“Divine Providence willed to make use of women to show that it was His goodness alone which desired to aid afflicted peoples and to bring them powerful helps for their salvation. […] The Ladies of the Company of Charity recognized the needs of the poor and that God gave them the grace to aid these peoples so charitably and so magnificently that Paris has become the admiration of and an example for the entire kingdom. […] If all the good which seems to have been accomplished here is not only useful but necessary, is it not reasonable to ensure its continuation? […] It seems to be essential for the Company of the Ladies of Charity of the Hotel-Dieu to continue its functions, since, from the origin of this noble group, their visits to the sick of this holy hospital have brought such apparent good to the place itself and to the souls who have found the way to salvation there. Through their ministry, some of the sick poor died a happy death as a result of their good dispositions following a general confession. Others recovered but their confessions led to admirable conversions. The Ladies themselves entered on the pathway to sanctification which is perfect charity, such as that which they have practiced in this place where they have frequently put their lives in danger by their service to the sick. All this has been accomplished by Ladies of noble birth such as princesses and duchesses whom we have seen spending entire hours at the bedside of the sick instructing them in the things necessary for their salvation and helping them to free themselves from the dangers surrounding them.
Louise de Marillac, Notes on the meetings of the Ladies of Charity (A. 56).
- Saint Louise writes to St. Vincent: “I had thought […] that the Ladies who show the greatest desire for this holy work should go to the Pastor and tell him that, in order to begin well and to persevere, they need to gather together a large number of persons, both from the nobility and from the lower class, so that some of them will contribute most of the funds while the others will give themselves more willingly to visit the sick poor on their appointed days. […] An announcement would also be made at Mass inviting all women, of whatever class, who would like to participate in the work, to come to the Assembly. At the Assembly, the Rule observed in other parishes would be proposed.” (l .6).
- Saint Vincent, in Châtillon, understood that he alone could not eradicate poverty, so he went to the ladies and founded the Volunteers of Charity (now the AIC); but he would fail in attempting to gather the men. Society was not yet ready for them. It would be necessary to wait for Frederic Ozanam who, assuming the ideas of St. Vincent, would establish, animated by Blessed Rosalie Rendu, the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul.
- Charity is addressed to the person in need, while social action does not primarily go to the individual but to society as a whole to improve social status and community relations. The social worker usually works for a salary, while the Vincentian Family help for God’s sake and in solidarity with the poor. In Mâcon, the town hall had been trying to solve the problem of the beggars for years. They did not succeed until Vincent de Paul passed by there and solved it in a few months, through the Volunteers.
Questions for dialogue:
- Is the current role of women (in celebrations, catechesis and social ministry) sufficient? Why can’t they take part in the hierarchy of the Church?
- Should we look at our openness to greater participation by women?
- Is the participation of women in the Church one of the most important challenges facing the Church in this twenty-first century, as the Pope himself acknowledges?
- Do you consider that there is sufficient clarity in the Catholic Church today on this matter, as well as the readiness to put it into practice?
Benito Martínez, C.M.