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Saint Louise de Marillac, a Woman, a Social Worker

by Joel V. Ocampo


Apart from being considered as “National Women’s Month”, March is also “Social Work Month,” a time to celebrate the great profession of social work. Incidentally, the memorial of Saint Louise de Marillac, the patron saint of social workers is celebrated also every March.


Statue of St. Louise de Marillac at the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton (Seton Shrine).


Life of Saint Louise de Marillac

According to the website of The Daughters of Charity in Ireland, “St. Louise was a young widow who lived in Paris at the same time as St. Vincent de Paul. She belonged to the nobility, but her experience of personal rejection by her family as a child born outside of marriage, made her particularly sensitive to the suffering of others. In 1629, St. Vincent de Paul invited St. Louise to assist him with the Confraternities of Charity in the parishes of France. St. Louise had a profound conviction of God’s love for her and for His people. This love urged her to bring her extraordinary administrative ability to the relief of every kind of human suffering.


Through this work, she gained a deep knowledge of the needs of the poor, developed her innate management skills and identified effective structures for service. On November 29, 1633 in her own home, she began to train young women to address the needs of poor persons and to gain support from their life together. From this humble beginning, the community of Daughters of Charity emerged. St. Louise provided leadership and expert management to the evolving network of services she and St. Vincent de Paul inspired.


St. Louise died on March 15, 1660. In 1960 Pope John XXIII proclaimed her the Patroness of Christian Social Workers. As a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker, mentor, spiritual leader, and foundress, she stands as a model to all women. She lives today in the Ladies of Charity, Daughters of Charity, and Sisters of Charity serving throughout the world, as well as in their many lay collaborators and associates.”


Saint Louise de Marillac, patron saint of social workers (Our Lady of Talpa School).


The Social Work and Evangelization in the Philippines

In the Philippines, social work was recognized as a profession by the virtue of Republic Act No. 4373, “An Act to Regulate the Practice of Social Work and the Operation of Social Work Agencies in the Philippines,” signed on June 19, 1965 by the former President Diosdado Macapagal. In this law, social work is defined as “the profession which is primarily concerned with organized social service activity aimed to facilitate and strengthen basic social relationships and the mutual adjustment between individuals and their social environment for the good of the individual and of society by the use of social work methods.”


Though social work was recognized as a profession in the Philippines only in 1965, social work activities already exist in the country even during the Pre-Colonial Period. During this time, social welfare activities centered around mutual protection and economic survival. During the Spanish Period, the Catholic Church played an important role in the development of social work and social welfare. The early Spanish missionaries did not only taught the Filipinos about the faith; they also established and administered hospitals and orphanages. Some of these hospitals and orphanages are the following:

  • Hospitalito de Santa Ana, under the supervision of the Franciscans (this hospital was founded by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in Cebu in 1565, and was transferred to Manila in 1571);

  • San Lazaro Hospital (1578);

  • La Real Casa Misericordia (1594);

  • San Juan de Dios Hospital (1596);

  • Hospicio de San Jose (1882);

  • Hospital de Santiago in Manila; etc.


In addition, in 1882, an orphanage for girls in Mandaluyong and for boys in Tambobong (now Malabon City) were founded by the Augustinian fathers. The Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion and Santo Tomas de Villanueva asylums were organized to take care of the victims of cholera epidemic that broke out.


Some of these hospitals and orphanages no longer exists, renamed, or already managed by government of private sector. However, the Evangelization in the Philippines during the Spanish Period did not only address the faith but also the physical body of the person. These hospitals and orphanages are evidence to these.


Faith in Action

Our yearly observance of Lent always invites us to put our faith into action. The Three Pillar of Lent can help us achieve this goal. By our sacrifices through fasting and abstinence, we experience hunger. This experience leads us closer to the poor, the needy, the marginalized, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable, and it enables us to see their sufferings. Through alms-giving, whatever amount we save from our fasting and abstinence can be used in helping the poor in way that they do not lose their dignity as humans. Finally, through prayer, we become more holy like Saint Louise de Marillac, and this holiness will move us into acts of service to our neighbors.


Then, at the end of our earthly life, the Lord will welcome us to paradise saying, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (cf. Mt. 25:34-40).

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