Born in 1591 in France, Saint Louise de Marillac—patron saint of social workers—holds a special place in my heart, as her mission parallels my work at Mercy Home for Boys & Girls.
Vowing never to marry again after the death of her husband, Louise gave herself wholly to the service of God. She became acquainted with a priest, now known as St. Vincent de Paul. He oversaw his “Confraternities of Charity,” whose members were aristocratic women of charity. They helped him nurse the poor and look after neglected children, but the ladies were more invested in high society. Monsieur Vincent needed someone who could relate to the poor, speak their language, and win their hearts.
Slowly, Vincent realized Louise— intelligent and modest—was the answer to his prayers, and he sent her on missions to help the downtrodden. From her rented home in Paris, Louise ran a training center for those called to serve the sick and poor—eventually growing into the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Dressed as peasants, the Daughters of Charity cared for neglected children, marginalized communities, and vulnerable individuals, and continue to do so.
About 18,000 Daughters of Charity currently work in 94 countries around the world. Chicago’s own Marillac St. Vincent Family Services, sponsored by the Daughters of Charity, continues the legacy of St. Louise by providing vital programs and services in child development, social services, outreach to at-risk families and individuals, senior services, and youth programs.
Louise de Marillac died in 1660 and was canonized in 1934. Her feast day is March 15.
Father Scott Donahue is the president of Mercy Home for Boys and Girls.