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Louise de Marillac: Equal Rights and Obligations between Men and Women

by | Oct 21, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

“If the work is considered political, it seems that men should undertake. If it is considered charity, women can undertake, as the have already undertaken other large and painful works. Women being by themselves seems not possible, nor should, and it would be hopeful that some pious men unite women, as counselors, saying their opinion as any of the women, to act in the processes and acts of justice. It is desirable that these men are not considered as a body of the Company. There is no reason or objection to the Ladies to undertake works, since all are people of condition and are accustomed to managing large business. And, being a public work that will see everyone, even if they abolish it in the future, there will be way to redo it or change its direction.”

Louise de Marillac, Notes on the Great General Hospice (A112)



  1. In the seventeenth century, laws were marginalizing women, by not giving them political citizenship or the right to exercise political power, social citizenship or the right of property, neither civil citizenship or the right to equal participation in public life. Since her birth day, a girl depended on a man, her father, husband, brother or guardian, as part of his “heritage.” Vincent de Paul founded schools for girls, committed hundreds of women in favor of the poor and put them in the front row, including the Daughters of Charity, women of the lower classes of society, making protagonist to the plebeian woman, who was set at the same level, as the years passed, to those in higher classes, and preferring them to men: “I can give this testimony in favor of women, that there is no fault to be found in their administration” while the men “men want to assume entire responsibility for them and the women cannot tolerate this.” He concludes drastically: “we were obliged to remove the men” (SVP IV, Letter to Étienne Blatiron, September 2, 1650). “Ladies, you may be assured that God has used persons of your sex to do the greatest things ever done in this world. What men have ever done what Judith did, what Esther did, what the Maid of Orléans did in this kingdom, what Saint Genevieve did in providing Paris with food during a famine?” (SVP XIIIb, Report on the work of the Foundlings, 1647).
  2. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, in its beginning, was an all-male organization. Founded by Frederic Ozanam and his fellow companions, it was born in the orbit of the nineteenth century Parisian university, where only men were studying at the time. But it did not take long until the first female conference was created: “The first female Society of St. Vincent de Paul was founded in Bologna (Italy), January 10, 1856, by Celestina Scarabelli: in 1855, in the city of Bologna, there was a serious outbreak of cholera, and the fellow members of the Society were doing everything possible to help families affected by the disease and those in hospitals. However, at that time, due to a rule of the Society (Article 2 of Rules) men could not visit single women, especially if they were young. They were helped through family and friends of the women. The then president, Antonio Costa, shared the problem with Celestina Scarabelli, a very interesting woman of the time, with a vast literary and scientific culture, charity and virtue example in her time, according to the chronicles. She offered to guarantee assistance to sick women. The commitment of these women was much appreciated and Antonio did not want to frustrate their experience, offering them to create a women’s conference, following the example of the conferences of men.”
  3. Although we are living a struggle for equality, yet we have not reached it, neither in society, nor in the labor market, nor in the Church. It is a task that concerns us all. We can not put any objection to women, for their qualities, occupy a prominent place in the Church and in society.
  4. Neither in families the equality has been achieved. Many families seem to be centered on the husband and sons.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. Could the equality between men and women in social life be achieved? How can we achieve it?
  2. What about in the labor (work) orbit? How?
  3. And in the Catholic Church? Not only equality in the work of evangelization, but also in the organization and constitution of the hierarchy …

Benito Martínez, C.M.


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