Interview with Sister Françoise Petit, Superior General of the Daughters of Charity

by | Jan 30, 2023 | Daughters of Charity, News | 4 comments

The Superior General of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Françoise Petit agreed to an interview by the Italian Media Center Donne Chiesa Mondo. This interview was published in Spanish by Vida Nueva, on Monday, December 19, 2022. The interview was conducted by Marie-Lucile Kubacki.

What follows is the text of the interview.

QUESTION: In terms of numbers, the Daughters are the largest women’s congregation in the world … how do you explain that?

ANSWER: Yes, we are many, but our numbers are decreasing. We now number 40,000! At the present time there are 140 Seminary Sisters (novices). Our community life and our prayer life have attracted these young women to the Company of the Daughters of Charity. They see that in accord with the charism that we have received from our Founders, Saint Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac, we serve those persons who are found on the margins of society.

QUESTION: You take a vow of poverty and make a commitment to serve the poor … how do you live poverty?

ANSWER: We attempt to be satisfied with what is necessary. We place everything in common and therefore, nothing belongs to us individually. When we have to buy something, we first ask ourselves: is this really necessary? The vow of poverty involves a discipline of rules that are freely chosen and that lead us to detach ourselves from material things. When I entered the Company of the Daughters of Charity, I had my own idea of how things should be, but that idea evolved when I realized that the vow of poverty was a continuously given response … In other words, there is a way to follow Christ, chaste, poor and obedient.

QUESTION: What is the most difficult vow? Many consecrated individuals say that obedience is the most difficult vow.

ANSWER: This depends upon the situation and the event. Obedience can be difficult when individuals move from one house to another, especially if they are attached to a particular mission. Such a move can be very disconcerting. At times the vow of poverty will be difficult because there is always the temptation to want to buy and to have more things. There are times when chastity will be difficult: feelings of loneliness and a lack of affection. The vows are related to one another and gradually individuals experience an ability to embrace these vows freely. I encourage people not to harden themselves but to entrust to God their desire to respond God’s call through the vows.

Vows are a commitment and also a way of following. Interior peace and spiritual maturity are achieved with the passing of years. In the beginning there is a desire to live the vows in a radical manner. Then, people become hardened, and they begin to compare themselves with others and/or begin to despair of themselves. None of this leads to growth. Individuals must begin by recognizing their gifts and their limitations … and meditation on the Word of God and sharing those reflections enables individuals to come to a recognition of those gifts and limitations. Also engaging in dialogue that is focused on the Word of God allows the Sisters to know one another and to help one another.

QUESTION: What is this poverty of the sinner which we refer to when we pray the Hail Mary (pray for us sinners)? 

ANSWER: Poverty of the sinner refers to being distant from God, deaf to his pleas, blind to ourselves, to others and to the misery that surrounds us. When this happens, we are not living in accord with God’s will but fortunately, God forgives us. We often forget about this and that is perhaps the greatest poverty. We become despairing and forget that the Lord trusts us. Indeed, whenever we return to the Lord, the Lord welcomes us and embraces us.

QUESTION: What is the meaning of evangelical poverty? Is there a poverty to seek out, and a poverty to combat?

ANSWER: We are invited to live evangelical poverty in imitation of Jesus who did not have even a place to rest his head. Here we speak about the poverty of spirit and simplicity of heart that places no obstacles in the path of God’s gift. The poverty that must be combatted is that of violence, injustice, misery. One of our challenges as Daughters of Charity is the defense of human rights. Many Sisters are committed to this challenge and participate in projects and initiative focused on the rights of individuals. Two Daughters are present at the UN and on the local level many Daughters engage in this struggle.

QUESTION: How do the elderly Sisters live in community?

ANSWER: There are great differences from one country to another. For example, in Kenya and Albania there are no elderly Sisters. On the other hand, in Europe (Italy, France, Spain, Germany and the Low Countries) the communities are aging. Some Provinces are able to allow the elderly Sisters to remain in the midst of active communities because there are Sisters who are able to take care of them. In France, the elderly Sisters are placed in centers for elderly persons who are not self-sufficient. There, with their limitations, they continue their mission in the midst of other elderly Sisters.

QUESTION: On a personal level, are some forms of poverty more unbearable than others?

ANSWER: When I was a social worker, I was very moved by encounters with parents who had lost a child, especially mothers. At the end of August I went to the Ukraine to visit our Sisters who were ministering with displaced persons, especially women and children. I was deeply moved as I listened to a woman speak with me about her two sons who were on the battlefront … her pain impacted me and so yes, there are forms of poverty that leave their imprint.

QUESTION: You have been elected Superior General of the Daughters of Charity, how do you face your limitations?

ANSWER: I experience this every day … poverty of competency, poverty of character, spiritual aridity, weariness … I always have to face my limitations. Like everyone else, I have flaws. Fortunately, I do not experience them all on the same day! (laughs). I am not alone but am surrounded by eight Sisters who are members of the General Council. I trust them and we complement each other. Being in a position of authority, others can find it difficult to tell that person that something is wrong.

When they applaud you, it is wonderful … but we must never lose sight of the fact that the Lord was applauded and then crucified. When I see the Sisters praying I say to myself: perhaps I am the worst individual when it comes to prayer! Then I calm down because there is not a first or a last. Rather, it is important to understand that regardless limitations, one is embraced by the Lord. Yes, the Lord does the essential work and we do what we can with what we have.

Marie-Lucile Kubacki
Original publication
Original interview published in the November 2022 issue of Donne Chiesa Mondo. Translation by Vida Nueva



  1. Michael Callaghan, CM

    Continue to live in joy, and trust in Divine Providence

  2. Ann Mary Dougherty, DC

    The interviewer must have misunderstood what Sister Françoise said. At present, there are not 40,000 Daughters of Charity in the world, although there were that many before 1960. As of December 2021, there were just over 12,000 Sisters.

    • Sr. Mary Fran Barnes

      Thanks for confirming that! I went back to the author and searched it out. She said something like that we HAD reached 40,000 – meaning years ago. But not now!
      Our website says 12,400

    • Sr. Lilia Jamig,DC

      Thank you very much for sharing with us some updates about the Company. God bless!