Louise de Marillac: a committed woman

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

[This article appeared in Volume II of En tiempos de San Vicente de Paúl … y hoy, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes (Salamanca) Spain, 1997, p. 257-272. The above cited work was translated from the French by Martín Abaitua, CM (Au tempts de St. Vincent-de-Paul… et aujourd ‘hui), Animation Vicentienne, 16, Grande rue Saínt-Michel, Toulouse, France … this work is not attributed to any one author but it is stated in the Introduction that the articles were written by various authors].


Louise de Marillac, a committed woman

For Louise de Marillac the years 1625-1633 were a time of preparation and discovery and reflection for the incredible ministry that awaited her in the Company of the Daughters of Charity. Her collaboration with Vincent de Paul and her experience in serving the Confraternities of Charity allowed her to discover the importance of being in the midst of those realities that affect the life of the poor, the importance of respect for the person and the need for collaborative action. Her frequent reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation placed her in the presence of God’s commitment to the poor.

Principles of her commitment

Louise’s commitment on behalf of the poor was intimately related to her faith in the Son of God who became man. Louise was convinced of the fact that to live her faith in a radical manner was to journey along the path that was pointed out by Jesus Christ. This pilgrimage was an affirmation of God’s presence (Luke 4:18: the blind see … the Good News is proclaimed to the poor).

Through her spiritual and material service, Louise, like Vincent de Paul, provided the poor with an effective assistance that allowed them to live with dignity, allowed them to stand on their own two feet and allowed them to become active members of a society that had excluded them. Louise explained the mission of the Company of the Daughters of Charity to the mother superior of the Benedictines in Argenteuil who wanted to bring the Daughters to her monastery: I did not want to believe, Madame, that it was you who ordered her to be turned away from her vocation. I could not imagine that those who know the importance of a vocation would want to set up obstacles to the designs of God and place a soul in danger for her salvation by withdrawing help from the abandoned poor who are in great need and who can only find relief in the service of these good girls, who are detached from all self-interest and who give themselves to God for the spiritual and corporal service of these poor creatures that his goodness wills to look upon as his members (SWLM:18 [L.9]).

Modalities of her commitment

Enlivened by her faith in a God who acts on behalf of the poor, Louise saw and experienced the ways in which so many people whom she met had been reduced to misery. She was attracted to these persons who were marginalized, rejected and excluded and at the same time she became aware of their needs. Louise committed herself to action that was respectful of the human person, action that was effective and that required the maintenance of a support group, action that involved new and original initiatives and that often required the learning of new competencies.

Poor children

Louise de Marillac was first drawn to poor country girls whom no one was concerned about educating. In fact, in his last testament, Richelieu stated that such education was useless and even dangerous because it might divert them from their domestic responsibilities.

When Louise visited the Confraternities she always found time to gather the girls together and instruct them. But Louise wanted this activity to be continued and so she would look for some woman who was able to continue this task of educating the girls. As a result Louise attempted to gain the support of the pastor of the village: with regard to Germaine, M. du Coudray tells me that he has begun to speak about her to the pastor, to M. Belin, and to the schoolmaster, and that none of them is adverse to the proposal he has made to them. We shall see what will come of it (CCD:I:87).

After the establishment of the Company one of Louise’s primary concerns was to prepare teachers for the girls. Louise wanted the Sisters to learn how to read and write and then provided them with further formation that would prepare them to be teachers. Despite Vincent’s lack of enthusiasm for this project, Louise sent the Sisters to the Ursulines for the more specialized formation.

The purpose of the small schools that were administered by the Daughters of Charity was clearly expressed in the response that the Councilor to the King gave to Louise: we grant you the necessary license and permit you to operate a school. This you shall do in the Saint-Lazare area of the Saint-Denis district on the condition that you teach poor girls only and do not accept others; that you educate them in good morals, grammar and other pious and honest subjects (SWLM:51 [L.41]).

In the village the Sisters were to approach those girls who, because of a lack of time or a lack of possibilities, were unable to go to school. The rules for teachers and the Daughters who ministered in the rural area were very explicit: gather together the girls who are taking care of the animals … at a time and in a place that is convenient for them and teach them about the faith (D.440) [1].

At a time when proper behavior was emphasized, Louise wanted to provide the girls with a sound formation that would prepare them for life. Louise told the Sisters that they should be concerned about each one of the girls and that they should come to know the values and the abilities of each girl. Respect for the person was to be revealed in the way that the Sisters engaged in their ministry as teacher.

The sick poor

The Confraternities of Charity that were established in 1617 by Vincent de Paul had as their purpose providing assistance to the sick poor (providing them with nourishment and medicine, preparing them to live a good life or preparing them for a holy death).

The difficulties that the Ladies of Charity (especially the women in Paris) encountered in performing those lowly tasks that were necessary when dealing with the sick poor (D.440) made Vincent and Louise question the future of this ministry. The arrival of Marguerite Naseau and other young women from the rural areas (women who wanted to dedicate their life to the service of the poor) encouraged Louise to undertake a new bold initiative: she gathered together as a community these women who came from the rural areas and their community life would enable them to profess their faith through an encounter with the poor. On November 29, 1633 Louise established the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the first group of women that would later come to be known as a Society of Apostolic Life (later similar groups were established during the nineteenth and twentieth century). Louise explained the purpose of the newly established Company to the Procurator General and she spoke about his reaction: Yesterday I had an opportunity to see the Procurator General…he asked me if we considered ourselves regular or secular. I told him that we aspired only to the latter. He told me that such a thing was without precedent (SWLM:318 [L.283]).

The assistance that the Sisters provided to the infirm had to be effective because as Louise stated: health is the most precious treasure of life (SWLM:810 [A.92]). Under her direction the Sisters learned about medicinal herbs and plants and were instructed in the proper way to prepare powders, herbal teas, etc., as well as methods for blood-letting and other treatments. This knowledge was then communicated from one Sister to another. Careful observation of the activity of the surgeons and doctors was another source for learning about the treatment of the infirm.

This ministry on behalf of the sick poor who were often abandoned was demanding and often thankless. Louise insisted that despite everything, the Sisters should care for the infirm in their homes and should also be attentive to those who are afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.

Some of the Confraternities proposed asking the infirm who lived at a distance to come to a hospital/infirmary that would be set up in the village. In this way the women would not have to travel long distances by foot or by mule. Louise requested that the Sisters not accept such a proposal out of respect for the freedom of the infirm: what will happen to the work of the Ladies of Charity, if their patients are obliged to go to the hospital? You will see that the bashful poor will be deprived of the help they receive from cooked food and medicines. The small sum of money they will be given will not be used for their needs. We must do all in our power to prevent this from happening by very humble and charitable remonstrances (SWLM:523-524 [L.497]).

Just as Jesus came among people to proclaim God’s love to them, so too then the Daughters of Charity were to go to the homes of the infirm in order to share God’s love with those persons: be very gentle and courteous toward your poor. You know that they are our masters and that we must love them tenderly and respect them deeply. It is not enough for these maxims to be in our minds; we must bear witness to• them by our gentle and charitable care (SWLM:320-321 [L.284b]).

Abandoned children

Children abandoned at church doors or on the street of the capital were “seen” as persons who had been reduced to misery. During one of the meetings of the Confraternity of the Ladies of Charity, Vincent described their extreme misery: They are in extreme --- or almost extreme --- need, and each of us is obliged to come to their aid. It’s obvious and it’s extreme since, without your help, they will all die. They have been abandoned by their fathers and mothers and everyone else? So what can be the solution? Their death (CCD:XIIIb:405).

On January 1, 1638 the decision was made to receive some of these children. How could all of these children be provided for? One group was living at the Motherhouse in Chapelle while another groups was living in a house located on the rue des Boulangers. These houses that provided shelter for the children were not adequate to receive a large number of children. Louise envisioned the possibility of entrusting some of these children to people living in the rural areas (the fresh air would be beneficial for the children). Louise then established procedures for the recruitment of wet-nurses (they should be irreproachable in their behavior and should present a reference from the pastor of their parish). Louise also calculated the monthly cost for providing food and clothing to each child (100 livres in 1640). In order to receive this subsidy, a certificate had to be presented from the pastor indicating that the child was in good health.

On March 30 the wet-nurses began their ministry. Louise noted the name of each child and the name of the wet-nurse (D. 271). In the course of three weeks twenty children were placed in different villages. Louise was not satisfied, however, with this situation; she wanted to assure the future health and education of these children and therefore she organized regular visits to the wet-nurses.

Thanks to the care that was provided by the Daughters of Charity numerous children survived and grew to become adults. Louise provided for the education of the older children in the former castle at Bicêtre, a building that in 1647 had been converted into a home for the foundlings. When the children arrived there they learned a trade and this instruction took into consideration the child’s likes and abilities: The Sister Servant must take care to point out to the Lady Treasurer of the Children the necessity of placing the children, particularly the boys, as soon as she sees that they are ready for domestic service or to learn a trade. She should try to recognize their inclinations and desires without their noticing it (SWLM:739 [A.91]).

Galley slaves

Louise’s faith enabled her to make a radical decision to serve the poorest of the poor. In 1632 Vincent obtained from the king and city officials in Paris the Tower of Saint Bernard where he was able to house the infirm galley slaves. This building was located near the Tournelle Bridge and the parish of Saint-Nicholas-du-Chardonnet (the parish of Louise de Marillac). Louise could not ignore these new neighbors who were destined to be the moving force of the king’s ships … men who were viewed as a source of labor and yet no consideration was given to their human condition. Louise immediately reached out to these men and Vincent was very moved by this gesture: Charity towards those poor convicts is of incomparable merit before God. You have done well to assist them and will do well to continue in any way you can until I have the pleasure of seeing you, which will be in two or three days. Give a little thought to whether your Charity at Saint-Nicolas would be willing to take on the responsibility for them, at least for a time. You could help them with the money you have left. Indeed, it is difficult, and that is what makes me suggest the idea casually (CCD:I:168).

Vincent de Paul, like Louise de Marillac, understood that any work that was undertaken alone had no future … such works needed the cooperation of others. Therefore Louise oriented the Confraternity of Saint-Nicholas-du-Chardonnet toward assisting the galley slaves.

Beginning in 1640 the ministry of the Ladies was accompanied by that of the Daughters of Charity. Yes, one certainly had to be bold to decide to mission young Sisters to minister to those men who were often rude, bitter and violent. But these men also had to be helped to discover some traces of their humanness and some traces of their dignity. Like all other people these galley slaves had been redeemed by the blood of Christ … Louise never doubted that reality. Louise then carefully chose the Daughters who would minister to the galley slaves and she accompanied these Sisters with her advice.

There were risks involved in this ministry and yet the Sisters courageously confronted all these different situations:

•A pot of soup was thrown in the face of Sister Barbe Angiboust who then intervened with the guards who wanted to beat the prisoner who was responsible for that action.

•In 1655 one of the Sisters, moved by compassion for one of these men, allowed herself to be convinced to marry this individual so that he could leave the prison (D.685).

•Other Sisters were confronted by the guards who wanted them to compile a list with the names of those prisoners who were difficult and/or violent so that in turn these men could be sent to the galleys. The Sisters refused to make such a list.

These difficulties and dangers did not make the Daughters and Louise withdraw from this ministry. To put aside a ministry because it involved risk or to refuse to serve persons because they were rude and/or violent would mean that the Daughters had ignored God’s plan for the Company of the Daughters of Charity and were unaware of God’s presence in the world, a presence that God wanted to be revealed to others through and by the poor.

Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac were indeed bold when they missioned the Sisters to the battlefields to care for the soldiers who were wounded.

The elderly

One day a wealthy man offered Vincent 100,000 livres to be used for a work of his choosing. Vincent thought of the various artesians who were advanced in years, infirm and some, unable to take care of themselves. The writings of Louise de Marillac show how she intervened in the preparations for this new ministry.

Always concerned about the person, Louise began to ponder various way to confront the idleness of these aging and infirm men and women. She was well aware of the dangers of idleness which provokes a certain boredom and/or depression and/or violence and leads people to seek an escape in alcohol. Since Louise knew the men and women who were to be admitted to Nom-de-Jésus, she began to plan for the creation of some small workshops where cloth could be manufactured and the other trades carried on (D.16). With great precision Louise calculated the costs involved in this project: the cost of the looms and other raw materials as well as the salary of a person competent to direct this work. The cloth could then be sold and the house would benefit from the income derived from this labor. Louise also envisioned providing the workers with a stipend … indeed all work deserves to be affirmed and remunerated even when the worker is advanced in years.

In April, 1654 Louise was engaged in the general liquidation of the accounts of the workers at Nom-de-Jésus and there is no doubt that Louise was very precise in her accounting. For each worker she noted the type of work that they were engaged in, the type of cloth and the measurements of the cloth produced. Remuneration was paid in proportion to the work that was accomplished. From this sum was deducted the price of the wine that the person drank while engaged in this work. The accounting process reveals the presence of a carpenter and a shoemaker … the women received less remuneration for the work that they did (D.646).

The residence, Nom-de-Jésus, reveals Louise’s ability to adapt to different form of service, her ingenuity in putting into effect new models of service and her great concern to value each person regardless of their age, health or economic status.

To ignore the poor person is to ignore the gospel. As Louise went out to encounter those who were poor, abandoned and/or excluded from society, she did not conform to some pre-established model. She was able to create her own style of ministry and was also able to establish relationships with the poor. She did not hesitate to undertake bold initiatives in order to reach out to those persons whom nobody else worried about. In light of so many different needs Louise developed her abilities as an organizer, an animator, and a formator.

The radical nature of the gospel calls people to engage in a process of conversion. As people reach out to encounter men and women who are poor, they must first recognize their own poverty, poverty that can become a form of wealth if they allow that poverty to make them dependent on God and dependent on others. Little by little Louise was able to put aside her concerns and fear and old habits … she became less focused on herself and opened herself to others. She allowed herself to be molded by the gospel and thus became the humble servant of God and the poor.

The commitments of Louise de Marillac

1613: Marriage to Antoine Le Gras 1625: Now a widow, first conversations with Vincent de Paul 1629: Begins to visit the Confraternities of Charity 1630: Together with Marguerite Naseau she cares for the infirm in the parishes throughout Paris 1633: Establishment of the Daughters of Charity 1638: First Establishment in rural areas (Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Richelieu); beginning of ministry with abandoned children 1639: For the first time accepts administration of a hospital (Angers) 1640: Ministry to the galley slaves 1641: Establishment of a school in the parish of Saint Laurent 1642: Daughters of Charity take vows for the first time 1648: Daughters sent to Picardy, an area devastated by war 1652: Care for refugees arriving in Paris; organization of soup kitchens, establishment of first orphanages (Etampes); Daughters missioned to Poland 1653: Establishment of Nom-de-Jésus for the elderly; first missioning of Daughters to the battlefields (Chalons) 1655: Daughters care for the insane (Petites-Maisons in Paris); approval of the Daughters of Charity.

We must continually have before our eyes our model, the exemplary life of Jesus Christ. We are called to imitate this life, not only as Christians, but as persons chosen by God to serve him in the person of his poor (SWLM:261 [L:217]).

Louise de Marillac, a committed woman

Penetrated by the mystery of the Church, Louise de Marillac embraced various commitments. Here we will list some of them as she ministered to the members of the Confraternities and the first Daughters of Charity. In her ministry, however, Louise knew how to be “one with others”.

A structured commitment on behalf of the laity

RULE OF THE CHARITY

The end for which the Confraternity of Charity is to be instituted: It shall be instituted in the parish church, in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, which is a symbol of union. Its end is to honor Our Lord Jesus Christ, as its patron, and his holy Mother; to assist the sick poor of the parish where it is established: spiritually, by seeing to it that those who die leave this world in a good state and that those who recover resolve never again to offend God, and corporally, by administering the necessary food and remedies to them; finally, to fulfill the ardent desire of Our Lord that we love one another.

Patron of the Confraternity It shall be Our Lord Jesus Christ who is charity.

Persons to be admitted: It shall be composed of a stated number of virtuous women and girls. Married women shall be admitted only with the consent of their husbands while young girls must have the approval of their father and mother. They shall be called Servants of the Poor.

Officers: The aforementioned Servants of the Poor shall elect three of their number to direct their Confraternity with the approval of the pastor or of his delegate. One of those elected shall be the Directress or Superioress. The other two shall be first and second Assistant.

The Directress: The Directress shall do all in her power to see to it that the present Rule is faithfully observed; that each Servant of the Poor accomplishes her duty; and that the sick poor are well served. She shall procure additional revenue for the Confraternity; receive the sick poor who are to be cared for by the Confraternity after they have been to confession and received Holy Communion; and she shall keep one of the keys to the safe where the funds of the Confraternity are kept.

The Assistants: They shall serve as advisers to the Directress. One shall handle current funds and keep the second key to the safe. The other shall oversee the goods of the Charity and the care of the linen.

Duties of each servant of the poor: They shall look upon the sick poor as their own children, God having made them their mothers; they shall serve them in the manner set forth in this Rule on the days appointed; they shall assist at the Low Mass which the Confraternity shall have celebrated on one of the first days of each month, selecting the day of the week on which the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord falls that year. Their intention shall be to be united in the charity of Our Lord. Those who can conveniently do so shall go to confession and receive Holy Communion on these days. They shall all pray for the deceased Servants of the Poor as well as for the poor whom they have assisted. Each morning and evening, they shall say the Pater and the Ave for the preservation of the Confraternity, for its spiritual and temporal growth and for their benefactors. They shall arrange to have a sermon preached on the first feast of each month both to encourage them to persevere in their good works and to persuade others who will hear it to be generous to the Confraternity.

Manner in which the servants of the poor should serve the sick: Each Servant of the Poor shall serve, on her appointed day, in the manner indicated here. When it is her turn, she shall purchase meat from the butcher, bread from the baker and wine from the inn. She shall keep a written record of her purchases. She shall prepare the meal and bring it to the sick who should eat at nine o'clock in the morning. She shall do the same for supper which should be served around five o'clock in the evening. After she has finished her service of the day, she shall contact the Lady who will follow her to serve the poor the next day. She shall give her accounts and inform her of the number and condition of the sick.

Manner in which the sick are to be fed: Each sick person is to receive four or five ounces of lamb or veal with each meal, as much bread as he can reasonably eat and half a glass of wine (Paris measure). On fast days, they shall have two eggs with each meal and bouillons made with butter and egg whites.

Mutual charity among themselves: They shall cherish one another as Sisters who profess to honor the spirit of Our Lord by the practice of charity which is the virtue he practiced most perfectly on earth and which he most strongly recommended to his followers. To this end they shall visit one another and assist one another in sickness and in health. They shall pray for one another especially in case of sickness or death, as has been mentioned. In short, they should do all in their power to help one another to leave this world in a good state. They do all this, however, with no obligation binding by sin, either mortal or venial.

Election of officers and financial reports: The election of officers shall take place every two years on the first work day of the year. They shall be elected by a majority of votes of the Servants of the Poor. There shall be a special election when an officer dies or has been absent for a long time. A financial report shall be given the same day in the presence of the Pastor or his delegate. At the same time, the Treasurer shall turn over any remaining funds to the person elected to replace her. At this time, the second Assistant shall give the goods of the Confraternity to her successor (SWLM:707-709 [A.46]).

A verifiable commitment in the midst of the world

Notes on the visits to the Confraternities (Pont-Saint-Maxence, Verneuil, Gournay, Neufville and Bulles).

I arrived in Verneuil and stayed at the home of a baker named La Caille. I saw two sick persons there, a man and a woman. The Ladies are responsible for different neighborhoods. There is only one where there are any sick; therefore the Ladies of the other neighborhoods do not visit. They have the sacraments administered only in cases of serious illness. They complain that the Treasurer is a difficult character who does not easily accept the advice of others. They tend to act according to their personal whim. They bring food to the sick only at eleven o'clock. The Superioress suggested not waiting until the sick had sold everything before caring for them.

They have some financial resources. Madame wants to buy a house to shelter the poor. Others suggested buying a few pieces of land because of the mortality rate of the livestock. There seems to be cordiality among the Ladies although some of them sometimes criticize the behavior of the Officers.

Linen-Bread-The Superioress wants to terminate the care of the sick too soon, according to tbe complaints of the Ladies. They do not meet to discuss the needs of the poor and they do not read their Rules. The Ladies go to the funeral Mass and to the cemetery when the men who are lodged in the house belonging to the Charity die.

I arrived in Pont on Tuesday and stayed at The Fleur de Lys." The Ladies of Charity visit the sick except during times of plague, but they bring bouillon only at noon and leave very little. They give Holy Communion to the dying, prepare their bodies for burial and attend the funeral. They do not do anything more for the Ladies who die. They have funds but are afraid to invest them profitably for fear of diminishing alms. They have a sick call set to bring to the homes of the sick when they are to receive Our Lord. They seek alms from the local residents and obtain four pounds or more each week.

I arrived in Gournay on Thursday. The Ladies are a little more coarse here than elsewhere, and there seems to be less charity among them. They have always had a few sick persons whom they often place in a private home in the care of a woman to whom they give five sous a day to look after them. However, they go to visit the sick three times a day and, since there are not many, they cook the meat in their own homes.

The litanies are said after Mass. They have no chapel, nor do they have a painting. They would like to have both. The people criticize them because they use alms to have Masses celebrated. There are some sick persons who have financial resources, but they can neither sell nor pawn anything because of the laws concerning the inheritance of widows. These persons are assisted from private alms, provided this is not a burden to the poor and there is a surplus. A painting ---There are neither lambs nor sheep.

I arrived in Neufville-le-Roy on Saturday at noon. I stayed at the inn. There are six sheep and six lambs and only about thirteen to fifteen pounds in revenue. The peasants complain and the Ladies are prevented from doing what they should. When there is a sick person who has assets which he cannot sell because they are so tied up, I advised that he be told to bring in his creditors, who can authorize the sale and that, once he has paid them, he can live on the surplus. If his lands are covered with grain, he should sell before the harvest. If he has but one house he should sell it but retain the right to live in it for the remainder of his life.

There is much dissension among the Ladies over the reception of the sick and the purchase of meat. Each one wants to bring the meat from home according to her whim, if she does not receive the customary amount. There is no High Mass on the first Sunday of the month and the litanies have only been sung once. The Ladies receive Holy Communion on almost all the appointed days.

On Monday, I arrived in Bulles where there were no sick. A Lady had died and the others had•not received Holy Communion for her. Some of them do not receive Holy Communion each month. There has been some ill-feeling about collecting alms. The sick are visited three times a day and they are given the regular portion of cooked meat. However, the meat is not equally distributed to the sick because some of the Ladies want to bring home whatever they have left at the end of the day. There are fifteen or sixteen sheep and ten or twelve lambs being raised by local peasants for the benefit of the Charity. The first six they purchased died. They have pallets, bolsters, mattresses, blankets and a lot of linen as well as about forty-five pounds. They have a vigil, a High Mass and a funeral Mass offered for the Ladies who die, but the people complain about this (SWLM:720-722 [A.52]).

The missionary commitment of the Daughters of Charity

Instructions to the Sisters who were sent to Montreuil: Our Sisters Anne Hardemontl and Marie Lullen are going to Montreuil in order to discover what Divine Providence wishes them to do there.

First and foremost, they must remember to keep in mind God and his glory. Then they must consider the welfare of the people with whom they will be associated in order to serve them better according to their aptitudes.

Thirdly, they shall remember that none of their actions among themselves or with externs should be prejudicial to the Company of the Daughters of Charity because we must honor God in the interest of the Company.

Above all, they shall beware of crediting to themselves the least portion of the works in which God does us the honor of employing us. This can come about through vain complacency, satisfaction, or self-serving plans; all things which we must renounce often.

En route, they shall be as exact as possible in the practice of their Rule. If they cannot make their morning meditation before leaving, they shall make it without fail while in the coach. Before leaving their bedroom, they shall make an act of adoration. In the evening they shall make their examen while kneeling.

They shall take a book along with them in order to read in the coach. They shall try to keep their exercises private and shall avoid bothering others in the coach.

They shall guard against uttering improper, careless or idle words, and against any unbecoming action. In order to prevent this, they shall watch over one another in order to give a charitable warning if a sister accidentally forgets herself. The sister given the warning shall willingly accept it even if she is not aware of her fault.

If they have the opportunity to say a few good words to some poor person or to the servants at the inns, they should do so with humility, never mocking the person's ignorance.

After leaving the coach, before thinking about eating, they shall go to the nearest church to adore God in the Blessed Sacrament.

They shall make the same act of adoration in every village through which they pass. They shall acknowledge the guardian angel of each town and the guardian angel of each soul living there in order to commend them to their protection for the glory of God.

If they are able to do so before the coach departs in the afternoon, they shall visit some of the sick or the hospital, if there is one in the village.

Arriving at Montreuil, they shall go directly to the church and then to the Chateau to pay their respects to the Governor [the Count de Lannoy] telling him that they are there to receive his orders.

They shall remember that true Daughters of Charity must be united in order to fulfill God's expectations. Because our corrupted nature has deprived us of this perfection, and since sin separates us from our unity which is God, following the example of the Blessed Trinity, we must have but one heart and act with one mind as do the three divine Persons. We must do this in such a way that, when the sister in charge of the sick requests the help of her sister, the sister who instructs the children shall readily comply. And, if the sister in charge of the children requests assistance from the sister in charge of the poor, she shall do likewise since both tasks are equally the business of God. Considering themselves both chosen by Divine Providence in order to act in unison, we hope never to hear the words, That is your business, not mine."

If they are housed outside of the hospital, they shall not go to the hospital unless the Count orders them to do so.

If they are housed at the hospital and their only task seems to be the service of the poor of the city, and, nonetheless, the Count wishes them to take charge of the school for girls and the care of the sick of the hospital as well, then they shall comply and shall not involve themselves in other things.

Should the Count request that they tell him all that happens at the hospital, then they shall do so with great prudence and charity.

Prudence consists in speaking about important matters only and not relating a lot of trifles that are not worth saying. That which you feel obliged to say should be expressed in as gentle a manner as possible, remembering that what seems evil is often so only in our feelings and opinions. In order to avoid conflict with the women and girls who have run the hospital for a long time, our sisters must have great respect for them and manifest great love and cordiality toward them. The sisters shall do nothing without their permission, not even take a pot, a frying pan, or anything else for their own needs.

In this matter, they shall remember the instruction and example of our Most Honored Father: that they shall enter this house prepared to suffer and to humble themselves beyond all their expectations. This they can do by apologizing to persons apparently angry with them even if they did not provoke this anger.

If some of these good women and girls get the idea that you are there to dismiss them and send them away, in the name of God, my Sisters, bear with such little suspicions, but prevent them as much as you can from arising by showing submission and cordiality in your words and actions. Consider that, in reality, you must respect these good persons as your mothers and as persons chosen by God to begin this work and to administer it so well during all these years.

Never respond to any complaints or reproaches that they may address to you. Although you are assured that the Count will provide for all your needs, do not take advantage of this, and bear in mind that you are there on a tria1 basis. If these good girls do fairly well and you, on the contrary, are at odds among yourselves and exhibit discord, you shall most certainly be sent back. This fact shall oblige you to act always with purity of intention, only looking upon God with more humility, mistrusting yourselves and trusting in God so that, if we are sent back, we shall be able to believe that it is the will of God; that it will not harm the Company or give bad example to anyone.

Consequently, you must go there with the intention of accomplishing the will of God manifested through the will of the Count; and in order to obey the Count more perfectly, you shall consider him in God and God in him. Remember that such is the teaching of our Most Honored Father and that, perhaps, he owes the great blessings he has received from God to this holy practice.

In his goodness, the Count will often speak freely with you; be careful to show respect always and to be reserved in your speech. Above all, my dear Sisters, if God should allow some small disputes between you, never mention the matter to him or to anyone else. And, if you have grounds to complain about one another, never allow it to appear on the outside.

It is most necessary that you never say anything rude to one another, especially in front of externs. With the help of God, your charity will prevent your being unpleasant with one another.

The close union that should exist between you shall be maintained by mutual forbearance with one another's failings and by the account you give of what you have done, where you have gone, or where you are going during the day. When some difficulty arises in your exercises, for example when the sister in charge of the sick, or she who is in charge of the children experiences some doubt, you shall talk it over together. As soon as you have found a solution, both of you, if possible, shall discuss it with the Count or with the Superioress, if there is one.

You are to conduct yourselves simply, according to the practice common to Paris and other places. However, if someone wishes you to act otherwise, you shall follow their orders so long as they are not offensive to God. Recall the same practice of our Most Honored Father who believes that the advice of others is always worth more than his own.

One of the great needs of our sisters is that they satisfy the people, and in this way God will bless their work and it will result in his glory. This need is encountered everywhere, but especially there where the people are extremely fond of the hospital. Great gentleness and cordiality are necessary in order to win over these people. That is why it would be well if every morning each sister would individually pray (so as not to multiply the prayers said under the Rule) for the blessing of our good God in order that they might act in the manner of his Son while he was on earth as they carry out the works of charity to which they have been called. Better yet, they should pray that the same Spirit that acted in him should act through them. They should begin their day by reflecting that they are accompanied by Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin and their guardian angel. It would also be well to have devotion to the guardian angels of all the souls in the city.

Our sisters shall be mindful to show great respect to priests, particularly to the chaplain of the hospital to whom they should show no familiarity. If necessity requires them to speak to him, they shall always do so together or in the company of another person. They shall take the parish priest as their confessor, believing that they will always find a blessing in remaining obedient.

As for your conduct toward the sick, may you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; inquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately; procuring necessary help for them without being too bothersome or too eager. Above all, you must have great care for their salvation, never leaving a poor person or a patient without having uttered some good word. When you meet someone who appears quite ignorant, have them make acts of faith, contrition and love; for example, "I believe all that the Holy Church believes, and I wish to live and to die in this faith." At other times, it would be well to have such persons recite separately the principal articles of our faith.

They shall not forget to give a report of the expenditures for their trip and any money remaining to the Count. If they are housed separately, either in or outside the hospital, their expenditures are to be taken care of by the Count and kept separate from other accounts. If they are also required to spend money for the poor, one of them should handle these funds and the other, the money for the maintenance of the sisters.

If, as is the custom in the parishes of Paris, you were to receive an annual sum, it would not be necessary to give an account of your expenditures to the Count. However, since he sets no limits and money is requested as needed, you must furnish him with separate accounts of expenditures both for yourselves and for the poor.

As for your food, you may not change it even if you are offered better than that which you receive where you are housed.

Our sisters shall remember to be as recollected as possible in all places, visiting no one and allowing no one to enter their quarters, whether to visit or to engage in useless conversation.

When they are requested to do something the propriety of which they doubt, they shall defer the matter as long as they can in order to have the time to seek the advice of the Superioress.

Our dear Sisters are most humbly requested, at the beginning, to send us news every two weeks, and to pray for us and for the entire Company. On our part, we shall often implore God to grant them the blessings they need for the fulfillment of his will. May he be eternally blessed (SWLM:770-774 [A.85]).

A personal, consecrated, commitment

The vow formula: I, the undersigned, in the presence of God, renew the promises of my baptism, and I vow poverty, chastity and obedience to the Venerable Superior General of the Priests of the Mission in the Company of the Daughters of Charity in order to give myself, for the whole of this year, to the corporal and spiritual service of the sick poor, our true Masters. I shall do this with the help of God which I ask of him through his Son Jesus Crucified and the prayers of the Holy Virgin (SWLM:782 [A.44b].

Footnotes

[1] La Compañia de las Hijas de la Caridad en sus Orígenes: Documentos, Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2003. Future reference to this work will be indicated by the letter “D”, followed by the number of the document. These references will be inserted in the text and not as footnotes.


Translated: Charles T. Plock CM