Vincent dePaul’s radical vision for women in ministry

by | Aug 12, 2014 | Daughters of Charity, International Association of Charities - Ladies of Charity, Vincentian Family | 1 comment

Vincent divine wisdomVincent dePaul’s radical vision for women in ministry. I could not help thinking of this on the feast of St. Francis de Chantal.

Vincent  succeeded in opening up new ministries for women where his contemporary St. Francis deSales, who had a similar vision,  failed.

American writes…

“Francis deSales told her (Frances de Chantal) of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.

The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine.”

In those days, nuns and the cloister meant the same thing and there would be opposition to a community of women who were free “to go through the streets and into houses.”

St. Vincent realized that he would face the same difficulties if he called the Daughters of Charity “religious”. So, as his biographer Coste (Vol 1 pa. 229) points out,  Vincent was adamant in saying, “It cannot be maintained that the Daughters of Charity are “religious,” because they could not be Daughters of Charity  if they were, for to be a “religious,” one must be cloistered.”

He found a constructive way of rethinking the church law and mentality of his day. The Daughters of Charity would not take public vows for life as religious did. They were to take private vows for a year at a time with the intention of renewing them every year.

In so many way he was a trailblazer. A more recent historian highlighted this when he titled his work “Vincent, the Trailblazer” (Pujo)

Even before the Daughters of Charity Vincent’s first foundation, “the Ladies of Charity”, today remains as one of the oldest functioning organizations of women in ministry. They will celebrate their 400th anniversary in 2017.

Listen to his own words…

“You practice what widows of the primitive Church’ did, namely, to meet the material needs of the poor as they did, and even the spiritual needs of persons of their own sex, as they did. In this you will be released, as it were, from the prohibition placed upon you by Saint Paul in I Cor 14, ‘Women should keep silent in the churches; nor are they permitted to speak. ‘Then he adds, ‘For it is a disgrace for women to speak in church. ” And in I Tm 2, ‘I do not permit a woman to act as a teacher,’ adding as the reason that, ‘Adam was created first; Eve afterward, ‘and ‘It was not Adam who was deceived but the woman. It was she who was led astray. ” (CCD:xiii b – 381_
“For eight hundred years or so, women have had no public role in the Church; in the past there were some called Deaconesses, who were responsible for seating the women in the churches and teaching them the rubrics then in use. About the time of Charlemagne,’ however, by a discreet working of Divine Providence, this practice came to an end; persons of your sex were deprived ofany role and haven’t had any since then. And now that same Providence is turning today to some of you to supply what was lacking to the sick poor of the Hotel-Dieu. They corresponded to God’s plan, and soon after, when others joined the first ones, God established them as the mothers of abandoned children, made them the heads of their hospital and the distributors of alms from Paris for the provinces, principally for those in distress. Those good souls have responded to all that with zeal and firmness, by the grace of God. (CCD:XIIIb:432)
St. Vincent de Paul provides much food for thought as people grapple with the role of women in various forms of ministry today.

1 Comment

  1. seminarylarry

    Just today I was reading some background on the LCWR investigations and what is coming of those. Very interesting to see your remarks from SVP and how, even in his day, these things were an issue. Thanks Father.

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