FOUNDED BY ST. VINCENT DE PAUL, patron of all charity, the Ladies of Charity responded to the needs of the poor in seventeenth century France. Together with St. Louise de Mariliac, they went quietly about their tasks, seeking no recognition, satisfied with the knowledge that they were serving Christ in the person person of the poor. THE LADIES OF CHARITY, since their origin, have possessed the charism of their founder, daily prayer and personal service to the poor. That same Vincentian spirit characterizes the Association today. It asks the personal gift of self, of time, devotion, sacrifices, and perseverance in the effort to bring dignity to each person and to respond with compassion to every human misery.
The first American Lady of Charity was a 23-year old wife and mother named Catherine Harkins. Born in Ireland, she came to America with her parents and was taught by the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland. When she married, she moved to St. Louis, settling in St. Vincent de Paul Parish. There, encouraged by Father Urban Gagnepain of the Congregation of the Mission, she formed an association on December 8, 1857. It was the first American association of the Ladies of Charity. There were 12 members and she was their president. There were many poor in St. Louis and the new association found its services to be much needed. Aside from visiting and feeding those in need, the Ladies also assisted the Daughters of Charity who came to the parish in 1859. The Daughters staffed the House of the Guardian Angel for orphan girls. When Father Gagnepain was transferred to New Orleans, he formed a second group. Thus the movement began in the United States.
In Our Time
With the approach of their Centennial in 1957, the members of the first American association, the St. Vincent de Paul Parish, decided to invite all Ladies of Charity Associations in the United States to send representatives to the a centennial celebration. The Ladies, who represented 22 states, voted unanimously to form a more lasting bond by means of a national organization. The first National Assembly met in New York City in 1960. This marked the establishment of the National Association now known as Ladies of Charity of the United States of America (LCUSA).
In 1972 the Ladies of Charity of the United States joined associations around the world and formed the International of Association Charities (AIC). Thus the seed sown by St. Vincent in 1617 has become a huge tree that extends its branches to forty countries with a world-wide membership of 260,000 lay volunteers.
Resources for Moderators
Sr. Claire Debs, DC, during her term as Sister Moderator for the Ladies of Charity prepared the following resources for Spiritual Moderators and Spiritual Advisors:
- Spiritual Moderator: A Calling from God
- Spiritual Moderator: Show us the way
- Spiritual Moderator: Responsibilities
- Spiritual Moderator: Vincentian Laity in the Church Today
- Spiritual Moderator: Founding Stories of the Ladies of Charity
- Spiritual Moderator: Elements of a Vincentian Family Group
- Spiritual Moderator: Mission and Virtues of the Ladies of Charity
- Spiritual Moderator: Accompaniment