I know the difficulties that you are all experiencing, but I also know…that it is the yoke of the Lord, and that He Himself has the goodness to render it gentle and sweet for those who bear it for His love.
Saint Louise was born on August 12, 1591 in Picardy. She was born out of wedlock and never knew her mother but grew up under her father, Louis de Marillac who called her his natural daughter but did not name her as a legal heir. Her uncle, Michel de Marillac was a major figure at the court of Queen Marie de'Medici. She grew among the aristocracy but was never admitted as one of them, a fact that hit harder when her father remarried. His new wife, Antoinette Le Camus, refused to accept Saint Louise as a member of the family, leaving Saint Louise to be surrounded by the wealthiest in society without any of their love, acceptance or friendship, even in her own home.
At the age of 12 she moved in with a devout spinster who taught her household management skills and medicinal skills. She began to feel a very real pull towards the spiritual life and so applied with the Capuchin nuns in Paris. The letter that returned was absolutely devastating - the spiritual director told her that God had other plans for her and turned her down for the application. At 22, her family convinced her marriage would be the next best step in her life and arraigned marriage to Antoine Le Gras, secretary of Queen Marie. The two were wed on February 5th, 1613 and soon had their child Michel. She became an attentive mother and loving husband, soon taking a leading role in the Ladies of Charity.
When the civil arrest began in 1600s, Saint Louise had to see one uncle arrested (who died in prison) and the other publicly executed. Antoine soon began to suffer terribly from an illness that kept him bedridden. Saint Louise found herself caring for her bedridden husband, raising their child, and managing the household alone. Depression crept in and Saint Louise began to suffer terribly from doubt and guilt for not having pursued a religious calling more vigorously when she was initially turned down. Saint Francis de Sales began to mentor her during this time, keeping her spirits high during such a dark time. In 1623 she wrote in her journal:
On the feast of 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...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.
She believed God had spoken to her and that she would soon meet a new Spiritual Director from a vision of a face she had in the Church. Three years later, her husband Antoine passed away. Saint Louise wrote the "Rule of Life in the World" - a detailed structure of her day that brought her closer to Christ. She was soon reciting the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, attending daily Mass, fasting, completing penance, and nurturing young Michel. In 1625, Antoine died and went home to the Lord. Saint Louise now faced being widowed and being financially poor which forced her to move into a much smaller house. One morning after leaving her house she ran into her new neighbor, a confessor whose face she immediately recognized from her vision - Saint Vincent de Paul.
Due to the extremely time filling work he was doing with the Confraternities of Charity, Saint Vincent was initially reluctant to become Saint Louise's confessor. The two continued speaking to each other and in 1629 Saint Vincent asked Saint Louise if she would like to become involved with the Confraternities of Charity. Saint Louise jumped at the opportunity dove straight in. She found a very disorganized system - the aristocracy were the main funders of charity and would often cause social distrust when visiting the slums dressed in beautiful, extravagant dresses. Saint Louise realized that the practical, on the ground work of nursing the poor, caring for neglected children and tending to the sick was best accomplished by women of a similar social status.
Saint Louise found the right kind of help she needed in ministering and caring for the poor in young, humble country women who came with the proper attitude to care for the needy. She invited four of these girls to live together in her home in the Rue des Fosses-Saint-Victor. The foundation she laid for the new group, the Company of the Daughters of Charity, was
"Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself,"
The company began to develop into a system of pastoral care at Hotel-Dieu, a hospital in Paris. The care was so excellent that word spread quickly and the Company was invited to take over nursing at the hospital in Angers. Saint Louise instituted collaboration among the doctors, nurses, and hospital staff to form an effective and comprehensive team that is still in use by the modern Daughters of Charity.
Saint Louise's health began to fall and in March of 1660 she sensed her death approaching for a particularly rough illness. She wrote to her fellow sisters in the Company:
"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."
Saint Louise died on March 15th, 1660.
Pope Benedict XV beatified Saint Louise in 1920, and just fourteen years later she was formally canonized by Pope Pius XI on March 11, 1934. She was declared the Patroness of Christian Social Workers by Pope John XXIII in 1960. Her feast day is celebrated on March 15th.