In the year 1633, at the heart of the decaying French empire, a few women under the guidance of Saint Vincent De Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac took up the vows in the name of Christ to selflessly help the poor and those in need. And thus, the Daughters of Charity were created. They have since been an unbelievable force of public goodwill and a brilliant show of how organized religious forces can come together for betterment of society, especially during times of need. They have also spread worldwide serving various causes in various countries for the benefit of the poor and needy. The Daughters of Charity are currently one of the largest charitable Christian organizations in the world, and they are certainly the most famous one.
The problem with 17th century France was twofold, firstly there was a lot of political expansion that required a huge amount of resources and secondly the ruling class was not at all intent on being a kind ruler to the people. As a result, poverty and sickness increased many folds, especially in the more urban landscapes. Paris had become a center of all the political strife, and within a few decades a violent revolution was set to take place.
So, Saint Vincent de Paul, a well-known and extremely compassionate priest, along with the help of Louise De Marillac decided to employ young women into helping the poor and needy of Paris. Prior to this, anyone who wanted to help the poor sent their servants to do so and thus the process was not entirely done in good faith. However, under the guidance of Vincent de Paul and Louise De Marillac, it was ensured that anyone who wanted to help the poor would have to do it themselves, since so did Jesus. And this made a huge difference in the results of the charitable actions.
Over the next few decades the Daughters of Charity would go on to make an incredible amount of change on the face of Paris. They started by setting up soup kitchens where the poor and homeless would be able to receive free food twice a day and followed with setting up of community hospitals where they would treat the sick for absolutely no cost. Within a short span of time they would also go on to set up schools where free education and job training would be given, and they established few orphanages as well. They also had a hand in the betterment of prison conditions in Paris. In 1660, both Vincent De Paul and Louise De Marillac would pass away, but by then more than 40 houses had been set up by the Daughters of Charity where soup kitchen would be held on regular basis alongside providing schooling and hospital services as well. For the next century the Daughters of Charity would set up about 500 houses all over France and start spreading their roots throughout Europe as well.
The French Revolution
Once the revolution started the whole of France, especially Paris, was in complete turmoil and this did not fair too well for the Daughters of Charity as the revolutionary forces were mostly opposed to conversion by religious groups. In 1789 when the revolution would start the name of Daughters of Charity was quite well known throughout France and even the rest of Europe with the number of sisters being over
6000. However, in 1792 all the sisters were asked to vacate their set up houses as the revolution deemed them against the cause of the revolution since they would not take an oath to it. A ritual persecution of the Daughters of Charity would continue for the next decade or so with almost 100 sisters being persecuted publicly at the guillotine. As a result most of the sisters would go into hiding and the houses they had set up would be closed down. By the beginning of the 19th century the persecution process would end and the houses were once again set up and the Daughters of Charity would once again become the fearsome force of benevolence that they had established themselves to be.
The 19th Century And The Sisters Of Charity
During the next hundred years the Daughters of Charity would open up houses in various countries such as America, Australia, Austria, Hungary, Ireland, Britain, Turkey, Portugal, etc. In most of these countries their work would be concentrated towards helping orphan children and disabled people. One of the landmark steps of the Daughters of Charity during this century would be to set up a motherhouse in Maryland, United States. This was done by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, who due to political reasons would start a house under the name of ‘Sisters of Charity’ but would request the archdiocese to provide her rules as same as the Daughters of Charity to lead her organization. The archdiocese did accept this request and thus the Sisters of Charity were established in the United States where they would become one of the largest catholic organizations.
This era saw the United States of America be involved in a lot of wars including the American civil war and the Spanish American war. The Sisters of Charity helped nurse soldiers during both these wars and gained popularity throughout the United States. At the time of her death more than 50 houses had been established and by the end of the 19th century they numbered over 200 in the United States.
20th And 21st Century
The Daughters of Charity are now an international organization spread over the entire globe serving almost a hundred countries with a strength of 18,000 members. Many of the former and current members have been proposed for Sainthood and there are also annual memorial services for the sisters who lost their lives during the French revolution. The Daughters of Charity are now a name which is well known in all circles especially in Europe and the United States. The dreams of St. Vincent De Paul and St. Louise De Marillac have come true and continue down the path of exponential growth.