Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

it was found after a course of years that more was wanted.”

Thus speaks a Priest of Vincent's missionary congregation.

“ It was not enough that the father of the poor had established a congregation of Priests almost solely devoted to their service; Heaven willed that he should establish also one of women, whose zeal should have as it were a still more extended scope, and who, without regard to age or sex, could perform all those offices which the apostolic ministry and the modes of society did not permit those priests to do. As the formation of the great establishment of which I speak is essentially united with the history I am writing, I must make known its origin, its functions, its progress.

“About seventeen years had passed from the time when Vincent de Paul had established the Confreries de la Charité in favour of sick poor. This association had passed from the country into the towns, and a good number of ladies of high condition had joined it. But all that which rendered their assemblies more brilliant rendered them also less useful. The first ladies had been those whose piety led them to serve the poor in their own person ; but of those who came after them many joined the association because it was the fashion ; others, truly, acted from purer motives, but then their husbands feared for them the effects of the bad air of sick rooms, and would not allow them to follow the dictates of their heart.” (As for young ladies who had not husbands, I suppose such a thing as district visiting would not be thought of in France.) “ Thus the end was that it soon became necessary for these ladies to dispense their charity by deputy, and to employ servants for that purpose who had neither affection nor ability. To remedy this disorder it was necessary to have servants expressly trained for the purpose; and how to have them trained was a difficulty.

“Finally, Vincent, after many trials and prayers yielded to the anxious wish of Madame le Gras, and allowed her to consecrate the whole of her future life to this labour of love. It was towards the close of the year 1633, that he sent her three or four country girls, simple peasants, who appeared to him disposed to undertake the most painful offices of charity.” These three or four peasant girls were the first Sisters of Charity. “See in this, (says the same writer,) the first commencement of that virgin company which under the name of Daughters of Charity, (Filles de la Charité, or Sæurs de la Charité) has had so immense, so happy a development. Small in its birth as the grain of mustard seed, it has, like it, become a great tree. Its roots, enriched less by the substance of earth than by the dew of Heaven, have spread far and wide, and we see the orphan so long abandoned, the desolate widow, the soldier covered with wounds, the modest retiring poor, the sick of all diseases, come and sit under its shadow, breathing again in the refreshment of its branches, and finding often beneath them spiritual as well as temporal life.

“ Neither Vincent nor his pious co-operator had hoped for such speedy results. The example of these few modest and useful peasants drew others of the same station and disposition to join them; he resolved to have no ladies among them; but though the first object had been merely attendance on the sick and poor in parishes, the progress of the order and the providence of God led him and Madame le Gras to see how much more extensive might be the range of their work; by degrees they were intrusted with the education of the foundlings, with the instruction of young girls who had no other means of obtaining it, with the care of a great number of hospitals, and even of the criminals condemned to the galleys. Madame le Gras was constituted their superior for her life, and she died when Vincent was on his death-bed. As these diverse occupations made in some sort of one congregation many communities, Vincent gave them both general and particular rules, to sustain the entire body and the different parts which compose it.

According to these rules, which have always passed for a masterpiece of wisdom, the Sisters of Charity ought above all things to be so convinced that God had united them together to honour their LORD JESUS Christ as the source and model of all charity, that they should render to Him, in the persons of poor old men, of children, of sick people, and of prisoners, all the services temporal and spiritual of which they are capable ; that in order to fulfil so holy a life they ought to maintain the interior exercises of the spiritual life together with the exterior exercises of Christian charity ; that while they are not, and cannot be Religieuses, (or Nuns) because the estate of religion is incompatible with their employments, they ought to lead a life more perfect if possible than that of the holiest Nun, because in the world they were much more exposed to danger; and since the tenderest purity was to them indispensable, they ought to take the strictest care to avoid all that would offend the eyes of God or of their neighbour; and that their watchfulness over themselves should be redoubled since they had to go out so extensively into the world, to mix with persons of the other sex, to take care of them when sick or when dying.

"Perhaps the wisdom of the rules of Vincent de Paul is shown expressively in the assertion that they require much while seeming to require little. They prescribe no severities of any kind; the sisters ob. serve no offices ; "their penance,' says the missionary priest, is their common life. But they do not seem to think it so. "To rise,' he

says,

at four o'clock summer and winter, to pray mentally twice a day, to live frugally, to render to the sick the most revolting services; to watch by them at night, to reckon as nothing the infected air of hos.

pitals, to fear not the horrors of death or of the dying bed. Such is the sort of mortification required from the Daughter of Charity; if it is enough for vigorous men, certainly it should be enough for naturally weak women.

“ As to the exercises of piety there are some which belong to the rule of the community, and others on which they ought to consult their director; but both must be subordinate to the wants of their neighbour; at the first cry of distress they must fly to his relief. They must watch the dying bed, and endeavour to bring the departing to feel sorrow for his sins, and urge him to call for the spiritual help which they cannot give.”

The rules of Vincent de Paul, after having been practised for twenty years, were sanctioned by Cardinal de Retz, Archbishop of Paris. And the King Louis XIII. confirmed the foundation by letters patent. “A proof of the esteem which these virtuous girls had acquired.” A remark made by the writer I have copied a little surprises me.

-“ After this they deserved yet greater praise, not by reason of their employments which have always been the same, but by reason of the persons who have performed them. Vincent having believed that God would bless more particularly the poor who served the poor, did not admit, during a number of years, any persons into the new community who were not of rather low birth. But after his death, young girls of condition having offered to partake

He says

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »