St. Vincent de Paul and the Daughters of Charity
“It’s always seemed odd to me,” says Fr. Vincent J. O’Malley, C.M., “That saints, whether in stained-glassed windows or in statues, are represented almost always as solitary individuals—very rarely in pairs or groups.”
Fr. O’Malley should know. He literally wrote the book about the subject: Saintly Companions: A Cross-Reference of Sainted Relationships (Staten Island: Alba House, 1995). And he adds, “The saints loved people and in general, people love the saints. I think we do them a disservice by portraying them all alone, since so many of them lived and worked in relationships with others—many others—who helped each one to become a saint.”
While examples of saintly couples and relatives abound—the Holy Family (par excellence), Sts. John the Baptist and Jude, Peter and Andrew, James and John, Francis and Clare, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross, Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal, Don Bosco and Mary Mazzarello—there does seem to be a strange “one-saint-at-a-time” mentality, which Fr. O’Malley laments. This notion of the saint as a stand-alone-character is corrected in his book. And for the sake of our interview, Fr. O’Malley suggested speaking of his patron saint, Vincent de Paul and his “partner” or co-worker in sanctity, St. Louise de Marillac.
“Vincent [1580-1660] was a great ideas man, a terrific innovator,” Fr. O’Malley says. “However, he was ‘deliberate’ when putting things into action. Perhaps a bit too deliberate, as Alban Butler claims in his The Lives of the Saints. Louise de Marillac, who, as an illegitimate child knew what it was like to live as a second-class citizen—what true suffering was, even as a child—was a great assistance on helping Vincent put his ideas into action.”
St. Vincent de Paul’s name is almost synonymous with his work with the poor—not for nothing do we still have “St. Vincent de Paul Societies” which help provide clothing and dignity to the poor. But, as Fr. O’Malley’s late confrere, Br. Augustine Towey once pointed out, St. Vincent also was passionate about education—yet his work with the poor was so extraordinary (due in no small part to the collaboration with St. Louise de Marillac) that it is often forgotten he was a great educator as well. Two of the largest universities in the United States—St. John’s in New York and DePaul in Chicago—are Vincentian institutions.
“Indeed, St. Vincent was a true Reformer,” says Fr. O’Malley. “He reformed the education and formation of the clergy in France. He also strenuously argued that bishops be appointed due to their qualifications and not by patronage. (This was a type of relapse into the “investiture controversy” that St. Norbert and St. Bernard rooted out in the 12th century.) Finally, he got the laity involved—and this was truly unique—by starting the ‘Ladies of Charity’ which, when fused with the vision and drive of St. Louise, become the Daughters of Charity.”
Jesus said, “I have called you friends.” And the more one looks at the Lives of the Saints, whether in Butler’s or the Martyrology or Fr. O’Malley’s book (which features an excellent grid-like cross-reference appendix of how the saints were “related”), the term friends comes up more and more. The cliché “opposites attract” also works a lot when speaking of saints: one need only look at the homebody-role St. Ignatius of Loyola played to his great missionary compatriot-traveler and co-founder of the Jesuits, St. Francis of Xavier—or in the case at hand, the meditative, contemplative man-of-ideas Vincent de Paul and his counterpart, Louise de Marillac, with her “Will-It-Cut-Down-Trees?” approach to going out and getting things done.
Read the rest of the article…