How St. Louise exempliﬁes from the writings of the Vincentian concept of Sr. Louise Sullivan, DC leadership
Contents1. Talents and genius ran in the family 10. Feminine tenderness, plus leadership and organization: a winning combination2. How Louise’s childhood prepared her for her vocation 11. Observing and then taking action3. A solid foundation for dealing with both rich 12. Louise’s Understanding of Leadership and poor 13. Louise’s Collaborative Leadership Style4. Skilled motivator 14. Louise as bridge between social classes5. Louise modeled collaboration 15. Mixture of spiritual and human leadership6. Skilled at Spiritual Formation 16. Trusting others, not micro-managing7. Louise turned her own problems into positive energy 17. Creativity and risk-taking8. Louise turned rejection into positive action 18. Louise’s method of conﬂict resolution9. Louise undertook a process of personal 19. Louise’s challenge to us renewal
Talents and geniusran in the familyAfter her fathers death, Michel deMarillac, Louise’s uncle, becameher guardian and later her spiritualdirector. Political intrigue would leadto his death in exile. Nonetheless,this man, who had played a vitalrole in the reestablishment inFrance of the major religious ordersduring the period of the CatholicCounter Reformation, succeeded inblending profound personalspirituality with immenseorganizational skill.
Family talents andgenius (continued)Much of Michel can be found in hisniece as she:• formed the ﬁrst Daughters of Charity• reﬁned details of hospital contracts with civil, church authorities• obtained authorization to establish a free school for poor little girls from the Canons of Notre-Dame de Paris• negotiated with the Ladies of Charity to have a building remodeled for orphans• explained the Daughters’ “secular” nature to a skeptical Vicar GeneralLouise had the ability to deal with allinvolved justly and ﬁrmly, but also withsensitivity, humility, and charity.
How Louise’s childhoodprepared her for her vocationLouise never knew who her motherwas and was placed, possibly as aninfant, but certainly by the age ofthree, at the Royal Monastery ofSaint Louis at Poissy where heraunt was a Dominican nun. Thissetting was hardly an idealatmosphere for a growing girl. Onthe other hand, Poissy provided herwith a rich spiritual and intellectualenvironment in which her gifts ofnature and grace could ﬂourish,preparing her, when the time came,to educate and form peasant girlsto serve the sick, to teach children,and to heal a vast array of societyswounds.
A solid foundation for dealingwith both rich and poorUnder the direction of theDominican nuns, Louise and otherlittle girls of her social classencountered the arts and thehumanities, as well as liturgicalprayer, spiritual reading, and theresponsibility of the rich to the poor.This experience later enabled her todeal with equal ease with the richand with the poor country girls whowere to become the ﬁrst Daughtersof Charity. It also instilled in herwhat was to be an essentialattribute of all Vincentian service--the awareness of what Bossuetreferred to as "the eminent dignityof the poor."
Skilled motivatorIn the organization of health carewhich would be a major part ofher lifes work, she motivatedother women of her social class tocollaborate with her to alleviatethe misery of the sick poor.Through some four long years shehad devoted herself to caring forher sick husband personally. Thiswas her apprenticeship as ahealth care provider. She learnedthe importance of holistic carethat sought to relieve the physical,spiritual, and emotional distress ofthe patient, and the need tosupport the family.
Louise modeledcollaborationIn her hospitals, Louise institutedcollaboration among the doctors,nurses and others to form acomprehensive team. This modelwas highly successful and is stillin use today by the Daughters ofCharity.Under Louise’s guidance, theDaughters soon expanded theirscope of service to includeorphanages, institutions for theelderly and mentally ill, prisons,and the battleﬁeld.
Skilled at SpiritualFormationWhen Louise was forming theDaughters of Charity for the service ofthe poor, she would instill in them thenecessity for gentle compassion, nomatter how trying the situation mightbe. And, Louise’s reports to Vincent ofher visits to the confraternities showher ability to renew their zeal and tocorrect abuses.Based on her own life, from whichpain was never totally absent, Louisetaught her followers that in sufferingwith as well as serving those in need,they were uniting themselves to theirRedeemer on the Cross. This unionwith the suffering Savior would fuel avast network of services for those indistress.
Louise turned her ownproblems into positive energyLouise’s later ability to devoteherself to the care of the sick, tobe compassionate with them, andto encourage them, wherepossible, to overcome theirphysical limitations and to go onto lead productive lives had itsroots in her own constant battlewith recurring illness. And forthose who did not fully recover,she gave the example of a womanwho, through courage and deepfaith, turned adversity intopositive energy.
Louise turned rejectioninto positive actionWhen Louise was young she had thedesire to enter the cloister. Her uncleMichel was closely associated with theDaughters of the Passion in Paris, andthis seemed to Louise to be the idealsetting. How devastated she must havebeen, when Father Honore deChampigny refused her request foradmission. His reasons are not clear,but his words proved prophetic. He toldLouise that "God had other designs onher." Indeed, events, Providence, andVincent de Paul would alter Louise’splans. Her heart was ready, when thetime came, for her to learn to become aspiritual and servant leader in the newform of consecrated life that wouldcome into existence in 17th centuryFrance in which women would be calledto serve outside the cloister, in a life thatbalanced contemplation and action.
Louise undertook a processof personal renewalOver a period of four years, Louise,under the guidance of Vincent, tookslow, tiny steps to bring balance,measure, a degree of spontaneity, andeven quiet joy into her life that alreadyhad deep spiritual roots. It was a time toinvolve her gradually in Vincentianworks and to help her to grow in theconﬁdence necessary to reach her fullpotential. Intense activity was working acure in the heart, mind, and even thebody of Louise de Marillac. She hadfound work in which her human andspiritual gifts ﬂourished. Even the tragicevents affecting the Marillac family didnot distract her from her task. She had,at last, broken the fetters in her mindthat bound her. She could function as afree woman, conﬁdent in herself and inGods love for her and desirous ofbringing that love to those in need.
Feminine tenderness, plusleadership and organization:a winning combinationIt is to be noted that Louisebrought to those in distress lovein its particularly feminine form,that is in tenderness anddevotedness. It is a form of lovethat was nurtured in the cloister atPoissy and in the Le Grashousehold. It is the love of thecontemplative, the wife, themother, and the widow. Combinedwith the Marillac traits ofleadership and organization, theheart of Louise de Marillac hadbeen well fashioned by theProvidence of God.
Observing and thentaking actionLouise’s reports to Vincent of hervisits to the confraternities alsoreveal her powers of observationand her practical creativity. Theconfraternities were for the care ofthe sick in their homes. DuringLouises visits to them shenoticed another urgent need,education for poor children. Andshe responded by ﬁnding andeven training a schoolmistress forthem.
Louise’s Understandingof LeadershipFor Louise, leadership is service.It never seeks its ownadvancement or that of theinstitution itself. It is gratuitous. Ithas nothing to do with power, aword that Louise used only whenspeaking of God. As such, itbecomes what the hospitalhistorian, Collin Jones, describesas "non-threatening." Suchleadership bridges gaps betweengroups and, focused always onthe well-being of those to beserved, through "gentlepersuasion" leads tocollaboration.
Louise’s CollaborativeLeadership StyleFor Louise, leadership iscollaborative. She developed thecollaborative leadership style asshe visited the confraternities inthe French provinces. Louisesrole was essentially to mentor hercollaborators, particularly theLadies of Charity and theDaughters of Charity, helpingthem to grow spiritually,personally, and professionally.Above all, she sought to enable allthose who shared the Vincentianmission to maintain their focus, tokeep ever before their eyes thewhy and the who of theirservice.
Louise as bridgebetween social classesAfter forming the Ladies ofCharity, Vincent and Louise beganto realize that the direct service ofpoor persons was not easy for theladies of nobility. It was difﬁcult toovercome the barriers of socialclass. They visited the slums todistribute meals and clothing,dressed in beautiful dresses nextto people they considered to bepeasants. The tension betweenthe ideal of service and socialconstraints was real. The familiesof the ladies were not alwaysfavorable to these works.
Bridge between socialclasses (continued)It soon became clear that many ofthe ladies were unﬁt to cope withthe actual conditions. The practicalwork of nursing the poor in theirown homes, caring for neglectedchildren and dealing with oftenrough husbands and fathers, wasbest accomplished by women ofsimilar social status to the principalsufferers. Louise found the help sheneeded in young, humble, countrywomen who had the energy and theproper attitude to deal with peopleweighed down by destitution andsuffering. These young girls formedthe nucleus of the Daughters ofCharity.
Mixture of spiritualand human leadershipLouise’s organizations, andVincentian institutions today, are tobe places where each individualfeels respected and valued; whereevery task, big or small, isimportant. She created a climatefavorable to personal fulﬁllment,while, at the same time, forgingcommon bonds and ensuringintegrated, quality service. Throughher correspondence, we can seethat she cared about her sisterspersonally-- who they were, howthey were. She got to know theirfamilies & wrote them to let themknow how the sisters were doing.
Trusting others, notmicro-managingEven though Louise lived in a societywhere all power was vested at the top,and despite the fact that she was aleader with a strong personality, hercorrespondence reveals an approach ofsubsidiarity (the principle that a centralauthority should have a subsidiaryfunction, performing only those taskswhich cannot be performed at a morelocal level). In Louises era this conceptwas virtually unknown. But without suchtrust in others and a willingness to allowother strong personalities to developtheir potential, the works in distantplaces could never have ﬂourished.Subsidiarity requires people prepared toassume responsibility which, in turn,demands mentoring. Indeed in herletters, we see examples of Louise’sencouragement of her sisters as shechallenges them to fulﬁll their potential.
Creativity and risk-takingVincentian works for the service ofthose in need began in an era whenthere was little church orgovernmental support. To maintainthem, and to put them on somekind of a stable ﬁnancial footing,required creativity and risk taking.For example, she led the effort toturn a dilapidated former prison intoa house for abandoned children anddeveloped the ﬁrst organized fostercare program. It was risk taking, butit was accompanied by detailedorganization involving collaborationand negotiation with all partiesinvolved: ecclesiastical, civil, lay,and religious.
Louise’s method ofconﬂict resolutionA letter of 26 October 1639,addressed to Sisters Barbe Angiboustand Louise Ganset, illustrates thismethod. First of all, Louise writes toboth sisters in the same letter, ratherthan just to the superior as mighthave been expected. She begins bytelling them of the good that sheknows they are accomplishing. Then,in her usual direct style, sheaddresses the problem head on. Shethen speaks to them individually,pointing out the failings andsuggesting possible remedies. Afterthis, she looks at herself, and theresponsibility that may be hers forwhat has happened. Following this,Louise expresses her conﬁdence that,together, they will work things out.
Louise’s challenge tousIt has been said that the great testof leadership is the capacity for theworks to continue and ﬂourishwhen the leader is no longer there.By that litmus test, Louise deMarillac, by the force of herexample, remains a challenge andan encouragement for all of us who,in one way or another, follow in herfootsteps in giving to God ﬁrst ourhearts and then our works. Andwhen things get difﬁcult for all of us,as they inevitably do, she says to usas she did to her collaborators ofyore, "...arise each morning withnew courage to serve God and thepoor well."
Source• God Wants First The Heart And Then The Work: Louise De Marillac And Leadership In The Vincentian Tradition by Louise Sullivan D.C. http://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1203&context=vhj• St. Vincent de Paul Image Archive at http://stvincentimages.cdm.depaul.edu