St. Louise de Marillac
Born out of wedlock in Paris in 1581, Louise never knew who her mother was but was acknowledged and raised by her father, a member of the aristocrat. When her father married, Louise had a difficult time adjusting. Consequently, she was sent as a resident student to a Dominican convent where her aunt was a religious. This experience deepened Louise's introspective ways, her many intellectual skills, as well as her desire to be a religious. When her father died and resources were limited, she lived in a boarding house where she had the opportunity to learn many basic domestic and organizational skills, as well as the secrets of herbal medicine. This experience rounded out her classical, upper-class education and prepared her well for her future service. At 22, she was given in marriage to Antoine le Gras, secretary to the queen. They had one son. Her marital happiness was short-lived because of Antoine’s poor health. She was widowed after twelve years of marriage. Louise underwent great sufferings and took a vow of widowhood so as to be more disposed to serve God and deepen her prayer life. At this time, she became acquainted with Vincent de Paul. Under Vincent’s spiritual guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God fashioned Louise into a strong dynamic apostle and deeply contemplative woman of prayer.
In 1629, Vincent de Paul invited Louise to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France. These tasks were therapeutic for Louise and formative for her future work and that of the Vincentian family. She conducted site visits to assure the quality of the service being offered; reviewed financial accounts for stewardship reports; and encouraged the workers and volunteers to see Christ in those whom they served.
Through this work, she gained a deep knowledge of the needs of the poor, developed her own innate managerial skills and identified effective structures for service. On November 29, 1633 in her own home she began to train young women to address the needs of the poor and to gain support from their life together. From this humble beginning, the community of Daughters of Charity emerged. Louise provided leadership and expert management to the evolving network of services she and Vincent inspired.
She died on March 15, 1660 just a few months before Vincent de Paul, and was proclaimed a Saint of the Church in 1934. In 1960 Pope John XXIII proclaimed her the Patroness of all Social Workers. Her feast day is kept on the 15th of March, the anniversary of her death.