On March 15, the Catholic Church celebrated the annual feast of St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder with St. Vincent de Paul, of the Daughters of Charity. She is the inspiration and patron for the many congregations of charity which have threaded their way across the world in the mission to serve the sick, poor, and uneducated. My congregation is one which claims St. Louise as a patron since our founder, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, based some of her rule and traditions on that of the Daughters of Charity, St. Louise’s group.
On March 18, 2020, Sister Kathleen Appler, 67, General Superior of the Daughters of Charity, passed away in Paris where she will be buried after a private Mass on March 24. Why do I write of her along with St. Louise?
Sister Kathleen was a dedicated follower of St. Louise and St. Vincent de Paul. And, in a strange constellation of her simplicity, her rise from teaching and administering in Catholic elementary schools, and her quiet leadership as a provincial superior all in the United States, she found herself on the leadership team for her community centered in Paris, France. Years later,she became the General Superior. And, last July, was tagged by Pope Francis to become one of seven women, and the only American, to serve in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. While the Pope gets the credit for appointing these women, the women themselves have been noticeably quiet about being pioneers in a Vatican Dicastery. They are flanked by a platoon of seventeen men who are cardinals, bishops and superiors of men’s communities and who, I dare say, will learn a lot from the women!
St. Louise, an illegitimate daughter raised by her father in the French Court of the Sixteenth Century, never knew her mother and was ignored by her stepmother. After she was widowed, she aligned herself to St. Vincent de Paul. The two set out to salvage the poor in Paris by starting hospitals and orphanages and faced the almost insurmountable challenge of illiteracy among young women. St. Louise was skilled at making connections on behalf of the poor. Today, her followers number some 14,000 serving in 94 countries in hospitals, orphanages, schools, social service agencies and parishes.
Sister Kathleen Appler and St. Louise de Marillac eschewed accolades and acknowledgements for their achievements on behalf of so many.
It might be a good idea to reflect on the self-giving people we may know or read about. During this time of our own pandemic, what can we offer to help others?
This message of St. Vincent de Paul to the Daughters of Charity is my favorite. I share it hoping you will find it helpful in understanding the mission of all Sisters of Charity.
“…for a convent, the houses of the sick; for your cell, a rented room; for your chapel, the parish church; for your cloister, the streets of the city; for your enclosure, obedience; for your grille, the fear of God; and for your veil, holy modesty.”
Thank you for sharing what a special leader and person Sr. Kathleen Appler was. What an example her life was of serving others.
As a non Catholic, I went to a school lead by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity. I’d never interacted with anyone who approached others from a selfless perspective before and it felt almost surreal. It changed me and made me want to be better. Ever since I try to fall back on that sense of first looking into and out for others. Obviously, I’m not always successful, however, the lesson learned has been an invaluable one. Throughout my experience with the Catholic Church, it was the women who made things happen; the nuns, my sisters. Their bravery and tenacity wit always be a touchstone as my life moves ahead. I give thanks for that gift.