(Statue of Louise de Marillac at the Musée des Instruments de Médecine des Hôpitaux de Toulouse in Toulouse, France, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Readings for the feast day of Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, Friday, March 15, 2019:
How many of us look back at a choice we had earlier in life and say, “Woulda, shoulda, coulda,” thinking it’s a done deal we’ll never get the chance again? The life of Louise de Marillac illustrates that this attitude might not necessarily be the case, especially when it comes to serving God and the opportunities the Holy Spirit puts in our path.
What Louise de Marillac wanted more than anything was to be a nun, but was refused application to a nearby Capuchin convent at age 15. The reasons were unclear, but it was clear her family thought her chances in life were better if she married into a “good” family. She had some unspecified health problems, and learned quite a bit about herbal medicine, thanks to an aunt who was a practitioner of that art. Although she would have preferred to continue pursuing life as a religious, her family arranged a marriage with Antoine LeGras, a secretary with Queen Marie de’ Medici, at age 22.
Louise settled in to a life with Antoine, and they had a son, Michel. Despite the relative affluence in her husband’s family, life was far from easy. Less than ten years into the marriage, Antoine became chronically ill, eventually bedridden. Two of Louise’s uncles were imprisoned during a time of civil unrest. Over time, it because apparent that Michel was what we’d now call a special needs child–unstable, moody, and with difficulty focusing and paying attention in school. Yet even with all that, Louise managed to give her time to the Ladies of Charity, helping the poor.
Eventually, Antoine died, leaving Louise a widow at age 34 with a twelve year old son who needed more care than usual. Lacking financial means, Louise had to move, and it was at this time, by sheer chance, she became acquainted with Vincent de Paul, who lived nearby. By that time Vincent was already well into his work with the Confraternaties of Charity, and what he needed most was someone who could organize a system of education for the poor, and teach.
Eventually, Vincent and Louise founded the nucleus of what is now known as the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The little girl who had been talked out of religious life spent the remainder of her life as a Daughter of Charity, and growing the order.
Although most of us probably don’t aspire to life as a religious (although some might!), it’s still very likely that those of us brought up in a religious tradition, at one time or another, had a pipe dream of serving God and our neighbor in some way…but as time marched on, life found a way of putting that on the back burner. Louise de Marillac’s life story really wasn’t very different than our stories might be now. She put a dream aside, and by all accounts, lived a satisfying, challenging, and busy life. Yet when her husband died, mere chance re-awakened her to that old dream, and the Holy Spirit created new life out of what was once an old faded memory. If it can happen to her, it can happen to us. We can move in the blink of an eye from “Woulda, shoulda, coulda” to “My gosh, here we are!”
What is an old dream you once had about serving God and your neighbor, and how might your life circumstances have changed, that could lead to it being re-awakened?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She is presently enjoying a brief hiatus as a “free range priest”, awaiting her next call as an interim.