St. Vincent de Paul was a parish priest at Chatillon-les-Dombes in 1617, when on a special Feast Day, a woman parishioner told him of a local family in dire need of help. The entire family was ill and none could care for the others. Vincent spoke of the family’s need during his sermon. As a result of this sermon an outpouring of charity was so spontaneous and abundant that the family was overwhelmed with food and visitors. Viewing the abundance of food and provisions, Vincent said, “This poor family will have too many provisions at one time and some will be spoiled and wasted. In a short time, these people will be reduced to their former state of need. Would it not be possible to induce these good women to give themselves to God to serve the poor permanently?”
A few days later, on August 23rd, Vincent called a meeting of the women of the area and suggested that they band together to carry out this good work. They agreed to form an association in which each would take her turn in serving the poor corporeally and spiritually. Thus, was the founding of the first Confraternities of Charity. The seeds that were planted at Chatillon-les-Dombes germinated and fl ourished in other districts. To maintain the spirit of charity and unity among them, St. Vincent chose Louise de Marillac, his devoted cooperatrix to visit the Associations to see that they were properly organized and work was performed in the right spirit. On March 11, 1934, Pope Pius XI canonized Louise and proposed her as a model for the Ladies of Charity.
The Ladies of Charity is the oldest, continuously functioning, volunteer lay organization in the world…400 years of women acting together against poverty. This exceptional charity work spread from France to Poland and to Italy until the “good work” of these women has reached over 200,000 volunteers who serve in 53 countries today. The Ladies of Charity USA is part of the International Association of Charities (AIC) with associations present in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, South America and North America.