Louise de Marillac: fully woman
[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. 189-203. 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].
A panorama of Louise’s life
1591: August 12: birth of Louise de Marillac.
1604: July 25: death of Louise’s father, Louis de Marillac.
1613: February 5: married to Antoine Le Gras; October 18: birth of son, Michel.
1623: June 4: in the parish church of Saint-Nicolas-des-Champs Louise receives interior enlightenment (Pentecost experience).
1625: December 21: death of her husband; first conversations with Vincent de Paul.
1629: Journey to Montmirail – beginning of her visits to the various onfraternities.
1630: Arrival of Marguerite Naseau in Paris – first young women to work with the Confraternities; November 10: Louise’s two uncles are arrested, Michel (chancellor to the Queen) and Louis de Marillac (a Marshal in France).
1632: Execution of Louis de Marillac in the Place de Gr?ve (Square of the Foreshore); August 7: Michel de Marillac died in prison in Châteaudun.
1633: February: Death of Marguerite Naseau; November 29: establishment of the Company of the Daughters of Charity within the confines of the parish of Saint-Nicolas-de-Chardonnet.
1636: May: transfer of the Motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity to La Chapelle.
1638: Beginning of the ministry with abandoned children; February: the Daughters of Charity established in Saint Germain-en-Laye; October: Daughters established in Richelieu.
1639: Louise travels to Angers where the Daughters are established in the hospital there.
1640: Beginning of the ministry with the galley slaves; March: wet-nurses are provided for the abandoned children.
1641: Motherhouse transferred to Saint-Denis in the parish of Saint Laurent; February: Daughters established in Sedán.
1642: March 25: for the first time vows are taken by Louise de Maillac and four Daughters of Charity.
1644: October: pilgrimage of Louise to Chartres.
1645: Establishment of the Daughters in Saint-Denis.
1646: Louise travels to Nantes and the Daughters are established in the hospital there; August: establishment of the Daughters in Fontainebleau.
1647: July: the abandoned children are transferred to the residence in Bicêtre.
1648: August: Louise visits Chantilly and Liancourt; August 26: insurrection in Paris; Daughters sent to Picardy to assist in the relief efforts on behalf of the people devastated by the war.
1649: The Fronde War intensifies.
1650: January 16: Marriage of Michel Le Gras; October: establishment of the Daughters in Montmirail.
1651: Birth of Renée-Louise Le Gras, Louise’s grand-daughter.
1652: Resurgence of the Fronde; Refugees arrive in Paris, establishment of soup kitchens; Orphanage establish in Étampes and in September the Daughters are established in Poland.
1653: March: establishment of the Hospice Nom-du-Jésus for the elderly; October: Daughters sent to the battlefields of Châlons-sur-Marne and Saint-Menehould.
1654: July: Daughters sent to the battlefield in Stenay.
1655: January 18: approval of the Daughters of the Charity by the Archbishop of Paris; August 8: forty Daughters sign the Decree of Foundation of the Daughters of Charity.
1656: Long and serious illness of Louise; Establishment of the Daughters in Arras.
1657: July: two Daughters sent to the Salpetri?re Hospital; August: Daughters send to Montmédy to care for the wounded soldiers.
1658: May: establishment of the Daughters in Ussel; July: Daughters sent to the battlefield in Calais; August: Daughters established in Metz; November: Daughters established in Cahors.
1659: September: establishment of the Daughters in Narbona.
1660: March 15: death of Louise de Marillac; September 27: death of Vincent de Paul.
1934: March 11: Louise is declared a saint by Pope Pius XI.
1960: February 10: Pope John XXIII declares Saint Louise the patroness of social workers.
Louise de Marillac- fully woman
There was much suffering and stress in Louise’s life and we are most knowledgeable about these various realities … but there were also many grace-filled moments and we tend to pass over these too quickly. How did Louise utilize those personal blessings in order to rise above the many sufferings that afflicted her … and in doing so became fully woman?
In an undated letter that was probably addressed to a Lady of Charity who was engaged in a spiritual retreat we are provided with a spiritual portrait of Louise de Marillac. In this letter we see a balanced woman who was able to motivate other individuals in their growth and development: Enclosed are the spiritual exercises that I mentioned. According to the insights which, in your goodness, you gave me into your dear soul, they seem to me to be exceptionally well-suited to you. Put them into practice, my dear Lady, living entirely for God by this loving and serene union of your will with his in everything. In my opinion, this practice, in its holy simplicity, contains the means for acquiring the solid perfection God asks of you. Always have great esteem, my dear Lady, for humility and gentle cordiality. While reflecting on the divine gentleness during your periods of meditation, speak to Our Lord with great simplicity and innocent familiarity. Do not be concerned whether or not you experience any consolation; God wants only our hearts. He placed within our power the capacity to make a simple act of the will. He considers this alone and the deeds resulting from it. Make as few reflections as possible and live in holy joy in the service of our Sovereign Lord and Master. In all simplicity, I present these suggestions to you, Madame, as Our Lord has given them to me since, in your humility, you requested them from my poverty. I beg him, in his infinite goodness, to raise your dear soul to the heights of holiness that, in his love, he desires you to attain. Commend me to his divine mercy I implore you, Madame, and be assured that I have already done what you asked of me and that I shall never forget you in my poor prayers nor will I fail to remember your husband and all those dear people who are so precious to you. May God be blessed! (SWLM:678-679 [L.656])
To live entirely for God
“…we must remain open to God…”
Put them into practice, my dear Lady, living entirely for God …Louise communicates the secret of all spirituality: a life grounded in God … I was always certain that your troubles would pass. It is in this way that we must remain open to God, who wants us to desire only what he wills. Be very courageous then in the distrust you must have for yourself. I say the same thing to all our dear sisters. I desire all of them to be filled with a great love which will immerse them so sweetly in God and so charitably in the service of the poor that their hearts will no longer have place for so many thoughts which endanger their perseverance. Courage then, my dear Sisters. Seek only to please God by faithfully observing his commandments and evangelical counsels because the goodness of God has deigned to call us to this. This should lead us to observe our Rules exactly but also cheerfully and diligently. Serve your masters with great gentleness. Be very respectful to the administrators and greatly honor the clergy. You owe this to them (SWLM:75 [L.441]).
I must depend completely upon God and show no greater resistance to him now than I did when he created me. I must use my entire being to know God in his works and to recognize him by love. I desired no longer to subsist of myself. After having been continuously sustained by the grace of God, it seemed to me that all that I am is but grace. I implored God to draw these graces to himself and thus I would be totally his (SWLM:702-703 [A.9]).
To live united to the will of God
“…to do what he wants us to do…”
To live in a loving and serene union of your will with God’s will … those words point out another important dimension of spiritual growth: true freedom is only found in God: My dear Sisters, if we want to please our good God, we must not look so much to what we want to do but to what he wants us to do. From the moment his love called you to his service, he foresaw that you would be sent to Ussel, and he knew what you would have to do to begin the work. He accepted your submission to his good pleasure which was that you accomplish only what his Providence placed before you. He also willed that you faithfully observe your Rules and that you serve the small number of poor entrusted to your care with great exactitude, gentleness and charity. Our Lord knows very well where to find you when he has more for you to do (SWLM:604-605 [L.578]).
“..May your will alone be the rule of my life…”
May your will alone be the rule of my life! Grant me this grace, O my Jesus, for the love which you have for me and through the intercession of your Holy Mother who loved so perfectly all the effects of your loving will. I beg this grace of you with all my heart and I give myself entirely to you, imploring your goodness to overlook any contrary dispositions still to be found in me. I pray that the force of your love, by its gentle power, may compel the acquiescence of any of my senses which may continue to oppose you (SWLM:713 [A.15]).
To live with humility and gentleness
“…imitating the Good Shepherd…”
Always have great esteem for humility and gentle cordiality … according to Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac these are two characteristics that should be dominant in the life of every Vincentian: Are you being very courageous? Are you imitating the Good Shepherd who risks his life for the welfare and safety of the flock under his care? I think so. Although we do not often meet with occasions when we are called upon to risk our lives, we do not lack those in which we must sacrifice our wills so as to yield to the desires of others, or so as to overcome our habits and inclinations in order to give good example to our sisters, or so as to conquer our passions in order to avoid arousing those of others. This, my dear Sister, is how we must act if we are to maintain cordiality, to practice forbearance and to live in that close union which marks the charity of Jesus Crucified and which I beg God to grant us (SWLM:119 [L.70B]).
“…what humility, what gentleness…”
I am not surprised at all the difficulties you are experiencing in dealing with the Ladies of Charity. This generally happens wherever a hospital and a Parish Confraternity of Charity are together. There are disagreements everywhere, without either side being at fault, because each group feels obliged to gain the advantage for those for whom it is caring. The desired solution would be for the two works to be separate, each having clear rules delineating its responsibilities. However, these would have to be drawn up and that depends entirely on the Pastor of Bernay, because, as of now, I know of none that I could send you. Your obligation, in the midst of all these disagreements, is to be very humble and to be very careful that no one can accuse you of arrogance or independence. You must always keep in mind that you are subject to everyone, the last of all. You must believe that you have no authority and act accordingly, doing nothing without the permission of those to whom Monsieur l'abbé has entrusted the direction of the works. As for the accounts you must give, always do so as accurately and as humbly as possible. In dealing with the Ladies of Charity, you must never take their rank into consideration in showing them respect. It suffices for you to know that they have been received into the Company to honor them as Mothers of your Masters the Poor. This is so, even if they contribute nothing from their own property. If you realized, my dear Sisters, the degree of humility, gentleness and submission Our Lord desired of the Daughters of Charity, you would be dismayed not to practice these virtues (SWLM:586-587 [L.565]).
“…humility is the knowledge of truth…”
As soon as human nature had sinned, the Creator, who wanted to repair this fault by a great act of pure love, ordered, in the Council of his Divinity, that one of the three Persons should become man. By so doing, he gave proof of deep, true humility. This caused me to be ashamed of my pride. Part of my vanity is surely due to ignorance since, properly speaking, humility is the knowledge of truth. This is why it is possible to recognize it in God (SWLM:700 [A.7]).
To live in an intimate relationship with God
“…without too much introspection…”
Speak to Our Lord with great simplicity and innocent familiarity … this is another important aspect of Louise’s spirituality: her relationship with God is very familiar and this reality led her to develop and deepen that relationship: Only allow me, my very dear Sister, to say that I praised God many times for the graces he has granted you. I begged him to help you to forget yourself and to mortify your desire for self-satisfaction which, in you, hides under the beautiful appearance of striving for great perfection. We are greatly deceiving ourselves if we think that we are capable of it, and even more so if we believe that we can attain this perfection by our own efforts and by constantly and closely watching over all the movements and dispositions of our souls. It is a good thing, once a year, to apply ourselves seriously to this kind of examination while being duly distrustful of ourselves and recognizing our weaknesses. But to put ourselves through a continual purgatory to analyze our souls and to give an account of all our thoughts is useless, even dangerous. I am repeating to you what I was told long ago. I beg you, my dear Sister, to help me by your prayers, as I will help you by mine, so that we may obtain from God the grace to walk simply and confidently along the path of his holy love, without too much introspection, lest we resemble those persons who, instead of growing rich, become bankrupt while striving to find the philosopher's stone (SWLM:520-521 [L.557B]).
“…purely and simply…”
If we are assailed by temptations and trials, we become completely dejected, imagining ourselves to be in a deplorable state. And truly, this would be our condition if we did not cling to God by the tip of our souls, saying to him, from the depths of our hearts, "My God, do whatever you will; I belong entirely to you!" Despite these temptations, we must perform all our actions purely and simply for the love of God. You must be convinced that it is his holy will that you find yourself in the state in which he has placed you, either by the direct operation of his Providence or by permitting his creatures to put you in such a state ... How consoling for a soul to find itself completely dependent on his special guidance! This thought is sufficient to make me rejoice with you (SWLM:575-576 [L.546]).
To live with joy
“…to do everything in my power to practice this Holy Love…”
Do not be concerned whether or not you experience any consolation; God wants only our hearts … anxiety did not separate Louise from her true happiness: The person who does not love does not know God, for God is Charity. The cause of love is esteem for the good in the thing loved. Since God is most perfect in the unity of his essence, he is love in the eternity of this essence by the knowledge he has of his own perfection. The love of creatures enters into the nature of this love. But the effects are attached to the will in the practice of charity either toward God or toward the neighbor. This practice of charity is so powerful that it gives us the knowledge of God, not as he is in himself, but we penetrate so deeply into the mystery of God and his greatness that we may say that the greater our charity the greater our participation in this divine light which will inflame us with the fire of Holy Love for all eternity. Therefore, I want to do everything in my power to practice this Holy Love and to rid my heart of any bitterness which might wound it (SWLM:710-711 [L.29]).
“…My heart is still overflowing with joy…”
My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, "God is my God," and the awareness I had of the glory which the blessed render to him as a consequence of this truth. Therefore, I cannot help communicating with you this evening to ask you to assist me to profit from this excess of joy and to suggest some practice for me tomorrow which is the feast of the saint whose name I have the honor to bear. It is also the day for the renovation of my vows. I hope, because of this double anniversary, to assist at your holy Mass. I beg your Charity most humbly to please let me know the time. I hope, my Most Honored Father, that you realize that all that I am is in your hands to be offered to this good God whose love has made me, by his great mercy, your very humble and most grateful daughter and servant (SWLM:341 [L.369]).
Questions for reflection and dialogue
A] In what ways can Louise de Marillac inspire our life and ministry?
B] In what ways can Louise de Marillac serve as a model for women today?
C] Here we presented different aspects of Louise’s spirituality (to live entirely for God, to live united to the will of God, to live with humility and gentleness, to live in an intimate relationship with God and to live with joy) … which of these is most attractive? … which is most difficult?
Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM