Reflection, Day Two: The Many Hats of Louise

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.

Louise de Marillac Advises Mutual Support

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 supportemotional care, solidarity, presence, and justice among us? How could I help others to feel less isolated?

  1. 119, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 24 July 1660, CCD, 10:582.
  2. L.353, To Sister Barbe Angiboust, (11 June 1652), Spiritual Writings, 396.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. 102, Vincent de Paul’s Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.
  6. L.628B, “To Sister Françoise Carcireux,” 15 September 1659, Spiritual Writings, 647.
  7. 118, The Virtues of Louise de Marillac, 3 July 1660, CCD, 10:577.
  8. A.30, (Meditation on the Hunger and Thirst for Justice), Spiritual Writings, 734.


Reflection by:

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:

Reflection, Day One: The Life and Times of Louise de Marillac

Gracie Covarrubias
Admission Counselor, Office of Undergraduate Admission
DePaul Class of 2017

It has been over 400 years since Louise de Marillac last stepped foot on this earth, and we’ve spent each of those years retracing her steps in an effort to better understand and emulate one of the most formative leaders in Vincentian family history. Louise’s life path is anything but linear, in fact if you were to draw it out you would quickly find that there are enough twists and turns to discourage and stop the everyday person dead in their tracks. But not Louise; despite the cards she was dealt, she persisted and pivoted to work towards her calling of serving others. Each story I’ve heard about Louise has unearthed another layer of her that draws me in closer. I’ve learned that the phrase, “To know her is to love her and to love her is to know her” suits Louise well. My hope is that as we share the story of Louise’s life you will get to know and love her a bit more than you did before, and that you will learn a bit more about yourself in the process.

Louise’s life is shared in four acts, each one detailing defining moments of her story. After each act, I invite you to answer the reflective questions and think back on your own life story.

Act I: Louise’s Early Years

On August 12th, 1591, Louise de Marillac was born just outside of Paris. She was the daughter of Louis de Marillac and born out of wedlock. Louise never knew her mother—a circumstance that made her illegitimate by societal standards and marked her with a metaphorical scarlet letter of sorts. Although her father raised her, she was never quite accepted by her family in the way we yearn to belong. At just three months old, she was placed in the care of the Dominican Sisters of Poissy with an aunt. This eventually led to Louise having access to a formative education. She studied at the convent and learned art, literature, and philosophy. Unfortunately, when Louise’s dad died, she was sent to a boarding school to learn “practical skills” for a woman. During this time, you had two options: either become a religious sister or marry. Our girl wanted to be a sister. Louise felt called to live a life in service to something bigger than herself. However, in the summer of 1612 when she turned 21, she was rejected by the Capuchin convent due to her family background and her health. This left Louise absolutely CRUSHED. Can you imagine having the biggest dream you’ve worked tirelessly towards taken from you because you couldn’t check off some boxes on a list? That was the startling realization facing Louise at the ripe old age of 21.

Reflective question: Who are you and where do you come from? Who has shaped and formed you to be who you are?

Act II: Louise as a Mother and Wife

Nevertheless, she persisted.

Being the pious woman Louise was she had faith that something else was planned. It was difficult for her to accept that her life’s dream would never come true. However, less than a year later she married Antoine de Gras on February 5th, 1613, and became a mother to a son, Michel, nine months later. Louise was trying to settle into new family responsibilities and did what she could to create the family she had always wanted. However, her happiness was short lived, and it came with complications. Her baby boy suffered from a developmental disability, and this brought great struggle in trying to navigate parenting in a society that did not understand those with disabilities.

As much as she loved her family, Louise endured much suffering in trying to be a wife and mother while also fighting to find her own sense of purpose. It was HARD, she was suddenly living a life she hadn’t envisioned, doing what she thought she should be doing because of societal standards imposed upon her. Depression ensued as Louise’s husband Antoine fell gravely ill. A future as a widowed single mother loomed. This was, without a doubt, Louise’s rock bottom. Everyone in her life was depending on her, yet she must have had a sinking feeling that she was letting them, herself, and God down as she fumbled about trying to find a sense of purpose.

Reflective Question: When was the last time that you experienced a challenge?

Act III: A Luminous Turning Point

Louise was at a crossroads in her life and she wasn’t where she was meant to be. Her husband’s health continued to decline, and she was heartbroken. She had lived a lifetime hoping to follow her calling to do God’s work, but now more than ever her dream of serving others as a sister felt like an impossibility. I imagine the phrase, “What am I even doing with my life?” echoed in Lousie’s mind constantly.

Overwhelmed with frustration, on the feast of Pentecost on June 4, 1623, Louise, while at prayer, pleaded to God for guidance. Just when she thought all was lost, he answered her prayer. She experienced a vision in which she saw herself serving the poor and living in community with sisters. This flicker of hope became her “lumière”—her guiding light of hope. Sometimes all you need is a metaphorical vision-board to give you something to hold onto, and this was Louise’s. As she sat inside a church in Paris, her doubts became quieter. She was now a woman with a plan. Louise was to stay with Antoine and await her chance to take vows of poverty. Little did she know that her lumière was foreshadowing a future as a Daughter of Charity. Louise saw an opportunity, and she was going to make it manifest if it was the last thing she did. This light, this moment of clarity, was a profound turning point for Louise. In fact, the moment was so powerful that she wrote down what God had advised her. As a reminder of her purpose, Louise put the note in her pocket and carried it with her everywhere until the day she died.

Reflective Question: What was a revelatory “lumiere” moment in your life?

Act IV: Louise as a Woman of Action

In 1625, following the death of Antoine and less than two years after her lumière, Louise met Vincent de Paul. Slowly but surely things started to fall into place for her. Vincent became her spiritual director and together the two became an unlikely team. She began to let go of her rigid lifestyle and started to find a balance between being a mother and serving her community through feeding and clothing the poor. In the decade that followed, she kept pressing forward and working with Vincent to answer the needs of the poor in France, constantly finding new ways to honor the dignity of every person they encountered. On March 25, 1634, Louise de Marillac took a sacred vow, and along with Vincent she co-founded the Confraternity of the Daughters of Charity. This forever changed the way women could serve both God and the poor. As a leader of the Daughters of Charity, Louise became an innovator, organizer, and advocate by inviting rural peasant girls to come be educated and serve the needs of the sick and those living in poverty.

Equally as important, together, Vincent and Louise created whole new opportunities and roles for women in seventeenth-century France. Her proactive attitude and go getter mindset changed the way the Church served the world. Instead of being cloistered in a convent, Louise and Vincent preached that “The streets are my chapel” and took their work there to make an impact. She opened orphanages, founded the foster care system, served in hospitals, and created free schools for girls and homes for the elderly. Our girl Louise had grown into her role as a woman of spirit and action in ways beyond her imagination. Ultimately, her lumière vision was fulfilled.

On March 15, 1660, Louise was laid to rest having lived a beautiful and challenging life in devout service to others. Her life’s work, her legacy, is all around us today.

Reflective Question: Where are you now and where do you hope to be?

Today, we know Saint Louise de Marillac as the patron saint of social work in the Catholic Church. However, her impact extends far beyond the Church and even the Vincentian family. In fact, her life’s work laid the foundation for many of the modern systems of social work that we see around us today. We talk a lot about how Louise’s pious nature guided her in life. It inspired her to see the human dignity of everyone, and to fight for what is right and just. Louise wasn’t brave every moment of her life—no saint or sinner is—but she was brave when it mattered most. She was brave enough to believe in her faith and the people she served. It’s that bravery and persistence that made her such a profound trailblazer for social work, justice, and equity. It’s an understatement to say that Louise’s legacy lives on today and every day. In truth, it feels impossible to believe that 400 years have passed since she lived.

When I think about Louise, I think of her as living now alongside us all. I think about all the ways she’d be organizing people to call state representatives to make healthcare accessible for everyone. I think about all the people she’d gather together making face masks for every community. I think about the daycare service she’d direct for frontline workers. And, I think about the Zoom calls she’d arrange to check in on leaders from every community across our city. When I think of Louise, I think of every woman I know and love embodying a little bit of Louise’s persistence. Most importantly, I think about how Louise has taught us that every act of kindness and service is in fact a radical act, demanding equity and love by recognizing the dignity in us all.

An Invitation to Love and Solidarity

As Louise de Marillac endured a particularly difficult trial in her life, Vincent once told her “Que j’ai peine de votre peine!” [How sorry I am about your suffering!] (CCD, 1:138.) While Vincent may have wished to eradicate the cause of Louise’s suffering, it was beyond his power. Instead, Vincent chose to accompany her, reassuring her of his love and unwavering support. This provided Louise with some level of comfort until the trial had passed. “In true compassion and honesty, heart spoke to heart.” (VH 12:2, 136.)

Today, as we confront the numerous challenges of the Coronavirus, we may feel overwhelmed. How do we respond to the pain and suffering in our own lives, in the lives of our families, our friends, neighbors and colleagues, and indeed, those affected globally? Vincent’s example of deep compassion and care for the many who suffered around him, particularly those who were poor and marginalized, may offer a compelling witness.

We are finding our way. At this most testing of times, many in our DePaul community are responding in truly innovative and pragmatic Vincentian ways, showing us the way of wisdom. Whether it be through donating personal protective equipment to local hospitals, using 3D printers to make face shields and mask covers, writing cards with messages of hope to seniors who are isolated, donating funds for those in need, or participating in university prayers for the well-being of our community and our world, in myriad ways DePaul is proving that “love is inventive to infinity.” (CCD, 11:131.)

During this time of global pandemic, how is your heart calling you to speak? If, today, you hear an invitation to engage in acts of love and solidarity, how might you respond?


  1. 92, To Saint Louise, [1631], CCD, 1:138.
  2. Kneaves, “A Woman Named Louise,” Vincentian Heritage 12:2 (1991), 136. Available at:
  3. 102, Exhortation to a Dying Brother, 1645, CCD, 11:131.



Siobhan O’Donoghue
Director, Faculty and Staff Engagement
Division of Mission and Ministry


Finding the Roses Amidst the Thorns

“Courage then, my dear Sisters! Let us serve with hearts filled with the pure love of God which enables us always to love the roses amidst the thorns.” (L.426, To the Sisters of the Hospital of Angers, Spiritual Writings, 36.)

These words from Louise really strike me as we live in a time of great uncertainty wherein the thorns seem to far outweigh the roses—a time when the new normal is remote learning, working from home, and social distancing, among other things.

I imagine a member of Louise’s community writing back, with maybe a bit of exasperation: “Where, dear Louise, are the roses in these unusual and challenging circumstances?” Why? Because they, too, lived in a time of upheaval and challenge. I think I imagine this particular response because it has been hard for me to see the roses amid so many thorns embodied by the difficulties our health care workers are facing, the suffering of those directly impacted by the virus, the many numbers of people losing their jobs, and the distance I’m experiencing from family, friends, and the DePaul community.

But there are roses, and I’m working to remember that, to find them, and to share them with others as well. The roses are in the daily chats I have on Microsoft Teams and on Zoom with dear colleagues and friends. The roses are in the text chains that make me laugh with friends and with siblings. The roses are in all the ways I see people reaching out to those in need during this difficult time.

Where are you seeing the roses amidst the thorns these days in the DePaul community, among your family and friends, and in your local communities?

Reflection by:

Katie Sullivan, Ministry Coordinator for Vincentian Service & Formation, Division of Mission and Ministry

Vincentian Service Day  

May 2, 2020

The Division of Mission and Ministry is working hard to help others see the roses amid all the thorns. One of the ways we are doing that is by planning and collaborating to ensure that one of DePaul’s longest standing traditions, Vincentian Service Day, still happens. VSD, traditionally the first Saturday in May, is going to look different this year.

This time we are planning a day for our global DePaul community to participate remotely in the Vincentian tradition of responding to the needs of people around the world. It will undoubtedly look extremely different than how we might typically have imagined it, but we believe it can still be effective and rewarding.

Everyone in the DePaul community is invited to service at all times—not just on VSD—but we hope that as many of you as possible will participate on Saturday, May 2nd, so that we can all join together and be roses for each other, for our communities, and even for ourselves.

Registration details for Vincentian Service Day will be announced university-wide in mid-April. For more information, visit or email

Serving from the Heart

May you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done…

“As for your conduct toward the sick, may you never take the attitude of merely getting the task done. You must show them affection; serving them from the heart; inquiring of them what they might need; speaking to them gently and compassionately.” Louise de Marillac (Spiritual Writings, p. 773)

Louise de Marillac spent many years in active ministry directly serving those on the margins. She was an accomplished leader whose deep sense of compassion infused all her actions. Over the course of her life, Louise organized and administered a broad spectrum of works in healthcare, education, and social welfare. These works continue worldwide today through the efforts of the Daughters of Charity, the religious community of women she co-founded with Vincent de Paul.

In the tradition of Vincentian personalism, every day at DePaul we are presented with opportunities to serve from our heart and demonstrate acts of compassion. How do you see your work continuing this legacy?

Louise de Marillac enters St. Peter’s Basilica

The Vincentian Studies Institute recently purchased two photographs from February 1954 that capture the delivery of the monumental statue of Saint Louise de Marillac to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.   Louise’s canonization took place in 1934.  Her statue became the thirty-ninth and last, to fill one of the internal niches of St. Peter’s.  The sheer size of the sculpture emerges in scale against the figures of the various workers.  The photographs will join the Vincentiana collection at the Archives and Special Collections Department of DePaul University’s, John T. Richardson Library.


VHRN Newsnote: Second Volume of the History of the Daughters of Charity published by Fayard

Histoire des filles de la Charité vol.2

Qui ne connaît, au moins par leur riche iconographie, les célèbres cornettes des Filles de la Charité  ?
Fondée par saint Vincent de Paul et Louise de Marillac au xviie siècle, la petite communauté parisienne a rapidement gagné la France des villes et des villages pour devenir la principale congrégation de sœurs actives à la fin de l’Ancien Régime. «  La rue pour cloître  »  : telle était la règle de vie originale de ces femmes, ni cloîtrées ni mariées mais célibataires vouées au service des pauvres.
Après un premier tome consacré à la période moderne, Matthieu Brejon de Lavergnée aborde ici les deux siècles suivants, entre Révolution française et Deuxième Guerre mondiale. «  Le temps des cornettes  »  : c’est celui d’un nouveau contrat social entre États et Églises pour répondre aux pauvretés de l’âge industriel comme à la forte demande d’éducation, de santé et de loisirs des sociétés urbanisées. Sensibles à la conjoncture politique, les Sœurs de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul connaissent aussi exil et martyre en France, au Mexique ou en Chine. L’échelle des cornettes est désormais globale, de l’Europe à ses espaces coloniaux comme aux nouveaux mondes américains. Missionnaires, elles exportent un culte marial si français depuis les apparitions de Catherine Labouré en 1830. Mais encore institutrices, infirmières, éducatrices ou syndicalistes, elles accompagnent les nouveaux fronts de la professionnalisation féminine au xxe siècle. Elles contribuent ainsi à redessiner les rapports de genre au sein de sociétés dures aux femmes. Féministes, les bonnes sœurs  ? La question mérite d’être posée.
C’est tout l’intérêt de cet ouvrage, appuyé sur de riches archives, que d’évoquer avec rigueur le rôle capital joué par des générations de femmes qui ont lié horizon spirituel et travail social.

Matthieu Brejon de Lavergnée est agrégé et docteur en histoire, maître de conférences habilité à la Sorbonne. Il est spécialiste d’histoire sociale et religieuse, et s’attache en particulier à une histoire de la charité, de la philanthropie et de l’assistance.

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153 x 235 mm

Newsnote: Capucines Convent, Paris 17th century

This postcard recently added to the Vincentiana Collections at DePaul University’s Archives and Special Collections depicts part of the famous Convent of the Capucines to which Louise de Marillac was denied admission. The Capucines had arrived in Paris representing the cloistered women of the Capuchin reform which in the previous century had been introduced into the Franciscan order. The large convent was located at the site of the present Place Vendome in Paris. The depiction above is from 1705.

Newsnote: Honore de Champigny, O.F.M. Cap., (1566-1624)

The Vincentiana Collection at DePaul University’s Archives and Special Collections has acquired a rare copy of the 1864 biography of Charles Bochart de Champigny (in religion Honore). Champigny was the superior of the French Capuchins who is said to have turned down the request of the young Louise de Marillac to enter the new convent of the Capuchin nuns which had been established in Paris. Interestingly the biography makes no mention of his role with this convent, although it talks about his role as a reformer of several convents of other orders in Paris. After his death in 1624 both Louis XIII and Louis XIV supported opening his cause of canonization. However, Champigny’s cause never progressed passed the recognition of the heroicity of his virtues in 1898.