Saint Louise and Motherhood

Homily for Sunday, May 9
Feast of St. Louise de Marillac and Mother’s Day
St. Vincent de Paul Parish

This year, Mother’s Day coincides with the Feast Day of Saint Louise de Marillac. In many ways, we have Louise to thank for our parish community. Without Louise, Vincent de Paul would not have made the impact he did during his life. Louise and Vincent worked side by side to serve the needs of those who were poor in seventeenth-century France, and Louise was a driving force in transforming the systems of charity that existed at the time. She and Vincent co-founded the Daughters of Charity, which was the first non-cloistered order of religious women. She was so effective and innovative in her work that she pioneered the field of social work and became the patron saint of social workers.

This is the version of Louise’s life that you might read on the back of her prayer card. It is neat, clean-cut, and orderly. And while it is all true, it is also incomplete. When Peter encounters Cornelius in the first reading today, he says, “Get up. I myself am also a human being.” Louise, like all of our other saints, was a human being—complex, messy, real.

In these unsettled, tumultuous times, Louise’s humanity—her struggles, her perseverance, her faith—speaks to us the most.

Louise’s world looked similar to ours today. She lived through an epidemic, war, and civil unrest, and she saw firsthand the effects of a massive wealth gap which kept the rich in power and oppressed those who were poor. The suffering that she saw on the streets of France shaped her into a compassionate, driven, and strategic agent of change.

Louise was also formed by her own suffering. She never knew her mother and was rejected by her father’s extended family. As a child, she knew how it felt to be other-ized and unseen. When she was unable to pursue her dream of taking vows with a cloistered order of religious sisters, Louise’s family arranged a marriage for her. She had a son whose special needs left her feeling helpless in a society that did not yet understand alternative developmental needs. She nursed her husband through a terminal illness and was widowed by the time she met Vincent.

Anxiety and grief left an imprint on Louise’s life, just as they have left imprints on our lives in the last year. What we are surviving together as a human family—a pandemic, our country’s continued, generations-long systemic racism, an environmental climate reckoning—shapes us each day. For some of us, grief has entered into our homes through the loss of a loved one and the inability to mourn in community. For some, anxiety builds with the touch of each door handle, the fear of going to work in-person, the worry of job security and putting food on the table. Louise’s own journey with mental health teaches us the importance of remaining grounded in ritual, faith, something that is bigger than ourselves. As a healer and herbalist, Louise reminds us to center holistic care in difficult times and to tend to our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Louise’s story reminds us that we are not alone.

For all of the mothers in the pews or joining us virtually today who have counted down the minutes until your kids’ bedtime only to flip the baby monitor on every 20 minutes to peek at their sleeping faces, who have stayed awake worrying about the social and physical effects the pandemic will have on your kiddos, who have felt totally touched out and just need to go to the bathroom alone, who have known boundless joy at your children’s laughter, silliness, and wonder—Louise was also a mother. She sees you even in those moments when you feel that your work, your worry, your needs are unseen. She shares your delight when tiny hands slip acorns into your coat pocket and a soft voice whispers in your ear, “love you sooooo much, mama.”

Some joining us today might feel conflicted or heavy-hearted during the Mother’s Day blessing at the end of mass. You may have a strained relationship with your mother or child. You may not feel called to motherhood. Your pregnancy may have taken you by surprise and come with fear or confusion. You may struggle with fertility or carry the lonely, silent grief of pregnancy loss. Louise knows how it feels to be angry with God and wonder why her plans for her own life were not God’s plans. She walks with you in your uncertainty, and she will continue to accompany you when the road ahead comes into clearer view.

From time to time, I engage in a spiritual practice wherein I read a traditional sacred text with the perspective of God as a woman, as a mother. On this day when we remember Louise, who re-shaped what it means to be a woman in our church, and celebrate all women who share motherly love with the world, I would like to share this spiritual practice with each of you.

From the Gospel according to John:
As the Mother loves me, so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you honor my wishes, you will remain in my love,
just as I have honored my Mother’s wishes
and remain in her love.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you
and your joy might be complete.
This is my wish: love one another as I love you.


Written by: Emily LaHood-Olsen, Ministry Coordinator, Division of Mission and Ministry

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