Married at 22

St Louise de Marillac, the patron saint of social workers, was born in France in 1591, the daughter of a wealthy nobleman. She received a loving upbringing and a good education from several Religious, including her great aunt, a Dominican sister.

Louise decided she was called to the religious life. But her spiritual director said God had other plans, and at 22 she put aside her longing for the cloister and got married.

Distress and recovery

Her husband, Antoine le Gras, was working for the French queen, so Louise found herself in the higher echelons of French society. Fortunately, she was able to throw herself into the work of the Ladies of Charity, a group of well-to-do women who helped the poor and sick.

Louise gave birth to a son in 1613, and devoted herself to bringing him up. But she was haunted by the idea that she had rejected a calling to the religious life. Anxiety brought on doubts: could she really believe in the immortality of the soul? In the existence of God?

Louise increased her prayer and fasting, but for four years she was wracked by depression. Then, one Pentecost, she had a mystical experience. “My mind was instantly freed of all doubt,” she wrote, in a record of the experience which she then folded up tight and carried with her everywhere.

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