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
Minister Jené Colvin
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care Team
Division of Mission & Ministry
You ever say a word enough times or write it enough times that it doesn’t seem like a word anymore? (It’s called semantic satiation by the way. My spouse told me. It helps to be married to someone as nerdy as you are.) Then there are the times we use a term or concept so broadly and so sweepingly that it loses its weight and true meaning. “Community” can sometimes be one of those words. “Systems” sometimes loses its impact because we treat it like salt, instead of the right herb or spice for the conversation. This is all just leading up to one big disclaimer: I’m going to use these terms, but I actually mean them.
Today, we are reflecting on Saint Louise’s lifetime of work to create and change systems for the improvement of people’s lives. Today’s theme is “sustained” because we wanted to talk about how Louise was able to remain dedicated to transforming the world. I had a whole reflection written out about how social justice and self-care are not a dichotomy (don’t worry, I’ll still get into that a little bit). And then I re-read today’s quote from Louise: “The greater the work, the more important it is to establish it on a solid foundation. Thus, it will not only be more perfect, it will also be more lasting.”
I am convinced that the foundation is people.
Even when we acknowledge that taking care of ourselves can often be a matter of access and social-systemic bias rather than individual discipline, we are still left with the question of “how?” How in the world do I keep trying to change the world and not burn out before I am halfway through my life? In everything good we try to do, people are our greatest asset.
Two weeks ago, I attended a virtual birthday party for one of my best friends. Her partner wanted to make sure she was celebrated in a way she truly deserved, despite the fact that we couldn’t gather in person. But, right on brand for her, she spent time during her own birthday party elevating the work her friends were doing. She said, “Everything you need is in this [room]!” Finally, she made sure we had everyone’s receipts and contact information before we all left that virtual space. Jade T. Perry is one of my people. And I am sustained by her.
Even though we’re not in the office, I’ve knocked on my co-workers’ virtual doors for ideas, advice, and help in processing things more times than I can count. There are more than twenty-five faithful, praying, laughter-filled, loving, snack-, resource-, and time-sharing people in Mission and Ministry. They are my people. I am sustained by them.
When I was in high school, my sisters and I started throwing gumbo parties. Everyone would bring one or two ingredients. We all ate, and no one had to break the bank. It’s a practice I’ve repeated over the years. No one judges what someone else chooses to purchase from the list, and everyone eats until they are full. Our friends are always our family, our people. And we have been sustained by them over and over again.
Min. Candace Simpson has a vision she calls “Fish Sandwich Heaven.” It’s a play on the miracle where Jesus feeds the multitude with a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish from a little boy in that multitude. In her sermon, A Packed Lunch, she helps us imagine how much can be done when people are generous with their “extra bread.” She is one of my people. And I am sustained by her.
When I thought my life was unraveling beyond repair, that I couldn’t come close to doing what I felt like I was supposed to in life—basically when I was Louise right before the lumière kicked in—people were present with me through it, and people helped me to the next stage. Community has sustained me.
The best work we do is not when we pour out of ourselves until we are empty or until we are dead. Our best work happens in community, where there is reciprocity and a consensual exchange of resources, ideas, and love. Our best work happens when we believe there is actually enough. There is enough time. There is enough for everyone to have what they need. There is enough sun to shine on all of us. There is enough trust and enough stage and enough accolade. There is enough to barter. There is enough to give some away. There is enough help. There is enough opportunity. That is, if we trust that people are our greatest asset: people who share and are shared with.
Every creative way around oppressive systems is found in the connections formed and strengthened between people. It’s the very reason so many systems that we have to fight in the first place stratify or separate us from each other or force us back together without realizing that unity is not sameness.
Saint Louise is heralded as the patron saint of social workers. Social work is a wide-ranging field that addresses everything from the most basic of human needs to advocacy for policy that supports the improvement of our living conditions. More often than not, it’s done by sustaining and improving our connections to each other and the resources we share with each other.
Some of the best wisdom from Saint Louise comes from the letters she wrote to people she was connected to and cared about or who cared about her: her community. Communities are systems. They are not inherently good or bad. Good ones, though, are absolutely necessary and foundational to our work to both impact the world and survive it. Communities can be spaces for creativity and for minding the gaps harmful systems create. Communities can be where people find sustainable care when individual actions and consumption are not enough. See, I told you I’d get around to self-care and social justice.
Conversations about sustaining our ability to engage with and change society very often (and rightly) include conversations about our wellness. This always reminds me of three things: 1) The Audre Lorde quote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”; 2) The Nap Ministry’s quote “Justice looks like a place to rest”; and 3) Deanna Zandt’s comic about self-soothing, self-care, community care, and structural care.
May you, as I believe Louise did, find good people for a just, solid, and long-lasting foundation for transforming our world.
Joyana Jacoby Dvorak
Associate Director Vincentian Service & Formation Team
Division of Mission & Ministry
All I really wanted to do was go dig for worms with my kids. I couldn’t tolerate having another Zoom meeting, creating another VoiceThread presentation, or developing a new virtual event. During a Zoom session with my class, my two-year-old spilled smoothie all over both of us. Yup. This is life right now—real messy! I’d hit my coronavirus wall. I had fallen into a pattern of pretending that I could still carry on with life and work as usual, even though I am now a kindergarten teacher, daycare provider, remote staff and faculty member experiencing my first-ever pandemic.
I found myself especially uninspired to envision an important project—you guessed it—Louise Week 2020! A few weeks ago, I was excited to elevate Louise’s celebration, something that is long overdue. In the midst of being overwhelmed by all things coronavirus, I found myself suddenly paralyzed by old scripts that “it wouldn’t be good enough” to honor the legacy of a woman who has shaped my Vincentian heart so profoundly.
So, I went and dug for worms and then I did something that is really hard for me to do. I put out a plea for help. I got Louise de Marillac’s biggest fans together on Microsoft Teams! Over the course of an hour we laughed, cried, clapped, cheered, and we all pulled out our personal copies of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac. (Yes, we literally grabbed that book from our shelves before leaving DePaul for quarantine!)
We told 400-year-old stories of Louise that resonated deeply with our current struggle. Louise knew what it was like to live through plagues. Her charisma was born from overcoming her struggles. I forgot that we were connecting over Microsoft Teams and felt real connection. We began to remember the best of who we are, and in so doing, we began to honor our dear Louise. I remembered the power of a small group of women. I began to feel I could carry on.
Louise de Marillac was a woman who empowered other women. She formed a community out of the poorest of the poor, creating home for them. She invited young peasant women from rural France into her personal space. She saw their potential, taught them to read and write, and equipped them to make change in their communities. This kind of hospitality was unprecedented during her time, and because of the community she formed, she created whole new opportunities that had never existed for women in society at the time.
Louise knew community was the only way forward. Her final spiritual testament reminds the Daughters of Charity to “live together in great union and cordiality.” She tells her sisters often to “encourage one another.” The word encourage comes from the Old French encoragier—“make strong, hearten.” It means “to inspire with courage, spirit, hope.” Louise knew what she was asking her community to do was not easy and that they would need each other and courage in their hearts.
Now more than ever, I count on my sacred circles of women, my mama tribes, my colleagues, and my students to encourage me. I need them to remind me that it’s ok to not be ok, that my best is going to look different now, that I am enough, that I am loved even when I’m a mess. Sometimes these messages even come in virtual post-it notes from authors like Brené Brown, who reminds us: “Hitting the wall is real. Hard days suck. There is nothing wrong with us. We’re going to be ok.” Today, the best way to honor Louise is to do what she did 400 years ago—put courage into one another’s hearts and remember we have each other!
Vincentian Service & Formation Team
Division of Mission & Ministry
When my daughter gets older and asks me to recount life in a time of COVID-19, I will tell her about the day last week when we played in the courtyard in front of our building. Every time a neighbor walked outside, she would pick a dandelion, run toward them saying, “Hi!” and try to hand them the flower. All the while, I gently held her back. I will share my fear that social distancing would severely impact her development—that it would teach her to fear the close contact of others or make her too dependent on screens for social interaction, that it might create a stunted understanding of community.
I will share with her the frustration and anger that bubbled up in the face of social inequity, the disregard of science and human life, the apparent inability to mobilize to get safety equipment to grocery store workers, public transit drivers, medical professionals, and hospital janitorial staff.
I will tell her that the word COVID, in a word, was resilience.
When all this began, I prepared myself for the trauma of these times. I expected to be inundated with news of COVID-related tragedy and prepared my spirit accordingly. What I did not expect was to grieve a perfectly normal, non-COVID death. Five weeks into quarantine, my father-in-law died from undetected bone cancer.
Since then, my husband and I have been navigating a complex, confusing state of mourning. We cannot fly to Washington to be with family or ritualize his passing. We cannot gather in person with our community to receive hugs or share memories. We cannot ask friends to babysit our little one so that we can take some time to simply be sad with one another. The lakefront, our church, and the coffee shop that brings us comfort down the street are all closed; and, we are living each day within the walls that carry our grief.
The plans we made to face the unknown at the onset of shelter-in-place are now completely out the window. We are learning a new kind of resilience.
This experience has prompted me to think about Louise and her journey. Louise experienced an incredible amount of grief and disappointment throughout her life. She was rejected by her family, deprived of her education when her father died, and denied her dream to become a Dominican nun. Although she felt marriage was not her calling, she entered into an arranged marriage. Her son had developmental issues that she did not have the resources to understand. Her husband grew incredibly ill, and she cared for him through his death.
Nothing in Louise’s early life went the way she planned; and yet, she remained resilient. This resilience equipped her to shatter the barriers that blocked her path.
Louise saw the needs of the world and responded in radically creative ways. In a society that offered only two options for women—marriage or cloistered religious life—Louise forged a new way. The Daughters of Charity were the first religious women to be out in the world, unconfined by convent walls, serving people on the streets. Oral history tells us that Louise “misplaced” the letter from the Vatican mandating that the Daughters should be a cloistered order.
Seeing that the Vincentian family understood the reality of those who were poor and marginalized, Louise bucked tradition and had the Daughters make their vows to the Vincentians, not to the Vatican. To this day, instead of making lifelong vows Daughters renew theirs annually.
In the face of a broken class system, Louise welcomed women from peasant families into her home, taught them how to read, and recognized the gifts that they could offer the community. This was unheard of for a woman of social class and means.
Louise’s faith and creativity made her open to new possibilities.
We are all learning new ways to foster resilience. Whether coping with feelings of isolation or weathering economic hardship or grieving the illness or death of a loved one, we’re forced to remind ourselves day after day that we can do hard things. And within these hard things, there is an opportunity to vision a world that has never existed before.
When this time of pandemic is over, our call as Vincentians will not be to return to life as usual. It will be to build the world we dream is possible.
A world that values people over profits and sees healthcare as an essential human right.
A world committed to healing our ailing planet instead of returning to fossil fuel dependence.
A world where neighbors delight in one another’s presence and know each other’s names.
In the midst of the unknown, we all have an opportunity to tap into our inner Louise, to build a sense of resilient creativity. Let us dream of the way the world could be, and give those dreams life in the face of hard times.
Minister Jené Colvin
Religious Diversity & Pastoral Care Team
Division of Mission & Ministry
We have a confession. In planning for this week to honor St. Louise de Marillac today’s theme was “The Many Hats of Louise.” We wanted to focus on the wisdom we could glean from Louise in having to manage all the different roles in her life. She was a mother, a wife, a widow, a teacher, an organizer, a founder, a visionary, an innovator…you get my point. We love St. Louise. The list of adjectives and nouns that rejoice in her legacy are endless. Sometimes, though, when all the words used to describe Louise are listed together, it can be easy to forget she was not all those things all at once. Some of those descriptors do not overlap at all in her life’s story. Even those of us whose job it is to know Louise well enough to share her legacy with the rest of the DePaul community must remember that her descriptors reflect a journey rather than an ingredient list. Not all of those “hats” fit her indefinitely. Not all of them were worn at the same time.
When presented with all the things Louise was and still is to us today, we may think about all the things we are asked to be, the hats we are asked to wear. Student, worker, babysitter, teacher, parent, partner, child to parents who may or may not understand us, faithful member of a community we’ve always been a part of, leader, activist, artist, and so on. When we have so much to do, accomplish, and live up to, we may question how to care for ourselves while juggling our lives. How do I stay healthy and still show up? What wisdom do I rely upon to manage it all?
How did Louise balance it all? How do I balance it all? What if the answer is actually…don’t? Don’t balance it ALL. Hear me out.
Before “shelter-in-place” became an urgent, life-saving call, our lives and identities were arranged across different groups of people, offices, classrooms, organizations, and times of day. Most of us have had to jam all these pieces of our lives into a single living space. Instead of being in an office, parents are home laughing (and sometimes scoffing) at the idea of an uninterrupted hour. Some of us are far from friends who tenderly love our secrets. Some of us must do schoolwork and teach siblings. Some of us are just exhausted by how distressing this all is. Some of us are grieving behind computer screens instead of gathering with family. Some of us were already struggling. Instead of anything being new, it’s just more intense. Rather than being able to prepare, neatly pack, and sort out our lives so that we could social distance effectively, we had to stuff it all in one box, in a hurry. That’s hard.
Not all your hats will fit right now. That’s ok. Maybe you can still switch between hats but can’t wear them as long or as often as before. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s not a lack of effort or will. It’s not a lack of dedication or drive. It is true that Louise was many things. She was all those things at different points in her life, to different degrees of completion, success, and peace. She failed sometimes. She was frustrated. She struggled, hard. Yesterday we focused on Louise’s lumière moment. Life changing revelatory moments don’t usually happen when everything is “fine.”
So, if you really want to glean something from the many hats Louise wore, ask yourself this:
How can I gently and with deep compassion love the parts of myself that are shaken and tender right now?
Which hats can I set aside for a while and which ones can I wear, without shame, until others or new ones fit?
What do I need to create the breathing room to ask myself, without shame, “Which hat for right now?”
How can I give myself space for the hat that does not produce the most, but helps return me to center?
Two of my favorite hats are “lover of tea” and “mother to many houseplants.” I adore being a minister. It’s been one of the greatest joys of my life. Yet, there are days I feel like I have to prune and replant for three hours all while drinking grapefruit oolong tea. I can do that, and then spend an additional hour kicking myself for not wearing the “minister” hat longer…or I can accept those three hours as a hat I desperately needed to wear.
The other hats will still be there. The ones that won’t, well, maybe as Louise found, it was time for a new one anyway.
Look at this woman in motion. As her spry steps fade, did you sense a breeze from the alacrity of her brisk and cheerful readiness? Yes, “We’ve seen this beautiful portrait.”(1) We recognize Louise de Marillac, friend and collaborator of Saint Vincent de Paul. Why do we still reminisce about her 360 years, or to be exact 131,490 days, after her death on 15 March 1660?
Working amid natural disasters, refugee crises, and public health catastrophes, Louise spoke candidly to those with whom she worked. “Who are we to think that we should be exempt from public evils?”(2) She instructed them not to “be impatient with…trials;” to acknowledge that they “will see a great amount of misery” among people which they cannot relieve.(3) Louise urged solidarity—“share their trials” and do whatever is possible “to provide them with a little assistance and remain at peace.”(4)
When circumstances separated Louise from her associates, she sought to be “creative to infinity,” not by sending tweets, but through friendly, hand-written messages.(5) For example, she wrote “I did not want to lose the opportunity to assure all of you that physical separation does not prevent spiritual presence among persons…united” by the bonds of a common mission.(6) Louise understood the difficulty of social distance, and the value of emotional connection for necessary mutual support. Those who knew Louise said that her life was “a mirror in which we have only to look at ourselves” for inspiration.(7) In probing her legacy, we discover the values that fueled her “thirst for justice.”(8)
Louise never knew her mother. She suffered heartache from family rejection. As wife and mother in an arranged marriage, she knew the pain of family conflict. As a widow she discovered God’s call to serve impoverished persons through home nursing, organized charity, educational opportunities, care for abandoned infants, and mentoring women to carry out the mission of the Daughters of Charity, which she, Vincent, and the first sisters developed together. We honor Saint Louise de Marillac, Patron of Social Workers, on her feast day of May 9.
In what ways could I help someone feel understood, connected, supported, and appreciated?
During our time of social distancing due to COVID-19, how could I promote mutual support—emotional care, solidarity, presence, and justice among us? How could I help others to feel less isolated?
119, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 24 July 1660, CCD, 10:582.
L.353, To Sister Barbe Angiboust, (11 June 1652), Spiritual Writings, 396.
102, Vincent de Paul’s Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.
118, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 3 July 1660, CCD, 10:577.
A.30, (Meditation on the Hunger and Thirst for Justice), Spiritual Writings, 734.
Betty Ann McNeil, D.C., Vincentian Scholar-in-Residence, Division of Mission and Ministry
Mission and Ministry Honors Louise de Marillac on the week of her Feast Day
The Division of Mission and Ministry honors Saint Louise de Marillac during this week leading up to her feast day (May 9th) with daily reflections on Louise’s living legacy: Sign up here for daily emails this week, which will invite you to reflect on the relevance of Louise’s wisdom for today.
For more on Louise de Marillac, see these resources: