Here’s the thing. If you just “read” this about this powerful God-filled woman, Louise de Marillac of the seventeenth century, you’ll come away with a few tidbits of—what to call it— “interesting information.” Good enough. BUT… if you approach the life of Louise in a prayerful way, your interaction with her spirit just might inspire and enliven you to new ways of living your own life. Maybe not right away, but what you learn about her might sit like a pulsing little seed in your imagination, the part of you that’s always picturing how you want to live and who you hope to become.
That’s the thing about us as humans made in the image of God: we’re always capable of becoming more than we are. Another thing about us is that we are deeply relational beings. We’re wired to connect. For instance, I feel a special connection to the pansies I planted and to the birds that come to my feeder.
So much for flowers and birds… what about connecting with a saint like Louise de Marillac?
Here’s the big “Louise Spark” that enlivened me as I read about her in preparation to write this article. It was a real “Geez Louise” realization! A favorite expression I’ve had since I was a kid, I now feel happy to apply it to a real Louise in my life.
As I read about this great lady with her steadfast-trusting-God pioneering spirit, training and guiding the Daughters, I had what Louise called a “Lumière.” I realized that if she hadn’t actively collaborated with Vincent to birth a new form of religious life, one which combined prayer and service of others, I wouldn’t be a Sister of St. Joseph today. The Daughters of Charity burst into history in 1610, and right on their heels, my congregation came into being in 1650. Which—praise Jesus—set about teaching young women, eventually sending them across the Atlantic, and over the course of 300 years, to St. Joseph Academy in Baton Rouge, Louisiana… and, blessedly, to me.
Prior to the Daughters, being a nun meant a cloistered life, and I would have died on the vine being confined inside convent walls like that. I would have had a nervous breakdown and no doubt driven everybody else crazy too. I wanted to be a nun because I wanted to TEACH (really wanted to teach, couldn’t wait to teach). This was because the nuns in my high school were super teachers, alive with faith and humanness and infectious humor, who challenged me to think critically, to stand up and speak in a public setting, and to be curious as all-get-out about the world and people and how God moves throughout it all. My nuns lured me in. Attraction is the way the Holy Spirit works, never the prod of “do your duty” or, worse, “you better do this or you’re going to feel sooo guilty.” So, yes, I was lured, and at age 18 I threw in my lot with the Saint Joes and haven’t looked back.
Thank you, Louise and Vincent. You did the hard work of plowing the furrow, which prepared the soil for other apostolic orders to spring up.
I’m still teaching, sometimes in classrooms, like when I come to DePaul, but also to audiences around the world about human rights. This is what has led me to entrust my archives to you here at DePaul, and to visit with you for a week of sharing each year. It is the Christ-like spirit of the Vincentians that brought me to you and keeps me coming. I love the pictures and quotes of Louise and Vincent that are all over campus. Their spirit permeates every nook and cranny and, hopefully, these few words as well.
Geez Louise! Thank you.
A postscript from Sr. Helen
Check out my collection at: Sr. Helen Prejean Papers or visit Special Collections on the third floor of the library, open again in August 2021. Two wonderful women stand ready to assist you: Jamie Nelson and Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts. Phone: 773-325-2167.
– On the 361st anniversary of Louise de Marillac’s death, 15 March 1660 –
God, who created “every kind of plant that bears seed and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it… saw that it was good.”(1) Our Creator also sowed seeds of the mission in the hearts of Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, and their associates.(2) Those seeds of hope developed into the Vincentian Family which fulfils the Vincentian mission around the globe. In their conferences and writings, Vincent and Louise frequently referred to grains and seeds, particularly the mustard seed. Most religious traditions embody “seeds of the Word.”(3) In seventeenth-century France, Christians understood the allegorical use of the mustard seed as the “word of God” in the Parable of The Sower in Sacred Scripture.(4)
Raised in the rural marshlands of the Landes district of Gascony, not far from the Pyrenees, young Vincent de Paul learned to work the land and care for flocks of sheep. Before he left the farm at fifteen to attend school in Dax, Vincent probably helped his family plant hard-shell seeds of millet. When “cooked in a pot and poured into a dish,” this nutritious staple resembles fluffy mashed potatoes.(5) Memories of rural life remained vivid to Vincent, especially when he spoke from experience and referred to the “Good country folk…[who] sow their seed and then wait for God to bless their harvest.”(6)
After moving to Paris, Vincent shifted from an agrarian focus to priestly service. He realized that relationships and events are like seeds. Each contains covert energy. Through his relationship with the Gondi family, Vincent discovered a spiritual poverty among the peasants residing on the family estates. When learning of their situation, Mme. de Gondi asked “What must be done?” This good woman planted the first seed of the mission. Her query and Vincent’s zeal produced the Congregation of the Mission (Vincentian Priests and Brothers) in France in 1625. The first mission preached by Vincent at Folleville in 1617, “has always been considered as the seed for all the others to follow.”(7)
Months later at Châtillon, after visiting the home of a family where illness prevailed, Vincent grasped both their need of assistance and the full extent of material poverty. His awareness became a root for creativity and practicality to grow into action as organized charity.(8) At Vincent’s invitation, women of the town “joined forces to take their turn to assist the sick poor,” thus forming the first Confraternity of Charity. This seedling would develop branches, initially in Paris. Soon, pastors replicated this model throughout France.(9)
In 1623, another event in Paris embedded seeds of hope deep within a distressed wife and mother seeking interior peace. Louise de Marillac had an extraordinary experience of light (or lumière), which freed her from anxiety and doubts. Inner peace permeated the core of her being. Aware that she would “live in a small community” and “help her neighbor,” Louise “did not understand” how that would be possible since “there was to be much coming and going.”(10) As a widow several years later, Louise began to assist with Vincent de Paul’s charitable works. Recognizing her potential, in 1629 Vincent sent Louise to Montmirail as his deputy. This was the first of many supervisory visits to the Confraternities of Charity.
Marguerite Naseau, a woman from the countryside, learned that volunteers were caring for sick and impoverished people through the Confraternities of Charity in Paris. She heard Vincent preaching and shared her desire to render such charitable services.(11) Perceiving that this encounter held a seed of great value, Vincent sent Marguerite to Louise de Marillac, now his collaborator. Louise formed the women who desired to commit themselves to be servants of the sick poor, and Marguerite became the first Servant of the Sick Poor. Together, Marguerite, Louise, Vincent, and the first sisters planted the seeds of mission, which developed into the Company of the Daughters of Charity in 1633. The Ladies of Charity of the Hôtel-Dieu was the next foundation established in Paris in 1634.
As a Catholic priest and man of action, Vincent de Paul proclaimed the word of God like seeds sown in the hearts of his listeners awaiting their moment of grace.(12) For persons in need, Vincent was generous and practical. His benevolence included “money, food, clothing, medicine, tools, seed for sowing, and other necessities to sustain life.”(13) A master of dialogue and diplomacy, Vincent responded to the grace of the moment, believing that God speaks through events, encounters, persons, and sometimes grains of millet.(14)
Elizabeth Seton used the image of sowing “the little mustard seed” in reference to her own Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.(15) She reminded the women that “Every good work…we do is a grain of seed for eternal life.”(16) In a meditation comparing heaven to a mustard seed, Louise de Marillac wrote, “I am “well aware that this seed contains great strength within itself, both in its capacity to multiply and in the quality it gives to everything that is seasoned with it.”(17) Her deep desire was that the “seed may grow to its full perfection.”(18) Vincent would have certainly affirmed the important role of each person in collaborating to plant and nurture seeds of the mission to flourish.
Believe me, there is nothing like being faithful and persevering for the greater good once we have committed ourselves. May we be faithful to the mission of DePaul University in following the “way of wisdom.”(19) Let us be persons of integrity who honor the dignity and humanity of everyone, and let us embrace our responsibilities to one another and the common good. The result will be that we shall grow in virtue and God’s grace as the tiny grain of mustard seed grows into a large shrub over time.(20) I pray that the DePaul University community collaborates to transform society—to eliminate racism and eradicate oppression—so that mutual respect, justice, compassion, and peace may prevail for all people.
How familiar am I with the energy of seeds? Their potential? What seeds have I planted? Nurtured? Harvested?
How sensitive am I to inner prompts that invite me to reflect on and recognize the veiled wisdom in unplanned events and providential encounters?
What helps me realize that an event or comment contains a powerful seed of hope or truth? How do I acknowledge its presence? How willing am I to respond by taking practical action?
As a member of the DePaul University community, what seeds would I like to plant? Seeds of hope? Seeds of equity? Seeds of respect? How could I nurture the growth of more seeds of the mission?
View the Seeds of the Mission Campaign Postscript
1) Genesis 1:11-12.
2) Louis Abelly, The Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Vols. 1-3 (Vincentian Studies Institute, 1993), 2:31. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/abelly_english/4
3) Ad Gentes, §15. See: http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651207_ad-gentes_en.html
4) Luke 8:11.
5) Cooked millet has a fluffy texture and slightly nutty flavor. See Conference 13, Imitating the Virtues of Village Girls, 25 January 1643, CCD, 9:70. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/coste_en/
6) Ibid., 73-4.
7) Abelly, Life, 1:61.
8) Conference 23, Maxims of Saint Vincent, “Order in the Service of Charity,” CCD, 12:383.
9) Document 1248, Foundation of the Charity in Châtlllon-Les-Dombes, 23 August 1617, CCD, 13b:3.
10) A2, Light, in Louise Sullivan, Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac (New York: New City Press, 1991), 1. At: https://via.library.depaul.edu/ldm/11/
11) Conference 24, Love of Vocation and Assistance to the Poor, 13 February 1646, CCD, 9: 194; Conference 12, The Virtues of Marguerite Naseau, [July 1642], CCD, 9:64-6.
12) Abelly, Life, 2:99.
13) Cf. Ibid., 1:204.
14) Letter 704, To Bernard Codoing, 16 March 1644, CCD, 2:499.
15) 7.117, Elizabeth Ann Seton to Antonio Filicchi, 16 September 1817, in Regina Bechtle, S.C., and Judith Metz, S.C., eds., Ellin M. Kelly, mss. ed., Elizabeth Bayley Seton Collected Writings, 3 vols. (New City Press: New York, 2000-2006), 2:508. See: https://via.library.depaul.edu/seton_lcd/
16) 10.2, Red Leather Notebook, Maxims, Ibid., 3a:488.
17) A.37, “Heaven Compared to a Mustard Seed,” in Sullivan, Spiritual Writings, 803.
19) Proverbs 4:11.
20) Conference 162, Repetition of Prayer, 19 November 1656, CCD, 11:346.
Reflection by: Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry
“My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, “God is my God” … Therefore, I cannot help communicating with you this evening to ask you to assist me to profit from this excess of joy…”1
The ups and downs of the election season and the continued uncertainty that lingers regarding the state of our nation and a public health crisis make evident to us that unless we want to ride an emotional rollercoaster, we need to find a deeper, steadier, and more sustainable source of joy.
As quoted above from a letter to Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac found a source for such resilient joy in the ongoing presence of her God. From her Christian imagination and faith, she spoke with confidence of a belief that even in moments of loss and hardship, there is always the possibility of new life and resurrected hope. This way of making meaning offered her the possibility of a resilient joy that sustained her generative life of service and charity.2
What about you? Where do you seek and find a joy that is not dependent on the daily fluctuations of your external environment, such as the post-election results or COVID numbers, or the inevitably temperamental nature of human emotions and thoughts?
As I have aged, I’ve come to realize that much of the quality of my life is about learning how to live with loss. Whether the loss of a loved one to death, the loss of an idealistic dream or well-designed plan, the loss of a favorite sports team, or even the loss of my hair, losses can sting and leave us flustered, sad, angry, and off-balance. Furthermore, there is often a tendency to turn that hurt or sadness inward on ourselves in the form of self-critique or self-loathing, or outward onto others with blame and judgment. Handling loss like this does not lead to the kind of meaningful joy that Louise speaks of and we desire. Such joy will only come with a willingness to accept what we cannot change or control, to accept reality as it is, even if we would rather it be different.
Staring reality in the face, might we find joy simply in knowing that we can begin again from where we now are? Life offers us an infinite number of opportunities to begin again and ultimately reach our goals. There is joy to be found in re-discovering our freedom and creativity, in finding new ways to shine a light amidst darkness, and in being generative despite uncertainty or difficulty.
I suspect that this is what Louise de Marillac discovered, that with God’s help, the human spirit is resilient and will always rise again.
2) For more on the overflowing joy and generativity of Louise’s life, see: Vie Thorgren, “‘God is My God’: The Generative Integrity of Louise de Marillac,” Vincentian Heritage 12:2 (1991), 201-18. Available at: https://via.library.depaul.edu/vhj/vol12/iss2/7
Reflection by: Mark Laboe, Associate VP, Division of Mission and Ministry
Join us this coming Wednesday!
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
Noon to 1 pm
The DePaul community is invited to join the College of Communication and the Division of Mission & Ministry for a lunchtime workshop devoted to gratitude practices. Research indicates that cultivating a sense of gratitude in our lives protects us from stress and depression and increases resiliency. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is the perfect time to come learn some new approaches to feeling and expressing gratitude. Click here to register for Gratitude Workshop.
The Vincentian Studies Institute is extremely pleased to promote the publication of our colleague and fellow board member’s new work. Dr. Brejon de Lavergnée is a Professor of History and the Dennis H. Holtschneider Chair of Vincentian Studies at DePaul University.
“The Daughters of Charity are today the largest community of Catholic women, with 15,000 sisters in about 100 countries. They devote their lives to serving the poorest in hospitals, schools, and care centers for homeless or migrants, as well as working to promote social justice. Until now, however, the history of the Daughters of Charity has been almost wholly neglected. The opening of their central archives, combined with access to many public and private archives, has finally allowed this to be remedied.
This volume, the fruit of several years’ work, covers the history of the Company from its foundation by Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac as a confraternity of young women to the suppression of the order during the French Revolution. The study, at the juncture of women’s history and religious history, shows how much the Daughters of Charity contributed to the emergence of a new and ambiguous status in post-Tridentine society: neither cloistered nuns nor married women, but “seculars.” The Company has certainly offered a framework that enabled many resolute women to lead lives out of the ordinary, taking young peasant women to the royal court, intrepid hearts to Poland, and, more generally, generous souls to the “martyrdom of charity” among the poor and the ill.”
The DePaul University Vincentian Studies Institute is pleased to announce the publication of our newest peer-reviewed e-book edition of Vincentian Heritage (Volume 35, Number 2).
Of note, this edition includes a significant new translation, never before published, of Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet’s testimony on the virtuous life of Vincent de Paul. The document, at one time thought lost, follows after those prepared for the canonization process and offers insight from a man who knew the saint during his life. The book also advances our new design and features the following articles:
“Pa, Ma, and Fa: Private Lives of Nineteenth-Century American Vincentians,” by John E. Rybolt, C.M., Ph.D.
“Bishop John Timon, C.M., Sisters of Charity Hospital, and the Cholera Epidemic of 1849,” by Dennis Castillo, Ph.D.
“Elizabeth Ann Seton’s Vision of Ecological Community. Based on Elizabeth Bayley Seton: Collected Writings, Volume Two,” by Sung-Hae Kim, S.C.
“BOSSUET: Testimony Concerning the Life and the Eminent Virtues of Monsieur Vincent de Paul (1702),” Translation and additional annotation by Edward R. Udovic, C.M., Ph.D.
In many ways, we are living in uncertain times. As a country, some people are anxious and uncertain about when the results of this year’s presidential and congressional races will be known. As a university, many of us are entering our eighth month of working from home as a result of the pandemic with no idea how much longer this may last. As individuals, some of us may also be facing other personal challenges with uncertain outcomes.
What can we do when we are faced with all this uncertainty?
Consider Louise de Marillac, who turned to her faith. Reflecting during a retreat, she wrote, “I must accept this uncertainty as well as my inability clearly to perceive at this time the path which God wishes me to follow in His service.”1 When faced with challenges, Louise realized that she could not always see where and when those challenges would end, and how she could overcome them. As a Catholic-Christian in seventeenth-century France, she put her faith and trust in God, who she believed to have planned a path for her life. She accepted that she could only do so much, and she believed God would take care of the rest.
What lessons can you take away from Louise’s approach to uncertain times? How might you translate her wisdom to your own life and belief system? When thinking about the uncertainty of life right now, who can you trust or believe in that will help you on your journey, wherever it may lead?
Louise de Marillac once noted that “hunger and thirst are two urgent needs of nature, especially in strong bodies… If our souls are healthy, they should have the same urges, not as passions, but as desires for justice.”1 Louise was suggesting that in the same way our bodies need food and water to be healthy, our souls are only healthy when we are living in and working towards a just society. More specifically, this desire for justice is an ongoing, long-term pursuit. The need is not just a quick “passion” or trend, but something at the core of who we are as human beings.
Yet, as strong as our internal conviction to create a just society may be, none of us can do it alone. It takes a community working together for the sake of a common mission to create systemic change. Our personal desire for justice will only be effective if we use it to support and collaborate with others, and in turn lean on them to support us. It is in “this spirit of support and adaptation […] we would regard the interest of others as our own! And with the strong sustaining the weak, everything would go better.”2
How are you nourishing your soul’s desire for justice? How are you supporting and collaborating with others in your community to create change? How can your community support you?
1) A.30, (Meditation on the Hunger and Thirst for Justice), Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac, 733.
2) 1910, To Étienne Blatiron, Superior, In Genoa, September 1655, CCD, 5:423.
Michael Van Dorpe, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Engagement, Mission & Ministry
When John Lewis was diagnosed with fourth stage pancreatic cancer back in December, I was shaken. My unsettled spirit at this news was, in part, caused from a flood of memories around the same news my family had received about my father years earlier. Another cause of my unrest came in recognizing that another good man was entering into the battle of his life knowing full well that this battle could not be won. And, I was distraught because our country needed John Lewis, the “conscience of Congress.” News of Representative Lewis’ illness deeply affected me just as the news of his death now haunts me.
And so, I find myself pondering a great man whose life and legacy are gifts to our world that simply cannot be forgotten. John Lewis is known as a hero, a Civil Rights champion, an activist, a man of God, a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. These titles (and so many others) and the tireless work that inspires such titles help paint the picture of a talented and dedicated man who spent six decades in service to humanity. But, there is another title that Mr. Lewis most likely never knew but one that most certainly suits him well. John Lewis was a Vincentian.
The work of Vincentian leaders is always grounded in something far beyond themselves. For Vincent, his work was a matter of answering a call from Divine Providence. As St. Vincent entered into that call and followed, he was able to find the strength and confidence to tackle the daunting ministry before him. This same confidence and strength that John Lewis found in his work came from his deep and abiding faith. In a 2004 interview about his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Lewis spoke boldly of the importance faith played as the Movement unfolded: The [Civil Rights] movement was built on deep-seated religious convictions, and the movement grew out of a sense of faith — faith in God and faith in one’s fellow human beings… Without our faith, without the spirit and spiritual bearings and underpinning, we would not have been so successful. Without prayer, without faith in the Almighty, the civil rights movement would have been like a bird without wings.” It was a deep seated faith that carried John Lewis through dozens and dozens of physical beatings and even more political struggles. It was an unfaltering faith in God’s goodness that surely gave Mr. Lewis the courage and will to continue speaking out and working for justice up until his dying days.
“God allows us to give rise to the practice of two beautiful virtues: perseverance, which leads us to attain the goal, and constancy, which helps us to overcome difficulties.” —St. Vincent de Paul
Like John Lewis, St. Louise de Marillac encountered and overcame many challenges while always practicing and encouraging great kindness and goodness: “Our vocation of servants of the poor calls us to practice the gentleness, humility and forbearance that we owe to others. We must respect and honor everyone.” Louise de Marillac and John Lewis humbly reached out to people of all walks of life, listening to their stories and opinions, and acting in ways that honored them. In Mr. Lewis’ case, he even asked blessings upon those who brutally beat him. His commitment to honoring the dignity of others can be seen in a statement he made following President Obama’s decision to endorse same-sex marriage: “Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.” Representative Lewis began his work as a young man fighting for rights of the Black community but his lifetime work was dedicated to fighting for the rights of all people. He did so in all humility and kindness, loving his neighbors, and never giving up in his fight for justice.
“The question which is agitating the world today is a social one. It is a struggle between those who have nothing and those who have too much. It is a violent clash of opulence and poverty which is shaking the ground under our feet. Our duty…is to throw ourselves between these two camps in order to accomplish by love, what justice alone cannot do.”— Frederic Ozanam
DePaul University describes its distinguishing marks as, “Motivated by the example of Saint Vincent, who instilled a love of God by leading his contemporaries in serving urgent human needs, … characterized by ennobling the God-given dignity of each person…. manifested by… a sensitivity to and care for the needs of each other and of those served, with a special concern for the deprived members of society.” These distinguised marks of our DePaul community could easily be a summation of the life and legacy of John Lewis. He was a man of God who dedicated his life to serving urgent human needs, ennobling the dignity of all, and with a deep concern for the marginalized and deprived members of our society. John Lewis truly was a man who exemplified the hallmarks of our Vincentian community. Claiming John Lewis as a Vincentian in spirit, word, and deed seems very fitting, indeed.
As with all our Vincentian models in life, we are left with a gift and a call from Representative Lewis who was never satisfied with simply accepting the status quo. His life and now his legacy become a call to each of us to continue the hard work in which he engaged and encouraged in us. As Vincentians we do not sit on our laurels but we continue to push forward, always recognizing that there is much to be done in our woeful world. The spirits of St. Vincent, St. Louise, Elizabeth Seaton, Frederic Ozanam, and John Lewis inspire us today to continue the important work of seeking justice and pouring love into the world. We honor John Lewis and all our Vincentian ancestors when we follow the example and heed the words of Representative Lewis:
“So you have a moral obligation, a mission and a mandate, to speak up, speak out and get in good trouble… You can do it. You must do it. Not just for yourselves but for generations yet unborn.”—John Lewis
As we honor a great man who fought many battles through life, we know what must be done: let’s go make some good trouble!
Rev. Dr. Diane R. S. Dardón, ELCA Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care, Director
“Providence must call us and we must follow it, if we are to go forward confidently.”Vincent de Paul (Volume: 3 | Page#: 538) To Rene Almeras, Superior, In Rome, 4 February, 1650.
A unique benefit of membership in a Vincentian institution is that we belong to a large global family who participate in and lead acts of service and justice every day. Such actions are manifest in a vast array of social, educational, and religious undertakings. Depending upon their context and geographical location these endeavors may look quite different, but they share a common Vincentian mission to uphold the dignity of all persons, particularly those on the margins of society. This mission is enhanced by responding to the signs of the times and drawing upon the wisdom of a rich 400-year-old legacy.
A recent article highlighting the fieldwork of the Daughters of Charity in East Africa illuminates this dynamic.1 Established in 1927, the Daughters of Charity in Ethiopia are almost entirely composed of Ethiopian sisters. During the last two decades, through their keen reading of the social landscape and interpreting the signs of the times, the Daughters have reimagined their model of service and engagement. As a result, they have moved away from programs that simply provide goods to alleviate need, to programs that engender economic empowerment and skill-building.
Examples include the St. Louise Women’s Empowerment Project which runs a six-month skill-training program in Mekelle that incorporates a sewing program and a cooking preparation class. Over ninety percent of the more than two thousand women who have graduated from this program now have jobs or are self-employed. In Addis Ababa, the Daughters Urban Development Project also focuses on women’s empowerment by coordinating economic support and training to start up or expand small businesses. Through economic empowerment, such programs are forging pathways for the participation of women in all areas of Ethiopian civil society. This is in keeping with Louise de Marillac’s vision. “Louise lamented the lack of opportunity of women and the abuses and deprivations of young girls and adult women [was to be] a priority work of the Daughters if the social and moral conditions for women were to be improved.”2
As members of the DePaul community in Chicago learning about the continuing efforts of our global Vincentian family to uphold the dignity of those who have traditionally been denied the right to fully participate in society, how do you interpret the signs of the times today? To what action might Vincentian wisdom be calling you to advance justice? How will you respond?
“I felt interiorly moved freely to place myself in a disposition of total availability…” – Louise de Marillac. A.5, (Retreat), c. 1632, Spiritual Writings, 715.
A woman entered a church in a large city. Anxious and uncertain about her future, she sought a few moments of peace, and perhaps a hint of clarity. Taking her place amidst still surroundings, she closed her eyes and began to interlace words and images into the form of prayer. She was comfortable in the familiar ritual, gradually feeling calm restored to her spirit as she gently drew nearer to God—a power greater than her own anxieties. Attentive to what stirred within her heart during this quiet time, the woman had a vision. A moment when her mind was instantly freed of all doubt. She received a glimpse of her future and knew that her deepest desire would someday be realized.
The woman at prayer that day went by the name of Madame le Gras, but she is better known to history, and to us at DePaul, as Saint Louise de Marillac. The vision she experienced led her to understand that her greatest desire would be fulfilled, and that she would someday live in a community spending her life serving the poor. Upon leaving the church that day in 1623, Louise immediately wrote about what she called her “Lumiere” (or Enlightening) experience. She carried this description with her always so that she would never forget the grace of that moment, and the peace and purpose it provided her.
Almost 400 years separate Louise and her Lumiere from us today. But, like Louise, we too know periods of anxiety and confusion, as well as times of great peace and clarity of purpose. We harbor hopes for what the future could be for ourselves and for the world.
Perhaps today we can be like Louise, make a calm space around and inside of us, and devote a few moments to silent meditation or prayer. We can use this quiet time to begin to listen for the voice within and to pay attention to the desires of our heart. What may they be telling us? Maybe, like Louise, we can make this time of contemplation a regular habit to help us meet the challenges of the day, as well as to discover the grace and peace that await.
Tom Judge, Chaplain, Division of Mission & Ministry