The Most Holy Virgin, Louise de Marillac’s only Mother
In all likelihood, Saint Louise did not know her mother, but she always looked to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God. In her writings, Saint Louise frequently mentions the Virgin Mary: she invokes her in all sorts of circumstances; she offers her as a model for herself and her Daughters; she consecrates the Company of the Daughters of Charity to her; her imagination and skill even make a place for Mary in her painting.
Saint Louise had the habit of invoking the intercession of the Most Holy Virgin in her prayers: “for the love which you bear for the Holy Virgin.” (Spiritual Writings A. 26, p. 819)
Saint Louise entrusted to the Blessed Virgin what was most dear to her in this world: her son and the Company of the Daughters of Charity. She wanted the Company to be dedicated to Mary and to always consider her its Only Mother.
After the death of her husband, Antoine Le Gras: “Most Holy Virgin, deign to take my son and me into Your care. Welcome the choice I make of you as our protector. Accept my vows and my prayers as well as my heart which I give entirely to you so as to glorify God for the choice He made of you to be the Mother of His Son.”(Spiritual Writings A. 4, p. 695)
Let us pray
Let us place us under the protection of Our Most Holy Virgen and give her our heart to glorify God for the election His goodness did to Mary.
In her Rule of Life in the World, Saint Louise listed several devotional practices in honor of the Virgin Mary.79 Saint Louise explained and recommended the Hail Mary and the Rosary in the catechism she wrote.80 Saint Louise composed a little chaplet 81, This devotion of Saint Louise has endured in the traditional prayer of the Daughters of Charity between the mysteries of the Rosary:
“Most Holy Virgin, I believe and confess your holy and Immaculate Conception, pure and without stain; O most pure Virgin, through your virginal purity, your Immaculate conception, your glorious prerogative of Mother of God, obtain for me from your Divine Son humility, charity, great purity of heart, mind and body, holy perseverance in my dear vocation, the gift of prayer, a good life and a happy death. Amen
Oh Lord obtain us by Mary’s intercession: humility, charity, grand purity of heart, body and spirit, the perseverance in our vocation, the gift of prayer, a holy life and a good dead.
She wanted the Company to be dedicated to Mary and to always consider her its Only Mother. (Cf. Spiritual Writings L. 110, L. 111, L. 245, L. 598, L. 602, A. 22, M. 35b; Coste X, p. 500. On several occasions, Louise referred to the Blessed Virgin as the Only Mother:
“To give greater honor to the Holy Virgin and to renew the dependence of the Company upon her, as her most unworthy daughters, who look on her also as our most praiseworthy and only Mother.” (Spiritual Writings M. 35b, p. 735)
“The Blessed Virgin our true and only Mother.” (Spiritual Writings L. 245, p. 281)
“Like a true Daughter of Charity, you must accept all that is said to you by the one who, here on earth, represents your true Superior in heaven…”(Spiritual Writings L. 598, p. 618)
The phrase in her spiritual testament,
“Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she may be your only Mother,” is the ultimate summary, the solemn witness of an entire life of gratitude to the Virgin Mary, her only Mother.
Let us pray
Mother of Christ, only Mother of the Company, for your powerful intercession grant us through your dear Son to be faithful to our Holy Founders evangelical heritage.
Her correspondence with Saint Vincent and her personal writings clearly show her desire and convictions. Saint Louise asked permission of Saint Vincent to make a pilgrimage to Chartres:
“I beg you most humbly to allow me to make a pilgrimage to Chartres during your absence so that I may entrust all our needs and the suggestions I have made to you to the care of the Blessed Virgin. The time has surely come for me to reflect on myself in the sight of God. I must tell you that I am convinced that the good of our little Company requires it. (Spiritual Writings L. 110, p. 120)
Louise gave an account of her pilgrimage to Chartres to Saint Vincent:“…On Monday [October 17, 1644], Feast of the Dedication of the Church of Chartres, I offered to God the designs of His Providence on the Company of the Daughters of Charity. I offered the said Company entirely to Him, asking Him to destroy it rather than let it be established contrary to His holy will. I asked for it, through the prayers of the Holy Virgin, Mother and Guardian of the said Company, the purity of which it stands in need. Looking upon the Blessed Virgin as the fulfillment of the promises of God to mankind, and seeing the fulfillment of the vow of the Blessed Virgin in the accomplishment of the mystery of the Incarnation, I asked Him for the grace of fidelity for the Company through the merits of the Blood of the Son of God and of Mary. I prayed also that He might be the strong and loving bond that unites the hearts of all the sisters in imitation of the union of the three Divine Persons. In my prayers for myself, I placed in the hands of the Blessed Virgin the decision to be made…” (Spiritual Writings L. 111, p. 122).
Let us pray
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Jesus and our Mother, grant us the grace of living open and obedient to your will. May we be every day witness of your Charity, inspired by the ardent Love of your Son’s Heart and full of the fire and force of your Spirit.
Louise asked Vincent that the Company be consecrated to Mary and take her as its Only Mother:
“My Most Honored Father, How can I express to your Charity, in the name of the entire Company of our sisters, how fortunate we would consider ourselves if tomorrow, at the holy altar, you placed us under the protection of the Holy Virgin? I beg your Charity to obtain for us the grace to be able, henceforth, to look upon her as our only Mother since, until now, her Son has never allowed anyone to usurp this title in a public act. Please approve this request for the love of God and implore for us the grace to do what we must and will do, if your Charity sees fi t and is willing to teach us” (Spiritual Writings L. 602, p. 621-622).
In his conference of December 8, 1658, Vincent de Paul made this prayer:
“Since the Company of Charity has been established under the standard of your perfection, if we have hitherto called you our Mother, we now entreat you to accept the offering we make you of the Company in general and each of its members in particular. And because you allow us to call you Mother, and you are the Mother of Mercy, the channel through which all mercy flows; and because, as we believe, you obtained from God the establishment of this Company, be pleased to take it under Your protection” (Coste X, p. 500).
On the 12th, she asked for Communion, which she prepared to receive with much fervor and joy the following day. The pastor of St. Laurent, who came to administer the Sacraments, asked her to bless her Daughters.
And so, Mademoiselle Le Gras pronounced these words, which she left as a testament and as her final desire:
“My dear Sisters, I continue to ask God for His blessings for you and pray that He will grant you the grace to persevere in your vocation in order to serve him in the manner that he asks of you.
Take good care of the service of the poor. Above all, live together in great unity and cordiality, loving one another, in imitation of the unity and life of Our Lord. Pray earnestly to the Blessed Virgin, that she may be your only Mother” (Saint Louise de Marillac, Spiritual Writings. Ed. Louise Sullivan. New York: New. City Press, 1991, p. 835).
Therefore, March 15, 1660, did not mark the death of Louise de Marillac but rather the dawning of her fullness of life. Her first biographer described a phenomenon that occurred around Louise de Marillac’s tomb in the parish of Saint Laurent:
“From time to time a kind of soft haze emanates from it, spreading a fragrance like that of violets and irises. Many people can testify to that, and what is more surprising is that the Sisters of Charity who come and pray at her tomb sometimes go away so fragrant with this perfume that they carry it with them to the sick sisters in the infirmary of the motherhouse. If it were worth considering in this context, I could add that I myself have experienced it several times. I could also say that after taking every possible measure to find out if it might arise from natural causes, I could not find any to which it could be attributed” (Gobillon, p. 65).
Then Nicolas Gobillon invites us to understand the significance and meaning of this phenomenon:
“But whatever might be the nature of the fragrance which rises from the tomb of this servant of the poor, an entirely spiritual one arises from the example of her life, more precious than any perfume. This spiritual fragrance is a miracle of grace, and the most glorious sign of her holiness. It is this true fragrance which penetrates her daughters’ hearts, and which draws them so gently and powerfully to imitate her. It is this fragrance which pervades every parish and every pastor, inspiring them to love and care for the poor. Finally it is this fragrance which has not only spread throughout the earth in God’s church, but which has risen up to his throne, and which he has received as an acceptable sacrifice” (Gobillon, p. 65).
The fragrance of violets and irises would continue and expand among the Daughters of Charity. Louise organized the holistic formation of all those who came to the Company. She helped them to discern the authenticity of their vocation: giving themselves totally to God and serving Him in those who are poor. She encouraged their prayer life. She supported their perseverance when difficulties arose in the service of those who are poor. She created a real family environment among the Sisters. She acted decisively to assure that the Company would have the appropriate juridical status, above all insisting that it come under the authority of the Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission. And, most importantly, she imbued her Daughters with the real spirit of Charity, stressing excellence in the service of poor persons.
Let’s listen Vincent de Paul about St. Louise’s life, as if he were speaking directly to you:
“Yes, we have this picture, and you must consider it a model to inspire you to do likewise… You should also recall how she tended to conform all her actions to those of Our Lord. She did what Saint Paul said, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Jesus who lives in me.’ In this way she strove to make herself like her Master by imitating His virtues… See what a portrait that is! And how are you to make use of it, dear Sisters? By striving to pattern your lives on hers. O mon Dieu, what a beautiful picture! What humility, faith, prudence, sound judgment, and always the concern to conform her actions to those of Our Lord!” 93 Saint Vincent’s invitation is still relevant: “It remains for us to pattern ourselves on it” (Coste X, p. 582)
(Taken from Echo Nov-Dec 2014 – Saint Louise: “I continue to ask God for his blessings for you”, Fr. Corpus Delgado, CM