Louise de Marillac was born 12 August 1591 in France. She was a member of one of the greatest noble families in France, the de Marillacs. However there was a shadow over Louise’s life as, born out of wedlock, she never knew who her mother was. When her father married in 1594, Louise was sent to a Dominican Boarding School in Poissy where she got an excellent education. When her father died in 1604, she was taken from the Boarding School and sent to a Boarding House in Paris.
Louise wanted to be a Capuchin Nun. However, she was told that her delicate health would not permit her to become a religious. Following the advice of her family, she married Antoine Le Gras on 5 February 1613. He was secretary to the Queen Marie de Medici. They had one son, Michel, who was often a cause of great worry to Louise.
Louise had a ‘LumiПre’ experience on the feast of Pentecost, 1623, which, she said, cleared her mind of any doubts she was experiencing. She was shown that a time would come when she would be in a position to make vows and that she would be in a small community in a place where she could help her neighbour and where there was to be much coming and going.
Her husband died in 1625, and around the same time she met Vincent de Paul, who was to become her director. Vincent soon became aware of the great talents of Louise, and he invited her in 1629 to be the coordinator of the Confraternities of Charity that had recently been established in France. Though she was quite frail, Louise undertook this work with courage and determination. It involved travelling through France on coach or by boat or sometimes on horseback. Sometimes she would find a Confraternity very faithful to its original spirit and at other times she had to gather the members together to bring them back to fidelity. She always kept Vincent informed of all she was doing and asked his advice.
Because the members of the Confraternities in Paris were noble ladies, it was considered unsuitable for them to carry soup pots through the streets of Paris, and they began sending their servants. Vincent and Louise did not like this, so when some girls from the villages expressed a desire to serve those in need Vincent and Louise decided to send them to help the Ladies in Paris who were running Confraternities. Louise took on the direction of these village girls bringing them into her own home. Eventually they were formed into a separate confraternity and known as ‘filles de la charité’. These Sisters went out through the streets of the city to serve people in need and at the same time lived in Community – the fulfilment of Louise’s ‘Lumiere’ experience. Louise’s life became totally centred on those who were suffering and in need: the sick in their homes or in hospitals, refugees, poor children who were abandoned or illiterate, and galley slaves. In order that these people would be helped, she formed her ‘filles de las charité’ as good servants of the poor. Vincent de Paul collaborated with her in all of this work.
Louise had a very strong devotion to the Holy Spirit, Our Lady, and the Sacred Heart. When Vincent de Paul became her director, she was scrupulous. In inviting her to become involved in helping other people, Vincent helped her to take the focus off herself. Louise died in 1660. She was canonised in 1934.