15th March - Saint Louise de Marillac

Widow. Foundress of the Daughter of Charity. Born in 1591 to an aristocratic family, Louise was educated by nuns at Poissy. Her mother died when she was very young and her father died when she was 15. Louise married Anthony Le Gras and they lived happily together for 12 years and had one son.

After her husband's death, Louise became involved with the work of St Vincent de Paul, who was organising groups of women into helping the poor and sick. He asked her to help train women in this work. In 1633 four women began working from Louise's Paris house in the Rue de Fosses-Saint-Victor.

They were to become the first Sisters of Charity. St Vincent had not intended to start a religious order. The sisters he said, should consider themselves simply as Christian women devoted to the sick and poor.

"Your convent will be the house of the sick; your cell a hired room; your chapel the parish church; your cloister the city streets or hospital wards," he said. Until 1642 they took no vow at all.

To this day they take vows for one year only - to be renewed each year until death. The Sisters took charge of the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Paris, of orphanages and schools.

Louise personally nursed plague victims and reformed a neglected hospital at Angers. Her son got married. He came to visit her with his family shortly before she died in 1660.

The Daughters of Charity went on to make foundations all over the world. For centuries they wore the distinctive dress of the 17th century Breton peasant women - with a grey wool tunic and large headdress. This was modified in the 20th century to be more in accordance with modern dress.

Saint Louise de Marillac was canonised in 1934.

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