Vincentian Mothers Over 4 Centuries

May 7, 2019 | Fr. John Freund, C.M.

We know next to nothing of the mothers of St. Vincent and St. Louise. But we do know something of Vincentian mothers over a four-century span.

Some of them are formally recognized as saints such as St. Louise de Marillac and Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. Others are lesser known or almost totally unknown. Catherine Harkins not only birthed her own family but the Ladies of Charity in the United States. Mrs. Elizabeth Hanlon Skelly is chiefly known as mother of a son who gave birth to the Central Association of the Miraculous Medal: Fr. Joseph Skelly, CM.

No matter their ecclesial status, these women knew the happiness and struggles of marriage, the joys and concerns of motherhood, the challenges of parenting alone… and the love of a generous God in whose Providence they put all their trust.

Let’s look briefly at each.

Louise de Marillac (1591-1660), wife, mother, widow, and grandmother, and leader in charity, overcame the social stigma of her birth out-of-wedlock in seventeenth-century France to became Vincent’s emissary with the various Confraternities he founded, and cofounder of the Daughters of Charity (1633), as well as the patron of Christian Social Workers (1960). She also knew the agony of a mother whose son ran away from and fathered an out-of-wedlock child.

Elizabeth Bailey Seton (1774-1821) was mother to five children of her own and seven of her husband’s orphaned siblings.

Like moms today, she admonished her son William, who was in the Navy, with a 19th-century version of “don’t forget to call home,” begging him, ”do remember your own mother is your best friend. Give her the fullest account of all that happens to you.” Later she entreated, “O my child — what would I not give to hear from you,” and “to tell you how much I wish to hear from you is impossible.”

Paradoxically we know less about two more recent Vincentian mothers.

Catherine Harkins-Drake (1834-1911), the first American Lady of Charity was a wife, mother, widow, and grandmother, who became a leader in charity, overcame the social stigma against women in nineteenth-century America.

Mrs. Skelly – We know next to nothing of her life, only her parting words to her son. What mother has not had parting words of advice to her child before leaving the house, even just for a trip to the store or to college? “Cross at the corner”, “Call when you get there”!

Elizabeth Hanlon Skelly was no different in that sense. Her words to her 16-year-old as he left for the seminary were “Wear this Medal always!” He did … and he led millions of people all around the globe to wear this medal always.

Yes, Vincentian mothers run the gamut from officially recognized saints to those who Pope Francis beautifully refers to as the “saints next door”.

Remembering our mothers

• Reflect on the people in your life who have showed you a mother’s love.
• Whether they are still living or have died, find a way to tell them how grateful you are, and to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for their presence in your life.
• Let us also remember in a special way the homeless and imprisoned mothers as well as mothers who are grieving the death of their mothers or children

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