Louise de Marillac: Listening and Respecting the Views of the Poor

by | Dec 2, 2016 | Formation, Reflections

One of the administrators of the hospital in Nantes, who has been in Paris, “spoke to me about the seasoning of your soup. I believe you should not hesitate to add some cloves to it since it is the custom of the region. Likewise, Sister, since the Fathers of the Poor would like it done, please prepare consommes for the gravely ill who need them. You should also go to the trouble of preparing tasty stews and seasonings for the convalescing patients. This costs no more and they regain their strength much more quickly. Sometimes it only takes a little to satisfy the most difficult.”

Louise de Marillac, letter to Sister Jeanne Lepintre (L. 253)



  1. Nantes was a great seaport of intense commercial activity, especially with America. Mariners, shipwrecked workers, upstart people and women of all kinds swarmed along its streets. The authorities had heard how the Daughters of Charity had placed order in the Angers hospital and asked them to do the same in theirs. The Sisters did wonders, so noble and bourgeois went to see it, admiring, at the same time, the simple and spiritual life of those laywomen consecrated to God in the poor. Even the bishop was interested in their Constitutions. But a few months later, the Sisters wanted to impose their criteria, against the advice of the sick, all poor, because only the poor went to the hospital —the rich had doctors living with them or called them to take care of them in their homes, as seen in several comedies by Moliere. The Sisters changed the form and type of food they gave them. And the sick, the administrators and the chaplain were upset. They wrote several letters to St. Louise and St. Vincent, and these, in turn, wrote to the administrators and the Sisters. One of them is the previous letter that Saint Louise addressed to the Sisters.
  2. This is the danger that anyone who belongs to any branch of the Vincentian Family run: the will to impose our criteria, as if the needy were unable to reason. Sometimes we see traps, frauds, deceptions … in some, and we apply this to all who ask: they are vague, scoundrel, scammers … However, they may be true needy with their heads in place and, without a doubt, they are human, our brothers and children of God. Let us have time to talk to them and know their situation from their lips. This is what Saint Vincent and Saint Louise did, as Blessed Ozanam and his companions also did, as we read in their writings and in their letters.
  3. Another frequent danger is to consider that the poor have the right to find work, with enough wages to eat and feed the family… but they do not have right to have fun, celebrate or acquire culture, as if the fun or expansion were something exclusive of the rich.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. If a poor man asked you for something to eat, you would probably give it to him but, would you give it to him if he asks you to have a glass of wine, or a soda? Do you think the poor have no right to it? And to have television and a mobile phone? Should they have holidays, similar to those of other ordinary citizens? And to be able to travel? Maybe also have cultural trips?

Benito Martínez, C.M.