Vincentian Mothers – “Saints” and “Saints Next Door”

by | May 15, 2024 | Formation, Reflections | 0 comments

I recently reflected on the stages we go through relating to our mothers...

  • as infants and in early childhood instinctively recognizing the voice of our mothers
  • in our teen years when we seem to develop temporary “mother deafness”
  • often later in life when we say “as my mother always said”

This Mindwalk follows up with a look at Vincentian mothers who mentored dreams.

“Saints” and “saints next door”

We know only that Saint Vincent’s mother was Bertrande de Moras. St. Louise Louise’s mother bore her out of wedlock.  She was effectively disowned and grew up without a stable home life.

But, beginning with St. Louise herself we do know something of Vincentian mothers over a four-century span. They were not only physically mothers. They were mothers of Vincentian dreams.

Saint Louise and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton are well known for the way they lived and mentored Vincent’s spirit of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.

Others are lesser-known or almost totally unknown.

Catherine Harkins not only birthed her own family but the Ladies of Charity in the United States.

Mrs. Elizabeth Hanlon Skelly is chiefly known as the mother of a son who gave birth to the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal: Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM.

No matter their ecclesial status, these women knew the happiness … and struggles of marriage, the joys … and concerns of motherhood, the challenges of parenting alone… and the love of a generous God in whose Providence they put all their trust.

Let’s look briefly at each.

Louise de Marillac (1591-1660), wife, mother, widow, grandmother, and leader in charity, overcame the social stigma of her own birth out-of-wedlock in seventeenth-century France. to become St. Vincent’s close collaborator and friend.

With Vincent, she co-founded the Daughters of Charity (1633). She also knew the agony of a mother whose son ran away from home and fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

Elizabeth Bailey Seton (1774-1821) was mother to five children of her own and seven of her husband’s orphaned siblings.

Like moms today, she admonished her son William, who was in the Navy, with a 19th-century version of “don’t forget to call home!” She begged him, ”do remember your own mother is your best friend. Give her the fullest account of all that happens to you.” Later she begged, “O my child — what would I not give to hear from you,” and “to tell you how much I wish to hear from you is impossible.”

Paradoxically we know least about two more recent Vincentian mothers.

Catherine Harkins-Drake (1834-1911), the first American Lady of Charity was a wife, mother, widow, and grandmother, who became a leader in charity, and overcame the social stigma against women in nineteenth-century America.

Mrs. Skelly – We know next to nothing of her life, only her parting words to her son. What mother has not had parting words of advice to her child before leaving the house… even just for a trip to the store or to college? “Cross at the corner”, “Call when you get there”!

Elizabeth Hanlon Skelly was no different in that sense. Her words to her 16-year-old as he left for the seminary were “Wear this Medal always!” He did … and he led millions of people all around the globe to wear this medal always.

Yes, Vincentian mothers run the gamut from officially recognized saints … to those who Pope Francis beautifully refers to as the “saints next door”.

What they have in common is mentoring the Vincentian spirit or charism.

Whether as mothers or not, do we mentor the spirit of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor.

Originally posted on Vincentian Mindwalk



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