The Company of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, sometimes simply referred to as Daughters of Charity, is a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life of women with simple, private, annual vows, founded in 1633 and devoted to serving Jesus Christ in the persons who are poor through corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
The full title of the congregation is the Daughters of Charity (the people of Paris used this term for the sisters), Servants of the Sick Poor. The term "of St. Vincent de Paul" has been added to distinguish them from several communities of Sisters of Charity, animated with a similar spirit founded after the French Revolution, modeled on the rule which Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac gave their sisters. Sometimes they have been popularly known in France as "the Grey Sisters" from the color of their traditional attire, which was originally gray, then bluish grey. The Vincentian Family Tree (Vincentian Studies Institute: DePaul University, 1996) presents an overview of related communities from a genealogical perspective.
The congregation was founded by Vincent de Paul, a French priest, and Louise de Marillac. The need of organization in work for the poor suggested to Vincent de Paul the forming of a confraternity among the women of his parish in Chatillon-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 wants of the poor. The majority sent their servants to minister to those in need, but often the work was slighted. Vincent de Paul remedied this by referring young women from the countryside 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 a very large community of the Daughters of Charity now spread over the world. On 29 November 1633, Louise de Marillac began a more systematic training of the women for the care of the sick, community life, and spiritual growth. The sisters lived together in community in order to carry out their mission of service more effectively. From the beginning, the community motto has been: "The charity of Christ impels us!"
On the death of Louise de Marillac and Vincent de Paul there were, in 1660, more than forty houses of the Sisters of Charity in France, and the sick poor were cared for in their own dwellings in twenty-six parishes in Paris.
During the 19th century, the community spread to Turkey, Austria, Portugal, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Ireland and North and South America. Currently, they number about 19,000 in 94 countries.
The mother house of the Daughters of Charity is located in Paris, France. The remains of Louise de Marillac and those of Saint Catherine Laboure, lie preserved in the chapel of the mother house. Saint Catherine was the Daughter of Charity to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared and commissioned her to spread devotion to the Medal of Mary Immaculate, commonly called the Miraculous Medal.
The traditional attire of the Daughters of Charity was one of the most conspicuous habits of Roman Catholic religious sisters, as it included a large starched cornette on the head. The sisters universally adopted a more simple modern dress and blue coiffe 20 September 1964.
Multiple hospitals, orphanages, and educational institutions have been opened 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, Ireland and Saint Louise de Marillac High School in Illinois.
The Daughters of Charity continue to witness to God's love for the persons who are poor and marginalized in the modern world. Their simple, apostolic life of commitment to serving Jesus Christ in people oppressed with poverty, disease, and injustice gives witness to gospel values offering a counter-cultural way of life for women of today.