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The Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul (Latin: Societas Filiarum Caritatis a S. Vincentio de Paulo), called in English the Daughters of Charity or Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent De Paul is a Society of Apostolic Life for women within the Catholic Church. Its members make annual vows throughout their life, which leaves them always free to leave, without need of ecclesiastical permission. They were founded in 1633 and are devoted to serving Jesus Christ in persons who are poor through corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
They have been popularly known in France as "the Grey Sisters" from the colour of their traditional religious habit, which was originally grey, then bluish grey. The 1996 publication The Vincentian Family Tree presents an overview of related communities from a genealogical perspective. They use the initials D.C. after their names.
The institute was founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, a French priest, and Saint Louise de Marillac, a widow. The need of organization in work for the poor suggested to de Paul the forming of a confraternity among the women of his parish in Châtillon-les-Dombes. It was so successful that it spread from the rural districts to Paris, where noble ladies often found it hard to give personal care to the needs of the poor. The majority sent their servants to minister to those in need, but often the work was considered unimportant. Vincent de Paul remedied this by referring young women who inquired about serving persons in need to go to Paris and devote themselves to this ministry under the direction of the Ladies of Charity. These young girls formed the nucleus of the Daughters of Charity now spread over the world. On 29 November 1633, de Marillac began a more systematic training of the women, particularly for the care of the sick. The sisters lived in community in order to better develop the spiritual life and thus, more effectively, carry out their mission of service in a Christ-like manner. From the beginning, the community motto was: "The charity of Christ impels us!"
Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul both died in 1660, and by this time there were more than forty houses of the Daughters of Charity in France, and the sick poor were cared for in their own dwellings in twenty-six parishes in Paris.
Anticlerical forces in the French Revolution were determined to shut down all convents. In 1789 France had 426 houses; the sisters numbered about 6000 in Europe. In 1792, the sisters were ordered to quit the motherhouse; the community was officially disbanded in 1793. However the order was restored in 1801, many former sisters returned, and it grew very rapidly throughout the 19th century.
From that time and through the 19th century, the community spread to Austria, Australia, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Turkey, Britain and the Americas. During this period, the ministry of the Daughters developed to caring for others in need such as orphans and those with physical disabilities. Worldwide in 1907 there were 25,000 members.
The first house in Britain was opened in Drogheda, Ireland, in 1855. By 1907 there were 46 houses and 407 sisters in England; 13 houses and 134 sisters in Ireland; 8 houses and 62 sisters in Scotland. They operated 23 orphanages, 23; 7 industrial schools; 24 public elementary schools; 1 normal school to train teachers; 3 homes for working girls or women ex-convicts; and 8 hospitals, as well as 35 soup-kitchens. Worldwide in 1907 there were 25,000 members.
The motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity is located at 140 rue du Bac, in Paris, France. The remains of de Marillac and those of St. Catherine Labouré lie preserved in the chapel of the motherhouse. Labouré was the Daughter of Charity to whom, in 1830, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared, commissioning her to spread devotion to the Medal of Mary Immaculate, commonly called the Miraculous Medal.
The traditional habit of the Daughters of Charity was one of the most conspicuous of Catholic Sisters, as it included a large starched cornette on the head. The institute adopted a more simple modern dress and blue veil on 20 September 1964.
In the United States, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a recent convert to the Catholic Church, had hoped to establish a community of Daughters of Charity. Unable to do so because of the political situation during the Napoleonic Wars, on 31 July 1809, she founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph at Emmitsburg, Maryland, basing her institute on the Rule of the Daughters of Charity. About fifty years later, the community in Emmitsburg was accepted as the first American province of the Daughters of Charity. By then, other communities had been established elsewhere in the United States. These remained independent.
During the Spanish-American War of 1898, medical conditions in the war zone Roy dangerous factor. The United States government called for women to volunteer as nurses. Thousands did so, but few were professionally trained. Among the latter were 250 Catholic nurses, most of them from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Reverend Mother Mariana Flynn, head of the Daughters of Charity, recalled their service during the Civil War and said her sisters were proud to be "back in the army again, caring for our sick and wounded."
Many hospitals, orphanages, and educational institutions were established and operated by the Daughters of Charity over the years, including Saint Joseph College, Emmitsburg, Maryland, Marillac College in Missouri, Santa Isabel College in Manila, Saint Louise's Comprehensive College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Saint Louise de Marillac High School in Illinois. Though no longer staffed and run by the Daughters, five of the hospitals which were founded by them in the USA continue to operate within the St. Vincent's Health Care System.
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This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
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