God has a time for everything – it is other than by humans.
“Who would ever have thought that there would be Daughters of Charity when the first of you came to a few parishes here in Paris? Oh no, Sisters! I didn’t think of it (…). God thought of it for you. We can say, Sisters, that He’s the Author of your Company, much more truly so than anyone else.” St. Vincent de Paul. Conference, June 14, 1643
Full title: The Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
Founders: Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac
Founding place: Paris
Founding date: November 29, 1633
Charism: Serving Jesus Christ in poor persons in the spirit of simplicity, humility and charity
Activity: Prayer and service.
The Company of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul came up quietly, in a way God’s works are done. The breath of the Holy Spirit came through the hearts of St. Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac and Marguerite Naseau. Step by step, in a range of events in their lives, they discerned God’s traces.
Vincent de Paul discovered the material and spiritual poverty of peasant people. In 1617, his meeting with the poverty of a certain family gave an impetus to gather affluent women into the Ladies of Charity. The society aimed to organize material assistance and spiritual care so that day by day the poor would feel so much better and gain strength for their independent life.
Louise de Marillac was always sensitive to people’s problems in her neighborhood and had visited the poor before she met Vincent de Paul. Her heart was open, and for this reason, with her faith she was attentive to babies’ needs. Louise said yes to Vincent’s call to visit some Ladies of Charity societies.
Vincent and Louise noticed that direct service to the poor caused many difficulties to ladies from the nobles and bourgeoisie. It was hard for them to cross the barrier of their social class. Ladies carried meals, distributed clothes and gave comfort. Having beautiful dresses on them, those ladies would visit slums of that time where extremely poor people lived: it was a real provocation! That activity was not always appropriate for the family environment of those women.
Marguerite Naseau, a 34-year-old peasant girl from Suresnes, learned how to read by asking passers-by for help. Later on, she by herself taught children to read together with other girls from her village. Her work was motivated only by her intention to serve God. At the missions delivered in villages, she met Vincent. In 1630, she arrived in Paris to show her desire to help women from the Ladies of Charity.
Louise intuitively felt that girls like Marguerite could offer concrete and daily service to the poorest. Vincent was also happy at the fact that lowborn peasant women could render assistance to people in need. However, in that way two groups would arise divided on the grounds of their members belonging to different social stratums: on the one hand, that would be ladies from the upper class, and on the other hand – “humble country girls”. Such a solution did not seem to be acceptable on the permanent basis.
After three years of reflections, the three arrived at a common view. Three life stories, three vocations met in one point and united in their service to the poor. Those difficulties the Ladies of Charity strived with opened the way to something new: thus, on November 29, 1633, the Company of the Daughters of Charity emerged.
The Company of the Daughters of Charity was different from other religious institutions of that time, because the Sisters could reach out to the poor and visit them in their homes. In that way, they preserved mobility and disponation while living among those whom they served.
St. Vincent said about their lifestyle:
“The Daughters of Charity have… for a convent, the houses of the sick; for cell, a rented room; for chapel, the parish church; for cloister, the streets of the city; for enclosure, obedience; for grille, the fear of God; and for veil, holy modesty… and the continual confidence in Devine Providence.”
Earlier in Company’s history, the Sisters expressed their desire to affirm their complete giving themselves up to God with the help of making vows. These vows are “non-religious”, they are annual (not perpetual), renewable in line with the Constitutions and the Rules, and they are also accepted by the Church. The Sisters of Charity take four vows: of chastity, poverty, obedience and works of charity.
Initially, the Sisters of Charity took care of poor sick people in their homes, in their towns and villages. Gradually, as there was a need they took care of the sick in hospitals, taught girls, assembled abandoned children, went to galley workers, wounded soldiers, refugees, elderly people, mental patients and others… They reached out to those who were highly in need.
The missionary spirit that developed from the very beginning called the Company to go even farther. Poland was the first stage of development of the Company as an international community. Nowadays, it is present in the whole world trying to creatively and bravely answer the call of the Church and of the poor while celebrating diverse cultures.
Company’s Development in Ukraine
The Sisters returned to Ukraine after the collapse of the totalitarian regime in 1990. They serve in Dovhe, Perechyn and Svaliava, Zakarpattia region; in Kharkiv, in the east of the country; in Odesa and Balta in the south; in Storozhynets, Bukovyna; in Sniatyn, Pokuttia, where the tomb of Blessed Sr. Marta Wiecka is located. While serving at a Sniatyn hospital, she gave up her life for one person in 1904. Since 2011 Sniatyn has been the location of the formation of prospective Sisters.
Presently, the Sisters, in the spirit of the Vincentian Charism, serve the poorest in the communities they live. They are involved in work with disabled children; take care of sick persons in their homes, of homeless people and street children. The Sisters visit prisoners, catechize children and look after them at children’s centers. Moreover, they also serve in local parish communities.
… under Mary’s protection
“Whoever seeks to follow Jesus Christ will also encounter Her who received Him from the Father. Mary, the first Christian, the Consecrated one par excellence, is present in the life of the Company from the very beginning.” (Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity)
The founders cultivated charity and the imitation of Virgin Mary in the Daughters of Charity. They urged the Sisters to contemplate in Her:
Immaculate Virgin Mary who is fully open to Holy Spirit’s acting, who is a perfect example for all those “who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11: 28).
The Servant who is obedient and faithful to God’s plans and will.
Mother of God, Mother of Charity and Hope of the humblest who is extremely deeply united with Her Son and guides to Him everyone who surrenders self under Her care.
Mother of the Church and the Only Mother of the Company under whose protection St. Louise gave up the newly emerged Company wishing Mary to take care of it constantly.
The Constitutions of the Daughters of Charity say: “In their service, the Daughters of Charity strive to be faithful to the Marian character of the Company…” The Daughters of Charity spread the Marian devotion, especially with the help of the Miraculous Medal (which is a great gift from heaven, engraved on Mary’s request addressed to St. Catherine Labouré, Daughter of Charity, in Paris in 1830).
The Daughters of Charity devote their lives to taking care of the destitute, the sick and the poor all over the world. Our service involves a wide range of humanitarian and social activity. We work for the sake of justice, peace and solidarity.
The human community grows and alters, and people’s needs also modify. For this reason, the assistance the Daughters of Charity render constantly changes as well and adjusts to the needs of the time.
Company in the world
As of 2016, there are 16,000 Daughters of Charity worldwide. They are present on all the continents, in 94 countries around the world. There are over 60 Provinces, i.e., more than 2,000 communities.