Daughters of Charity, Daughters of Faith

By Delaney Morrison

Saint Louise de Marillac shown in a painting at Church of Saint-Laurent in Paris, France. (DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

Louise de Marillac was a motherless child, part of a blended family, a well-educated woman, a wife of a frail husband, a mother of a rather challenging son, and a widow at the age of 36. Louise de Marillac became an innovator, an organizer, and a leader. She is a perfect example of trusting in God and Divine Providence to help you through hardships and find your way. Despite all of the obstacles she faced, she was able to accomplish so much to help those in need: education, work with foundlings, nursing, foster care, institutional care for children, prison work, care for the elderly, care for galley slaves, care for beggars, and she was co-foundress of the Daughters of Charity. She truly believed in the power and empowerment of women.

The Daughters of Charity came to be through the collaboration of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and Marguerite Naseau. These three individuals, coming from various backgrounds and various views, all felt the spirit of God within them to create a new reality for the young women of France while fulfilling the spiritual needs of those around them.

Before there was the Daughters of Charity, there were the “Confraternities of Charity.” The Confraternities of Charity, or Ladies of Charity, were a group of wealthy, often noble, women with a lot of time on their hands who sought out opportunities to serve the poor. But shortly after its inception, Vincent and Louise began to recognize just how hard it was to provide meaningful help while moving between social classes. These women, while well-intended, would often get caught up in their own duties, responsibilities, and lives. Louise helped Vincent to realize that women of a peasant background would be more apt to build meaningful connections with the poor and provide the sheer numbers that they needed to accomplish the work they had set out to do.

The first Daughter of Charity was named Marguerite Naseau, a woman from the French countryside. While growing up, she taught herself to read through the help of those around her and quickly began to teach other young girls in her village. She felt from a very early age a call to serve God. Marguerite met Vincent de Paul and other priests of the Congregation of the Mission during one of his visits and would later go on to meet up with Vincent and Louise in Paris.

Louise saw in Marguerite the potential to provide a new life for so many young women and the opportunity to assure that the needs of those most suffering were being met each and every day. It took three years of reflection, contemplation, and discussions before the Company of the Daughters of Charity came to life on November 29, 1633.

At the time, if a woman were to join a religious community, they were to spend the rest of their days in the cloister. Louise believed so fiercely that you encounter God in the poor that she knew she could not be walled up. The Daughters of Charity was the first-ever religious community for women that were not cloistered.

In the words of Vincent de Paul,

“They were to have, for monastery only the houses of the sick; for cell a hired room; for chapel the parish church; for cloister the streets of the city; for enclosure obedience; for grill the fear of God; for veil holy modesty; and continual confidence in Divine Providence.”

And in the words of Louise de Marillac,

“My dear Sisters, I continue to ask God for His blessings for you and pray that He will grant you the grace to persevere in your vocation in order to serve Him in the manner He asks of you.

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 may be your only Mother.”

The Daughters make annual vows, not perpetual, of service to those who are poor, of chastity, of poverty, and of obedience. Taking vows annually allows the Daughters to remain connected to their core purpose of serving those on the margins.

One of the most powerful pieces to draw from the Daughters of Charity was Louise’s commitment to her daughters. Within her hundreds of letters, you can see just how deeply she cared for each and every one of the women with whom she worked. She instilled in these women a sense of greater purpose, provided them with opportunities they would not have had, and created a community of women empowering other women.

It is crucial, now more than ever, that women continue to live this legacy of empowering and building up each other. So, I encourage you to turn to Louise, Marguerite, and the Daughters of Charity as a way to live out your life caring for yourself and others and remaining in tune to your spiritual needs however that may look.