History of the Daughters of Charity
With St. Vincent de Paul, St. Louise de Marillac founded the Company of the Daughters of Charity in Paris in 1633. They were the first community of non cloistered sisters, whose 25,000 members now serve around the globe. A faith response to life’s tragic events echoes through the story of St. Louise de Marillac, a pioneer in religious life and in the provision of human services.
Louise was born outside of marriage in Paris in 1581, Louise never knew her mother but she was acknowledged and raised by her father, a member of the aristocracy. As a very young child she was sent to a Dominican boarding school, where her aunt was a nun. This experience deepened Louise’s introspective ways, her many intellectual and artistic skills, as well as her desire to be a religious. Her father died when she was thirteen, resources were limited, she then lived in a boarding house where she had the opportunity to learn many basic domestic and organisational 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 age twenty-two Louise married Antoine Le Gras and they had one child, Michael. Antoine died of ill health in 1625.
From her earliest years, Louise was attracted to prayer and believed that God was guiding her life. In 1629, Vincent de Paul, invited Louise to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France. He had already established the Congregation of the Mission (the Vincentians), in 1625. Through this work Louise gained a deep knowledge of the needs of people who were poor, developed her own innate management skills and identified effective structures for service. Louise was already involved in the Ladies of Charity, an organisation of rich women dedicated to assisting the poor. In her work Louise came across young girls who assisted the Ladies of Charity in their work among the poor. These were unskilled and unlettered country girls who had a sense of dedication and compassion. On November 29, 1633 Louise, in consultation with Vincent de Paul, took some of these young women into her own home. She trained them to gain support from their life together. From this small beginning, the Company of the Daughters of Charity was born.
In time, Louise established free schools for girls from the poorest of families and for girls who were working and who could slip out at lunch time or some other time in the day and go to the Sisters and learn to read. These first schools were concerned with literacy, helping girls to come to know and love God and also acquire skills which would make them independent later on.
In 1655 the Company of Daughters of Charity received Vatican approbation. On March 15th 1660, Louise de Marillac died leaving behind her seventy five houses of Daughters of Charity. Louise was proclaimed a Saint of the Church in 1934 and in 1960 was proclaimed the Patroness of all Social Workers.
The Daughters of Charity came to Ireland in 1855 at the request of Dr. Dixon, Archbishop of Armagh while the country was still recovering from the effects of famine. The initial invitation led the sisters to Drogheda where four Sisters cared for poor people in their own homes and opened a night school for girls working in the factories. Since then the Daughters of Charity have expanded and diversified their services. At the present time in Ireland Daughters of Charity work in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Belfast, Drogheda and in Carnew, Co. Wicklow. They employ a multi-professional workforce and engage many willing and gifted volunteers. Uniting this network of people is a spirit of simplicity, openness, joy, compassion and creativity in providing services. The creative inspiration of St Vincent some four hundred years ago still holds the same freshness and challenge today.
A special relationship exists between the Daughters of Charity and the other Vincentian organisations, whose members live their commitment in the tradition of St Vincent de Paul and St Louise de Marillac. For further information on the International Vincentian Family see www.famvin.org
St. Vincent and St. Louise promoted a Spiritual Way of life. They showed us how we can meet God in our everyday experiences, in the events, the persons, the circumstances of our life. His Way is the way of the Church, a way of experience, of faith, of practical wisdom…. all embraced in a spirit of love. They responded to God’s love and call, and saw themselves as being sent also ‘to bring good news to the poor.’ They encouraged their followers to share their faith, their experience of God in prayer and in so doing to respond to God in practical love both of God and one’s neighbours, practical love especially of the poor.