St. Louise: The Woman at St. Vincent’s Side

May 6, 2019 | Fr. John Freund, C.M.

How well known is St. Louise known in the Vincentian Family?

Not everyone has caught up to the fact that the feast day of St. Louise has been moved from March 15th to May 9th. The Vincentian Family is probably much more familiar with the life and contributions of St. Vincent than with the woman whose life intersected with his for 35 years. They died within months of each other. Vincent was recognized as a Saint in 1737. Louise was not canonized until 1934 almost 200 years later. As the Patroness of Social Workers, hers was the latest statue to be added to St. Peter’s in Rome in 1954.

Yet without Louise,

would the Daughters of Charity have come into existence and spread as rapidly?

would the abandoned children have experienced love or received an education?

would the sick and the dying have experienced the compassionate hands that assisted them during their difficult times?

Thanks to relatively recent research one can even legitimately ask whether without Louise would Vincent de Paul have become recognized as the popular and effective a saint that he is.

Her story

Some have suggested her story was downplayed early on not only because she was a woman but because she was an illegitimate child of a man of status. She early on bore the scars of the prejudices of her time. She did not know her mother. Her father, because of his status, in many ways disowned her as a kind of inconvenient truth. Orphaned at 12, she was shunted from one unpleasant situation to another. No wonder she seemed fragile to many including Vincent.

Their first encounters did not go well. Their relationship had its ups and downs. Their backgrounds and temperaments were so different. Yet over time he began to see her as a diamond just waiting to be revealed and opened to others. She became his trusted emissary and companion. What separated them at first developed into mutual respect and admiration. The common vision they shared manifested itself in initiatives that brought about societal changes in how the marginalized and forgotten were respected in body and soul.

Her unique contributions to health care not only antedated Florence Nightingale but are unfortunately still little known.

Their mature years

The friendship that Vincent and Louise forged was one that was based on a profound respect for the uniqueness of the other. They both felt free to express themselves, assured that what was said would be accepted by the other. This confidence did not in any way eliminate their different points of view in many matters.

They both understood that the confrontation of ideas was the source of personal progress and enabled one to come to a better understanding of the problem.

The friendship between Louise and Vincent was based on authenticity, that is, on the profound acceptance of the identity of the other and in the acceptance and respect for the differences of the other. Their relationship began as one of spiritual director and directee. But it moved to a complimentary relationship of collaboration and in the calmness of later years became a relationship of communion. This friendship became a journey of holiness and a journey that revitalized their humanness.

Some things to think about:

• Have you ever felt trapped by circumstances beyond your control?

• When and how have I collaborated with someone who thinks differently about a common goal?

• Have you ever been surprised what you came to see and appreciate in a person.

• What have I learned about myself from my efforts to collaborate with someone, especially a person in need?

Source: Sr. Elizabeth Charpey DC
See also: St. Vincent and St. Louise as Collaborators

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