty to decorate its chapel, to have the Masses said, to look after the vestments and, with the advice of the above-mentioned persons, to purchase some when necessary.
Admission of the sick and how to assist and feed them
The Prioress will admit to the care of the confraternity those patients who are truly poor, and not those who have the means of taking care of themselves, with the advice, however, of the Treasurer and the Assistant, or of one of them. When she has admitted someone, she will notify the person whose day it is to be on duty, and the latter will go immediately to see him. The first thing she will do is to see if the patient needs a nightshirt so that, if that is the case, she may bring him one from the confraternity, along with some clean sheets, if they are needed and he is not in the hospital, where there are some. All of this is in the event that there is no way to launder them there.
When this has been done, she will see that the patient goes to confession in order to receive Communion the next morning because it is the intention of the confraternity that those who want to be aided by it go to confession and Communion. Before anything else, she will bring the patient a picture of the Crucifixion, which she will put up in a place where he can see it so that, by looking at it sometimes, he may reflect on what the Son of God suffered for him. She will also bring him other small items he needs, such as a bed tray, a napkin, a cup, a pitcher, a small plate and a spoon; afterward, she will notify the person whose turn it will be the following day to see that the patient’s house is cleaned and adorned in preparation for him to receive Communion, and to bring him his everyday fare.
Each of the Servants of the Poor will prepare their food and serve them for an entire day. The Prioress will begin, the Treasurer will follow, then the Assistant, and so forth, one after the other, in the order in which they were received, up to the latest arrival. Afterward, the Prioress will start over, and the others will follow, observing the order begun, so that, by this continual rotation, the patients will be served always in line with this organization. Nevertheless, all will be done in such a way that, if one of them falls ill, she will be excused from her service, informing the Prioress so that the latter can continue the succession with the others. If, however, one of them is prevented for some other reason, she will see that someone else takes her place, substituting for her in a similar situation.
When the person whose turn it is has received from the Treasurer whatever is needed on her day for the food of the poor persons, she will prepare the dinner and take it to the patients, greeting them cheerfully and kindly. She will set up the tray on the bed, place on it a napkin, a cup, a spoon, and some bread, wash the patient’s hands, and then say grace. She will pour the soup into a bowl, and put the meat on a plate. She will arrange everything on the bed tray, then kindly encourage the patient to eat for the love of Jesus and His holy Mother. She will do all this as lovingly as if she were serving her own son — or rather God, who considers as done to Himself the good she does for persons who are poor.
She will say some little word to him about Our Lord, making an effort to cheer him up if he is very downhearted; sometimes she will cut his meat or pour him something to drink. Once she has him beginning to eat she will leave if he has someone with him, and will go to find another patient, acting with him in the same way, remembering to begin always with the person who has someone with him and to end with those who are alone so she can spend more time with them Then, she will return in the evening to bring them their supper, using the same system and order as above.
Each patient will have as much bread as he needs, with a quarter of a pound of mutton or boiled veal for dinner and the same amount of roast meat for supper, except on Sundays and feast days, when they may be given boiled chicken for their dinner. Two or three times a week, they will be given ground meat for supper. Those who do not have a fever will receive a pint of wine daily, half in the morning, and half in the evening.
On Fridays, Saturdays, and other days of abstinence, they will be given two eggs, along with some soup and a little butter for their dinner, and the same for supper, with their eggs cooked the way they like. If fish can be found at a reasonable price, it will be given to them only at dinner.
Permission will be obtained for the seriously ill to eat meat during Lent and on other days when it is forbidden. Those who cannot eat solid meat will be given, three or four times a day, broth, soup with toast cut up in it, barley water, and fresh eggs.
Spiritual Assistance and Funerals
Because the aim of this organization is not only to assist poor persons corporally, but spiritually as well, the Servants of the Poor will strive and take great pains to dispose those who recuperate to live better, and those who seem to be approaching death, to die well. They will arrange their visit for this purpose and pray often for that, making some little elevation of their hearts to God for this intention.
In addition, they will occasionally read some devotional book that might be useful to those listening who might profit from this, exhorting them to bear their illness patiently for the love of God and to believe that He has sent it to them for their greater good. They will have them make some acts of contrition, consisting in sorrow for having offended God, for love of Him, to ask His forgiveness and resolve never to offend Him again. In the event that their illness [becomes worse], they will see to it that they go to confession as soon as possible. For those who seem to be dying, they will be sure to notify the Pastor to administer Extreme Unction, encouraging them to trust in God, to reflect on the passion and death of Our Lord Jesus, and to commend themselves to the Blessed Virgin, the angels, and the saints, particularly the patron saints of the town and those whose names they bear. They will do all this with great zeal to cooperate in the salvation of souls and, so to speak, to lead them by the hand to God.
The Servants of the Charity will take care to have the dead interred at the expense of the confraternity, providing a shroud for them and having the grave dug if the deceased has no one else to do this, or the hospital Administrator does not take care of it, as he should be asked to do. They will also attend the funerals of those patients whom they have nursed, if they can do so conveniently, taking the place of mothers who accompany their children to the tomb. In this way, they will be practicing to the full and in an edifying manner the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Meetings: their purpose and the order to be followed during them
Because it is very useful for all holy communities to come together from time to time in some place intended for discussing the spiritual progress and what concerns the general welfare of the community, the Servants of the Poor will meet every third Sunday of the month in a chapel of the church in the town intended for this purpose, or in that of the hospital, where, on that same day or the next day, at a time agreed upon by them, a low Mass will be offered for the confraternity. In the afternoon, at a time convenient for them, they will meet in the same chapel to listen to a short spiritual exhortation and to discuss matters concerning the welfare of those who are poor and the support of the confraternity.
The order to be followed at the meetings will be to chant the Litany of Our Lord Jesus or of the Blessed Virgin before each work, and then say the prayers that follow. Next, the Pastor or his assistant will give the short exhortation aimed at the spiritual growth of the entire Company and the preservation and progress of the confraternity. After that he will propose what is to be done for the welfare of the sick poor, and will conclude by a plurality of votes, which he will collect for this purpose, beginning with the Servant of the Charity who was the last one received into the confraternity, and continuing by order of reception up to the Procurator, then the Treasurer and the Prioress. Lastly, he will cast his own vote, which will have deliberative weight, as that of the Servants of the Poor will have.
It will then be helpful to have someone read five or six articles of the organization; they will also charitably remind one another of the faults that have arisen in the service of the poor persons. All this, however, will be done without any fuss or disorder and with as few words as possible. Each time, they will devote half an hour after the exhortation for this meeting.
Administration of temporal goods and rendering of accounts
The Pastor, the Prioress, the two Assistants, and the Procurator will be responsible for all the temporal goods of the confraternity, movable as well as immovable. Consequently, they will have the authority to give orders in its name to the Procurator to do whatever is necessary for the preservation and collection of these goods.
The Treasurer will keep the money, documents, and furnishings, as has been stated, and give an annual report on the day after the holy feast of Pentecost, in presence of the Pastor, the Prioress, the Procurator, and the other Assistant, as well as the Lord, one of the Syndics, and the Administrator of the Châtillon Hospital, provided, however, that he be a member of the Roman Catholic apostolic religion. The latter three will always be requested, on behalf of the confraternity, to be present and will have faith in the declaration the Treasurer will make that her accounts are accurate, not allowing any article in them to be crossed out nor that either her husband or her children may be questioned regarding them because, being completely trustworthy — since only such persons are chosen for that, people may have entire confidence in her. Furthermore, if she were subjected to being questioned in this matter, none of the members would be willing to accept this office.
After his accounts have been reviewed, the Procurator will report to the same gathering the state of the temporal affairs of the confraternity and what he has administered and negotiated during the year so that the Lord, Syndic, Administrator, and Council members of the town may be adequately informed by the report of the management of the temporal welfare of the confraternity. If they find it faulty, they may have recourse to our most honored Prelate the Archbishop to have it put in order since the confraternity is totally subject to him. Should that be the case, the Council members are very humbly requested to do this for the love of God.
The Prioress will keep a book of expenditures, in which she will record the responsibilities of the Treasurer for the documents, money, and furnishings of the confraternity. In the event that neither she nor anyone else is willing to take on this responsibility, except for the furnishings and part of the money that will be needed for a few months for the food of those who are poor, the confraternity will instruct the Procurator to take charge of the rest and to give an account of it. He will be bound to do so, without being able to refuse the Treasurer anything the confraternity or the Prioress orders, which he will give her for the support and food of the poor persons.
The collection box in the church, placed there for the upkeep of the confraternity and the relief of those who are poor, will be opened every two months in the presence of the Pastor, the Prioress, the Treasurer, the Procurator, and the Assistant. The Treasurer will be given whatever is in it and will record the amount of what will be found there; if she is unwilling, the Procurator will do it, as has been said.
Elections and leaving office
The Prioress, the Treasurer, and the other Assistant will leave office on the Wednesday after the holy feast of Pentecost, and a new election will take place on the same day by a plurality of votes of the entire confraternity. The Prioress, Treasurer, and Assistant may not continue in office so that humility, the true basis of all virtue, may be perfectly honored in this holy institute.
In the event that the Pastor should be non-resident, or that his assistant does not take the responsibility required for the work, it will be permissible for the confraternity to take another Spiritual Father and Director of the work, accepted and approved for this purpose by the Archbishop.
The Prioress, Treasurer, and Assistant may be removed from office before the end of their term by the confraternity, if, in its judgment, they do not carry out their duty well.
The Procurator will remain in office as long as the confraternity sees fit, and no longer.
Those members of the confraternity who commit some public sin or neglect notably the care of those who are poor will be completely dismissed from the confraternity, after the warnings required in the Gospel have first been given to all those whom they wish to remove from office or dismiss from the confraternity.
The entire Company will go to confession and receive Communion four times a year, when they can do so conveniently, namely, on the feast of Pentecost, the feast of Our Lady in August, and the feasts of Saint Andrew and Saint Martin. This is done to honor the ardent desire of Our Lord Jesus that we love the sick poor and help them in their need. In order to fulfill this holy desire, they will ask for His blessings on the confraternity, that it may flourish more and more for His honor and glory, the relief of His members, and the salvation of the souls who serve Him in it or have given of their resources to it.
And so that the Company may be preserved in sincere friendship according to God, when one of the members is ill, the Prioress and the others will take care to visit her, see that she receives the last sacraments of the Church, and pray for her together and privately. When God is pleased to take from this world a member of the group, the others will attend her funeral with the same sentiment as if she were their own sister, whom they hope to see one day in heaven. Each will pray three rosaries for her intention and will have a low Mass celebrated in the chapel of the confraternity for the repose of her soul.
Upon awakening they will invoke Our Lord Jesus, making the Sign of the Cross and saying some other prayer to His Holy Mother. Then, having risen and dressed, they will take holy water, kneel at the foot of their bed before some holy picture, and thank God for the gifts, general as well as particular, they have received from His Divine Majesty. They will recite three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys in honor of the Blessed Trinity; one Creed, and one Hail Holy Queen, after which they will hear holy Mass, if convenient for them. They will be mindful of the reserve with which the Son of God carried out His actions on earth and, in honor of the imitation of these actions, will carry out their own in a reserved and tranquil manner.
Those who know how to read will read unhurriedly and attentively a chapter of the book by the Bishop of Geneva, entitled Introduction to the DevoutLife . Before the reading, they will raise their minds to God and will implore His great mercy in order to derive the fruit of His love from this devotional practice.
When they have to go into society, they will offer this contact to Jesus Our Lord in honor of His contacts with people on earth; they will entreat Him to keep them from offending Him and will strive especially to give great honor and reverence interiorly to Our Lord Jesus and His Holy Mother, since this is one of the principal requirements this confraternity asks of those who aspire to it.
They will take care in practicing humility, simplicity, and charity, each deferring to her companion and to others, performing all their actions for the charitable intention of persons who are poor and with no human respect.
When the day has been spent in accord with the preceding observations, and the time to retire has come, they will make the examination of conscience and say three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys, and one De Profundis for the deceased. None of this, however, obliges under pain of mortal or venial sin.
Approval of the Confraternity
We, Thomas de Méchatin Lafaye, Canon and Comte of the Church of Lyons, Officialis and Judge of the Primatial See, spiritual and temporal Vicar-General of the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Father in God Messire Denis-Simon de Marquemont, by the grace and permission of our Holy Father the Pope Archbishop and Comte de Lyons, Primate of France, Councillor of the King in his Council of State, and his Extraordinary Ambassador in Rome before our Holy Father:
To all those who will read these present letters we make known that we have read the above-written articles of the regulations of the Confraternity of Charity intended to be established and erected in the town of Châtillon-les-Dombes, Lyons diocese, for the spiritual and corporal assistance of the sick poor of their town who, for lack of order in helping them, have sometimes suffered a great deal. These articles were presented to us by the Reverend Messire Vincent de Paul, Bachelor of Theology, Pastor in Châtillon. After having considered them and heard his humble petition asking us to permit the erection of the confraternity, and to approve, sanction, and ratify the articles contained in the regulations, on the authority of the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Archbishop and under his good pleasure, everything to be added or taken out as he pleases, we have allowed and do allow the erection of the confraternity in the format of the articles stated in the regulations, which, on the authority of the Archbishop, we have approved, sanctioned, and ratified by these present letters, on condition that he may add or curtail anything he pleases, as has been stated, and that the confraternity and everything dependent on it will be subject to the immediate authority of the Archbishop as their Superior or, in his absence, of his Vicar-General.
In testimony whereof we have signed these present letters, have had them countersigned by M. Jean Linet, Diocesan Secretary and citizen of Lyons, and have had the seal of the office of the Archbishop of Lyons affixed to them, November 24, 1617.
Méchatin Lafaye By order of the Vicar-General. Linet
Erection of the Confraternity
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, on December 8, feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, 1617, in the hospital chapel of the town of Châtillon-les-Dombes, the people being assembled, we, Vincent de Paul, priest and unworthy Pastor in the town, explained that M. de Lafaye, Vicar-General of our most worthy Prelate the Archbishop of Lyons, approved the articles and regulations contained above, drawn up for the erection and establishment of the Confraternity of Charity in the town and in the chapel.
By this means, we, the above-mentioned Pastor, in virtue of this approval, have today erected and established the confraternity in the chapel, having first informed the people in what the confraternity consists and its aim, namely, to assist the sick poor. Having invited those who wished to belong to it to come forward and be enrolled, the following presented themselves:
Françoise Baschet; Charlotte de Brie; Gasparde Puget; Florence Gomard, wife of the Lord; Denise Beynier, wife of Messire Claude Bouchour; Philiberte Mulger, wife of Philibert des Hugoni?res; Catherine Patissier, widow of the late Philibert Guillon; Eléonore Burdilliat; Jeanne Perra, daughter of Gui Perra; Florence Gomard, daughter of the late Denis Gomard; Benoîte Prost, daughter of Ennemond Prost; Toinette Guay, widow of the late Pontus; and Guichenon, who applied to be a Nurse of the Poor.
The election to the offices then took place in the manner stated above. Mlle. Baschet was elected Prioress; Mlle. Charlotte de Brie, Treasurer; Mme. Gasparde Puget, Second Assistant; and the honorable Jean, son of the late honorable Jean Beynier, was elected Procurator, by the plurality of votes of the persons named above. This took place in the hospital chapel, with the following present and participating: the honorable Messires Jean Besson, Jean Benonier, and Hugues Rey, members of the Society of Priests at Saint-André Church in Châtillon; M. Antoine Blanchard, royal notary and Lord of the town; and several other persons present as witnesses.
Besson Benonier H. Rey Blanchard Beynier, Procurator V. DePaul, Pastor of Châtillon
MODIFICATION OF THE REGULATIONS FOR THE OFFICE OF TREASURER
And because the Servants of the Poor, all assembled, felt that the responsibility of the Treasurer was a little too heavy for one person, they directed, by a plurality of votes, I, the Pastor, being present, that the responsibility of Treasurer be shared by two persons, namely, that the Treasurer will keep and distribute the money, give an account of it, and stock the provisions; the Second Assistant will look after the furnishings and linen, and give an account of this at the time she leaves office, all of this subject to the good pleasure of the Most Reverend Archbishop.
Drawn up in Châtillon, December 12, 1617.
V. DePaul Françoise Baschet Charlotte de Brie, Treasurer Gasparde, Assistant Beynier, Procurator
Marie Rey was admitted that same day as a Nurse of the Poor.
V. DePaul, Pastor of Châtillon