We know that Louise was with the Dominican Sisters until she was thirteen, and those years profoundly influenced her life as a Christian. St. Dominic attempted to form his followers with a profound ecclesial understanding based on the faith, the sacraments, and the sound doctrine contained in the catechism of the church. He taught them to confront heretics not by preaching conversion to them, but by putting aside their words and presenting themselves as simple and poor individuals, thus renouncing every form of pomp. This was the Dominican legacy that Louise lived at the monastery in Poissy and that she accepted during her education.
Strong Knowledge and Understanding of the Faith
When Louise met Vincent, she already had a regulated prayer life, was versed in sacred scripture, had read a number of important spiritual writers, such as Granada, Gerson, de Sales, and Berulle, and had received spiritual guidance from Michel de Marillac, Jean-Pierre Camus, and possibly Francis de Sales. In a word, she was not a beginner.
Catechist, Teacher, Formator
St. Louise’s ecclesial understanding was not limited to the personal level. When she visited the Confraternities of Charity she took on the role of catechist, teacher and formator of teachers for the parish schools. She formed women’s groups and instructed them in the faith and the interior life, accompanying them and guiding them, counseling and orienting them in their practice of charity with the poor. She created groups of laywomen catechists who gave witness to the Church as the mother of believers. She directed retreats and gave constant witness to her faith in her teachings and in her visits to the communities, in her meetings with the Ladies of Charity, in her conferences and correspondence. She told the Daughters of Charity that they were to be daughters of the Church in two different ways: first, as Christians and then, as Daughters of Charity. She was convinced that the company was a new entity in the life of the Church, an entity that was united with the Church’s charitable mission. The Holy Spirit had raised up this society of apostolic life in the Church in order that its members might reveal God’s love for the poor and thus highlight the charity of the Church, our mother.
A Model for Achieving Balance in Spiritual Life
A struggle to maintain virtues painfully acquired by rigorous asceticism and numerous devotions marked the early stage of Louise’s spiritual development. Factors such as delicate health, an anxious spirit constantly troubled by the dramatic, often traumatic, events in her life, a thirst for the absolute which lacked a clear orientation– all these contributed to preventing Louise from finding, early in life, the necessary balance between her considerable human talents and her personal mode of sanctification. Louise imposed a rigid structure upon her life in general and on her prayer in particular. It would seem that Louise was trying to turn her little apartment into the cloister into which she had been refused admittance years earlier. Such a woman, scrupulously bound to a regular schedule, was certainly not ready to set out to visit the Confraternities of Charity or to dedicate herself to the formation of servants of the poor. Thus it was that St. Vincent undertook to try to bring balance into her spiritual life. Louise de Marillac’s character was not suited to the cloister. It was too prone to close in on itself. She needed to reach out and to find her God in others. And so Vincent would write to her to urge moderation, peace, calm, and abandonment to God’s providence.