Saint Louise de Marillac
Saint Louise de Marillac
Born August 12, 1591, Paris, France
Died March 15, 1660 (aged 68), Paris, France
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified May 9, 1920, Rome by Pope Benedict XV
Canonized March 11, 1934, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Major shrine Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Rue du Bac, Paris, France
Feast March 15
Attributes widows' clothing
Patronage disappointing children, loss of parents, people rejected by religious orders, sick people, social workers, Vincentian Service Corps, widows

Saint Louise de Marillac (August 12, 1591 - March 15, 1660) was the co-founder, with St. Vincent de Paul, of the Daughters of Charity. She is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Early life

Louise de Marillac was born out of wedlock on August 12, 1591. She never knew her mother. Louis de Marillac claimed her as his natural daughter yet not his legal heir. Louis was a member of the prominent Marillac family and was a widower at the time of Louise’s birth. His brother, Michel de Marillac, was a major figure in the court of Queen Marie de Medicis and though Louis was not a member of the Queen’s court, he lived and worked among the French aristocracy. Thus Louise grew up amid the affluent society of Paris, but without a stable home life. When her father remarried, Antoinette Le Camus, Louise’s stepmother refused to accept Louise as part of their family. Nevertheless, Louise was cared for and received an excellent education at the royal monastery of Poissy near Paris, where her aunt was a Dominican nun. Louise was schooled among the country’s elite and was introduced to the arts and humanities as well as to a deep spiritual life. She remained at Poissy until her father’s death when she was twelve. Louise then stayed with a good, devout spinster where she learned household management skills. Around the age of fifteen, Louise felt drawn to the cloistered life. She later made application to the Capuchins in Paris, but she was refused admission. It is not clear if her refusal was due to her continual poor health or other reasons, but her spiritual director’s prophetic response to her application was that God had “other designs” for her.

Devastated by this refusal, Louise was at a loss as to the next step in her spiritual development. By twenty-two years of age, her family had convinced her that marriage was the best alternative. Her uncle arranged for her to marry Antoine Le Gras, secretary to the Queen Marie de Medicis. Antoine was an ambitious young man who seemed destined for great accomplishments. Louise and Antoine were wed in the fashionable church of St. Gervaise on February 5, 1613. Later in that same year, the couple had their only child, Michel. Louise grew to truly love Antoine and to mother her son. Along with being devoted to her family, Louise was also active in ministry in her parish. Around 1621, Antoine contracted a chronic illness and eventually became bedridden. Louise lovingly nursed and cared for him and their child. However, her depression caused her to question her continuing as a wife and a mother.

Louise suffered for years with this internal doubt and prayed for resolution, which she finally received during an inner experience of divine communication with God. In 1623, at the age of thirty-two, she wrote, "On the feast of the Pentecost during Holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was completely freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same." Louise also received insight that she would be guided to a new spiritual director, Vincent de Paul. She continued, “I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things and that, believing there is a God; I should not doubt the rest.”

Two years after this experience, Antoine died and left Louise to fulfill her next great mission in life. She now focused intently on her own spiritual development. Being a woman of great energy, intelligence, determination and devotion, Louise wrote her own "Rule of Life in the World" which detailed a structure for her day. Time was set aside for reciting the Office of the Blessed Virgin, attending Mass, receiving Holy Communion, meditation, spiritual reading, fasting, penance, reciting the rosary and special prayers. Still, Louise managed to find time to maintain her household, entertain guests and nurture Michel, her thirteen year old son, with special needs. Throughout all this activity, Louise realized she needed guidance and a tempering of her intensity and drive. This was to come from her relationship with Vincent de Paul.

Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul

Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul met around the time of Antoine's passing in 1625. Vincent quickly recognized Louise's power and intelligence and understood her desire for spiritual direction. Over the next four years, Vincent and Louise communicated often through letters and personal meetings, with Vincent guiding Louise to greater balance in a life of moderation, peace and calm. In 1629, Vincent invited Louise to get involved in his work with the Confraternities of Charity. She found great success in these endeavors. Then, in 1632, Louise made a retreat seeking inner guidance regarding her next step. Her intuition led her to understand that it was time to intensify her ministry with poor and needy persons, while still maintaining a deep spiritual life. Louise, at age forty-two, drawn to focus on mission, communicated this aspiration to Monsieur Vincent. By the end of 1633, he too had received the guidance needed for them to bring the Daughters of Charity into existence.

In seventeenth-century France, the charitable care of poor persons was completely unorganized. Many underprivileged people were victims of non-existent care or poor hospital conditions. The Ladies of Charity, founded by Vincent years earlier, provided some care and monetary resources, but this wasn’t enough. For, though the wealthy Ladies of Charity had the funds to aid poor people, they did not have the time or temperament to live a life of service and insertion among persons who were poor. Louise found the help she needed in young, humble, country women who had the energy and the proper attitude to deal with people weighed down by destitution and suffering. She began working with a group of them and saw a need for common life and formation. Consequently, she invited four of these country girls to live in her home and began forming them to care for those in need. She also taught them how to deepen their spiritual life. "Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself," Louise explained. This was the foundation of the Company of the Daughters of Charity, who received official approbation in 1655.

Louise's work with these young women developed into a system of pastoral care at the Hotel-Dieu, the oldest and largest hospital in Paris. Their work became well known and the Daughters were invited to Angers to take over management of the nursing services of the hospital there. This was the first ministry outside Paris for the fledgling community, so Louise herself made the arduous journey to Angers in the company of three Sisters. After completing negotiations with the city and the hospital, Louise instituted collaboration among the doctors, nurses and others to form a comprehensive team. This model was highly successful and is still in use today by the Daughters of Charity. Under the guidance of Louise de Marillac, the Daughters expanded their scope of service to include orphanages, institutions for the elderly and mentally ill, prisons, and the battlefield.

In working with her Sisters, Louise emphasized a balanced life, as Vincent de Paul had taught her.It was the integration of contemplation and activity that made Louise's work so successful. The Sisters were encouraged to pray and work together, and to live every moment in imitation of Christ by inwardly asking; "What would Jesus do in this situation?" The key for Louise was letting go of her personal plan and surrendering to God's will. She wrote near the end of her life, "Certainly it is the great secret of the spiritual life to abandon to God all that we love by abandoning ourselves to all that He wills."

Louise continued her work with the Daughters of Charity until her death. A present day observer might surmise that Vincent de Paul was the heart of the Daughters of Charity, while Louise was the head. This isn’t quite true, for Louise had a big heart, too. However, this statement is made to give tribute to Louise’s strong intellect, organizational skills and her ability to get things accomplished Louise was positive and exuberant in her energy, always urging her Sisters to do more and do it well. But along with the activity, she also modeled love. Nearing her death, she wrote to her Sisters: “Take good care of the service of the poor. Above all, live together in great union and cordiality, loving one another in imitation of the union and life of our Lord. Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she might be your only Mother.”

After increasingly ill health, Louise de Marillac died on March 15, 1660, six months before the death of her dear friend and mentor, Vincent de Paul. She was sixty-eight years of age. By the time of her death, the Daughters of Charity had more than forty houses in France. Today, she continues to live in her spiritual followers: the Daughters of Charity, Sisters of Charity, Ladies of Charity, and many collaborators serving throughout the world.


St Louise de Marillac


Louise de Marillac was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and, in 1934, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI. Her feast day is March 15. To this day, her remains are enshrined in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity in Paris. She was declared Patroness of Christian Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960. Those with disappointing children, those who have lost parents, people rejected by religious orders, sick people, the Vincentian Service Corps and widows could also take St. Louise as an example and intercessor. As a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker and religious foundress, she stands as a model for all women.

External links

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